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Rethinking STRESS

Numerous studies have shown that stress can be unhealthy—the American Institute of Stress has linked it to the six leading causes of death. Unfortunately, knowing how bad it is makes us fear stress even more.

But this is only half the story. The human brain actually works best in the presence of this tension. Stress can improve cognitive ability and increase productivity and memory, among other things. Think about it: Some of the greatest human achievements occur in the midst of stress (athletic competition, surgery, combat).

A study in which I participated found that our mindset about stress makes a difference in how it affects us. People who view stress as bad are more negatively affected in terms of happiness and health. Those who view it as motivating reported 23 percent fewer symptoms such as headaches, backaches and fatigue, even though they experienced the same amount of stress.

One way to channel stress into something positive is to create a mental anchor. For example, every time you open your inbox at work, make a habit of thinking, Stress is a challenge, not a threat. Then think about why your work is meaningful to you. Connect with the meaning and you’ll be able to make stress work for you. Remember, stress is caused only by things we find important.

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