The term “JoyPowered,” needless to say, has become a fundamental word in my vocabulary since joining the Purple Ink team. Yet, upon first hearing it, I questioned my own experiences, as well as those of others around me, that may have led us to believe that our workplace was not “JoyPowered”. The core reason that stuck out in my head was STRESS.
We all have our own unique trials and tribulations at work, yet to refrain from going into too much detail, we simply dub it “stress.”
The general stress umbrella could pertain to anything – from having to fire a colleague, feeling under pressure to close on a sale, meeting an important deadline, etc.
It seems the majority of society views stress as harmful, something we should avoid at all costs. Some companies may even hire a wellness coach to “gently” scare employees into believing that stress is detrimental to their health. These coaches, in turn, provide a plan for cognitive-soothing diet/exercise regimens to help suppress our stress levels. Now don’t get me wrong, there is nothing negative about being encouraged to have healthy habits, and there is absolutely no denying that chronic stress can lead to health problems.
I was no exception to the popular belief that stress was evil, until my entire worldview about changed after reading The Upside of Stress by health psychologist Kelly McGonigal. I genuinely believe this book should be a staple on everyone’s bookshelf – especially HR professionals. There were two key points in particular that resonated with me.
The relationship between stress and meaning
In 2013, researchers at Stanford and Florida State University asked a diverse sample of Americans ages 18-78 to rate how much they agreed with the following statement: Taking all things together, I feel my life is meaningful. The participants who had experienced the highest amount of stressful events in their past, and/or were under a lot of stress right at the time, and/or were stressed about the future were found to rate their lives more meaningful than those of opposite stress levels. Thus, it was concluded that people with very meaningful lives worry more and have more stress than people with less meaningful lives.
That’s right folks – feeling stressed can act as a barometer for how engaged you are in activities and relationships that are personally meaningful.
How you think about stress matters
Think about a typical stress response. Your heart rate escalates and your blood vessels constrict. As previously mentioned, chronic stress is not healthy, because it is not natural to be in this state all the time. Yet, remarkably, a 2012 Harvard University study found that when participants viewed their stress response as helpful, their blood vessels stayed relaxed. Despite this, the heart still pounds rapidly, but this is the body’s way of boosting strength and energy.
“It [the heart pounding/non constrictive vessels combo] actually looks a lot like what happens in moments of joy and courage.” says McGonigal.
In a 2015 Stanford News article, author Clifton Parker’s best conveys McGonigal’s bottom line: “Viewing stress as a helpful part of life is associated with better health, emotional well-being and productivity at work – even during period of high stress.”
This science has given me a whole new appreciation for stress. Mastering this concept – I believe – serves as golden ticket to achieving a JoyPowered level of happiness. Kelly’s book is a jam-packed with many more fascinating studies to read and embrace, and I highly encourage anyone and everyone to read it.
“The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.” — William James