For years we 've heard about the dangers of stress. The warning goes something like this: Allow tension to sneak into your life and don't be surprised when indigestion turns into ulcers, fatigue results in burnout, and innocent nail-biting leads to serious binge eating. But wait a minute. Some experts now are claiming that stress has another side. They say that when carefully harnessed, it can serve as a positive—not negative—force in your life. It can boost your productivity, keep you interested in what you do, and make you more interesting to the people around you.
"Stress can create an adrenalin charge," says Charlotte Sutton, an associate professor of management at Auburn University who frequently teaches stress management seminars. "We move faster, are more effective, and have more energy. A lot of people tell me that without stress, they don't get very much done."
Here are some tips on how to tap into the upside of stress in your life.
Hire a Stress Manager
"Being overwhelmed wasn't an option," recalls Julie-Allyson Ieron about her reaction to the news that a publisher wanted her to develop a book titled Names of Women of the Bible. The problem was that Julie had a full-time job, and all writing assignments had to be tackled on weekends and holidays. Added to this pressure was a tight deadline—five months to finish the book. The opportunity had the potential of panicking this first-time author, so instead, "I broke down the project into manageable bites," says Julie. "I decided to write about fifty-two women, which required fifty-two outlines that would result in fifty-two chapters. I looked at the calendar and figured out how many chapters I needed to research, outline, and write each weekend to complete the job on time."
Then she "hired" a stress manager to keep her on schedule— someone who was strong enough to hold her accountable to her goals. "I called in my mom and showed her my writing schedule," she says. "I gave her permission to keep tabs on me. Most weekends, that meant she would drop in two or three times as I was working. If she saw that I was puttering around, she would gently nudge me back to my writing."
They agreed on two conditions: First, Julie wouldn't complain when her mother reminded her of her work quota; second, her mother would be gentle and loving in any admonition she delivered. "She helped me stay on task and get the allotted work done each day—no more and no less," says Julie. "When I reached my weekly goal we would go out to dinner, watch TV, or find some other way to kick back. Once or twice I tried to push myself past my limit and found I sacrificed effectiveness. I knew that would serve no purpose other than to burn me out before the project was done. My mother helped me pace myself."
Adjust Your Attitude
The Bible teaches us to "be strong and courageous; do not be terrified; do not be discouraged" (Joshua 1:9). Often the way we size up a demanding situation determines whether the stress we experience serves as our ally or acts as our enemy. If we think we're unworthy to meet a challenge, that feeling of unworthiness will produce negative stress. If we remember we are God's creation, we'll welcome the opportunity to use our God-given talents. Our enthusiasm will produce positive stress that will push us to perform at our peak.
"Assume a positive viewpoint," suggests Dennis E. Hensley, author of Positive Workaholism and an associate professor at Taylor University. "Rather than saying 'No one will hire me for this job because I'm too old,' a senior applicant can adjust her attitude and say, 'I have more experience than anyone else interviewing for this job!' Rather than saying, 'No one takes me seriously because I'm so young,' a newcomer to the job market can say, 'I'm fresh out of school with state-of-the-art skills, and I have youth and energy on my side!' Phrase everything in positive terms and stress becomes an asset, not a liability."