Kelly McGonigal: How To Turn Stress Into An Advantage


How do you approach stress? Do you dread stressful days? Or does the thought of stress make you feel anxious and unproductive? What would happen if you changed your approach to stress and saw it as a positive, and a fundamental element to a meaningful life?

In a talk that is insightful and inspiring, informed and surprising, Kirsty McGonigal addresses the paradox of stress. Many of us may wonder why stress exists in our lives, wishing we could bypass it altogether. Certainly, there seems to be an ingrained attitude that stress can be the enemy of happiness and health, and can lead to difficulties and depression. Yet, Kelly turns this argument on its head and looks at a contrasting correlation between stress and wellbeing. Yes, stress can bring anger and worries, which can undoubtedly have a negative impact, but it can also bring joy, love, and opportunities to learn.  

The higher a nation’s stress index, the greater the GDP and life expectancy, the more satisfied people are in that nation, with their lives, their work, their communities, their own health, [and how] happy they are... Basically the more people you have who thought yesterday was very stressful... that’s better for public health, it’s better for the economy, and it’s better any way you look at it.
— Kelly McGonigal


From the onset, Kirsty addresses her audience, asking who had a stressful day yesterday, and whether, if they had the choice, they would say they wanted their day tomorrow to be really stressful. Even watching through a screen, I raised my hand to say yes I had a stressful day, and laughed along with the audience at the thought of wanting a stressful day tomorrow. But, by the end of her talk, my thoughts on this came from a completely different perspective. As Kirsty explains, stress can be a positive and can be embraced. It's taking advantage of stress states that can help you learn, grow and become stronger. In fact, stress hormones such as DHEA can help your brain grow, form new communications, and in turn build your confidence when approaching stressful challenges. 

Even though we find experiencing stress in the moment as distressing, and we often think of it as being undesirable in our lives… actually stress can be a barometer for how engaged you are with the things in your life that bring love, bring laughter, bring learning and bring growth.
— Kelly McGonigal

Stress is certainly not a sign of weakness. It's a manifestation of just how much we care about something. Yes, it can be unpleasant. Yes, it can place a physical and emotional intensity on your whole being. But there are ways to use stress, so rather than it taking advantage of you, you can take advantage of it. In stress there is opportunity and room to develop.

If you're looking for a confidence boost watch Kelly's talk, and see how your approach to stress may shift too.    


Words by Lottie Franklin