As a society, we often appear to be waging a war on stress. We now have everything from de-stressing massage and anti-stress skin cream to stress-free banking and anti-stress coloring books. An enormous amount of medical and psychological research is focused on combating stress as a way to boost mood and lengthen life expectancy. But despite all that effort, stress keeps resisting our endeavors to bust it. Some even question whether reducing stress is always a good thing. Enter Stanford University’s Kelly McGonigal, author of The Upside of Stress: Why Stress Is Good for You and How to Get Good at It, to challenge our one-sided view of stress. Her premise: “Whether you think stress is good or bad for you, you’re right.”
Drawing on research in resilience, cognitive psychology, attachment, and neuroscience, McGonigal insists we have a choice to view stressful situations as being invariably toxic or as opportunities to face a healthy challenge. According to her, it’s our misunderstanding of our relationship with stress that’s the problem, not the stress itself.
RH: How did you become interested in stress in the first place?
MCGONIGAL: When you’re a health psychologist, you’re taught that stress is the number-one problem that human beings experience: it’s blamed for everything. So when I started leading stress-management classes at the Stanford School of Medicine, I based them on the prevailing belief…