Turn stress into strength

Stress can be a tool, not just a toxin. Here’s how to re-work your relationship with stress.

We often hear about the negative impact of stress—how it can raise our blood pressure, interfere with sleep, increase our anxiety levels, and even damage the brain. And it’s true: Stress can have a negative impact on our overall state of health.

But is all stress bad? Could it be that the stress you’re feeling as you struggle to meet a deadline, brace for performance feedback, or fret over your child’s math homework can actually be good for you?

Turns out there’s an upside to stress. In fact, the right amount of stress might be just what you need to increase your productivity, foster better relationships, and increase your quality of life.


Stress forces us to solve problems more effectively, which helps us build skills we may need for future experiences. It also primes us for peak performance. The hormone that’s responsible for causing stress is the same hormone that primes us to get in the zone. Stress has been shown to sharpen our memory, strengthen our social bonds and even make us more creative.

So how can we start saying “yes” to stress and turn it into a strength?

With these three mind-shifts:

Reframe it to tame it

That thing you’re calling “stress” actually goes by another name: excitement. The same feelings you get before doing something exciting look a lot like the physiological signs of stress: Faster heart rate. Increased energy. Deeper breathing. Racing heartbeat.

A simple way to get control over stress is to start labeling it as excitement. Not everything that feels stressful is actually harmful. Not everything that feels weighty is cause for worry. Reframing stressful situations as exciting moments can help you navigate challenging experiences more confidently.

Listen to my conversation with West Point’s Dr. Nate Zinsser on reframing stress

Create a healthy relationship with control

Stress often results from a perceived loss of control. But there are things in life that we simply can’t control: other people’s behavior, a financial crisis, or just plain bad timing. So before you let stress take over, it’s worth asking yourself:

Is there anything I’m doing that’s contributing to this situation?

If the answer is yes, then start making adjustments where you can.

If the answer is no, then stressing over a situation is utterly pointless. If you worry about things that never happen, you’ve wasted your time. If you worry about things that do happen, you’ve still wasted your time!

A healthier way to manage your stress is to control what you can and accept what you can’t.

Listen to my conversation with resilience expert Dr. Deborah Gilboa on making stress a tool for growth

Make sense out of stress

A good way to turn stress into strength is to treat difficult circumstances as learn­ing opportunities. Stress is not an excuse to shut down. It’s an opportunity to open up. It’s our chance to absorb the teachable moments brought on by adversity. Turn challenge into your advantage. Instead of fixating on why something happened, focus on how you can grow from the experience. Maybe it forced you to become more adaptable. Maybe it prompted you to learn a different set of skills. Or maybe stress provided the nudge you needed to stretch outside your comfort zone and try something new. Don’t try to make sense of why stressful situations are suddenly in your life. Take that energy and make sense of how stress can improve your life.

By making conscious choices that help us build a new relationship with stress, we’ll be better equipped to turn life’s most challenging moments into our most exciting opportunities!

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