Why Stress Gets a Bad Rap – And How it Can Be Your Best Ally

Stressors bearing down on senior execs are at an all-time high. It’s no wonder, considering the expectations of boards, customers, employees, and stakeholders across the corporate spectrum. Not to mention the stressors and pressures at home. 

Traditionally stress is considered a destructive influence. Research is showing it doesn’t have to be. In fact, it can have a positive, additive impact on performance. It’s all a matter of your perspective.

Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D., psychologist and author of Positive Stress points out how viewing stress as negative skews our perception of what stress indeed is. We are physiologically hardwired to do magnificent feats when there is a perceived or real threat like being chased by a saber-toothed tiger. Our bodies react in seconds with a range of physiological responses to ensure survival.

However, nowadays we are (hopefully) not being chased by tigers. But we are facing unprecedented stressors and pressures in corporate life. Technology overload, which continuously stimulates the nervous system, doesn’t help. And oh, let’s not forget the demands of heavy travel.

So, when it comes to stress, the question is, do you manage your stress or does your stress manage you?

Viewing the favorable opportunities a stressful situation presents can significantly improve performance. The first step is to assess how you think about stress. Do you see it as a negative…or do you see it as a potential source of inspiration and performance enhancement? 

Think reframe.

Instead of letting stress drag you down, consider how the stressful situation/ circumstance/relationship can be an opportunity. For growth. For expanding your executive capabilities. For building confidence. For being empowered. For grabbing the tiger by the tail, and for approaching the situation from a position of strength. 

One of your key team members leaving the company? Maybe it’s a chance to add diversity to the team. Company facing the loss of a major customer? Could be a chance to improve the sales and customer care process. Company positioning itself for sale? Might open the door to a new career path or opportunity. You see, how you think about stress determines how it will affect you, or not.

The stressors surrounding executive life are significant, making it easy to feel overwhelmed and anxious, which can compromise performance. Understanding how you perceive stress and applying a new “paradigm” based on the latest research on positive stress can make a huge difference in your mental state, your emotional balance, your relationships, and your leadership performance. 

What are the most significant stressors in your life right now, and how can you reframe them into an opportunity for something positive?