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Using Stress as an Opportunity for Growth

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Stress used to be one of the feelings that I liked to avoid. It kept me from sleeping, seemed to lead to multiple extensions of the same worry, and, in plain words, just made me anxious. And then I learned it was better not to avoid stress, but to look at it as an opportunity for personal growth.

Kelly McGonigal, a Stanford psychologist, is just one of the many researchers who confirms that it is better to embrace stress, stating:

Stress isn't always harmful. Once you see that going through stress makes you better at it, it makes it easier to face each new challenge.

Like many things in life, it's all in how we view the situation. Do we have to be miserable when we are getting up to go to that 7 a.m. meeting, or are we just glad we have a job that values our input enough that the boss wants us to be there? Are we going to complain that we have to drive all the carpools to the various children's parties, or are we going to be grateful our children have developed adequate social-emotional skills that they are even invited to the parties? Are we really going to be upset that so many people are asking to meet with us rather then consider those meetings opportunities to establish new relationships and learn as much from others as they wish to learn from us?

The next time you're up against a challenge, try some of these steps and see if your attitude changes:

  • Be willing to view the challenge in an unemotional way. What is the situation, what are the areas over which you have control, and what are the options for addressing each issue?

  • Think of the problem as an opportunity to use higher level thinking skills that have the potential to improve your cognitive abilities. Consider asking for input from others who you've noticed have strong problem-solving strategies.
  • Have confidence that you are capable of handling this new situation. Be willing to think out-of-the-box and opt for new strategies.
  • Get comfort from the fact that you are not alone. Everyone experiences stress; the only difference is how they respond to it.
  • Look at each of those situations as an additional opportunity for a positive to enter your life. How might this enhance your day? What can you learn from this? How can this encounter benefit your life and this world?
  • Keeping a positive attitude can be the difference in how you live your life. Having a good outlook will lead to can-do thoughts, trying new things, and enjoying the opportunities to add new skills to your personal toolbox. Plus, while you are solving some temporary crisis, your brain will be storing all that information: what went wrong; what needed to be done to improve the situation; what options worked and which didn't, storing that information for future reference when a similar occurrence takes place.

    So, like riding a bicycle, there will be times when we fall and scrape our knees, and other times when the riding will be smooth as silk and we never hit a bump in the road. The choice is ours as to whether see our glasses as half-full, or half-empty.

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