painting of man covering face with both hands

Coffee chats with co-workers is an excellent start in the day. You get to check-in, see how everyone is doing, and exchange some tips and tricks on how to cope with the reality of social distancing and working from home. The coronavirus pandemic has impacted everyone’s life differently, and we can all learn from each other’s experiences going through this.

I like to ask very pointed questions. Among them, “how is everyone dealing with the stress of this situation?” Imagine my surprise when both of my colleagues told me, “it’s been stressful, but I thrive on stress.” With mere minutes left on the call, I decided to be blunt instead of curious and said: “you know that stress kills you, right?”

This conversation made me realize the perpetuated belief in modern society of stress boosting productivity. And while you might seem productive, it might also harm you and your health.

What is Stress?

We commonly think of stress as an emotion. But that’s wrong. Stress is your body’s reaction to a real or perceived demand. Those demands could be lifting heavyweights in the gym (physical stress), or your ever-growing to-do list (emotional stress), or even running from a tiger. Well, probably not the last one, at least not in the western world.

Your co-workers, like mine, would probably refer to their calendars, tasks, and projects as the cause for stress. Thinking about those could cause overwhelm, anxiety, or fear. And since there is so much to do during the day, those feelings become a perpetuated state of being.

You can see that when statements like “I’m busy” are worn like a badge of honor. And because stress is used as a big bucket catch-all “emotion,” we’re becoming increasingly immune to the negative side of stress.

Good Stress vs. Bad Stress

Oh yes, there is such a thing as good stress. It’s the response to a demand that makes us more resilient. The easiest example for that is your muscles. If you go and work them out, they’ll get stronger, but if you overwork them, they’ll get injured.

In an office environment, it would be comparable to completing difficult tasks. If you take on the right amount, schedule them out, and complete them, it will get easier. If you take on too much or too little, you’ll feel overwhelmed or underwhelmed.

It All Starts with a Thought

The high demands of modern life rarely seem to allow you to take on the “right amount” of tasks, though. Falling into the trap of a negative thought spiral can quickly result in an endless, self-defeating, useless rat-race.

But what can you do? You have to bring home the bacon, after all. So the only option you see is to continue to take on more and more until you inevitably burn out. All of those are thoughts as well. And in order to change how you’re feeling, you’ll have to change how you’re thinking about your circumstances.

Why do you think you have to do more? Why do you think you don’t have time to take a break? Why do you have to bring home the bacon? If you answer those questions honestly, you’ll realize you don’t have to do anything. If you think you need money to survive, talk to the many homeless people, they’ll teach you otherwise. Sure, that might not be the way you want to live, but that’s why you want to have a job.

You get to chose how you want to think about any of your circumstances in life. You get to determine what the result is you want to get. It’s in your power to decide on letting stress burn you out, or to say no to the next demand and focus on what’s really important.

My thought “stress kills you” is meant to shake you up. And on the call with my co-workers, I didn’t have the time to go into the specifics. So my sincere hope of writing this article is to get you to stop and think about the chronic levels of anxiety, worry, and overwhelm we commonly refer to as stress.

I found many articles on ways to decrease your stress

And all of them give you the right actions to take. To take action, you have to think the “thought,” creating the emotion fueling the action. Take some time today to figure out what healthy thoughts you can think to fuel the actions suggested in those articles.