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A Meaningful Life is Stressful

by Beth on April 13th, 2022

According to David Robson, author of The Expectation Effect, the phrase “stressed-out” started being used in 1983 after a Time cover story declared that people’s fast-paced lives were emerging as a major source of illness. By 2014, a survey showed that 75% of Americans believed that stress had a negative impact on family life, 74% reported it negatively affected work, and 70% said stress hurt their health. While it’s true that chronic stress caused by job demands, long commutes, social media, and constant distractions can be bad for us, our expectation that being stressed-out is hurting us may be an even bigger problem.

Research shows that stress is bad for you if you believe it’s bad for you. A study that followed over 28,000 people for eight years found that high levels of anxiety increased mortality by 43%. But that was only for the people who believed their stress was harming them. Those who experienced high levels of stress but didn’t believe it impacted their health had even lower mortality rates than participants who experienced very little stress. Our mindset about stress determines how it impacts us.

Fortunately, we can reduce the negative effects of stress by reframing how we think about it. “Eustress” is good stress. It’s the energizing, beneficial feeling that comes from taking on challenges. It can lead to growth and resilience. It can focus your attention and increase motivation.

Stress is an inevitable part of goal pursuit. It signals you care about something. A study of almost 400 adults found that every measure of stress, including having experienced more stressful events in the past, currently being under a lot of stress, and stressing about the future, was related to a greater sense of meaning in life.

Viewing stress as an integral part of a meaningful life helps me to reframe it as good. I remind myself that I can choose to feel burdened by everyday hassles, or to see them as a sign of a full life. If I feel stressed because of a deadline, I make a mental note to be grateful for work that I enjoy. When having to find time to get to the grocery store and cook dinner causes stress, I think about how important it is for my health and the health of my family. Preparing for a trip is less stressful when I remind myself how fortunate I am to have a reason to travel.

The next time you feel stressed, try connecting the source of your stress to your values. Why are you doing whatever it is that’s stressing you out? This can help you see how the stress you are experiencing is contributing to a full and meaningful life.

From → Meaning, Mindset

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