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Learn the key ideas of the book by Kelly McGonigal

The Upside of Stress

How to manage stress and transform it into a strength

In The Upside of Stress, the author offers us a new perspective on stress, describing its positive aspects and possible advantages when we are able to take advantage of it. Presenting scientific studies that demonstrate the positive aspects of tension and by taking us through practical exercises, the author teaches us how to transform stressful experiences into opportunities for growth aimed at improving our wellbeing and our ability to face challenges.

The Upside of Stress
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How mental attitude is not only a psychological process but it can also influence our actions

Recent studies have shown that stress, contrary to the popular belief that it is harmful to our health, can make us more effective and efficient. It helps us to grow and to be braver, nevertheless this is only possible when we learn to change our attitude about stress itself. In fact the impression that we have about stress has an influence on how it affects us, learning to welcome it rather than avoiding it can activate its positive aspects.

Stress and its meaning, or the reason why it is triggered, are closely linked; in fact we only become stressed when the situation that causes us stress is linked to something important to us; for this reason there is more than one way to deal with it, but this depends on the situation. Learning to make the most of the positive elements of stress enables us to cope better with life’s challenges.

Our mind is a very powerful tool and the notions that it has about something can influence our physical reactions; basically if we believe that stress is bad for us, it will be. Our mental attitude is much like that of a placebo, but while the effects of a placebo are only short lived, mental attitude increases its long-term impact. For example, if you have a negative view of old age, your conviction will inevitably produce conditions of bad health when you reach that stage of life, while on the other hand if you are able to look at getting old in a positive light, your conviction will guide you towards actions that have positive results on your health. In this way, our mental attitude is the architect of our health conditions in old age, not through magical mental powers, but because of the way our thinking influences our lifestyle choices. Mental attitude has the same influence on stress and how we deal with it. When we think of it as bad for us, we tend to try to avoid it and to avoid situations that create it, while on the contrary, if we think of stress as a positive element, we will no longer avoid stressful experiences and we will become more confident in our ability to deal with challenges.

The incredible aspect of a positive mental attitude is that we don’t need to use this strategy every time we have to deal with a stressful situation, in fact a change of attitude starts a perpetual process that is automatically activated every time we are faced with a stressful situation. For example, by carrying out just a single intervention on our mental attitude, the change will stay rooted in our subconscious: Greg Walton, a psychologist at Stanford, performed an experiment on mental attitude with regards to social belonging. The belief of non-belonging can change our view on the experiences that we have and activate self-destructive attitudes. Walton asked university freshmen to read extracts written by third and fourth year students, letting them know that all freshmen struggled with social belonging, but that it improves over time. This single act boosted the performance, physical health and happiness of freshmen who participated in the experiment over the following years. Students had learned to think of the teething troubles they faced at the beginning of their university career as short-term problems that were part of every student’s experience, moreover the experiment influenced students’ social attitudes, making them more likely to establish close friendships. In this case a psychological process was used to transform the student’s actions and sociability. Very often we feel that problems, especially those rooted in culture, are almost impossible to change and it is certainly not possible to modify them with a single act of intervention. The science of mental attitude, on the other hand, has shown that changing our way of thinking and feeling sure that something is possible, is the catalyst for all the other changes that we are looking for in our lives.


The key ideas of "The Upside of Stress"

How mental attitude is not only a psychological process but it can also influence our actions
Learning to rethink our idea about stress and making it our best friend
The first step is to recognise stress
Learn to welcome stress
Why is it better not to avoid stress?
How to learn to manage stress by harnessing the power of mental attitude
The strategies to use in times of stress to reset our mental attitude
Strategies to transform stress: turn a threat into a challenge
Strategies to transform stress: transform social anxiety from “I don’t want to do it” to “yes I can”
Strategies to transform stress: from feeling overwhelmed to feeling hopeful
Strategies to transform stress: turn your goals into broader goals
Strategies to transform stress: transform isolation into a shared human emotion
Strategies to transform stress: experience adversity by looking on the bright side and learning to grow
Take-home message

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