Many people assume stress is obviously bad, and lots of people tell us they want to find a “low stress job”. But a new book (and TED talk with over 10 million views) by psychologist Kelly McGonigal claims that stress is only bad if you think it is, and that stress can make us stronger, smarter and happier. So are most people wrong, or is stress only bad if you have the wrong attitude towards it?
We did a survey of the literature, and found that as is often the case, the truth lies in between. Stress can be good in some circumstances, but some of McGonigal’s claims also seem overblown.
- In summary, whether work demands have good or bad effects seems to depend on the following things:
Variable Good (or neutral) Bad Type of stress Intensity of demands Challenging but achievable Mismatched with ability (either too high or too low) Duration Short-term On-going Context Control High control and autonomy Low control and autonomy Power High power Low power Social Support Good social support Social isolation How to cope Mindset Reframe demands as opportunities, stress as useful View demands as threats, stress as harmful to health Altruism Performing altruistic acts Focusing on yourself