When Stress is Critical for Success

Guest blogger Dr. Heidi Hanna and Dr. John L. Evans Jr. explain why stress is often misunderstood – and necessary, to a certain extent.

Have you ever observed Mikhail Baryshnikov’s feet?

You can say a lot of things about the great ballet dancer’s instruments of delivery, but you cannot say they are stress free.

Stress gets a bad rap these days, and for good reason. A recent comprehensive study on stress conducted by Janus Henderson Investors, the Financial Planning Association and Investopedia revealed some sobering findings on the topic.

For example, according to the survey results, more than half of consumers say they want a plan to manage or reduce the level of stress in their lives. Furthermore, 75% of consumers say a reduction in negative stress would have a positive impact on their personal relationships.

These statistics reinforce what we all sense happening around us. Despite having more information than ever about how to manage stress effectively, most of us still struggle to take action. While the most common reason most people cite for not prioritizing self-care is not having enough time, it’s important to understand that time without energy is essentially devoid of value.

If wisdom is defined as the quality of one’s questions, let’s humbly start with this pointed inquiry: “What good is wealth without health?”

As adults, we often find ourselves running about frantically in service to our careers, claiming to be supporting our families and loved ones. But are we really serving our careers and families well if we’re not taking care of ourselves and working to reconcile our rampant stress levels? As our research indicates, we are becoming more and more distracted, irritable, easily enervated, sleep deprived and less creative, and – perhaps most importantly – we are weakening our psychological bonds with the people who matter most.

“Mikhail Baryshnikov is one of the greatest entertainers the world has ever known, providing joy to millions. But his life, or any other accomplished life you can imagine, is not stress-free – far from it.”

A primary culprit in this narrative is none other than multitasking with our digital devices. Want to increase your irrelevance and drain positive energy reserves, both emotionally and mentally? It’s usually as simple as ramping up your level of multitasking on your smartphone. We think we are being clever and increasing our productivity when we do this, but, according to recent research, we are actually deceiving ourselves. In fact, if there is one habit we would strenuously encourage you to put in place after reading this article, it’s this: Set stringent boundaries on the use of your smartphone.

Still, we maintain that stress is misunderstood – and necessary, to some extent. Let’s return to the great ballet dancer’s feet. To be clear, Mikhail Baryshnikov is one of the greatest entertainers the world has ever known, providing joy to millions. But his life, or any other accomplished life you can imagine, is not stress-free – far from it.

With that in mind, this is our plea, which stems from the results of our study: If you are serious about increasing your mental and emotional cognitive reserves, you must commit to increasing the level of physical stress in your life.

If that recommendation caught you off guard, allow us to explain: Have you ever returned from a yoga class, jog or vigorous bike ride and concluded, “Gosh, what a waste of time that was?” We didn’t think so.

We have a radical shortfall of physical stress strategies in our lives; the great Russian dancer’s feet are Exhibits A and B. Appropriate dashes of physical grit and grind heal the soul and regenerate the mind. But wait, there’s more.

Not only are we exhorting you to manage your smartphone usage by setting boundaries and to increase your physical stress outputs, but there’s also one other critical piece: Increasing your capacity for creative gestures beyond yourself.

Humans are a mission-centered species. In other words, we operate as our best selves when we are investing energy toward a cause that is greater than ourselves. Again, it’s paradoxical: By increasing our engagement and energy for the betterment of others, we regenerate ourselves.

After all, we all know that life is not about how many breaths you take, but rather how many times you take someone else’s breath away (in a good way). That’s what we call dancing through our shared stress to achieve true success.

The War on Stress

Janus Henderson Investors recently partnered with the Financial Planning Association and Investopedia to understand the drivers and impact of negative stress on financial advisors and investors, both professionally and personally.

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About the Author

As an experienced speaker, Dr. Heidi Hanna has been featured at many national and global conferences, including the Fortune Magazine Most Powerful Women in Business Summit, ESPN Women’s Leadership Summit and the Million Dollar Round Table. She is founder and Chief Energy Officer of Synergy, a consulting company providing brain-based health and performance programs for organizations, and the Executive Director of the American Institute of Stress.

Dr. Hanna’s publications include The New York Times bestseller “The SHARP Solution: A Brain-Based Approach for Optimal Performance” (Wiley, Feb 2013), “Stressaholic: 5 Steps to Transform Your Relationship with Stress” (Wiley, Jan 2014) and “Recharge: 5 Shifts to Energize Your Life” (Synergy, 2015). Dr. Hanna is a National Board Member for the Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor and a Fellow with the American Institute of Stress, and she currently serves as editor of their quarterly publication, “Contentment.” Recently, Dr. Hanna created The Beyond Funny Project, a nonprofit dedicated to providing resources and education related to the benefits of healthy humor.

Dr. Hanna holds a bachelor’s degree in communications from Penn State University, a master’s degree in mental health counseling and a Ph.D. in holistic nutrition.