May 08

Effects of Stress Not Always Bad

Two different nonfiction books that acknowledge the effects of stress while also recognizing that not all stress is bad for you: The 5 Resets: Rewire Your Brain and Body for Less Stress and More Resilience and The Upside of Stress.

I. The 5 Resets: Rewire Your Brain and Body for Less Stress and More Resilience by Dr. Aditi Nerurkar (2024)

From the book description: “For Dr. Nerurkar, the common misperception of stress as ‘bad’ needs reframing.”

A quote from her interview with “Not all stress is created equal — there’s good stress and bad stress. Everything in your life was created because of a little bit of healthy stress, the good kind. It’s what helped you graduate, make your best friend, move into your new home, get promoted. A life with zero stress is biologically impossible because you need a little bit of stress to get up out of bed in the morning and get on with your day. When stress gets out of hand, it becomes unhealthy stress. This is the kind that gives you anxiety and keeps you up at night. It makes you feel irritable, anxious, and hypervigilant.”

Nerurkar, a Harvard researcher on this subject, prescribes five “resets”:

  • The First Reset: Get Clear on What Matters Most
  • The Second Reset: Find Quiet in a Noisy World
  • The Third Reset: Sync Your Brain and Your Body
  • The Fourth Reset: Come Up for Air
  • The Fifth Reset: Bring Your Best Self Forward

The 5 Resets is all about managing stress with these tools. But, as NPR points out, Nerurkar has specific ideas about developing resilience. Her Resilience Rule of Two: Pick no more than two small changes at a time. “Anything more and our system gets overloaded,” she states (

II. The Upside of Stress: Why Stress Is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It by Kelly McGonigal (2015)

Selected quotes from The Upside of Stress:

Stress happens when something you care about is at stake. It’s not a sign to run away – it’s a sign to step forward.

Mindset 1: Stress Is Harmful. Experiencing stress depletes my health and vitality. Experiencing stress debilitates my performance and productivity. Experiencing stress inhibits my learning and growth. The effects of stress are negative and should be avoided. Mindset 2: Stress Is Enhancing. Experiencing stress enhances my performance and productivity. Experiencing stress improves my health and vitality. Experiencing stress facilitates my learning and growth. The effects of stress are positive and should be utilized.

Stress and meaning are inextricably linked. You don’t stress out about things you don’t care about, and you can’t create a meaningful life without experiencing some stress.

Erin Enders, Bustle, lists the seven ways “embracing stress can make you happier and healthier,” per McGonigal. (Click on the link for details.)

  1. You’ll find the strength to pursue your goals.
  2. You’ll grow as a person.
  3. You’ll learn how to thrive in difficult situations.
  4. You’ll be able to transform a threat into a challenge.
  5. You’ll have more emotional support.
  6. You’ll be a stronger person.
  7. …And eventually you’ll view stress as a resource.

McGonigal spoke with Brigid Schulte, Washington Postabout shifting her own mindset: “For instance, last night, I got this email. It made me really sad and disappointed. It took me a few moments, but then I realized the disappointment and sadness were signs of how much I cared. And once you recognize that, it’s important to stay engaged, and to think about what action you can take that’s consistent with your goals and values.”

Examples of specific suggestions that can enable the needed shift:

    • Write or reflect on the connection between a specific stressor and something meaningful.
    • Take a “Bigger than Self”  perspective—find ways to recognize how common and/or human one’s situation is.
Feb 26

Rules of Three: How to Live Better

When seeking advice on how to live better, many have found that rules of three, well, rule, so to speak, as they are often more digestible than longer treatises.

One recent example: Actor André De Shields drew attention last year when, during his Tony Awards acceptance speech, he offered the three rules of longevity he’s learned: 1) Surround yourself with people whose eyes light up when they see you coming, 2) Slowly is the fastest way to get to where your want to be, and 3) The top of one mountain is the bottom of the next, so keep climbing.

And, maybe you’ve seen the following popular graphic online:

Singer-songwriter Jason Mraz‘s “3 Things” lists what the singer does “when my life falls apart”:

…I cry my eyes out and I dry up my heart…

…close both of my eyes
And sing my thank yous to each and every moment of my life…

take a breath and bow and I let that chapter end
I design my future bright not by where my life has been
And I try, try, try, try
Try again

In other words, 1) grieve, 2) express gratitude, and 3) move forward.

Psychologist Daniel Tomasulo‘s three rules for a positive transformation (Psych Central):

  1. Change takes time.
  2. Notice and allow the changes.
  3. Be the change.

Miriam Tatzel is another psychologist with rules of three for a happier life (Inc.):

  1. Cultivate your talents.
  2. Accept yourself.
  3. Seek out new experiences.

Denis Waitley, motivational speaker, says you can transform negative anxiety into positive success by following these rules:

  1. Accept the unchangeable.
  2. Change the changeable.
  3. Avoid the unacceptable.

The recently published book by former Notre Dame football coach Lou Holtz, Three Rules for Living a Good Life: A Game Plan for after Graduation, expands on the following:

  1. Do what is right.
  2. Do everything to the best of your ability.
  3. Show people you care.

But it’s not just the modern world that’s produced rules of three.

Writer Henry James(1843-1916): Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind. 

Ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu: I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion. These three are your greatest treasures. 

Philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804): Rules for happiness: something to do, someone to love, something to hope for.

Mar 20

“10% Happier”: Author Dan Harris Advocates Meditation

Initially I wanted to call this book “The Voice in My Head Is an A—–e.” However, that title was deemed inappropriate for a man whose day job requires him to abide by FCC decency standards. Dan Harris, 10% Happier

That “voice” to which TV news correspondent Dan Harris refers above and in his new book, 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works–A True Story, is the internal chatter we all have to some degree. Internal chatter that for Harris was getting out of control.

A major catalyst for Harris seeking change in his life? His on-air panic attack in 2004—he was on Good Morning America when it happened. As he states, it was “the single most humiliating moment of my life.”

In the recent ABC News video below, Harris shows a clip of that attack:

Harris embarked on a specific quest. From the official description of 10% Happier:

A lifelong nonbeliever, he found himself on a bizarre adventure, involving a disgraced pastor, a mysterious self-help guru, and a gaggle of brain scientists. Eventually, Harris realized that the source of his problems was the very thing he always thought was his greatest asset: the incessant, insatiable voice in his head, which had both propelled him through the ranks of a hyper-competitive business and also led him to make the profoundly stupid decisions that provoked his on-air freak-out.

What did he eventually find that helped? MeditationKirkus Reviews recounts some of his process toward this realization:

Though Harris’ journalistic assignments would bring him face to face with influential self-help spiritualists Eckhart Tolle and Deepak Chopra, neither dispensed the precise amalgam of assurance and credibility necessary to truly diffuse his afflictions. After his wife Bianca’s success with books by sage psychiatrist Mark Epstein, Harris found himself connecting with the good doctor’s Buddhist leanings, befriending him and swiftly embracing the art of meditation, instead of debunking it as the hokey ‘exclusive province of bearded swamis, unwashed hippies, and fans of John Tesh music.’

From Harris’s Preface to 10% Happier, in which the book title is explained:

Meditation suffers from a towering PR problem, largely because its most prominent proponents talk as if they have a perpetual pan flute accompaniment. If you can get past the cultural baggage, though, what you’ll find is that meditation is simply exercise for your brain. It’s a proven technique for preventing the voice in your head from leading you around by the nose. To be clear, it’s not a miracle cure. It won’t make you taller or better-looking, nor will it magically solve all of your problems. You should disregard the fancy books and the famous gurus promising immediate enlightenment. In my experience, meditation makes you 10% happier. That’s an absurdly unscientific estimate, of course. But still, not a bad return on investment.

At first it was only five minutes a day that he meditated. But the three benefits he found immediately, he says, were:

  1.  Increased focus
  2.  A greater sense of calm
  3.  A vastly improved ability to jolt myself out of rumination and fantasies about the past or the future, and back to whatever was happening right in front of my face

Now Harris has been practicing meditation for about four years, 35 minutes per day. Another important benefit he’s been able to find? It has to do with that “voice”:

I created a different relationship to the voice in my head. You know the voice I’m talking about. It’s what has us reaching into the fridge when we’re not hungry, checking our e-mail while we’re in conversation with other people, and losing our temper only to regret it later. The ability to see what’s going on in your head at any given moment without reacting to it blindly—often called ‘mindfulness’—is a superpower. I’m certainly not arguing that meditation is a panacea. I still do tons of stupid stuff – as my wife will attest. But the practice has definitely made me happier, calmer, and nicer.

Things he still struggles with are decreasing his multitasking attempts and his mindless and compulsive eating. Habits he’s broken are his use of self-medicating drugs (cocaine and ecstasy) which he’s now learned had led to brain changes (too much adrenaline) that likely contributed to his panic.