April 25, 2014

broken pencil

Stress has a bad reputation. But can it actually help us? Credit: Benjamin Watson / Flickr Creative Commons

We are a stressed out nation.

Over one-third of Americans say they always feel stressed out. However, new research shows that the role of stress in our lives is more complicated than we think.

To get the whole story, I started with the most stressful environment there is: a start-up.

So what’s a typical morning at Fortified Bicycle, a Cambridge startup that makes anti-theft bike lights? 

We start our days with a 15-minute stand-up at 9 a.m. We have a standup meeting because standing is uncomfortable so it forces you to finish the meeting faster,” says CEO Slava Menn

Faster, because when there are only four people running a company, every second of the day counts.

And Menn is feeling the heat. Right now is crunch time for us….a lot of pressure on me and my co-founder to raise money to take the company to the next stage.” 

Most of us can probably relate and immediately think of high blood pressure, lack of sleep, and a weakened immune system.

But psychology researcher Alia Crum's latest studies out of Columbia Business School suggest that we shouldn’t treat stress like an evil villain.

It can actually be really good for us.

When we’re under stress, our attention focuses, narrows, kind of zones us in on the things that really matter,” Crum argues.

Which is great if you’re a reporter under deadline — or an entrepreneur that needs to pump out 5,000 units by end of day.

However, some research shows that stress is addictive. “We can become neuro-chemically addicted or dependent on that rush of adrenaline or stress hormones that we get by being so “on” all the time that it becomes then really difficult to get the recovery we need,” says Heidi Hanna, CEO of Synergy, a health coaching consulting group.

It all comes down to balance-- which is something Slava Menn and his team at Fortified Bicycle know well.

“During periods that are not as intense, we don’t push as hard and that way we recoup and restore energy,” he says. “So that when we do have an intense period, we can really drive ourselves and produce.”

Want to hear more about the latest research? Listen to the full story, above.

stress, research, biology, Body and Mind, Culture, work

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