Conventional wisdom says that to have happy and healthy lives, those who run small businesses (and everyone else) should reduce or eliminate stress in their lives. However, in a hugely popular 2013 TED Talk, and now in her new book, The Upside of Stress, health psychologist and Stanford lecturer Kelly McGonigal urges us to see stress as something positive to understand and embrace.


What is stress?

McGonigal defines stress as the reaction we have when something we care about is at stake. McGonigal says stress is natural and that without stress, it is impossible to have a meaningful life.

McGonigal doesn’t dismiss the harmful potential of stress. Instead, she points to steps that help change our “mindsets” on how we view stress.

Your mindset determines if stress is bad or good for you

“Stress is Harmful” Mindset: If you think stress is bad, you’ll try to avoid it or let your negative feelings bog you down and keep you from tackling the problem.

“Stress is Enhancing” Mindset: Stress related to your business is a natural, positive, even vital, reaction related to something you care about. Use the natural and positive energy to create a “biology of courage.”


“The old understanding of stress as an unhelpful relic of our animal instincts is being replaced by the understanding that stress actually makes us socially smart—it’s what allows us to be fully human.”

– Kelly McGonigal


Thinking stress is bad is what makes it bad

Stress cannot be avoided. It’s how you respond to stress that determines whether or not it is harmful. According to McGonigal, people with high stress levels who chose to refuse it is harmful have a lower risk of dying prematurely than people who believe it is harmful—and even lower than people who claim they don’t have much stress.

Writing can help you embrace the positive power of stress

The goal is to change a stress-is-bad mindset into a stress-can-be-good mindset. According to McGonigal, writing about your values is one of the most effective psychological interventions ever studied.

Kelly McGonigal’s TED Talk: How to Make Stress Your Friend

While stress has been made into a public health enemy, new research suggests that stress may only be bad for you if you believe that to be the case. McGonigal urges us to see stress as a positive, and introduces us to an unsung mechanism for stress reduction: reaching out to others.