If there’s anyone who understands stress, it’s a chamber pro. Often we feel like the prosperity of the whole area is riding solely on our shoulders. That can be a very daunting responsibility and one that leaves many feeling burned out and underperforming. It’s one thing to feel stressed and still appreciate the job you’re doing but quite another when you feel stressed and undervalued or you worry you're not doing a good job.

In the Chamber Pros Community on Facebook, we see many posts about the stress of the job. Venting in that group is a great way to feel better and learn a new coping mechanism or solution from other people facing the same thing you are. But did you know that stress can be a good thing? And that you can turn unhealthy stress into a more healthy, productive type? That’s what the book The Upside of Stress: Why Stress Is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It by Kelly McGonigal teaches.

Stress Is in the Mind of the Beholder

Have you ever heard the phrase, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”? It means that what you find beautiful and what I find beautiful may be very different. For example, you may love nature and all its majesty. I may see a picture of a flower and immediately think, oh, my allergies.

Psychologist Kelly McGonigal believes stress (and the body’s reaction to it) is also based on the perception of the person experiencing it. We can endure more discomfort and unpleasantness based on our goal, purpose, or who we’re performing the task for. For instance, planning a child’s birthday party (even if it is exhausting and takes hours of your evening to plan) feels less stressful than planning a work event. Yes, a poorly attended work event could be held against you from a performance perspective but there are stressors in throwing a child’s party as well. After all, your child will be upset if no one attends their party too.

But it feels different.

That’s because you’re throwing the child's party to bring someone you care about joy. So, all the planning and back and forth feels “worth it.” McGonigal notes, “Caring for others triggers the biology of courage and creates hope.”

To bring that same feeling to your work, you must focus on the:

  • people you’re serving/those who will benefit from it
  • goal behind it/what attendees will get
  • purpose of the activity

If you have chamber member marketing personas, these can help. (And you thought they were just for membership sales.) When you are having a stressful day or know you will be putting together a project or program that will cause you stress, pull out your member personas and focus on what you’re providing for them. Think about your members' struggles and what they need and how this endeavor that you’re working on will bring them a solution/benefit. Not only will this cut down on your stress by making it “worth it,” but it will also help as you market the event with those members in mind.

Reframing Stress

For McGonigal, the negative impacts of stress occur because of our mindset. When we reframe a stressful occurrence as a challenge instead of a threat, we can feel empowered. This leads to personal and professional growth. She writes, “Mindsets are beliefs that shape your reality, including objective physical reactions…and even long-term health, happiness, and success. More importantly, the new field of mindset science shows that a single brief intervention, designed to change how you think about something, can improve your health, happiness, and success, even years into the future.” She points out that adopting a gratitude practice can help as well.

Eliminating Procrastination

Another way that people deal with stress is through procrastination. How many of us have put a stressful task off until tomorrow because we don’t have the bandwidth or mental acuity to handle it? It’s a common practice. Additionally, many of us trick ourselves into believing that avoidance is for the best. We are under the delusion tomorrow will be better. We’ll be better rested, have more information, resources, or other things and we’ll come at it from a stronger point of attack. That’s rarely true. You know what they say about good intentions. Instead, the problem or stressor is a day older and stronger.

But that’s not why the author urges us to take on stressful challenges. Instead, she refers to beneficial outcomes. McGonigal writes, “When you face difficulties head-on, instead of trying to avoid or deny them, you build your resources for dealing with stressful experiences.”

There are thousands of articles written about coping with stress and we’ve even addressed the challenges of managing stress here. But McGonigal says you can’t avoid it so why sidestep the benefits that could come from it? The book claims, “Life's challenges can be a catalyst for positive action, personal growth, and compassion.”

But she’s not the only one who believes stress and challenges are a growth opportunity. In a Harvard Business Review article from 2015, the author argued that stress was a good thing for those who knew how to use it. Many researchers and thought leaders have drawn a line between “good” stress and “bad stress.” Good stress keeps us sharp. These are (occasional) stressful challenges that call us to rise, like launching a workforce development program at your chamber.

Bad stress, on the other hand, is constant and chronic, the type of thing that does not go away after an event or program launch. This could be the stress of working with a very difficult person who doesn’t respond to good communication tactics or feedback.

Benefits of Stress

In addition to personal and professional growth, what are the benefits of stress? Hold on. We’re going to get a little science-y here:

Improved Cognitive Function

Moderate stress enhances cognitive function by strengthening neuronal connections, thereby improving memory, attention span, and productivity. Researchers at the University of Berkeley observed increased mental performance in lab rats subjected to brief (again, good stress) stressful events, which stimulated the proliferation of stem cells into new nerve cells.

Boosted Immune System

Low doses of stress hormone activate the fight-or-flight response, stimulating the production of interleukins and boosting the immune system to fend off infections. This "good" stress protects against illnesses, contrasting with chronic stress, which weakens immunity and promotes inflammation.

Increased resilience

Stress, although unpleasant, fosters resilience by enabling individuals to navigate tough situations more effectively over time. Confronting challenges builds coping skills, allowing individuals to handle similar stressors with greater control and adaptability in the future.

Finally, not all stress is equal. A pervasive, intense stressor that never resolves is not good for anyone, regardless of how much you practice a positive mindset. But short bursts of stress, followed by accomplishment can be highly rewarding personally and professionally. Those situations keep us sharp and resilient. They also create a sense of pride, instill value, and boost self-confidence. Stress can serve as a proving ground for your talents and decision-making abilities. As a chamber pro, you can use good stress to elevate your superpowers and forge a stronger identity to better serve your community.


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