Book review - The Upside of Stress

Last week I referred to two books I was reading simultaneously. Yesterday I finished the second one - the one on working hard - called The Upside of Stress. This is one of the more important books I’ve read lately. Here are some of my thoughts and why I recommend it.

I first heard of the book in this podcast with Keith Rabois, someone who is very vocal on the topic of working hard - strongly arguing for it’s importance if you want to accomplish something of significance. His advice was to watch the author’s TED talk, and if it sparked an interest - go read the book. So I did both.

The premise for the book is that stress - contrary to popular belief - isn’t dangerous. Research shows clearly that generally, people who feel stressed have more health issues. What’s interesting is that if you divide all stressed people into two groups, those who believe stress is dangerous and those who don’t, it’s only the first group who are at risk. This suggests that stress isn’t harmful, rather it’s the belief that stress is dangerous that is harmful. It’s a mental thing.

My initial to this reaction was “hey, those who don’t believe it’s harmful haven’t experienced real stress”. I guess this is the normal reaction, as everyone I’ve discussed this finding with has reacted similarly. Obviously, that is not the case. Otherwise it wouldn’t be worth writing a book about. And the evidence presented in the book clearly shows that almost all types of stress are perfectly harmless unless you think they are harmful. It’s a mindset thing.

When it comes to physical exercise, we completely understand that in order to grow our muscles we have to stress them. Running intervals or lifting weights hurts as we stress lungs and muscles, but nobody’s alarmed by this. It’s the only way to grow and get stronger.

The brain is a muscle. While I believe most know this, our actions and beliefs does not reflect this. We tend to believe in talent (fixed mindset) over grit (growth mindset). And we believe it’s healthy to stress all muscles except our brain. I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve felt bad about being stressed before reading this book. Going forward, that is not the case.

As with all exercise, too much leads to burnout rather than growth. But there’s no need to be worried about the stress most people experience on a regular basis. Rather see it as exercise, a growth opportunity and something positive. This book has definitely shifted my perspective in that direction.