Work Life

Stress will kill you – if you think it will!

Photo of Holger Reisinger
May 5, 2015
Reading time
3 minutes

Have you ever found yourself walking aimlessly around in the hallways, eager to get to work but unable to settle down at your desk? Or have you ever thought that your team is getting an awful lot of coffee these days? You may be under more stress than you think and you may be heading for disaster, unless you make changes fast.


One of those changes should be how you view stress itself. Because if you view it as harmful, it may end up killing you. Psychologist Kelly McGornigal has some interesting statistics: a study carried out by the University of Wisconsin, which followed 30,000 Americans, concluded that the people in the study who were exposed to large amounts of stress and viewed the stress as harmful had 43% higher risk of dying than people who viewed stress as a helpful response. The latter group had an even lower death ratio than people in the study with hardly any stress at all. If the study is correct, at least part of the people who died from stress could have been saved by a change in attitude.

I am sure that even if this is true for some, it is not a universal truth. 120,000 Americans die from stress every year. In fact, stress kills more people in the western world than most other major killers such as HIV/AIDS. But if we can alter some of those cases with a change in attitude, then I think it will be worth trying.

In the past year, I have been thinking a lot about how we work, how we should be working and where I see the trend going. I have looked into everything from productivity in the open office to mobility. What do you do when you experience instant fight-or-flight mode when you hit the office? What do you do when the office is killing you? According to another study carried out by the recruitment site, 42% of people just give up and quit. If this is not in the cards for you, and you choose to stay and fight, this is how you do it.

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Get the team together

While stress may not make you social, social interactions relieve stress. This is why people naturally go for coffee more often than they need to. Interaction at the coffee machine or water cooler takes the pressure off, at least momentarily. I suggest you build in more opportunities for social interaction in a work setting so that you can keep productivity up while releasing team stress.

Address the problem

If you are feeling the pressure, I am sure that you are not the only one. Your team or colleagues will most likely be feeling the same way. Addressing the issue in a constructive way and striking a deal to look out for each other, as well as setting realistic goals for jobs and the company overall in an imperfect world, will go a long way to getting on the good side of stress. Realize that there are some things you cannot change and focus on the things you can.

Turn the negative into a positive

As Kelly McGornigal says, try to think of your stress as a helpful response to a stressful situation. Instead of thinking that the stress is slowing you down, try to think about it as your body’s way of helping you perform in a difficult situation. It will take practice, but if it can save your life, I think it is worth a shot.

I for one will look out for the fight-or-flight responses in myself and in my team and try to avoid the pitfalls of negative stress.

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