Ep 89: Stress Doesn’t Lead to Success

On this episode of Communicate for Good, Erica discusses the difference between positive and negative stress including the zone of proximal development. She also shares that when approached in a reflective and conscious way both types of stress can impact one’s ability to be successful. In addition, she offers seven ways of managing stress aka. stress busters, and also how to reframe your stress (and fear) by asking yourself, how can I shift my relationship with these things when it’s within my control?

Resources Referenced:

3 Types of Stress and what you can do to fight them by Shonna Waters, PhD: https://www.betterup.com/blog/types-of-stress 

Zone of Proximal Development by Lev Vygotsky: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zone_of_proximal_development 

Connect with Erica:

Website: https://claxon-communication.com/ 

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/ericabarnhart/ 

Email: info@claxon-communication.com  

Book Time With Erica: https://bit.ly/ChatWithErica 


This is a transcript of Erica Barnhart on the Marketing for Good podcast. You can listen to the episode here and listen to more episodes on Apple Podcasts, or wherever you enjoy listening to podcasts. Enjoy!


stress, feel, proximal development, number, chronic stress, teams, zen den, list, talk, podcast, certain extent, serving, manage, great, zone, shift, finite, decide, calendar

Welcome to the Communicate for Good podcast. Where leaders on a mission to make the world a better place come to talk and learn about how communication language and words can help increase awareness, revenue and impact. With less stress and more joy. I’m your host, Eric Mills Barnhart, and I’m so excited. You’re here with me. Let’s dive right in. 

Welcome to the Communicate for Good podcast. It’s me, Erica Barnhart, your host, and I want to talk today about stress. I do. Let’s talk about stress baby. I was working with a client earlier today and we were unpacking stress. I was saying to her stress doesn’t equal success. Right? Stress doesn’t equal success, and, yet, we are socialized to believe that it serves us. That in order to be successful, in order to achieve, in order to get through the to do list then we must be stressed. That’s not true. Sometimes, it is true but often you can get through, achieve, produce whatever it is that needs to happen with far less stress if you release that belief that stress equals success. I’m talking about what is stress, the different types of stress, and then how some some ideas for how you might manage it. Stress is a psychological and physiological reaction to an event or condition that is considered a threat or a challenge. Thank you BetterUp for that definition. What we need to manage this, to keep it in check, is mental fitness so we want to witness the fitness. Is that song, where does that even come from, but it’s just so fun to say! For today, we want to witness the mental fitness. Okay. This is so important to you, to us as individuals because it’s so hard on our bodies, right? The other thing about stress is that it’s contagious. I’m sure you can think back in the past 24 hours and probably find an example where you were rolling along in your Zen Den, your mental Zen Den, and then you were exposed to somebody who was super stressed, and you can feel can feel your stress levels elevate. To a certain extent that comes from a really beautiful caring place where you’re like, I see your stress and I’m kind of taking that on. As a reminder, you are not in charge of other people’s emotions. As a leader you may want to figure out if there a way I can support you to reduce your stress, but fundamentally all of us are wandering around and it’s on us to manage this. It’s contagious, and just stating the obvious that it can contribute significant negativity, very quickly because of the contagion factor, into your team, the organization and really undermine your ability to be successful and to be happy along the way. 

Okay, so let’s talk about types of stress and how you can manage it to be healthier and happier as you move forward. When you first start wondering, and I’m gonna at the end talk about this, Do I need to be stressed? Is it truly serving me? This idea that you could walk through the environment, the world right now which by definition just packed with stressors that are everywhere, so the idea that you might be able to experience them differently and from a place of much more calm could feel either just bananas, like what are you talking about Erica, or like a trust fall in that maybe you’re curious, at this point you’re thinking what would it be like to just decide, because to a certain extent this is about agency and the choices you’re making, to just decide to not be stressed. To do the thing that needs to be done but from a different energy. This can feel very uncomfortable. I just wanted to name that.

Let’s talk about the two big types of stress. Eustress is one type which is positive stress and the other type is distress. Okay, so let’s talk about positive stress a little bit here. This can feel like expectation or excitement or anticipation. This is like I have a new job, I’m transitioning into a new job or promotion so it’s exciting and also kind of nerve wracking, right? It’s where the benefit is worth the challenge. Importantly, often, Eustress is finite and with a clear it’s over moment; I had day one of the job, I did what I said I would do, whatever the things going to be. It’s finite and it can also lead to growth, so if you’re faced with a challenge that’s just outside your comfy zone, what Lev Vygotsky referred to as your zone of proximal development, then you can nudge yourself into the whatever. Maybe you’re training for something and you can decide that you’re gonna be excited about that and that you’re gonna make it happen and that can then have that positive energy, right? It needs to be in that zone of proximal development and finite, but it’s so important, especially against this backdrop of COVID. Covid is no longer a health emergency but it’s still everywhere, right? It is still so pervasive, it’s made its way into both our conscious experience and our subconscious minds. We just don’t feel as safe as we did three years ago, and so it’s against that backdrop. I really, I appreciate being able to say, is that a sign of my comfort zone and that zone of proximal development? Does it feel exciting? Or does it feel like Oh, dear, right, and you can set yourself up for success by creating that just enough reach. You can’t do this if you’re leading your team. I think that’s a really powerful concept. 

We’re coming to the end of the quarter at the the University of Washington where I teach, and I have the honor of teaching something called capstone for our masters students. The capstone is, in many ways, the culmination of their two years experience. They are doing a project for a clients. They know how to do analysis, they know how to write, they know how to do many of these things, but they’ve never put it together in the same way and many of them have had never done a consulting engagement. I love watching the growth that happens for these teams. It is an honor, it’s just a straight up honor, I don’t know what else to say. They are amazing and I have the privilege of doing this for a while. I can be like, you’re gonna make it and you’re not just going to make it most of the time, you’re going to knock it out of the park. I say this is the beginning, and I can see the students are like, no, because it just feels like like the great unknown, but if they are properly supported then they get to have that sense of satisfaction of doing that thing. To see them as individuals and teams get to new levels of leadership and scholarship, is amazing. They are set up with that zone of proximal development. I don’t know when we were having the curricular meetings if we refer to it as the zone of proximal development, but that’s exactly what it is. We know you can do this and you’re going to have the supports in place to get there. Okay, so that’s positive stress. 

Now, let’s talk about the type of stress that for the most part is bad. This is negative stress. I’m not a stress expert by any stretch of the imagination, so I’m just going to talk very high level and my hope is that you will take away one thing from this podcast. That you’re going to be like, Okay, I am game for trying. Okay, so just keep it in high level. There’s acute stress and then there’s episodic acute stress, and then there’s chronic stress. Acute stress is like, holy schmoly that bus is coming at me and I’m gonna jump out of the way, but once the bus has passed and you’re safely on the sidewalk and your stress response dissipates you kind of go back to baseline. If you are doing public speaking, some people will experience acute stress in this way. You walk off the stage and it’s over, you can feel that right? Acute episodic is when that comes up again and again, and that can turn into chronic stress. This is really what we’re seeing unprecedented levels of. Part of the reason for this is the flip side of that Eustress is time stamped and you know when it’s gonna come to an end, but with chronic stress there’s no end in sight, at least from where from your vantage point. This is where therapy and coaching, your friends, and your colleagues. This is where perspective can be really helpful because maybe there is an end in site but it oftentimes won’t feel like it. Ongoing caretaking responsibilities, systemic inequities, a fast ever changing environment, long term medical conditions, relationship issues. All of these are examples of chronic stress. And so what do you do?

I’m not even going to spend time going into the the negative health impact of chronic stress. It’s May and so it’s National Mental Health Awareness Month. I’m so grateful to people who have advocated and de-stigmatized mental health. We can talk about it so much more openly. High level chronic stress equals bad, bad for your health. I say this as somebody who is still a work in progress. When it comes to all of this, I do have to say, I’m about to talk about the seven stress busters. I do all of these things all the time and at this point they really do help, but I had to go through that transition of being like, Okay, if I want to be healthier then how can I shift my relationship with these things when it’s within my control? I just want to say that there are instances where it is outside of your control. These seven things are within your control but there are instances where that’s not the case, so I just want to name that many of the bigger picture conditions. We’ll just stick with COVID because it’s easy. None of us haven’t said we don’t have any control about when that’s actually going to calm the F down. Really, truly, and not be just ever present. I mean, I don’t know about you, but I’m still yet to have a week where somebody didn’t say, oh, you know, I have to say I’ve just had a COVID exposure. It’s still all the time, so what are the seven stress flux busters? Number One, top of the list is exercise. What I was reading, and I’ve seen pretty consistently, if you’re like, blah, exercise, hard past, no thank you, this doesn’t need to be you like, you know, going hard. It’s like 20 to 30 minutes of walking, not even brisk walking that’s good for cardiovascular but just walking at all for 20 to 30 minutes. Take yourself for a little tootle around the block of mindfulness and meditation. Being present, and figure out how you can stay here and not hop, skip and jump into the future which is a very stressful endeavor. That’s Number Two. Number Three is therapy and coaching. Sort of an obvious one and it gets to that perspective taking, but also being able to be given others skills that are specific for you and personalized to you is super important. I would not be the person I am today without my longtime therapist. She’s been life changing for me, definitely. Number four, time management. This is interesting, because when I read this I needed to read a bit more. It wasn’t intuitive as Number One on the list, but if you are proactively managing your time and you’re not late for appointments so you don’t feel that rush which really can be stressful. I thought that was an interesting one. That’s calendar management to a certain extent, yes, things pop up. I just yesterday had somebody book a call with me and they didn’t show up so I pop them notice. Are you Okay, blah, blah, blah, and I get crickets. I was really concerned but it turned out they were fine. I think that we can hold greater grace now than maybe we could before for when life really bops us on the head with great regularity. So again, what’s within your locus of self control? Your calendar is and yes, things pop up, but it this is something I work with a lot on with my clients and also sometimes with students, which is just calendar management. I mean, is it sexy? No. Does it reduce stress? Yes, it can. That was an interesting one just because I hadn’t quite connected the dots in that way. Number Five, time in nature. If you don’t live by a park, and I know this sounds kind of weird but it’s like super lovely. Take off your shoes and walk barefoot in the grass. This is very, very fabulous for stress. If you’re intrigued by that you can put it feet, in grass, stressed in Google and you’ll get all the science behind it. I recommend that as a shortcut. If you are really short on time is to go put your tootsies in the grass. Number Six, eating healthy which means different things to different people but the connection between diets and what you put in your body and your stress is well established. Number Seven, is connect with friends and family and really prioritize it. This became more challenging in the past three years and so it takes more effort. When you’re in a stress place and if your stress has moved on to anxiety and depression or anything like that, planning is an effort and we’re still a little out of practice with the whole like, Oh, hey, you’re in person 3d. So this number seven in theory sounds great but that can also sound like one more thing on your to-do-list. You get to decide which of these seven feels like it will be healing and healthy for you. You know you best, so as you’re moving forward listening to this episode just start noticing when you’re feeling stressed. For lots of folks, it’s sort of an all the time thing and so it can be hard to even see it. This is where you could ask your safe people how they perceive your level of stress. Here are some questions. A biggie for me is, is this stress serving me? Because sometimes we’re just used to feeling stress, so if that’s you then a shortcut can be to put your hand on your heart and take three deep breaths. With the exhale being longer than the inhale. The hand on the heart is just a easy way to bring your central nervous system back online and calm it down. When your exhale is longer than your inhale, that’s saying to your body that we’re okay. If you think about this from a long term perspective, if you’re running from the tiger on the tundra then there’s no long exhaling happening. We’re head down, doing the thing and I am panting. This is sort of the the opposite of that. The other thing is to look up at the horizon. This also goes back to the tiger on the tundra, which, in some ways, we’ve come so far and in other ways, not so much actually, because, again, if you’re running from the tiger you’re not checking out the vista. There’s no time for that. These are just some little things you could do to shift the feeling in your body away from the stress just to calm and slow it all down, and then really notice the thoughts you’re having about a given situation, right? If you hear your self talk is, I’m never gonna get this all done, I’m so far behind. Those are thoughts and maybe you can say, it’s true I’ll never get it all done, maybe, but is that thought serving you? It’s about serving you. And how does that make you feel? If it’s sub-awesome, guess what, you get to rewrite the thought. You might shift that to, I have a lot on my plate and I got this. 

This is many years ago, now literally half a lifetime, and I was in my first graduate program. This dear friend, a dear friend to this day. And I was like, I don’t think I’m gonna make it. I don’t think I can get through this. I’ve always been pretty good at making it through a to-do-list, right? I will never forget her saying, has there ever been an instance where you didn’t get it all done? Eventually? And I was like, well, but this may be different. She’s like, just answer the question. And I was like, Okay, you’re gonna get it all the time. It’s gonna happen. It was such a loving observation and question for her to ask. And now I would shift that and ask, Do you truly need to get everything done on your to-do-list? Is there anything that if it doesn’t get done that it’s actually okay? Can you prune? Can you delegate? Really ask the question, Do I truly need to get everything done? We’ve talked about this before on the podcast. This idea that the fear is real. The danger is not. The fear is real for the dangerous not right, so if I don’t get through my to do list,is there danger in that or if I’m just afraid of failure? Really dig into that, because our minds conflate this thought that you may be having of I can’t get this all done. That’s a thought that’s fear based, and it goes right to conflating that with the danger that you’re gonna lose your job. Which when you think about it that way, that’s a pretty big leap. Right? It’s a pretty big leap. 

Those are my thoughts on stress, and, like I said, my hope with this episode is you just pluck one nugget, two or three, and if there’s more than one, high five, fantastic! Trying a new things can be stressful and so I want you to feel that Eustress about the idea of this week, I’m going to try one new thing. Alright, you get to decide the timeframe. You have control over the timing which is important, as we discussed. Pick one thing and see what works for you, see what doesn’t work for you, and if it does work then put it on repeat and then maybe try something else. This is as always an invitation to learn to grow in a way that serves and supports you. You are an awesome human, an awesome listener. 

I love hearing from listeners. I love hearing what you tried and if it worked for you? If so, how and if you were like wow, actually no, never again, or I like all of the above. I would really, especially on this topic, love to hear from you. My email is in the show notes. That’s all I have for this episode, so with that, I will say Do Good, Be Well and I cannot wait to see you next. 

Thank you for listening to the Communicate for Good podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, I would so appreciate it if you would right here right now. Go rate and review the podcast. Your review will help even more purpose driven leaders, teams and organizations. Learn how to use words to change the world. To find more ways that communication can help you increase awareness, revenue and impact. Head on over to www.claxon-communication.com.


Do you communicate as effectively as you think?


Do you communicate as effectively as you think?