What is stress-related growth?

Juli Walchuk, MHC-LP November 4, 2022

Learn how to make stress work for you.

None of us are strangers to stress. We are all familiar with the overwhelm, anxiety, fatigue and low mood that arise when we’re feeling the pressure. Modern life is demanding and it can be tough to navigate all the everyday challenges, nevermind when a crisis hits. But good news: not all stress is bad. It turns out, how you respond to stress can have a major impact on your mental and physical wellness. This is where stress-related growth (SRG) comes in. Stress-related growth refers to the positive outcomes or benefits that result from successfully navigating a stressful situation. This can look like developing new coping skills, improving interpersonal relationships and deepening one’s spirituality or meaning in life. 

Stress related growth in action

Did you know that some plants need stress to grow? They thrive under pressure. Sequoias, the largest trees on earth, need fire to germinate. And while you’re not a 400 foot tree in the Pacific Northwest, stress can also push you to grow in ways you didn’t know were possible. You’ve likely experienced stress-related growth at some point in your life, and even more likely in the last few years. The COVID-19 pandemic put us to the test and in turn, many rose to the occasion, finding new purpose in serving their communities or developing healthy coping techniques for their anxiety and isolation. 

You may be familiar with some concepts related to stress related growth:

  • Resilience: the ability to recover or bounce back from hardship. A resilient person can adapt and manage when unexpected hardships occur. So how is resilience different from stress-related growth? While resilience is focused on returning to your pre-challenge baseline of functioning, stress-related growth (emphasis on the
    “growth” part) refers to achieving an improved level of psychosocial functioning following the challenge. You not only get back to your baseline but supersede it in some way.

  • Post-Traumatic Growth (PTG): positive psychological changes one experiences following a trauma or crisis situation. There is growing research that many people can actually thrive in the shadow of a traumatic experience. PTG falls under the umbrella of stress-related growth but requires the “stress” event to be a deeply disturbing or distressing physical, sexual, emotional or psychological experience. An example of PTG may be finding an increased connection with a higher power following the death of a close family member. 

Ways to foster stress-related growth

  • Prioritize your self-esteem. Research shows higher self-worth correlates to a greater ability to grow following hardship. People with higher self-esteem tend to be more motivated to problem-solve and make meaning out of life’s challenges. By improving your self-talk and reflecting on the positive qualities you possess, you are setting yourself up for growth the next time a challenge arises. 

  • Surround yourself with social support. People with a strong support system tend to exhibit more growth and develop a stronger appreciation for those who stick by them through the challenge. 

  • Reflect on your spirituality and purpose. Whether you are part of an organized religion, have a personal spiritual practice or possess other means of feeling connected to the world around you, taking time to consider your beliefs while things are calm can prove helpful when life gets tough. 

  • Build up your optimism! People who have a positive outlook are more likely to find meaning when stressful situations arise. 

Life can and will be stressful. But take this as a gentle nudge to embrace stress, not run from it. Big growth could be just around the corner. 

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