Stress Makes You Stronger


image“Adopting the right attitude can convert a negative stress into a positive one.” — Hans Selye

We’ve all heard how stress is bad for us.  But what if it’s not stress that’s bad?

What if it’s how you think about stress that makes it bad?

How you think about stress changes everything.  And if you re-think how you think about stress, you can use stress to live a longer, healthier, happier life.

In the TED talk, How to Make Stress Your Friend, Kelly McGonigal shows you how to re-imagine what stress means to you.

The New Science of Stress

McGonigal has made it her mission is to help people be happier and healthier.  She used to tell people to get rid of stress.  Now she knows there is a better way:

Embrace it.  Make stress your friend.

How you think about stress matters.  The harmful effects of stress are not inevitable.  How you think and how you act can transform your physical experience of stress.  And when you choose to connect with others under stress, you can create resilience.

Create the Biology of Courage

When you view your stress response as helpful, you create the biology of courage.

In other words, when you view stress as good, it is good.  Not in a fake way.  It actually changes how your body responds.

McGonigal shares a study where researchers tracked 30,000 adults for eight years.  At the start of the study, they asked participants whether they believed that stress is harmful to your health.

What they found at the end of the study is that 43% had an increased chance of dying from stress, only if they believed that stress was harmful to your health.

What they found is that re-thinking the stress response as helpful helps people to be less anxious, less stressed out, and more confident.

Normally, in a stress response, your heart rate goes up and your blood vessels restrict.  But when you view your stress response as helpful, your physical response changes.  Your blood vessels stay relaxed, like they do in in moments of joy and courage.

And this difference, McGonigal says, is the difference between a stress induced heart attack vs. living well into your 90’s.

View stress as good.

Create Resilience by Caring About Others

When you choose to connect with others under stress, you can create resilience.

McGonigal shares another study where 1,000 adults in the U.S. ranging in age from 34 to 39, were asked two questions:

  1. How much stress have you experienced in the last year
  2. How much time have you spent helping out friends, neighbors, people in your community?

What did researchers find?

In this case, every major stressful experience from financial difficulties to family crisis, increased the risk of dying from stress by 30%.

But, that was not true for everyone.

It was only true for the people that didn’t spend time caring for others.  The people who spent time caring for others showed zero stress-related increase in dying.

Caring creates resilience.

Stress Makes You Social

Stress motivates you to reach out and connect with others.  McGonigal shares that Oxytocin helps us behind the scenes to become more caring, compassionate, and connected human beings.

Oxytocin, the cuddle hormone, is released when you hug someone.  It’s a neuro-hormone.  it fine tunes your brains social instincts, and it primes you to do things that strengthen close relationships.

Oxytocin makes you crave physical contact, and it enhances your empathy.  It helps you become more compassionate and caring, and it makes you more willing to help and support the people you care about.

Oxytocin is a stress hormone.  Your pituitary gland pumps out Oxytocin as part of the stress response.  In fact, according to McGonigal, Oxytocin is as much as part of the stress response as adrenaline that makes your heart pound.

McGonigal says this is a good thing.  It’s motivating you to seek support.  It’s nudging you to tell someone how you feel instead of bottling up.

Your stress response wants you to be surrounded by people who care about you.

Oxytocin Protects Your Body from Stress

Not only does Oxytocin encourage you to connect with others, and enhance your ability to connect, it also physically protects your heart.

Your heart has receptors for Oxytocin.  Oxytocin helps heart cells regenerate and heal.  This directly strengthens your heart.

So Oxytocin makes your heart stronger.

All of these physical benefits are enhanced by social contact and social support.

We have a built in mechanism for stress resilience, and that mechanism is human connection.

Change How You View Stress

Stress is your body helping you rise to the challenge before you.

When you view your stress response as helpful, you create the biology of courage.

When you choose to connect with others under stress, you create resilience.

McGonigal puts it this way:

“Stress gives us access to our hearts: the compassionate heart that finds joy and meaning in connecting with others, and yes, your pounding physical heart working so hard to give you strength and energy.  And when you choose to view stress in this way, you’re not just getting better at stress…you’re actually making a pretty profound statement.  You’re saying that you can trust yourself to handle life’s challenges and you’re remembering that you don’t have to face them alone.”

Stress does not make you sick.

Stress makes you strong.

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  1. I like this new research information and suggestions for working with the mind. I don’t think it’s quite so black and white, but our mind does have a huge influence on our body and our health.

  2. It’s more like shades of gray 😉
    I think it’s a good reminder that our thoughts change our feelings, and our feelings change our chemistry.

  3. I’m going to put a post it note on my computer reminding me to make the most of stress, rather than wilt under it! (Or at least try to). Cheers for reminding me that how we think about things is incredibly powerful.

    • Good move! A post it on your computer, in the hall, on the wall, on a mirror, on the fridge or wherever you need to see it will help until it becomes a thought habit.

      I originally didn’t know what to call this post. I started off by calling it “Stress is Your Friend,” but I was trying to find a catchy mantra. For me, it wasn’t sticky or strong enough. Finally, I started saying, “Stress Makes You Stronger” and that’s when it stuck. Now I’m making that little mental mantra my thought habit and re-framing how I think about stress.

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