In one of my favourite TED talks, Kelly McGonigal discusses the medical effects of stress versus the effects of what we believe about stress.
Evidence from the study of 30,000 people showed that those who experienced a lot of stress were 43% more likely to die early – but this was only true of those who believed their stress to be a bad thing.
For those who believed that their stress response to be a good thing; who saw the physical symptoms of stress not as fear and anxiety, but as their bodies becoming stronger and more aware, preparing to rise to a challenge; they were happy and healthy despite coping with large amounts of stress in their daily lives.
In our modern world, we’re programmed to see stress as a bad thing.
“I’m stressed!” implies somebody who isn’t coping, not someone rising to a challenge. The word is rarely used in a positive context.
And actually, as McGonigal tells us, the body responds to stress in some really incredible ways. She calls it, ‘the Biology of Courage.’
Alongside the release of adrenaline and the whole ‘fight or flight’ response, the body also releases the hormone Oxytocin, the ‘cuddle hormone.’ Its release in times of stress heals and strengthens the heart, protecting us from the effects of adrenaline, as well as motivating us to seek or give support, tell those around us how we feel and basically, to connect with others. It’s really incredible!
McGonigal also reminds us that those who care for others appear to be the most immune to the negative effects of stress.
As Kelly McGonigal tells us, perhaps the most powerful part of this is that by accepting our stress and viewing it positively, we are saying that we can trust ourselves to handle what life throws at us, and that we can face these challenges with others.
The stress of daily life and work in today’s world isn’t going anywhere. The best we can hope for is to manage it. Perhaps then, we should start managing the way that we see it.