Make Stress Work for You
How Kelly McGonigal is Making Stress Your Friend
Making stress your friend…seems a little unheard of right? I never thought I would look at stress in a positive light, let alone write an article about it. However, after watching Kelly McGonigal’s TED talk (also posted below), my perspective began to change.
Kelly McGonigal is a health psychologist who has rethought her whole approach to stress. She starts off her TED talk by explaining that in the past, she made stress the enemy. She focused on all the negative things that can happen to someone when they experience stress — probably like we all do. I mean, when your heart starts to pound, your chest starts to tighten, your hands become shaky (I could go on, but I won’t) how can you not think of stress as a horrible thing? However, after finding a study that indicated how harmful stress can be, she started to wonder if changing how you think about stress can do the opposite- make you healthier.
Can looking at stress with a positive spin really make a difference- both physically and emotionally?
Yes. In fact, Kelly shared that changing your mind about stress can change your body’s response to stress.
Of course there is science to back this all up. In a study conducted at Harvard University, participants taking a social stress test were told to view stress as something that will help them in the test, not hurt. The participants who learned to view their stress response as advantageous actually became more confident, and less stressed.
“That pounding heart is preparing you for action. If you’re breathing faster, it’s no problem. It’s getting more oxygen to your brain.” — Kelly McGonigal
Kelly also shared what she found the most interesting — how the participants’ physical stress response changed. She goes on to explain that in a typical stress response, heart rate goes up and blood vessels constrict. This is one of the reasons that chronic stress is associated with cardiovascular issues. In the study, the participants that viewed their stress response as favorable saw their blood vessels stay relaxed. Their heart might have still been pounding, but they were also seeing a healthier cardiovascular profile.
So instead of viewing signs of stress as your body getting prepared for flight, view those same signs that your body getting ready to fight. View your reaction as though your body is preparing you to conquer what is stressful.
What I found the most intriguing was that this altered state of stress response looks similar to what happens in moments of joy and courage. This is a change that can considerably affect your life. Imagine taking all those times where you felt stressed, trapped, and unhappy, and turning them into occasions of confidence, surety, and exhilaration. This is a change that could help you live longer. This is a change that can help you live happier.
Here is the take away:
Many people have tumultuous relationship with stress, so it won’t be easy to just change your mindset. This is where mindfulness can come in. When you recognize the signs of stress, try to stop and take a step back. Evaluate the situation and recognize that your body is in fact helping you get through whatever situation you have found yourself in. Be confident that your body is working with you, not against you.
Let’s be real, we will never be BFFs with stress. Ever. However, if we start to change how we view our stress response, we have the chance to become happier, stronger, and less anxious. Seems like a solid foundation for building a friendship.
Her talk goes more in depth — I really encourage you to listen to it. You can find the video below: