I found Kelly McGonigal’s talk “Making Stress Your Friend” surprising and inspiring. Kelly McGonigal explains that she has been a psychologist, helping clients be healthier and happier, her whole career. This makes her a fairly credible source in my opinion, though I would have found her even more credible if the research she was using to make her point was her own study. In her talk, she reveals the results of a research study that changed her mind about stress.
Stress is commonly thought to be unhealthy. It can increase risk of stress-related diseases like cardiovascular disease. In this study, many people who categorized themselves as experiencing high amounts of stress in the last year were the most likely to die of stress-related causes. There is a shocking catch though. Of this group, they asked the participants if they viewed stress as healthy or unhealthy. The group that viewed stress as unhappy had the most increased risk of death. The group that viewed stress as healthy had the lowest risk of death. This reveals that it may not be the amount of stress, but rather your perception of stress that puts you at risk for stress-related death. Further research supports this. People who think of stress as healthy have different physiological reactions to stress that strengthens their heart and their minds because of their way of thinking.
McGonigal argues that this could be the answer to avoiding the unhealthy affects of stress. If we train our brains to welcome stress instead of fear it, our bodies will adapt to give us strength and resiliency to handle tough situations. In a way, I can relate to this kind of thinking. I avoid stress, but when I do have to face it I use it as motivation to handle the situation. However, I notice that stress does cause me unpleasant physical effects that I’d rather not have to experience. I could implement McGonigal’s advice the next time I handle stress to see if my body feels better from it. McGonigal also mentions the hormone oxytocin, aka the “cuddle” hormone, in her lecture. She says that this hormone releases from the brain when you make meaningful social interactions with people. It makes you feel safer and think more clearly. Typically, I don’t tell other people about how I’m feeling or what I’m going through. This sometimes leads to a breaking point where all my emotions and stress burst out. If I take McGonigal’s advice and talk to someone about what I am going through, I could feel much more in control of my stress.