Allowing stress to be your friend
Friday, November 13, 2015
Stress. It's a simple word with a lot of impact. But what people don't know is stress can actually make you healthy — if you change your views on it.
Most people believe stress is bad for you, which actually can lead to an increased risk of premature death, according to a 2012 study in Health Psychology. That's right. Just believing stress is bad for you increased the risk of early death.
So how do we change our belief that stress can make us healthy?
I recently discovered the above TED Talk by Stanford psychologist Kelly McGonigal on how to make stress your friend, and it changed my entire perspective.
I, for one, have had frequent stress throughout the last year. Whether work-related or personal, it was inevitable that it was there. But with McGonigal's help, I now realize I can actually be stressed and healthy at the same time.
"When you change your mind about stress, you can change your body's response to stress," she said.
The common symptoms of stress — your heart pounding, breathing faster and sweating — are often interpreted as anxiety. But they can actually be viewed as energized. In a study that McGonigal references, researchers taught individuals to rethink that these stress symptoms were, in fact, helpful.
According to the study, the pounding of your heart is preparing you for action, and the heavier breathing is getting more oxygen to your brain. Now, this thinking didn't eliminate stress completely, but it made the study participants less anxious and more confident.
"When you view stress in that way, your body believes you, and your stress response becomes healthier," McGonigal said.
Another aspect of stress being healthy is the hormone oxytocin, which is a neuro-hormone and affects your brain's social concepts. Oxytocin strengthens close relationships and makes you crave physical contact with friends and family, whether it's through empathy, help or support, according to a study. The neuro-hormone is also a stress hormone, which means when you get stressed, oxytocin is released and is motivating you to seek help and/or support in the matter.
"When life is difficult, your stress response wants you to be surrounded by people who care about you," McGonigal said.
When helping you through stress, the hormone helps your blood vessels stay relaxed during stress — it's a natural inflammatory. It also helps your heart during the process because it helps the heart cells regenerate and heal from any stress-induced damage. Now, that's a great benefit!
McGonigal and researchers showed that science proves if we just change our belief about stress, that it can actually be a healthy occurrence(s) in our lives. That said, if you're not one who can change your belief in stress, maybe these three tips can help you make stress your friend:
1. Give yourself permission to be stressed; it won't make you succumb to it. We're not perfect, we're human, and we're going to have the moments in our lives where something stressful arises.
2. When faced with a challenge, you don't have to rush to complete it in one day. Slow down and only take on as much as you can handle. Prioritize your challenges, or else you'll overtask yourself, which will burn you out — weakening your immune system. Also look at challenges as learning opportunities. Reflect on the past patterns, face the truth, learn and grow from it.
3. Don't be afraid to ask for help. Just as McGonigal said, you have a hormone in you that helps you express your feelings to supporters. The advice you receive may be what you want to hear, but could also be the opposite. Either way, though, being able to express how you feel to someone will allow you to release the energy that's bottling up inside you.
Each and every one of us handles stress in different ways, but hopefully now you can have a different outlook on how it's actually a healthy occurrence in life. Whether it's with work, family or friends, know that with a simple switch of outlook it can all change.
It's not waiting for the storm to pass, it's learning to dance in the rain.
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