How to Make Stress your Friend

Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D., is a health psychologist who teaches at Stanford University. She focuses on how translating neuroscience and modern psychology research into strategies we can use for better health, happiness, personal success, and relationships.

She says:  “In the past I’ve made stress the enemy, but I have changed my mind about stress…”  In this talk, we puts forth the radical proposition that it is not stress that is bad for us, but our feelings about stress.

For example, one study looked at 30,000 adults for 8 years. At the start of the study, they asked each participant how much stress they experienced in the last year and do you believe that stress is harmful for your health. Eight years later, they checked the public death records to see who died. Participants who had a lot of stress and believed it was harmful, were way more likely to die (43%). But those who had a lot of stress and did not believe it was harmful, had the lowest risk of dying (even lower than those you had experienced a low amount of stress in the previous year).

So, one key to befriending stress is to change how we think about stress.  If you change your mind about stress, you can change your body’s response to stress. In her work, Kelly trains people to view the physical signs of stress (heart pounding, breathing hard, sweaty palms, …) not as anxiety, but rather as the body’s helpful preparation to rise to the challenge and meet the stress.

Another key for making stress your friend is to reach out to people and create caring relationships.  For example, in another study, they found that people who spent time caring for others showed no stress increased risk for dying. “Caring created resilience”

For more information, check out Kelly’s ted talk:

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