How to Befriend Stress
It’s easy to feel stressed in the modern world, and then worry about the harmful effects on
our physical health. Many people believe that stress causes damage to our bodies, and
chronic stress can lead to cardiovascular disease. However, new developments in science
and psychology are discovering a different story.
Kelly McGonigal is a health psychologist who spent a decade trying to help patients reduce
their stress levels. She later discovered that our physical response to stressful situations
fluctuates dependent on different variables.
In her TED Talk, How to Make Stress Your Friend, she shares that stress isn’t necessarily
harmful for our health. What puts our physical health at risk is how we mentally respond to
feelings of stress and tension. Changing our mind about something changes the way our
body responds. A stress response can actually be helpful. Our heart pounding is preparing us
for action, and our quick breathing draws more oxygen to the brain. This is all preparation
for coping with a stressful situation. When participants in one study viewed their stress
response as helpful, their heart pounded but the blood vessels around the heart didn’t
constrict – which is what joy looks like. Their belief changed their physical response.
The hormone oxytocin works on your social instincts, making you crave physical contact and
increases empathy. Oxytocin is essential for compassion and caring behaviour. When you
experience a stress response, oxytocin is pumped out of your pituitary gland and motivates
you to seek help from others. It wants you to be surrounded by caring, loving people. Its
role is to protect the cardiovascular system from the negative effects of stress,
strengthening and healing your heart.
The physical benefits of oxytocin are enhanced by social support and connection. When you
reach out, more of this hormone is released and your stress response becomes healthier.
Human connection is an instrument for stress resilience.
For every major stressful life event, the risk of dying increases by thirty percent. But for
those who spend time caring for others, connecting, and being surrounded by love, the risk
of dying doesn’t increase. How you think and act can transform your experience with stress.
So, what does this all mean? We can become better at stress by changing how we think
about it. The next time you feel stressed, remember that your body is trying to help you
cope with the challenge ahead. When you view stress this way, your physical response
We can choose to see stress as helpful, preparing us for life’s difficulties and developing
courage. We can choose to connect with others, especially under stressful situations, and
create resilience. We can develop more meaningful connections with others, helping
protect us from life’s hurdles. We can embrace our bodies and trust they are doing a
magnificent job in preparing us and protecting us. We can all cultivate a practice of getting
better at stress and we can share this practice with others. We don’t have to take on life’s