How to make stress your friend

In her TED talk titled ‘How to make stress your friend,’ Kelly McGonigal presents research that supports the idea that rethinking the way you view stress could save your life.

In one of the studies presented, 30,000 participants were asked how much stress they had experienced in the past year and how they viewed that stress. Those who had experienced a lot of stress had a 43% increased risk of dying, however, this was only true for people who believed stress was harmful for their health.

Reframing the way we think about stress can have a physiological impact on our stress response. Most of us will experience some form of stress in our lifetime, which will often trigger the normal physiological stress response:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased breathing rate
  • Breaking a sweat

It can be dangerous to have a high heart rate when the blood vessels are constricted for long periods of time, which can lead to physiological damage. However, changing your perception of stress: viewing the stress response as helpful and as your body’s way of preparing you for a challenge, can change your physiological response to stress, so that it becomes healthier and the blood vessels dilate.

Our bodies stress response also have an inbuilt mechanism that helps us recover from stress. Oxytocin the neurohormone which fine tunes our social instincts, makes you crave physical contact and enhances empathy, is released during the stress response. Oxytocin actually protects the cardiovascular system, acting as a natural ant-inflammatory and helping the blood vessels stay relaxed during the stress response. It also acts directly on the heart, helping heart cells to regenerate and heal after stress -related damage. All the benefits of oxytocin are enhanced when you reach out to others for social support.

Recognising your stress level can help to address it, which is why the stress scale CP+R uses can be helpful:

Caring for others was also shown to have a profound effect on stress. In a study conducted on 1000 adults, it was found that for those who had experienced a lot of stress they had a 30% increased risk of dying, however, people who had spent time caring for others, found absolutely no increased risk of dying[MR1] . Caring created resilience.

In Summary:

  • Changing your perception of stress to view the physiological response as helpful and as a means to prepare for a challenge can change your body’s response to stress to become healthier.
  • Our bodies have an in-built mechanism to encourage us to reach out to others for support in times of stress, which enhances your ability to recover from stress. (positive feedback loop)
  • Caring for others creates resilience against stress.

At CP+R we want to help you Live Longer Better, we are always on hand if you want support and we encourage you to reach out to those around you if you feeling overwhelmed or stressed.


 [MR1]Who was measuring this risk?