Is Stress Your Friend?

Psychologist Kelly McGonigal suggests
stress is only detrimental to your health
 if you believe it to be so

This seems like a crazy question to those of us who have spent our lives (and careers) talking about the detrimental effects of stress on our emotional, mental and psychical well-being. But Psychologist Kelly McGonigal points to new research that suggests stress is only detrimental to your health if you believe it to be so. This challenges decades of research and public opinion that slates stress as our enemy.

In her TED talk, McGonigal demonstrates how perceiving stress as helpful can actually alter the body's cardiovascular and hormonal response to it. People who view stress in a positive light - perhaps as their body's way of rising to a challenge, will actually help to release the health enhancing effects of stress. If that doesn't make you rethink the negative reputation of stress, McGonagal concludes with one more remarkable insight.

It turns out that one of the primary hormones released in stress, oxytocin (we often only associate adrenaline with stress), is also the hormone that makes us more social. Oxytocin enhances our ability to be caring, empathic and responsive to others. It moves us to reach out and connect with others in times of stress, which releases even more oxytocin, which in turn strengthens our cardiovascular response to stress. In other words, when we open our heart to others and strengthen our relationships, our physical heart literally becomes stronger as well.

This has so many implications for our mental health and wellness. It also leaves me with some questions - is there a point where our stress becomes too overwhelming to access its helpful effects? Can an appreciation for the health enhancing potential of stress deter us from making difficult choices in life that allow for greater peace and balance? I hope you will find the video as interesting as I did - an opportunity to think differently about the role of stress in your life. If it generates some thoughts or questions for you, as well, join me on twitter or facebook and let's chat about stress!

TED Talks