After a decade of “demonizing stress,” health psychologist Kelly McGonigal has a lot of retracting to do. Her new mantra, “trust your body,” emphasizes the interaction between beliefs and stress, and she explains how the former can mitigate or exacerbate the effects of the latter. While she doesn’t delve into statistical or research methods, if the science behind the studies is sound, McGonigal’s down-to-earth, humorous talk provides critical information for anyone in a high-stress position. getAbstract recommends this video to executives, business owners and harried professionals who question the toll a high-stress life may be taking on their health.
New research shows that your attitude toward stress dictates your body’s response to it. One eight-year study concluded that participants with self-assessed high-stress lives had a 43% greater risk of dying only when they believed that stress was dangerous for their health. In contrast, high-stress participants who considered stress to be harmless had the lowest death rate among all participants, even those who reported relatively little stress.
“Believing stress is bad for you [was] the 15th-largest cause of death in the United States last year, killing more people than skin cancer, HIV/AIDS and homicide.”
“When you choose to view your stress response as helpful, you create the biology of courage. And when you choose to connect with others under stress, you can create resilience.”
You can reframe your outlook and change your body’s response to stress. In high-pressure situations, the body typically responds with a rapidly pounding heart, quickened respiration and a breakout of perspiration. Many people negatively interpret these symptoms as anxiety or incapacity to handle stress. These individuals’ blood vessels constrict under strain, which can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease in the long term. However, if you maintain a positive approach to stress, you believe that your quickened pulse rate is providing you with energy to meet a challenge and that your heightened breathing is sending oxygen to your brain. When you decide to welcome the helpful physiological responses to stress, you initiate a change that trains your blood vessels to stay relaxed, emulating the physical profiles found during states of “joy and courage” and reducing the threat of a heart attack.
“Chasing meaning is better for your health than trying to avoid discomfort…Go after what it is that creates meaning in your life and then trust yourself to handle the stress that follows.”
“The harmful effects of stress on your health are not inevitable.”
“Stress makes you social.” Under stress, your body releases oxytocin, a neurohormone that augments your empathy and heightens your need for affection and connection. When you feel under pressure, this chemical prompts you to seek aid, comfort and support. The hormone also helps you recognize when your loved ones are stressed. Moreover, oxytocin has a powerful effect on the body. It is an anti-inflammatory that relaxes blood vessels and negates the effects of stress on the heart by healing damaged heart cells.
A study of about 1,000 American adults discovered that a major negative life event, such as a family tragedy, “increased the risk of dying by 30%.” However, those who spent time caring for family or members of their community displayed no “stress-related increase in dying.” In fact, “caring created resilience.” So opening your heart to others alleviates the negative symptoms of stress.
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