Stress Can Be Your Ally

Try showing some appreciation for it

Photo by Clique Images on Unsplash

If there’s one thing that strongly impacts the quality of your life every single day: it’s the stories you tell yourself. Changing the soundtracks that play in your head each day can help them serve you instead of bring you down.

Storyplay brings you fresh idea to help you do this. Imagine a small mug of rich hot chocolate, but for your mind. Storyplay will help you to realise that stress can actually be helpful, paying your bills can feel strangely good and that home-made cheese toasties can make a chilly winter evening a lot better — wait, you already knew that last one.

Today’s story is about a feature of everyday life that has an unfortunate reputation: stress. In her excellent TED talk, Kelly McGonigal suggests that stress doesn’t have to be harmful. She describes a study in which some participants were taught to view their physical response to stress (for example, their increased heart rate and faster breathing) as helpful while others were not. Those who were taught that these physical symptoms of stress were a sign that their body was rising to the challenge they were facing showed a surprising difference when compared to other participants. Though their heart rates remained elevated, their blood vessels relaxed in the way they also do in moments of joy and courage.

Lesson 1: the next time you’re stressed, try to think of the physical effects of stress as your body, such as an elevated heart rate and quicker breaths, as helping you meet a challenge. Instead of imagining they will take a toll on your health, learn to see them as signs of the strength and resilience.

McGonigal also highlights another aspect of stress we often fail to recognise: stress makes you social. When you are stressed, your body releases a hormone called oxytocin. It makes you seek out other people so that they can support you. It’s remarkable: in difficult moments, your body is encouraging you to share your burden. Notably, oxytocin also protects your body from the physical effects of stress.

Lesson 2: Stress doesn’t have to be something you bear alone.

Last but not least, it turns out that caring for others is a powerful way to help withstand the negative health effects of stress. In another study McGonigal described, after an event such as a financial difficulty or a family crisis, people who cared for others showed no increase in their risk of dying.

Lesson 3: Doing something meaningful for other people helps significantly reduce the impact that stressful life events have on your health.

It’s extraordinary how changing the way you think about stress can transform how it impacts you. Something to keep in mind about the next time you’re running late to work — just remember to share the TED talk with your boss beforehand.

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