How Stress Can Make You Healthier

We’ve all hit periods of our lives where we feel stressed out. It may be an extended period of stress or situational, such as anxiety about public speaking. The physical signs of stress impact us all, whether through shortness of breath, heart racing or sweaty palms and we’ve all heard that too much stress is bad for your health. But what if that wasn’t true?

A friend, stressed out from working and going back to school, shared she not only had a better outlook but also felt physically better after watching a TED Talk on stress. In this TED talk, Psychologist Kelly McGonigal shares how stress can be positive and push us towards strength and empathy. I summarized a few of her key points below and encourage you to take 15 minutes to watch the full talk.

A study following 30,000 people across 8 years found that stress could be harmful for your health — if you believed it would be. The study surveyed individual’s stress levels and then monitored death records, finding that those who didn’t view stress as harmful had a much lower risk of dying prematurely.

Changing how you think about stress can actually make you healthier — we just have to rethink what’s going on in our body when we are stressed. Your racing heart and shallow breathing are “stress signs” and if we think of them as preparing our body to tackle a difficult situation, then we can view our body’s response as helpful. In a study where individuals were encouraged to rethink stress signs this way, their emotional, mental and physical responses to the situation changed. They were less anxious, more confident and their blood vessels did not constrict the way they typically do when under stress.

In another physical response, your body releases oxytocin, aka the cuddle hormone, when under stress. The same good feelings that you get from a hug are pushed into your body when you are stressed to encourage you to seek social support. This process helps us discuss our worries with friends and family, strengthens our relationships and increases our ability to empathize with others when they are facing stressful situations.

Dr. McGonigal shares that, “When you chose to view your stress response as helpful, you create the biology of courage. And when you chose to connect with others under stress, you can create resilience.” Viewing our stress signs as helpful and seeking support can help us overcome our biggest sources of worry and anxiety, and can actually make us healthier! What other strategies do you use when encountering a stressful situation?

Kaitlyn Boller is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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