photo: American Apparel
How do you view stress? I assume you view it as negative thing. A thing that makes your heart pound and your palms sweaty.
Psychologist Kelly McGonigal spent her whole career helping people be happier and healthier but began to fear that something she’s been teaching for the last 10 years is doing more harm than good.
She said for years she’s been telling people that stress makes you sick and increases the risk of everything from the common cold to cardiovascular disease. She added, “Basically, I’ve turned stress into the enemy. But I have changed my mind about stress, and today, I want to change yours.”
People who experienced a lot of stress in the previous year nearly doubled their risk of dying. But that was only true for the people who also believed that stress is harmful for your health. Researchers estimated that over the eight years they were tracking deaths, 182,000 Americans died prematurely, not from stress, but just from the belief that stress is bad for you. Crazy.
So if we can start to view stress as a positive thing then we can change the way we deal with it a whole lot better.
Your heart might be pounding, you might be breathing faster, maybe breaking out into a sweat. And normally, we interpret these physical changes as anxiety or signs that we aren’t coping very well with the pressure.
But if you view them instead as signs that your body was energized, was preparing you to meet this challenge? Now that is exactly what participants were told in a study conducted at Harvard University.
Before they went through the social stress test, they were taught to rethink their stress response as helpful. That pounding heart is preparing you for action. If you’re breathing faster, it’s no problemo. It’s getting more oxygen to your brain. And participants who learned to view the stress response as helpful for their performance, well, they were less stressed out, less anxious and more confident.
So next time you’re feeling stressed out, think to yourself, this is my body helping me rise to this challenge. And when you view stress in that way, your body believes you, and your stress response becomes healthier.
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