• Dawn Bowden

How to make ‘Stress’ your Friend

Updated: Feb 17, 2021

I stumbled across this TED Talk by Kirsty Mcgonigal (a health psychologist at Stanford University) on a very rare day in bed with a heavy cold. Historically I have always carried on working through any physical illnesses believing that by not giving in I will feel better. As I get older I sometimes worry that the stresses life sometimes bring are more likely to impact on my physical health. So with that in mind I decided to look after myself and stay at home in bed.

This Ted Talk challenges the assumption that stress makes you unwell and puts forward the notion that it is not ‘stress’ itself that makes us ill, but the way we observe and use it. If we worry less about the physical impact that stress is having on us and use it instead as a way of making ourselves feel stronger, we are LESS likely to become ill. Fascinating!

Research, she says, has also found that, spending time helping out friends, neighbours or people in our community can help create resilience to the health risks of stress. Oxytocin (the hormone that is released when we are feeling stressed) can encourage us to reach out to family and friends to tell them how we are feeling. This is not the case with everyone I appreciate but WHEN we do this there is a very positive knock on effect. By reaching out and receiving support it makes us more compassionate towards others, and more willing to help and support the people we care about.

I have had many conversations with friends and colleagues who work in the ‘caring’ profession or directly with people in the charity sector about how we always feel so much better when we get ourselves to work. We might wake up with the ‘Oh god, I can’t face anyone today and certainly somebody that might need my help’, feeling, but once at work we feel a million times better. I have always put this down to me taking myself away from my own worries, but it seems it is actually a chemical reaction in my body that is making me feel better.

Another interesting fact is that Oxytocin also protects and heals our cardiovascular system from the effects of stress. So the more you reach out to others, either for support or to offer help, the more oxytocin you release, leading to a healthier response to the stress itself. Nice!

The thing I like most about this thinking is that it gives us the power back. It is impossible to avoid stress. We will all experience periods where we are going through challenging situations. What Kirsty puts forward is the idea that we view the feeling differently. The way I interpret this is that we view the feeling of stress as a strength, not an oppressor.

Below is the TED Talk. Have a look and I would welcome your thoughts.


Dawn Bowden - February 2020

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