Besides the word ‘sex,’ stress is one of the most mentioned ‘S’ words that impacts our life in significant ways. We in the behavioral health field, as well as those in the medicine, have pretty much vilified stress over the years, with its impact on heart disease, and other systems of the body. New scientific findings, though, give evidence to how stress may also be beneficial, and ways that we may use it to our advantage.
“How to Make Stress Your Friend” Video by Kelly McGonigal (14 min)
The rest of this blog will highlight some of the findings.
Believing stress is harmful, is the 15th leading cause of death!
In fact, with this belief, there is a 43% increased risk for dying. Those who did not perceive stress as harmful, showed no greater risk. This is an astounding statistic when we think about how stress has been viewed culturally.
A Harvard study taught participants how to view their stress as helpful prior to undergoing a stress test. When people view response as helpful, blood vessels stayed relaxed like what happens in moments of joy and courage, rather than the more typical constriction, associated with fear and anxiety!
Scientific Explanation (stay with me..)
- Part of what we gain from this study is how we may be energized in a positive way by stress, as the heart is pumping, preparing us for action.
- Along with this, the pituitary gland activates stress hormones, including adrenaline, and oxytocin which is also affectionately referred to as the ‘cuddle hormone.’ This hormone seems incline us toward our social instincts drawing us to others, especially our supports like friends and family (in other words, not going it alone).
- Additionally, oxytocin has natural anti-inflammatory qualities helping the body with resilience. Further, the heart has receptors for oxytocin, which helps heart cells regenerate from any ‘negative’ induced stress damage. Amazing!
An additional finding from the research is that when we care, support, reach out and help others, we are also doing ourselves good when it comes to stress!
Bottom line, Dr. McGonigal states; “When you view stress as helpful, you create the biology of courage…when you choose to connect with others under stress, you create resilience.”
Mr. David Wiley, MS, LPC is a Licensed Professional Counselor at Miller Counseling Services. He has practiced in a variety of behavioral health settings in the Triangle area of North Carolina since 1981, including innovative approaches to substance abuse and chronic pain management, crisis intervention, as well as working with relationship issues with couples and families. Areas of interest, and expertise include: mood disorders such as anxiety and depression, substance abuse education/screening/outpatient follow-up, ADD/ADHD, relationship/premarital/marital counseling along with co-therapy, stress/pain management including biofeedback modality, life transition issues especially with college students as well as older adults, adolescent counseling.