How to Make Stress Your Friend

Viewing stress as helpful can foster courage, and connecting with others under stress can aid resilience

KELLY McGONIGAL explains that merely believing that “stress is harmful” can increase your chances of premature death.

The good news is that by changing how you think about stress you can change your body’s stress response and improve your physical resilience.

When you choose to see stress in a positive way, as a sign that your body is energised and rising to meet the challenge, it can help you remain more relaxed and work better under stress. At the same time, it can change your biological response to look like joy and courage.

One of the interesting things about the stress response is that it can make you more social. Oxytocin, sometimes referred to as the cuddle hormone, is produced under conditions of stress and can prompt you to strengthen close relationships and support the people you care about.

Perhaps counter-intuitively, caring for other people can provide you with stress resilience. When you ask for help or give help to others under stress, the body produces more Oxytocin. And since the hormone is a natural anti-inflammatory, this can help your blood vessels stay relaxed and protect your heart and cardiovascular system from damage. According to McGonigal, people who spend time caring for others show no increase in premature death when placed under conditions of stress.

In the end, pursuing meaning in your life and in your career by finding ways to help others is likely to be better for your heath than merely trying to minimise stress and avoid discomfort.