Kelly McGonigal | How to make stress your friend (Condensed Talk)


I have a confession to make. For years I have
been telling people “Stress makes you sick.” But I have changed my mind about stress. I
wanna change yours. Let me start with the study that tracked 30,000 adults in the United
States for 8 years. And they started by asking people “How much stress have you experienced
in the last year?” They also asked “Do you believe that stress is harmful for your health?”.
People who experienced a lot of stress in the previous year had a 43% increased risk
of dying, but that was only true for the people that also believed that stress is harmful
for your health. People who experienced a lot of stress, but did not view stress as
harmful, they had the lowest risk of dying as anyone in the study. 182,000 Americans
died prematurely from the belief that stress is bad for you. I want you all to pretend
you are participants in a study- you come into the laboratory, you have to give a 5
minute impromptu speech on your personal weaknesses to a panel of expert evaluators sitting right
in front of you, now if you were actually in this study, you might be a little stressed
out – your heart might be pounding, you might be breathing a little faster, now normally
we interpret these physical changes as anxiety, but what if you viewed them instead, as signs
that your body was preparing you to meet this challenge? Now that is exactly what participants
were told in a study conducted at Harvard University. And participants who learned to
view the stress response as helpful, well they were less stressed out, less anxious,
more confident. Their physical stress response changed. Now, in a typical stress response,
your heart rate goes up, and your blood vessels constrict, but in the study when participants
viewed their stress response as helpful, their blood vessels stayed relaxed, like this. Their
heart was still pounding but this is a much healthier cardiovascular profile- it’s a lot
like what happens in moments of courage. We need to talk about a hormone, oxytocin. Oxytocin
makes you crave physical contact with your friends and family, it enhances your empathy.
Your pituitary gland pumps this stuff out as part of the stress response, and one of
its main roles in your body is to protect your cardiovascular system from the effects
of stress. Your heart has receptors for this hormone, and oxytocin helps heart cells regenerate
from any stress-induced damage. I wanna finish by telling you about one more study. This
study tracked about a 1000 adults in the United States and they started the study by asking
“How much stress have you experienced in the last year?” They also asked “How much time
have you spent helping out friends?” People who spent time caring for others, showed absolutely
no stress related increase in dying, zero. When you choose to view your stress response
as helpful, you create the biology of courage. And when you choose to connect with others
under stress, you can create resilience. Thank you.

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