Can Stress Be a Tool for Success?
One of the most common topics our health coaches deal with is stress management. Balancing the personal and professional spheres of life is a challenge for many people.
We live in a fast-paced society, and life can be chaotic. We’re always trying to go faster and faster, juggling more and more responsibility. Is it any wonder that stress and anxiety are so common?
The importance of attitude
Most of us try to hide our stress, especially at work. We grit our teeth and power through it. But a study from the University of Wisconsin suggests a different approach. Researchers found that perceiving stress as an opportunity for growth can actually improve your health, and even decrease the risk of mortality.
Over 8 years, 29,000 people were asked to rate their stress levels. They were also asked whether they perceived the effects of stress as negative—and this turned out to be a crucial distinction.
By the end of the study, those who had reported high levels of stress and perceived it as negative had a 43% higher risk of mortality. But remarkably, people who reported having high stress and didn’t perceive it as negative showed the lowest mortality risk of all scenarios.
Rethinking the body’s natural stress response
Our bodies release cortisol, a neuro-hormone, when we’re stressed. It causes breathing to quicken and heart rate to increase. But if we focus solely on these physical reactions, allowing them to overwhelm us, the result is cloudy thinking and irrational decision-making.
What if we could train ourselves to embrace the stress response? To see it as a natural mechanism that helps us rise to the challenge? After all, faster breathing and an increased heart rate are just our body’s way of sending maximum oxygen to our brains. It’s our body’s way of facing a challenge.
Another hormone that our bodies produce in response to stress is oxytocin. Sometimes referred to as the “love hormone”, oxytocin helps mediate our social instincts. It’s one of the reasons we often seek social support when we’re faced with a difficult situation. Although stress triggers inflammation and causes our blood vessels to constrict, oxytocin relaxes them and has an anti-inflammatory effect.
Rethinking the goal of stress management
The physical stress response is literally hard-wired. There’s nothing we can do about it. But we can control our attitudes, and this is one of the many skills our health coaches teach participants.
The next time you feel stress start to overwhelm you, slow down and take a moment to remember its original purpose. Stress can actually be used to our advantage: it makes us resilient and it makes us strong.
Psychologist Kelly McGonigal delivered a fascinating TED talk on this very subject. Check it out!