Is Stress Always Bad For You?

Stanford University psychologist. Kelly McGonigal, recently gave a lecture with the title “How to Make Stress Your Friend”.

Until now, the conventional wisdom has been that OF COURSE stress is always bad for you.

Now it seems that new research is looking at the subject of stress in a different light. Apparently, it is possible, even under stressful circumstances, to reprogram our thoughts to give it a healthy dimension.

In order to understand this better, we need to look at the three different studies that, together, lead to the new conclusions.

The first study

– follows groups of people who experience varying levels of stress over a long period, and then follows their death records.

The surprising result is that it shows that the people who believe stress can kill, die at a much higher rate than people who are under more stress, but don’t believe or know about its “negative” effects.

The dangerous part of physical stress responses is in the vascular constriction that occurs while the heart is pumping at an increased rate. This phenomenon, however, has only been documented in people who already believe that stress is dangerous.

What do we learn from this? Simply that we need to change our beliefs about stress. McGonigal says that if one is faced with a choice between a low stress job and a high stress job, it really doesn’t matter which one you take. It’s equally wise to accept the higher stress role if you think you can handle it. She added:

One thing we know for certain is that chasing meaning is better for your health than trying to avoid discomfort. And so I would say that’s really the best way to make decisions, is go after what it is that creates meaning in your life and then trust yourself to handle the stress that follows

The second study

– dealt with trying to understand hormonal or chemical changes which take place in the body in times of stress.

The physical stress response releases the neuro-hormone “oxytocin”. Research has shown that not only does the stress response itself NOT cause dangerous vaso-constriction, but also that it allows for and increases the release of oxytocin. Kelly explains:

When oxytocin is released in the stress response, it is motivating you to seek support. Your biological stress response is nudging you to tell someone how you feel instead of bottling it up. Your stress response wants to make sure you notice when someone else in your life is struggling so that you can support each other. When life is difficult, your stress response wants you to be surrounded by people who care about you.

The third and final piece of research

– followed about 1,000 adults in the US, and watched how they described their level of stress, and whether or not they spent time helping friends, family, or community members. It also tracked death records of the people in the study. The results are again unexpected

For every major stressful life experience, like financial difficulties or family crisis, the increased mortality risk was 30 percent. But that wasn’t true for everyone. People who spent time caring for others showed absolutely no stress-related increase in dying. The act of caring created resilience. So we see once again that the harmful effects of stress on your health are not inevitable.

To sum up, the answer to the question “Is Stress Always Bad For You?” is – not necessarily. It’s what used to be referred to in previous times as “mind over matter!”

How do you feel when you get stressed? Have you ever experienced the positive aspects? Just use the comments feed below to let our readers know you deal with stress.