How you think about stress matters

For many of us, the holiday season is a stressful slog to the January 2 finish line. Before you’re off to this year's races, take 14 minutes and watch "How to make stress your friend." And then don't stress about stress. Over a lifetime of stressful experiences, this one change has the power to save your life.

One thing we know for certain is that chasing meaning is better for your health than trying to avoid discomfort…go after what it is that creates meaning in your life and then trust yourself to handle the stress that follows.
— Kelly McGonigal

The Cliffs Notes version

  • When you change your mind about stress, you can change your body’s response to stress.
  • Instead of interpreting your physical response to stress [pounding heart, faster breathing, etc.] as a signal you aren’t coping well, view it as energizing and oxygenating your body and preparing you to meet life’s challenges.
  • When you view your stress response as helpful, your blood vessels stayed relaxed instead of constricting (chronic constriction can lead to cardiovascular disease). 
  • From a cardiovascular perspective, heart pumping with relaxed vessels looks a lot like joy and courage.
  • As part of the stress response, your body releases oxytocin which motivates you to seek support, nudging you to tell someone how you feel, instead of bottling it up. 
  • When life is difficult, your stress response wants you to be surrounded by people who care about you.
  • Oxytocin’s anti-inflammatory properties also protect your cardiovascular system from the effects of stress by helping your blood vessels stay relaxed.
  • Oxytocin literally strengthens your heart by helping heart cells regenerate and heal from any stress-induced damage.
  • When you reach out to others to seek support or to help someone else, you release more of this hormone, your stress response becomes healthier, and you actually recover faster from stress. 
  • Your stress response has a built-in mechanism for stress resilience, and that mechanism is human connection.