“It is not stress that kills us — it is our reaction to it,” Dr. Hans Selye, one of the pioneers of stress research, once said. According to the Mayo Clinic, unchecked stress can lead to health problems including high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and diabetes. However, what scientists do not tell us is that changing our perception of stress is much more beneficial than trying to eliminate it.
Kelly McGonigal, a health psychologist and lecturer at Stanford University, cited three studies in her Technology, Entertainment and Design (TED) Talk which concluded that there are healthy ways to deal with stress that do not involve eliminating it. One study at Harvard University monitored the heart under induced stress, showing that most subjects responded with restricted blood vessels. However, those informed that stress was a helpful reaction responded with relaxed blood vessels. In addition, the University of Wisconsin conducted a study which tracked 30,000 American adults for eight years, finding that subjects who experienced a lot of stress and viewed stress negatively had a 43 percent increased chance of dying. By that logic, the negative effects of stress are just placebo effects. It is kind of like the archetypal misunderstood monster — stress is dangerous only because people view stress as being dangerous.
McGonigal adds that oxytocin hormones are released when we are stressed, which has anti-inflammatory properties to promote the regeneration heart cells. Oxytocin is also a social hormone — it compels us to seek support; therefore, human connection relieves the harmful effects of stress. Sometimes all the “monster” needs is some love and recognition, as cheesy as it sounds.
Selye is right — our reaction to stress can make us or break us. Help your body fight your battles for you; do not let the negative perception of stress suffocate you.