“Stress. It makes your heart pound, your breathing quicken and your forehead sweat. But while stress has been made into a public health enemy, new research suggests that stress may only be bad for you if you believe that to be the case. Psychologist Kelly McGonigal urges us to see stress as a positive.” TEDGobal 2013.
Stress isn’t a dirty word.
The point here is, stress isn’t a dirty word. If we change our perceptions of stress from a negative thing and start thinking of it as ‘our bodies preparing us for a challenge‘ then stress will start to be our friend.
In the Harvard study discussed in this video by Kelly McGonigal, people have a different physiological response (particularly blood vessels) to stress. Stress is much more harmful for people who believe that stress is harmful (and can have negative health effects like restricted blood vessels and overworked immune systems) than those who don’t believe it to be harmful. For example, let’s say that little Penny and Amy both have a maths test next lesson. Both have a racing heart, both have sweaty palms and both of them feel sick in the stomach. The difference between them though, is Penny notices these feelings as her body preparing her for the test. Her heart is racing, meaning more blood and oxygen are going to her head so she can think and perform better on her test. Amy, on the other hand, sees these symptoms as a bad thing. She focuses on her racing heart, sick stomach and sweaty hands which distracts her from performing her best on the test. In this situation, Penny perceives stress to be a good thing, and would not be affected by the negative affects discussed in the video. Amy, on the other hand, if she continues to see stress as a dirty word, those uncomfortable feelings a bad thing and is experiencing them often (because to experience a racing heart, sweaty palms and feeling sick in the stomach before a test is actually a completely normal reaction) then it is possible she might begin to have trouble sleeping, get sick more often or not perform her best at school.
The next time you experience significant stress, what might you do differently now that you know a little more about the science of stress? How might this maximise your performance at school, work, or when playing sport?