Stress - it's in how you see it!


I was up bright and early yesterday, having been asked to speak at the Te Atatu Peninsula Business Association breakfast meeting. The night before when I was up late preparing my talk, worrying about getting it all done in time - I didn't miss the irony: the topic of my talk? Stress!

We all know by now that prolonged stress is not good for us. It affects our health, life expectancy, mental state, performance and many other areas of life. Stress is a physiological reaction to a perceived danger, and the body's 'flight or flight' response kicks in. Our bodies are designed to go into high alert, get away from (or fight) the danger, and then relax. But putting the body into stress mode in an ongoing way - it's simply not what we're built for. Cavemen ran away from a tiger, and then they rested. They didn't stay terrified and running for days, weeks, months on end. So it's important to notice whether your stress is one-off and short-lived - or ongoing. 

Doom and gloom aside though, there are some incredibly interesting findings that tell us more about the stress response than ever before. In this incredible TED talk by Kelly McGonigal, the findings are summarised in a really interesting and accessible way. In short, the way you think about your stress, actually changes the way your body is affected by it. Studies have shown that if two groups of people are compared, the group who believes that stress is dangerous, unpleasant and lifeshortening will have markedly worse physical effects from that stress. The other group, who believe stress is their body's way of 'rising to the challenge', and see the physical symptoms are energising rather than uncomfortable, had a much healthier physical stress response. 

So next time you feel your blood pressure rising, your heart beating, your breath quickening - remind yourself that this is your body being energised and ready for the challenge. As McGonigal says: "Over a lifetime of stressful experiences, this one biological change could be the difference between a stress-induced heart attack at age 50 and living well into your 90s."

And yes, when I was getting ready to present, I did use this tip! Hopefully my heart was happy with me :-)

The link to the full TED talk is here: