I’m here as someone without absolutely no authority to tell you that everything is going to be okay. No, I don’t know what stress you are going through, but I can help you. No idea where you’re living next year and it seems like everyone decent house has already been leased? It’s okay. Two midterms and a lab coming up within the next 72 hours? Yeah, that I admit is scary, but you’ll be okay. I recently watched a very interesting Ted Talk given by psychologist Kelly McGonigal. It was about the science of stress. Essentially, stress is only a bad thing if we perceive it as bad.
Yes. Yes, my friends. Stress is good. For so long we have negatively connoted the word “stress.” But I’m here to bust that myth. One study induced stress in participants. One variable group was told that stress responses were helpful, the other variable group was not told anything. In a typical stress response, your heart rate goes up, and your blood vessels constrict (one of the reasons that chronic stress is associated with cardiovascular disease). For the participants who were told to view their stress response as helpful, their blood vessels stayed relaxed. This cardiovascular profile actually resembles what happens in moments of joy and courage.
So, science. There is this stress hormone, oxytocin. The pituitary gland releases oxytocin in stress response. And when oxytocin is released in the stress response, it motivates you to seek support. Your biological stress response is nudging you to tell someone how you feel instead of bottling it up.
A study asked participants “How much stress have you experienced in the last year?” It also asked, “How much time have you spent helping out friends, neighbors, people in your community?” The study then used public records for the next five years to find out who died.
It turns out, for every major stressful life experience (i.e. financial difficulties or family crisis) increased the risk of dying by 30 percent. But, this statistic was not true for all participants. The participants who spent time caring for others showed absolutely no stress-related increase in dying.
What does this mean? It means that changing how you think about stress make you healthier. It also means that when you choose to connect with others under stress, you can create resilience. So with that, my fellow cohorts, I say embrace the stress. And reach out to others because this world was not built to be experienced alone.