1. It’s Good, in Small Doses
You might not realize it as you sit grinding your teeth and freaking out over something at work, but stress (in the short term) can actually help a body out. Acute stress (vs. the chronic kind) can lead to improved memory ability, according to a 2013 UC Berkley study. Sometimes, acute stress can lead to bad things, like PTSD, but often our daily short stresses, like the kind associated with public speaking or running for a bus, can be good because your body releases helpful hormones that make you stronger and better. Conversely, chronic stress can lead to really really bad things, like heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type II diabetes, and depression. Yikes.
2. You Can Use Words to Get Control
Instead of letting it get the better of you, try turning the tables on stress with a little wordplay. Think of it less as an emotion (“I feel stress”) and more of a temporary state of mind (“I am stressed”). Temporary states are just that: temporary. They’ll eventually go away, not linger or recur like emotions, which we can cling to pretty hard. If stress isn’t any more attached to you than water is after a shower (“I am wet”) then you just have to ride it out (or towel it off) and soon it’ll go away.
3. Use the Stress Buddy System
They say problems are easier to deal with when shared, and stress is no exception. In her TED talk, psychologist Kelly McGonigal spoke about the importance of changing your mindset about stress and reach out to others in order to cope. Yes, you’re going to likely feel a physical response, like increased heartbeat and constricted blood vessels … that is, if you see stress as a negative. If you instead see it as a positive, helpful thing, your body will also adapt and won’t react in the same way. You’ll feel brave, not scared.
“This is my body, helping me rise to this challenge. When you view stress in that way, your body believes you and your stress response becomes healthier,” McGonigal said.
But that’s not all. Your biological stress response actually is trying to get you to reach out to others when you’re feeling like things are tough. We release the hormone oxytocin as a stress response, McGonigal said, and that hormone, nicknamed the “cuddle hormone” actually encourages us to seek out others to connect with them, like with a hug.
“When you reach out to others under stress, either 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,” she said.
That’s one amazing reason to connect with some humans today. Free hug, anyone?
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