Relationship issues, money worries, health scares, starting a new job — stress lurks behind virtually every corridor in one’s life. We are advised to avoid stress or just ‘deal with it’. After all, it is often blamed for everything from the common cold to cardiovascular disease. However, ignoring a pounding heart, nauseous feeling, and breaking sweat is challenging for the best of us. So what is the solution to dealing with this insidious enemy?
Recent stress research suggests that it is not stress per se but the belief that stress is harmful to health that is responsible for its detrimental effects.
In another stress study, participants who were told that their bodies’ responses to stress were helpful did not experience the constriction of blood vessels that is usually associated with negative stress and can lead to cardiovascular disease. In fact, their blood vessels stayed relaxed — their hearts were still pounding, but their bodies mimicked the kind of response usually associated with joy and courage.
The implication of these two studies — that how you think about stress matters — could be the difference between experiencing a heart attack in your 60s and living well into your 90s.
But that is not all: we now also know why stress makes you social. Ever wonder why we crave help and support in moments of stress? It is all down to the release of the famous ‘cuddle hormone’ oxytocin. The natural biological stress response releases a hormone that nudges you to seek support. Oxytocin also has many physical health benefits: it is a natural anti-inflammatory agent, it relaxes blood vessels, and it helps heart cells heal from stress-induced damage. The body has a built-in mechanism for stress resilience — and that mechanism is human connection.
The message is clear: instead of avoiding discomfort, go after what creates meaning in your life. If you encounter stress, think of it as your body helping you to rise to the challenge. Instead of running away from stress, believe that with the support of your friends and family, you can handle life’s challenges. Believe in yourself, because stress believes in you.