For years, psychologist Kelly McGonigal had viewed stress as the ultimate enemy. It makes your breath speed up, your body sweat and your heart pound. Stress has been linked to heart disease
, and it negatively affects immune responses
. But in light of new research, McGonigal has changed her mind about stress. And she wants you to change your mind about it, too.
The compelling study cited in her TEDGlobal 2013 talk
tracked 30,000 people for 8 years. They asked participants two questions: How stressed are you, and do you believe stress is harmful for your health? They then assessed those participants’ death records over the next 5 years. What they found as surprising as it was fascinating: Those who reported to be stressed but didn’t
believe that stress was harmful to their health were no more likely to die than those who weren’t stressed. In fact, McGonigal says, they had the lowest
risk of dying than anyone in the study.
“When you change your mind about stress, you can change your body’s response to stress,” McGonigal concludes. She urges the audience to think of stress as your body preparing to deal with a challenge. Your breath speeds up so you get more oxygen to the brain; your heart pounds to prepare you for action. In fact– and perhaps the most compelling bit of evidence– those who viewed their stress responses as helpful
had relaxed blood vessels, whereas those who viewed their stress responses as stressful
had constricted blood vessels (which lead to the aforementioned stress-induced afflictions).
“How you think about stress matters,” McGonigal says. Give it a try. Next time you’re presented with a stressful situation, take a moment and remember: My body is helping me rise to the challenge.
That simple thought will help you deal with the stressful situation while keeping your heart healthy.
Change your mindset, change your life.
Another great way to make stress your friend is by moving more! Try using an elliptical trainer at work, or tracking your health and fitness goals with these free apps.