Make Stress Your Friend

In the past few years I’ve had to rethink my view of stress. Based on solid research from University of Wisconsin – Madison, there is evidence that stress may not be as bad for us as believing stress is bad for us. In fact, as many as 43% more people died when they believed stress was bad for them even when their stressors were less intense than their stress-friendly peers. That’s right, believing stress will kill you, can kill you!
This weekend I had a big reminder that I am not alone in this world. Thankfully, there was no emergency that necessitated this reminder. I simply needed help doing something I could not do myself. My wife and I asked for help and help was given. Some helpers I had never met. So what does this have to do with stress?
The stress of preparing my part for this project focused my mind, prioritized my behaviors, and increased my awareness of what needed to happen and how we could do it safely. In other words, stress was my friend. I also had a sense that the stress I was feeling had a purpose and was related to something important to me, my children’s happiness. Health Psychologist Kelly McGonigal in her TED Talk “How To Make Stress Your Friend”  presents the research and reasoning for why stress is not our enemy.
In my stressful weekend project I was reminded that social support in the face of stress is a protective factor. Having close relationships and feeling that you can rely on others brings about biological changes that protect us against stress. One such change is the release of oxytocin. This hormone is also known as the cuddle drug. Oxytocin helps us to feel calm, connected, and courageous. Oxytocin also has a cool side effect of protecting your heart by binding to special receptors in heart cells. This effect blocks the negative side effects of stress hormones. Oxytocin is released during pleasant social interactions. For example, hugging for 20 second or longer may stimulate the release of oxytocin. It is also released in higher doses during sexual activity.
So how do we make stress our friend beyond seeking out social support and loving relationships? Embracing stress and the events that stress us out will help. For example, recognizing that the increased heart rate, breathing, and blood pressure prepare your body and mind to meet the demands of the stressful challenge. Breathing rate increases oxygen intake. Increased heart rate moves that oxygenated blood to meet the energy needs of the body. Increased blood pressure directs that blood flow to specific areas. So smile when you feel the stress coming on and know that your body is preparing for action, and seek out help from others.
For more information on how stress is good for your body and mind check out this article, “7 ways stress does your mind and body good”.
For more strategies on how to make stress your friend contact Chris Clark Wellness Associates at 307-630-3466 or find us at

Keller, A., Litzelman, K., Wisk, L. E., Maddox, T., Cheng, E. R., Creswell, P. D., & Witt, W. P. (2012). Does the Perception that Stress Affects Health Matter? The Association with Health and Mortality. Health Psychology : Official Journal of the Division of Health Psychology, American Psychological Association, 31(5), 677–684. doi:10.1037/a0026743


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