A term that almost always comes up in an initial phone consultation or first session with a client: stress. “I’m stressed,” “I’m too stressed out,” “I want to be less stressed” are statements you hear not only in the therapy office but all around town. While it seems ideal to live a stress-free life, it simply would not be life (or at least a life that most of us would be interested in). As Viktor Frankl once said,
So good, we need stress to qualify as human. But what to do with it when we have it? For the answer to that, we go to the research. What it tells us is that it has a lot to do with our attitude towards stress. Studies show that people who have a lot of stress and view stress as harmful and have a 43% increased risk of dying. People who have a lot of stress but do not view stress as harmful were no more likely to die, and in fact had the lowest risk of dying for anyone in the study, including people who had little stress.
It is not stress that is harmful; it is the belief that stress is bad for you that is harmful.
Why stress is good for you:
- Anxiety is energizing and preparing your body to respond to this challenge
- Your pounding heart is preparing you for action
- Increased pulse is bringing more oxygen to your brain
- Stress makes you connect with others due to the release of the stress hormone oxytocin from the pituitary gland.
- Oxytocin is a neurohormone that makes you crave contact and want to do things that strengthen close relationships, enhance your empathy, support people who care about you, and become more compassionate and caring. It nudges you to tell someone how you feel, rather than bottle it up.
- Your heart has receptors for oxytocin, and it helps heart cells regenerate and heal from any stress induced damage. It strengthens your heart.
Biologically, when you are stressed, your blood vessels constrict. This is the reaction that leads to stress-related heart problems. Studies show that when you are stressed and view this stress as helpful for you to meet this challenge, your blood vessels stay relaxed. The state of those relaxed blood vessels look a lot like what happen to your heart in moments of joy and courage.
Oxytocin is enhanced with social contact and social support. This means that reaching out to others either to seek support or help someone else, your stress response becomes healthier.
To summarize, how you think and act create resilience to stress. So as we head into the weekend, I challenge you to take a few simple steps for your health’s sake:
- Think about the benefits of stress in your body when you’re feeling under pressure or anxious, as helping you respond to the challenge at hand.
- Act by connecting with others, seek support and/or help other people.
- If you are in the Vancouver, BC area, liv wellness has some groups and workshops cooking, a great way to connect. Contact for details.
- And to make it full circle back to Viktor Frankl, meditate, journal, ponder, pray, or share with a friend, family member or therapist about a goal, intention, means of fulfillment, or meaning in your life that is worthy of you. After you’ve set it, write it down.
- If you need help starting, try the liv wellness future planner for free.
Helen Thomas MC, RCC, LPC
References and further information: