Why stress might, after all, be good for you

Think stress is likely to be life-shortening? Think again. This awesome TED talk from the brilliant Kelly McGonigal last year blows that idea out of the water. 

We’re used to thinking that we need to reduce our stress before it cuts us down in our prime, before it damages everything from our marriages to every cell in our body.

However, it’s now looking as though stress itself isn’t the problem – it’s the way we think about it. In an 8-year tracking programme of stress and deaths, there were plenty of deaths apparently caused by stress. But wait! The people who died were those who believed that stress was bad for them. 

Whoa. That’s one hell of a mental message we’re sending ourselves. And it suggests that a belief – just a belief, right – is right up there among big-time cancers and terminal illnesses as a leading cause of death.

There’s more. It turns out that one of the things that stress does is to send us in search of other people, by releasing the hormone oxytocin. We want to share. And we want to care, in particular. Another piece of research on stress and death rates found that caring for another person again seemed to wipe out any damaging effects of stress.

Oxytocin, it turns out, has the power to actually repair stress-related damage to the heart. Think about that for a moment. The body, when it knows it’s under pressure, sends us off to show care and concern to another person, knowing that it will get an overhaul in the process.

That has big implications for us as business owners. We’ve created a lifestyle with the never-ending pressure creating our own income and lifestyle for ourselves, our families and our teams, on top of the normal stresses of daily life. We also easily fall into the trap of isolating ourselves, feeling that the answer is to spend longer and longer alone at our desk.

But it suggests that the most powerful thing we can do to protect ourselves from burnout or heart attacks at 50 might be a change of both mind and habits. If we can stop resisting the symptoms of stress, but embrace it as our body providing with the power to deal with things, we may just find ourselves making a massive statement about what it does to us.

I love the way this video wraps up:

‘Go after whatever it is that creates meaning in your life, and trust yourself to handle the stress that follows.’

That’s a great new motto I’m going to adopt. And one that might, just give us a whole new lease of life. Literally.

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