Although stress has been demonised in modern society, being named as the cause of all our problems, research is showing that the harmful effects of stress may be a consequence of our perception that it is bad for our health. So how you think about stress matters!
Stress. It makes your heart pound, your breathing quicken and your forehead sweat. These physical changes are often interpreted as anxiety, or a sign that we are not coping very well. What if you were to interpret these changes as a sign of your body preparing you for the challenge, thus viewing your stress response as helpful. Your pounding heart is preparing you for action, fast breathing delivers more oxygen to the brain.
The research shows that the change in attitude towards stress changes the body’s response- when you learn to view the stress response as helpful to your performance you are less stressed out, more confident and less anxious. The physical response to stress changes, typically when you are stressed out your heart rate goes up and your blood vessels constrict. However in a study where the participants viewed their stress response as helpful their blood vessels stayed relaxed. So the heart was still pounding but there was no constriction in the blood vessels- that is what happens at a physiological level in the moments of joy!
Oxytocin, known as the love hormone, is released in times of stress to motivate us to seek support and reach out to others. Research shows that human contact, sharing your problems and talking about them creates resilience.
Further reading: Studies: “Does the perception that stress affects health matter?”, “Increased risk of coronary heart disease among individuals reporting adverse impact of stress on their health: the Whitehall II prospective cohort study”, “Meta-analysis of perceived stress and its association with incident coronary heart disease.”