What is the upside of stress?

What is the upside of stress?

Photo Courtesy of www.ted.com

Amari D. Pollard '17, NEWS & FEATURES EDITOR

The good in stress is actually found within each individual because it activates resources that people already have within themselves, revealed health psychologist and lecturer at Stanford University, Dr. Kelly McGonigal, PhD.

“We may not like how it feels in the moment, but stress is often a catalyst and a sign of the fact that we are engaged in a life that is meaningful,” said McGonigal.

The Le Moyne community filled Grewen Hall beyond capacity on April 7 to hear the author of “The Power Instinct” discuss the positives of stress and how stress can help people grow into stronger, happier, and smarter individuals. She highlighted research that shows people should embrace the stress that gets woven into everyday life, rather than cracking beneath its pressure.

When it comes to stress, there is the popular perception that it is negative; but a Gallup World Poll conducted in 2006 [covered 121 nations, representing 98 percent of the world’s population] revealed that a higher stress index is greatly associated with positive effects. Increased levels of stress are more likely to lead to longevity, life satisfaction [with regards to work, relationships, community, happiness, etc.].

More than 44 percent of Americans admit to losing sleep over stress, but McGonigal explained that is the wrong way to approach stress. Many people go out of their way to avoid stress, and because they have difficulty coping with stress they succumb to negative habits: resorting to binge drinking, isolating oneself, excessive video gaming, and leaving relationships when things get tough. However, McGonigal said that “avoiding discomfort is the world’s worst strategy because it requires choosing discomfort.”

McGonigal discovered in various conducted students that students who actively attempted to avoid feeling stressed during exam week experienced a decline in concentration, physical energy, and self-control. On a bigger scale, this later results to a decrease in life satisfaction, happiness, social connection, and belonging. So by designing one’s life to avoid stress can be/is more destructive to one’s health and wellbeing.

According to McGonigal there are multiple upsides to stress, which include engagement and connection. When the body finds itself under stress it has ways to respond to the increased anxiety. One response is the release of adrenaline, which stimulates the heart rate, contracts blood vessels, and dilates the air passages to increase blood flow to the muscles and oxygen to the lungs. As a result there is an increase in energy that helps one better engage in personal activities and relationships.

Along with adrenaline the body body discharges Oxytocin, a neurohormone that fine tunes one’s social instincts—helping to better read and connect with people. McGonigal said this hormone is able to give people a sense of courage that dampens down the anxiety circuits of the brain and encourages them to make more meaningful risks.

Sophomore psychology major Kayla Burt thought this was a great event to attend since as a college student many find themselves buckling under the stress that comes with classes and work. “When you hear about stress you think of it as a negative thing and you never realize how much it drives you; without it, you kind of lead a empty life. I think you can really set yourself apart when you thrive under stress,” said Burt.

Audrey Johnstone, a sophomore political science and psychology major was a little apprehensive when going into Tuesday’s talk because she felt it was hard to see the other side of stress when it just leaves her anxious and worn out; but McGonigal helped showed Johnstone how to transform stress into something that can propel her forward.

“I’m still going to go to yoga once a week because that helps me relax but I am definitely going to change my attitude about stress and how I let it influence me,” said Johnstone.

“Now I wouldn’t necessarily ask for more stressful experiences in my life, but this science has given me a whole new appreciation for stress. Stress gives us access to our hearts. The compassionate heart that finds joy and meaning in connecting with others, and yes, your pounding physical heart, working so hard to give you strength and energy,” said McGonigal. “And when you choose to view stress in this way, you’re not just getting better at stress, you’re actually making a pretty profound statement. You’re saying that you can trust yourself to handle life’s challenges. And you’re remembering that you don’t have to face them alone.”