Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Stress Is Our Friend

Stress Is Our Friend....Whaaaat?
Watching some TED Talks last week and came across one with psychologist Kelly McGonical. In it she taught showed the participants how stress can be our friend. We've been told, I've told you, that stress makes you sick anywhere from the common cold to cardiovascular disease. The release of cortisol makes the heart rate goes up and the blood vessels constrict.  Something quite unhealthy in a prolonged state...usually. But what if you changed your perspective on stress? What if you chose to think and feel differently about stress? Could your body react to your belief and thus make stress be your friend? The answer is yes.

In 2011, the Health Psychology magazine published an 8 year study by Dr. Lauren Wisk and her colleagues that tracked 30K US adults. They asked the group, “How much stress have you experienced in the last year?” And, “Do you believe that stress is harmful to your health?" Then they tracked these people using the public death records to discover who died. Those who reported a lot of stress and believed stress greatly impacted their health, had a 43% increased risk of premature death. I took a look at the study and their conclusion was that when you change your mind about stress, you can change your body’s response to stress. As Hans Selye, a well-known endocrinologist and stress research expert, said, "It's not stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it."

What happens to the body when there is stress? Well, it lowers dopamine levels, a chemical that signals the brain for motivation, feelings of pleasure, and happiness and increases cortisol levels, a chemical that triggers the body to produce epinephrine which affects cognitive performance. And this is very interesting:  in the brain, the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenocortical  axis (HPA), which regulates the release of cortisol, cannot distinguish the difference between a physical or psychological stressor; thus a psychological stressor can produce a physiological response as much as a physical stressor. So the belief (psychology) that stress creates illness or death, prolongs and worsens the physiological aspects. But the belief (psychology) of stress as a clue to take action, decreases or eliminates the negative physiological aspects of the condition.
You are braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. ~Christopher Robin
How does my belief change the physiological conditions of stress. Well, your belief in stress as a help to a situation vs. a hindrance and danger to your health, will bend the reality of the ravages of cortisol, etc. by knowing and informing the brain that it is time for another hormonal release to occur …. oxytocin, the cuddle hormone.

Here's an experiment Kelly McGonigal did with the TEDX audience. It is a Social Stress Test. Imagine you are giving a five-minute impromptu speech on your personal weaknesses and that there's a panel of expert evaluators in the audience. Remember, you are on a stage with bright lights and a camera in your face. All the audience have been trained to give you discouraging, non-verbal feedback...hemming and hawing, sighing, moving around in their seats, etc. What would that be like for you...telling your deepest, darkest secrets onstage, lights a-blaring and a camera filming you, while an audience does practically everything to show their boredom and disappoint, but boo and heckle you. Pretty demoralizing, yes?

Now how about taking a math test? We're going to all do this together and it's going to be fun...but not for you. I want you to count backwards from 996 in increments of seven. Do this out loud and as fast as you can...starting with 996.....Go! Come on, go faster. Faster please. You're going too slow!!
Stop. Stop, stop, stop. You made a mistake. We are going to have to start all over again. Imagine that scenario. Feel a little stressed out...heart pounding., breathing faster, maybe breaking out into a sweat? Normally that would equal anxiety, signs we aren't coping with the pressure.

But what if you viewed them as signs that body was being energized, preparing you to meet the challenge at hand? Well, that's what participants were told in study at Harvard University. Before they took the social stress test above, they were taught to think the usual stress response as helpful to them. That the pounding heart was the body prepping for action. That your breathing faster meant more oxygen was going to the brain. The participants who learned to view the stress response as helpful were less stressed out, less anxious, and more confident. The usual physical stress response of constricted blood vessels stayed relaxed and the heart pounding became like the hearts response while in joy or courage. It was the oxytocin.

Oxytocin is a stress hormone. The pituitary gland pumps this stuff out as part of the stress response and, like adrenaline, it makes your heart pound. Interestingly, this stress hormone, when released, motivates you to seek support. It's biology nudging you to tell someone how you feel. When life is difficult, this hormone wants you to be surrounded by people who care about you, primes you to do things that strengthen close relationships, and makes you become more compassionate and caring. Oxytocin acts on the body, too. It protect your cardiovascular system from the effects of stress, is a natural anti-inflammatory, helps your blood vessels stay relaxed during stress, helps the heart cells regenerate and heal from any stress-induced damage, and actually strengthens your heart muscle.

Here are a few activities (not including sex and childbirth) that naturally raise oxytocin levels:
1.  10 Hugs a day
2.  Playing with animals
3.  Playing games
4.  Guided meditation
5.  Getting a massage
6.  Dancing or Exercise
7.  Sharing a meal
8.  Soaking in the tub
9.  Give gifts/notes of encouragement/appreciation
10.  Laughing
11.  Karaoke
12.  Talk with positive people
13.  Holding Hands / Love

Your choice in how you perceive the stress equals how you receive the stress

Winston Churchill tells the story of an old man who, on his deathbed, said that he had had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which had never happened. I think of stress as a message from the Universe, through your hormonal response in stressful situations or lifestyles, to get in touch with your heart. After all, a compassionate heart creates social connection and more oxytocin release.

We don't want cortisol streaming through our bodies, unless we need to lift a car or are being chased by a lion or tiger or bear. But we do want to bend the reality of stress and cortisol to not mean death, illness or destruction of our immune system, and to mean the reality of stress and oxytocin equals motivation and courage, and choosing love and compassion.
Make stress your friend. Take a breath, take a moment and take back your stress response. It's your decision!

My heart is ready to receive the insight I require with ease and love. From this moment on, I transform all my thoughts, feelings and beliefs into a powerful prosperous party. I celebrate my ability to bend reality for my greatest good, best life and optimized fabulousness. I am open to any inspiration, suggestion, revelation, influence, genius and vision that reveals how to bust through, soar and zoom.

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