Can Stress Make You Stronger?

In a TED Talk that’s been viewed more than 13 million times, Kelly McGonigal has some compelling arguments about the evils of “stress.” She purports…drumroll, please…that stress can be good for you! Say what?

As a clinical health psychologist, she had spent a misguided decade teaching patients about how stress causes illness and is public enemy #1. That is, until she read about a study of 30,000 people over eight years that showed her just the opposite.

McGonigal poses the question: “Can changing how you think about stress make you healthier?” Indeed, she believes the right mindset can positively impact your body’s physical reactions to it. She pulls from scientific data and death rates—all tied to people’s perceptions of stressors.

“This is really what the new science reveals,” she says, “that how you think about stress matters.” When people view it as a positive, the biological functions inside the heart and mind follow.

For example:

Pounding heart? That prepares you for action.

Faster breathing? That gives your brain more oxygen.

Overwhelmed by a situation? That compels you to ask for help.

Can Stress Make You Stronger?

When a person views physical and mental stressors as things that will strengthen them, that is actually what happens. McGonigal advocates viewing typical stress reactions as ways your body helps you rise to a challenge. Stress gives us access to our hearts, she says.

Bonus: Stress also makes you social. It motivates you to seek support and tell someone how you feel. During times of stress, you want to be surrounded by people who care, and people recover faster when they seek or give help. Caring creates resilience! It’s the human connection that counts, according to McGonigal.

She states, “How you think and how you act can transform your experience. When you choose to view your response as helpful you create the biology of courage. And when you choose to connect with others under stress, you can create resilience.”

To get the big picture, view McGonigal’s talk here.