Thanks to a friend on twitter (@YaelAPeer), I just watched the most brilliant TED talk. I almost cried at the end of it. It changed how I view stress completely, and that was the whole point. This talk is a mini-intervention that could save your life, and I highly recommend you watched it. But first things first.
When I studied Psychology in the UK, they told us: "Stress is the #1 enemy. In addition, chronic stress increases the chance of premature death and developing various illnesses." And so I've been afraid of stress for the past 8 years. Even though it goes against one of my major beliefs, which happens to be a quote by John Milton from Paradise Lost:
The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven..
Now, the speaker - Kelly McGonigal - admits that she, too, has been carrying, and what is worse, advocating this belief - that stress is the enemy. But by doing this talk, she seeks to redeem herself. And she does.
You can watch it right now, but keep reading. Below the video I've included some quotes plus commentary, including an issue everyone should be aware of. Teaser: it involves depression and how stress could help cure it.
Why this talk is revolutionary
It's revolutionary because it changes your perspective. Have you ever changed your mind about something? And the change completely changed your life. It happens so rarely, but it's amazing when it does.
So Kelly talks about research and how people who have experienced a major episode of stress are more likely to die the next year than those who haven't, BUT that's only true for those who see stress as a bad thing.
Basically, if you and stress are buddies, you're all good. This is amazing! It completely validates Milton's quote and reminds us that our attitude toward something could harm us more than the thing itself. Not only this, but she proceeds to give us reasons for befriending stress!
For example, when you experience stress, your blood vessels usually constrict, which becomes unhealthy if repeated or prolonged. However, if you have a healthy attitude towards stress, the vessels don't constrict. In fact, the pounding heart and the un-constricted are also typical for "moments of joy and courage".
When you choose to view your stress response as helpful, you create the biology of courage.
So when they say,
Courage is not the absence of fear, it's the overcoming of it.
They are 100% right.
Most importantly, here's the way you should think about stress:
This is my body helping me rise to this challenge.
Sounds healthy, doesn't it? If you and I can just remember this, we can completely transform our lives and be rid of this irrational fear of stress! And that's not even beginning to cover it...
Why the absence of stress is worse
The 8th minute hit me with a revelation. It has to do with oxytocin - it is the hormone that makes you reach out for social support. Basically, when you are stressed, you crave support to feel better faster.
And this is when Kelly said the following:
Your biological stress response is nudging you to tell someone how you feel, instead of bottling it up.
This is what literally saves you from feeling horrible forever. And do you know when you don't get that biological response? When you're depressed. It makes sense, doesn't it? When you're depressed, you don't seek love and support, you're not particularly social, and you definitely don't feel stressed. If anything, you feel apathetic or miserable.
So don't worry when you're stressed. Worry when you're not.
I'm not saying you can treat clinical depression with oxytocin (even though it's been found to alleviate symptoms), but if you're just "down in the dumps", what has helped me repeatedly was a new project. A new project is stressful (and exciting) because sometimes you don't know what you're doing. And if oxytocin is flooding in, you're getting back to yourself again - your social-support-seeking, stressed out, cheerful self.
And finally, just a side-note...
Why seek meaning?
Even though I like the basic premise of "do what you love", I've always been a bigger proponent of "do what fulfills you". They're not always the same.
And get this. After the end of Kelly's talk someone sprung out and asked her a question about what career you should choose - one that is more stressful or one that is less so, and she answered:
Chasing meaning is better for your health than trying to avoid discomfort... really the best way to make decisions is - go after what it is that creates meaning in your life and then trust yourself to handle the stress that follows.
Beautiful. I never though one speech could give so much. And yet, it did. And it will keep on giving every time I remember and apply it to my life. :)
What did you think of it? Would you have given Kelly a standing ovation?