I recently wrote a blog post about surrendering to fear, Surrender: a life lesson from Goodnight Moon, and how overcoming fear is a two part process: the first part is to accept that you will be afraid or stressed and the second part is acknowledging that it is OK. With these two steps, the power shifts from the fear to you.
Shortly after I wrote the post, I stumbled upon a TED Talk by Kelly McGonigal, a health psychologist, called, How to make stress your friend. In The 14 min video she confesses that even though she has been demonizing stress for 10 years maintaining it is hazzardous, she now believes that stress can be a good thing. A study conducted by the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health found that people who have a lot of stress had a 43% increased risk of premature death. But this was only true for the people who BELIEVED their stress was harmful to their health. The people who had a lot of stress but didn’t view stress as harmful had the lowest risk of death, even when compared with those who reported low stress.
What does this mean? If we change the way we view stress as affecting our bodies from harmful to helpful, it goes from being our enemy to our friend. A study conducted at the Department of Psychology, Harvard found that when people believed stress was harmful, their heart rate increased and their blood vessels constricted, however, when the pounding heart was viewed as the body’s way of preparing itself to rise to a challenge, the blood vessels actually relaxed. McGonigal maintains this reaction is similar to moments of joy and courage. So, how you think about stress matters.
As 2014 is beginning, let’s try this. What have you been afraid to do? When your stomach drops at the thought, decide that it is OK, but forge ahead and feel the power shift from fear to you.