Is it then possible for stress to actually be good for us?
We’ve discussed in many of our articles and videos what can trigger stress and ways in which we can more effectively manage it physically, but could it be possible, for us to change our perception of what our stress actually is?
You see, our beliefs can shape our reality.
The way we appraise an event can trigger a myriad of behavioral responses that can affect the way we act and experience our whole life.
This can also affect us at the physiological level.
For example, in one of our previous articles, I mentioned how our belief of aging can affect whether we age healthily or not.
Simply by holding a strong enough belief that we can age with healthy minds, bodies, and spirits, and acting accordingly, can be the difference as to whether it becomes a reality or not.
This also applies to how we experience stress, and, how it might similarly impact our health.
But what if then, there was a simple approach to stress that would alter our whole experience and physiological response?
Research shows that what we believe of stress has a lot to do with its impact on us.
If we believe stress to be toxic, this will trigger physiological responses that can predefine serious health issues even ten years from now.
However, in people who see stress as “energizing” their biology is different: they feel better, there is less inflammation, lower blood pressure, decreased stress hormones and they handle the stressful tasks more successfully.
They use the stress response to harness the energy and address what needs to be done.
Author and researcher Kelly McGonical describes three responses to stress:
- The flight and fight response
- The challenge response; and
- The tend and befriend response.
Let’s explore them in more detail:
The flight and fight response: a person perceives stress as a situation that is overwhelming. This leads to increased inflammation, high levels of cortisol and adrenalin, and strain on the cardiovascular system.
The challenge response:A person perceives the stress as a challenge to master. The body is energized into action with less inflammation, lower blood pressure, decreased stress hormones.
The tend and befriend response:A more socially connected response where the person reaches out for support has more compassion for himself and others. This generates a more parasympathetic system response in the body, where blood pressure is normal, and vasopressin and oxytocin are released (these are the connecting “love” hormones). In fact, this response appears to be protective of overall health, healthy aging, and brain health.
Let’s look at this in more practical terms.
- Thinking stress is bad, will make us try to avoid it, causing more stress and more harm (i.e. I will drink to make these feelings go away). This happens usually in flight/fight response.
- Thinking stress is a challenge we can sustain, that the feelings are excitement and energy, will activate the challenge response which is physiologically less damaging.
- And reaching out and helping and connecting to others in a similar struggle is protective and physiologically not damaging at all (and this is the tend and befriend response).
So how does this work in the real world?
Let’s look at some examples.
Tommy has a big swimming race and his heart is pounding.
He is stressed but reminds himself “This energy will fuel my body during this challenge”.
He uses the energy to compete and does well in the race.
Leila has a newborn baby who does not sleep at night.
She joins a support group for mothers and finds herself understood, supported and supporting other mums in a similar situation.
She feels that she is not alone, and she can handle this challenge.
So from this, we can see that in order to activate more beneficial physiological responses when stress occurs, it is helpful to keep our beliefs of stress in check.
Accepting stress as a normal body response, rather than trying to avoid it or believe it is toxic), might help activate a “challenge stress response”.
Looking out for beliefs like “I cannot handle these feelings of stress” and reminding oneself “this is energy my body is producing to help me handle this situation” will also help us move from flight/fight to challenge response.
Finally, reaching out to your own community of family and friends, and connecting to others in similar situations, will help activate the tend and befriend response.
This is a bit like that feeling of connection that arises when big tragedies strike (i.e. after a natural disaster) and communities come together for support and care.
Rather than going within and shutting down, reaching out and connecting produces powerful healing, and generates a healthier response in the minds and bodies of all.
Applying this simple information to how you respond to a stressful situation may be helping the brain to shift from a Flight and Fight response to a Challenge, Tend and Befriend reaction.
This is not only better for the body, but this simple mind reset may generate a cascade of new and positive actions that could impact your life and brain health for the better.
We hope these tips provide you with some insights and assistance to living your most brain healthy life.
Please visit www.BrainFitresorts.com for more!