April 22, 2014

The biology of courage: Make stress your friend

Kelly McGonigal says, "How you think about stress matters."

It's a not-very-well-kept secret that a person's attitude toward stress makes a big difference in how they respond in stressful situations. For example, I've written here before that elite athletes rely on that adrenaline rush to propel them to run faster, jump higher and throw farther. If they don't have that adrenaline rush, they don't perform as well.

However, for us "normal" folk, stress mostly feels icky. We don't like it, we try to deny it or squash it, and we don't know how to channel it in a positive way -- and that causes even more suffering.

Kelly McGonigal explains this stress process in your brain and body better than I've ever heard it explained. She talkes about how stress prepares your body to rise to a challenge. Another example of brain/body communication!

She also explains that "stress makes you social." Oxytocin, which is released when you're under stress, is as much a part of the stress response as adrenaline. It's a hormone that makes you crave physical contact, and "motivates you to seek support."

Besides giving stress the respect it deserves in preparing us for an intense or scary situation, she also has great interaction with the audience -- a rare occurrence in TED talks.

Ultimately, she says, "How you think and how you act can transform your experience of stress."

"When you choose to view your stress response as helpful you create the biology of courage."

Watch her talk below, and the next time you're stressing out about a presentation, remember her message, and make stress your friend!

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