Kelly McGonigal: Stress is bad only if you think it is, or if you don’t reach out to help others, or if you don’t seek comfort from other people

Kelly McGonigal claims that stress is only bad for you if you believe that it is. Citing one study (Keller et al 2012), McGonical argues that people who believe stress is bad for them have worse health outcomes than those who didn’t. Her argument (which the study doesn’t actually discuss, so it presumably is based on her own research) is a physiological one: when you don’t believe that stress is bad for you, your body reacts differently, particularly with the way your blood vessels constrict.

Citing another study (Poulin et al 2013), she also argues that the negative physiological effects of stress can be mitigated if you reach out to other people for comfort in times of stress, and/or reach out to other people and help them in their time of need. She links this argument the hormone oxytocin, which actually is a stress hormone (Lang et al 1983). The so-called “cuddle chemical” which is associated with only feelings of love and well-being is also (paradoxically) associated with fear and social anxiety.

Stuff to read!

Keller, A., Litzelman, K., Wisk, L. E., Maddox, T., Cheng, E. R., Creswell, P. D., & Witt, W. P. (2012). Does the perception that stress affects health matter? The association with health and mortality. Health psychology: official journal of the Division of Health Psychology, American Psychological Association, 31(5), 677–684. doi:10.1037/a0026743

Lang, R. E., Heil, J. W. E., Ganten, D., Hermann, K., Unger, T., & Rascher, W. (1983). Oxytocin Unlike Vasopressin Is a Stress Hormone in the Rat. Neuroendocrinology, 37(4), 314–316. doi:10.1159/000123566

Yomayra F Guzmán, Natalie C Tronson, Vladimir Jovasevic, Keisuke Sato, Anita L Guedea, Hiroaki Mizukami, Katsuhiko Nishimori, Jelena Radulovic. Fear-enhancing effects of septal oxytocin receptors. Nature Neuroscience, 2013; DOI: 10.1038/nn.3465

Poulin, M. J., Brown, S. L., Dillard, A. J., & Smith, D. M. (2013). Giving to others and the association between stress and mortality. American journal of public health, 103(9), 1649–1655. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2012.300876

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