Making Stress Your Friend

Feb 23, 2022

Is stress the best thing that ever happened?

Here is what may sound like a crazy idea – “What if changing how you think about stress can make you healthier?”

Now I know what you would say to this:

  • “Stress is bad.”
  • “I have too much Stress in my life”
  • “Everything stresses me out”.

But what I am going to share with you might change your perspective about this … “Stress

In human relationships, distance is not measured in miles but in affection. Two people can be right next to each other, yet miles apart.

I was researching the effects of stress on our health recently and came across a TED Talk “How to Make Stress Your Friend” by Kelly McGonigal who is a Stanford University psychologist.

In this TED Talk, psychologist Kelly McGonigal shares that according to science, learning how to view our stress response as helpful actually changes our physical response to stress. Kelly explains how stress hormones work, how we can reframe the purpose of stress, and how connecting to other people and caring for others can help increase our stress resilience. Staying healthy is not all about eliminating stress, which is good news since that’s nearly impossible. It’s about getting better at managing it.

Kelly explains that while we have all spent the last 30 years or so thinking that stress, and its physical manifestations, were unhealthy, that that’s actually not exactly the case. Over the course of her talk she discusses three studies that shed new light on the stress response, and how to reprogram our thoughts about it to make it healthier.

“Staying healthy is not all about eliminating stress, which is good news since that’s nearly impossible.”

Step 1 : Change your beliefs

The first study shows follows groups of people who experience varying levels of stress over several years, and then tracks death records. Not only does it show that the people that believe stress can kill die at a much higher rate; but also it shows that the people who are under more stress, but don’t believe or know about its “negative” effects are actually healthier and more likely to live long happy lives.

She explains that it has been shown that the dangerous part of the physical stress responses is in the vascular constriction that occurs while the heart is pumping at an increased rate. This vaso-constriction however, has only been documented in people who already believe that stress is dangerous.

We will all be faced with a choice of making a difficult decision … which obviously creates stress. It is here Kelly explains, chasing meaning is better for your health than trying to avoid discomfort. And so that’s really the best way to make decisions, is to go after what it is that creates meaning in your life and then trust yourself to handle the stress that follows.

James Norbury’s character's Panda and The Little Dragon

Image credit: Brooke Cagle 

Step 2: Stress facilitates social connection

The physical stress response has been shown to release the neuro-hormone oxytocin. Heard of it? If you have, it was probably in reference to cuddling, and the happiness response our brain has to physical and social connections. Studies show that not only does the stress response itself NOT cause dangerous vaso-constriction, but also that it allows for and increases the release of oxytocin.

When oxytocin is released in the stress response, it is motivating you to seek support. Your biological stress response is nudging you to tell someone how you feel instead of bottling it up.

hands togetherness

Step 3: Show you care

The final research presented followed about 1,000 adults in the US, and watched both how they described their level of stress, and whether or not they spent time helping people, whether it be friends, family, or community members. It also tracked death records of the folks in the study.

The really interesting finding was that for every major stressful life experience, like financial difficulties or family crisis, it increased the risk of dying by 30 percent. But — and this is a major BUT –that wasn’t true for everyone. People who spent time caring for others showed absolutely no stress-related increase in dying. Zero. Caring created resilience.

Ted talk by Kelly McGonigal


If you would like to know how to find meaning and fulfillment in a life of chaos and confusion, you may want to read my latest book “Your Mess Has a Message.”

Your Mess Has a Message by Dr Arun Dhir

All proceeds from the sale of this book go to the Circle of Life Foundation a charity that is actively working towards educating the underprivileged children of the world.

Helping You Discover, Empower & Prosper

Dr Arun Dhir  |  GI Surgeon, Health Reformist & Passionate Educator.

Dr Arun Dhir

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About Dr Arun:

Besides having a busy private practice at Melbourne Gastro Surgery – Centre for Weight Loss, Dr Arun is an active member of the ANZ Association of Gastro-Oesophageal surgeons (ANZGOSA), ANZ Society of Metabolic and Obesity Surgery (OSSANZ) and Australian College of Nutrition and Environmental Medicine (ACNEM).

Dr Arun is also a senior lecturer (University of Melbourne) and yoga and meditation teacher, with a strong interest in the mind-body-gut connection. He regularly writes and speaks about gut health, gut microbiome, obesity, gastrointestinal surgery and healing. Arun’s published works include Happy Gut Healthy Weight (Balboa Press 2018), Creating a New You – Health Journal (Metagenics 2019), and Your Mess Has a Message (2021).