Hello reader, this is the second part of a two-part blog post. In the first part, I wrote about finding one’s purpose and how the “river of life” can cause us to change course as we move through life. Now I’d like to rambling on stress and how stress is perceived and role of service can influence and impact our quality of life.
A few weeks ago, I went to see a fascinating and thought-provoking speaker at the Faith and Life Lecture Series in Plymouth. Dr. Leslie Wickman, an engineer, research scientist, and astronaut (!), author of God of the Big Bang: How Science Affirms the Creator, discussed the debate about how God and science go together. Dr. Wickman was insightful, thought provoking, and rather astonishing as she talked about her revelations and beliefs in the convergence of science and creation, as opposed to science or creation. Something she said really stuck with me: “Science is constantly struggling and researching the how’s, why’s and extraordinary wonders of what God created.”
Dr. Wickman introduced the work of Dr. Kelly McGonigal, a psychologist, (Isn’t it interesting how one thought-provoking opportunity can lead you to another?) and her Ted Talk, “Make Stress Your Friend.” Dr. McGonigal says new research suggests that stress may only be bad for you if you believe that it is. She challenges us to think about stress differently, to see it as a positive that can propel us into connecting with others and reducing our health risks associated with stress. Interesting concept!
Let’s look at how we can befriend stress but first, let me take you back to my two “EKGs” that I shared with you in Part I:
This represents the Bob others saw. Meanwhile, this is how I was feeling inside.
My own “personal growth” challenge has been to make the second graph look and feel more like the first.
Here’s what I learned from Dr. McGonigal about stress (I’m paraphrasing): A University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health study followed 30,000 adults over eight years. Each year they were asked how much stress they had experienced in the past year and if they believed stress was harmful to their health. Researchers then looked at public health records to see who had died. The result? Those who had experienced a significant amount of stress had a 43 percent increased risk of dying. However, this was only true if they felt stress was harmful to their health. For those in the study who had significant amounts of stress but didn’t feel and view stress was harmful to their health, their chance of dying was no different than anyone else. In fact, they had the lowest rates of death across the study. The results raised the notion of a relationship between how you think about stress and how stress impacts your health.
So, some discovered take-always:
You can change how your body will react to stress (and perhaps protect your health).
- Stress tells the body to be energized and to respond: the heart rate goes up and blood vessels constrict. The Achilles heel is that causing your blood vessels to contract is a leading cause of heart disease, heart attack, and death when you experience prolonged stress.
- However, and this is huge, for those who view stress as something positive and energizing, the blood vessels do not constrict, although the heart rate still goes up. The difference between a stress-related heart attack and living to your 90s maybe how you view stress! The better we are at how we perceive and manage stress has a significant impact on our lives. What is even more interesting is that moments of joy and courage have the same effect on the body and its response. There is an attitude that says, “This is my body rising to the challenge of this stressful situation.”
- Stress encourages you to be more social as it triggers a hormone, Oxytocin, affectionately known as the hug hormone or cuddle chemical, which is the same hormone released when you hug someone. It’s also a neuropeptide that primes you to strengthen close relationships, have empathy, crave affection and physical contact with friends and family. It makes you more willing to care and support others.
- Oxytocin is part of the stress response: It is motivating you to seek support, to tell someone how you feel vs bottling it up. This magnificent Oxytocin is your body’s stress response telling you it wants and needs to be surrounded with people who care about you.
- Now here’s what just may save your life (see, tie-back to the title of this post!): Oxytocin protects the cardiovascular system—your heart, from the deadly effects of prolonged stress. It triggers the heart cells to re-energize and helps strengthen your heart which is enhanced by social contact and support!
To recap: Our positive attitude toward stress actually protects the heart and is a natural anti-inflammatory that relaxes our blood vessels and helps strengthen the heart. And, social contact and emotional connection produces oxytocin which helps you build a positive resilience to stress. Think about this, Oxytocin – Social Contact – Caring- Serving and Resilience all tie together, you see:
Outward love can be lifesaving as opposed to being inwardly prideful!
Okay, one more piece of science for us! A 2013 study at the University of Buffalo, New York, tracked 1,000 adults, their stress levels, and the amount of time they spent helping others. The researchers then looked at public records over the next five years to determine who had died. They discovered that a major stress event had increased the risk of dying by 30 percent. However, those who exhibited significant amounts of caring for others had a 0 percent increase in dying. Zero Percent.
The study showed that people who cared for others had no stress-related increase in death—they had developed stress resilience. What this study suggests is that how you think and act can impact your body’s reaction to stress. Stress provides us a real connection to our hearts and a caring, compassionate heart that finds joy in connecting with others can actually improve our heart health!
My challenge to all of us is to start seeing stress as an ally. Find ways to get that oxytocin flowing. Give more hugs, interact with others. Share our gifts and time through a spirit of servanthood. Use stress to build on the positive aspects of life. It just may enable us to be around longer!
When you create a mindset of being stress resilient and courageous, you are making a profound statement about being a caring person who can handle life’s challenges and that we don’t need to face them alone!
How do I build better resilience? :
- Productivity and resilience begins with rest, take time to reflect
- Stop Whining (privately and publically)!
- Remember two key words daily – THANK YOU!
- Travel Lightly – it is ok to not always be serious – have fun!
- Go to the next party! – Follow your dreams, if one is not working, go to the next as Dreams Know the Way (Kobi Yamada)
Now let’s get those inner and outer EKGs aligned and get that Oxytocin Raging!