Stress Might Actually be Good for You, But It’s Not for the Reason You Think

While I was lurking around Reddit last week, I ran across an AskReddit thread that posed the question “What’s one TED Talk (or equivalent) that everyone should watch and why?” Quite a few people said they were particularly fond of Kelly McGonigal’s lecture on how we can rewire our brains to interpret stress as a good thing, and thereby improve our lives generally and possibly even increase the longevity of our lives.

“How you think about stress matters,” explains McGonigal, who is a psychologist and lecturer at Stanford University who has spent years studying the effects of stress on the human body.

For many years, scientists and doctors warned that too much stress could be harmful. However, new research has turned that assertion completely upside down. As McGonigal notes, a more recent study found that people who have high levels of stress, but don’t view that stress as a bad thing, are less likely to die.

Furthermore, this means that the belief that stress is bad for one’s health was actually the 15th leading cause of death in the United States in 2012. More than 18,000 Americans died simply because they thought that the stress they were experiencing was negatively impacting their bodies.

Once you get over the initial shock at the suggestion that stress isn’t bad for you, McGonigal’s theory seems to make sense. After all, with all the multitasking, interconnectivity, and pressures that come with our work, school, and social lives, stress is inescapable – particularly for my generation. Getting rid of stress altogether is impossible. So, like McGonigal suggests, the next best thing is to spin that stress in a positive way. You don’t have to pretend like it’s not there, but you also don’t have to think of it as the Grim Reaper (following you around, making you susceptible to your co-worker’s cold, or making your heart rate flip out).

What do you think about McGonigal’s theory? Are there any other TED Talks or TEDx Talks that you would recommend? Let me know in the comments!