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How To Befriend Stress

22nd Jan 2016


Do you hate it when you feel stressful? How do you react to stress? Do you see it as a good or bad thing? Do you tend to try every possible actions just to avoid stress? 

In today’s generation, feeling stressed is common. In a stressed moment, you will feel that your heart is pounding fast, your muscles tighten, blood pressure rises, senses become sharper and breathing faster. You might realise that sometimes being stressed out will allow you to focus more while there are also times when you are overwhelmed and fail to concentrate. Stress affects everyone differently.  

Stress is a natural human reaction. However, when we perceive it as a threat, our nervous system responds to it by releasing stress hormones namely adrenaline and cortisol. Instead of looking at it negatively, imagine yourself viewing it as signs that your body is energized and it is preparing you to meet this challenge. 

John Ostdick once said “There is no escaping everyday anxiety, so harness it”. 

Sometimes when we experience stress, we are experiencing a healthy state, that makes us resilient, that makes us more caring and connected, that make us more courageous. We would describe the similar effect as debilitating anxiety or other negative stress traits but do take note that they are not toxic. 

According to Kelly McGonigal, health psychologist, there are actually other beneficial and physiologically positive types of stress and that harnessing stress to work for you is as simple as changing your mindset. 

The harmful effects of stress are caused by our perception that it is bad for our health.

We should start to get used to the idea of accepting and embracing stress. Get rid of the whole concept that if you are stressed out, there is something wrong with your life and it should be avoided at all cost. 

There are a few situations that show how stress can be beneficial to us. 


Firstly, if your perceive stress is harmful, you will be saying things like: “I should not be stressed at this moment, I need to calm down and this stress is going to kill me,” you are only amplifying the harmful aspects of your stress response. In these moments, a mindset shift can be helpful. You can perceive it as your body is prepared and helping you to rise to the challenge. You should view it as evidence that you can trust yourself to overcome it. This is what we can call it as challenge response. Such response gives you energy, helps you focus and increases motivation. It is the kind of stress response you have to a situation where you need to rise to a challenge, and importantly, you feel like you can do it. 


Secondly, when you are stressful, it gives you “tend and befriend response” at times. It gives you the tendency to be with friends and family; you are willing to ask for help from others; and feeling motivated to support and care for others. In another word, you can consider this as a “bigger-than-self” stress response. There are times when you have your own stress or the recognition that someone you care about is suffering and it will motivate you to strengthen relationships and support those you care about. You can see people who choose such approach in stress usually loves doing volunteering work or focusing on giving back. They are more empowered, find more purpose in the day to day, and deal better with the ups and downs of life.


Thirdly, have you ever thought that stress gives us the ability to learn from experience? You can respond to stress by looking at it as an opportunity to learn and grow. According to Kelly McGonigal, “in studies, people who interpret their racing heart or their sweaty palms as a sign that their body is giving them energy actually do better under pressure—they perform better, they make better decisions, and they impress others more.” When you are fighting with stress and trying to calm yourself down, sometimes you will feel that stress will provides you the energy to get through something. 

All in all, there is science suggesting that stress is harmful and bring negative consequences on our physical health, relationships, or other goals. It is an undeniable fact. However, you can change that by simply changing your perception towards stress. Stress can help you to connect with others, or up for a challenge, or learn and grow. If you see stress as helpful and you recognize your own capacity to grow under stress, you will be healthier as compared to feeling suppress or try to avoid stress. If you can see the good side of stress, it can help you, and there is a high possibility of you thriving in stressful circumstances.