Happiness and Stress

Happiness and Stress

I recently listened to a great TED Talk by Kelly McGonigal, a health psychologist.  She admitted that she’s spent the last decade warning people about the dangerous effects stress has on physical health.  But she no longer considers stress the enemy since she learned there is a fine line between the body’s response to stress and its response to joy and courage.  The difference is in how the blood vessels react.  When you’re feeling stressed, your heart rate goes up and your blood vessels constrict.  When you’re feeling joy or courage, your heart rate goes up but your blood vessels stay relaxed.  Considering blood vessels carry oxygen and nutrients around the body and remove carbon dioxide and waste products away from the cells, this is a very important difference.  The point: how you interpret your body’s response can mean the difference between a heart attack or a long healthy life.  Need more evidence?  Dr. McGonigal talked about a study where everyone was exposed to the same stressor, but half the participants had been taught to view their stress response as helpful (their pounding heart and quickened breathing is a healthy, adaptive thing their body is doing to help them rise to the occasion – in general, fight or flee).  Their blood vessels stayed unconstricted as opposed to the participants who didn’t receive this training.  So next time you notice your body’s physical response to stress or anxiety, remember you are just a thought away from having nice, open blood vessels.  Doesn’t that kind of influence over your health make you happy?