Fridays with Franky: Stress Is What You Make It!
That has been the common belief for quite some time – that stress is harmful and results in an increased heart rate that can in turn result in cardiac issues. Well, some exciting new research is suggesting that stress itself may not be bad, rather it is our response or how we ‘see our stress’ as being the contributing factor to negative health issues.
In a recent TED Talk, noted health psychologist, Kelly McGonigal, examined the latest stress research and how it is changing how we view stress. She emphasized two key points: 1) That the impact of stress on our bodies is directly related to how we think about stress. 2) That when we help or care for others when we are experiencing stress we are reducing the negative health impacts of stress. She confesses that these findings basically dismantle what she has been teaching others for years – that stress is bad and can kill you!
The findings are suggesting that when we think of our stress negatively, our heart rate increases but more critically, our blood vessels become restricted further burdening our heart’s efforts. On the other hand, when we choose to think of our stress more positively – such as “This is my body helping me rise to this challenge”, our heart rate still increases, but our blood vessels remain open allowing for a healthy flow of blood in our bodies.
“This (stress) is my body helping me rise to this challenge”
Kelly McGonigal, Health Psychologist
Additionally, she goes on to say that “stress makes us social”. Parallel research followed a large sample of people across a wide range of ages and they found that when a person experiences stress but responds at that time by caring for others a similar observation occurred where the heart rate again increased yet the blood vessels remain fully open and unrestricted.
Now, what in the world does this have to do with a camp experience like a summer at WeHaKee Camp for Girls? A lot actually! Camp is fun and is filled with lots of exciting and interesting activities. But it can also be stressful for our campers. Consider this, each camper travels to camp anywhere from a few miles to perhaps several thousand miles. They are participating in a community of girls they likely don’t know from all over the country and the world. They live in a cabin with several other girls with less privacy than they may be used to. And they don’t have the immediate comfort of parents and siblings right there to help them navigate these challenges. Sounds like the potential for a lot of stress!
Yet they see this experience as fun, and unbeknownst to them, the stress is naturally & subconsciously viewed positively. The heart rate rises, but the blood continues to flow freely and unrestricted. And they are within a community with many chances to care for and help others – again unknowingly, thus naturally! It’s like a perfect storm of elements creating a positive and healthy stress response. And because this continues to occur throughout their camp experience it helps campers develop positive patterns in their stress responses that will carry over into their home, neighborhood, and school environments!
So, it’s all in how you look at it. Seeing stress for what it really is – ‘your body helping you to rise to the challenge’ – keeps you healthy and strong! Thanks for joining me today and have a great weekend!