How to make stress your friend | Kelly McGonigal


I have a confession to make. But first, I want you to make
a little confession to me. In the past year,
I want you to just raise your hand if you’ve experienced
relatively little stress. Anyone? How about a moderate amount of stress? Who has experienced a lot of stress? Yeah. Me too. But that is not my confession. My confession is this: I am a health psychologist, and my mission is to help people
be happier and healthier. But I fear that something
I’ve been teaching for the last 10 years
is doing more harm than good, and it has to do with stress. For years I’ve been telling people,
stress makes you sick. It increases the risk of everything
from the common cold to cardiovascular disease. Basically, I’ve turned stress
into the enemy. But I have changed my mind about stress, and today, I want to change yours. Let me start with the study
that made me rethink my whole approach to stress. This study tracked 30,000 adults
in the United States for eight years, and they started by asking people, “How much stress have you
experienced in the last year?” They also asked, “Do you believe that stress
is harmful for your health?” And then they used public death records
to find out who died. (Laughter) Okay. Some bad news first. People who experienced a lot of stress
in the previous year had a 43 percent increased risk of dying. But that was only true for the people who also believed that stress
is harmful for your health. (Laughter) People who experienced a lot of stress but did not view stress as harmful were no more likely to die. In fact, they had the lowest risk of dying of anyone in the study, including people
who had relatively little stress. Now the researchers estimated
that over the eight years they were tracking deaths, 182,000 Americans died prematurely, not from stress, but from the belief
that stress is bad for you. (Laughter) That is over 20,000 deaths a year. Now, if that estimate is correct, that would make
believing stress is bad for you the 15th largest cause of death
in the United States last year, killing more people than skin cancer,
HIV/AIDS and homicide. (Laughter) You can see why this study freaked me out. Here I’ve been spending
so much energy telling people stress is bad for your health. So this study got me wondering: Can changing how you think
about stress make you healthier? And here the science says yes. When you change your mind about stress, you can change
your body’s response to stress. Now to explain how this works, I want you all to pretend
that you are participants in a study designed to stress you out. It’s called the social stress test. You come into the laboratory, and you’re told you have to give a five-minute impromptu speech
on your personal weaknesses to a panel of expert evaluators
sitting right in front of you, and to make sure you feel the pressure, there are bright lights
and a camera in your face, kind of like this. (Laughter) And the evaluators have been trained to give you discouraging,
non-verbal feedback, like this. (Exhales) (Laughter) Now that you’re sufficiently demoralized, time for part two: a math test. And unbeknownst to you, the experimenter has been trained
to harass you during it. Now we’re going to all do this together. It’s going to be fun. For me. Okay. (Laughter) I want you all to count backwards from 996 in increments of seven. You’re going to do this out loud, as fast as you can, starting with 996. Go! (Audience counting) Go faster. Faster please. You’re going too slow. (Audience counting) Stop. Stop, stop, stop. That guy made a mistake. We are going to have to start
all over again. (Laughter) You’re not very good at this, are you? Okay, so you get the idea. If you were actually in this study, you’d probably be a little stressed out. Your heart might be pounding, you might be breathing faster,
maybe breaking out into a sweat. And normally, we interpret
these physical changes as anxiety or signs that we aren’t coping
very well with the pressure. But what if you viewed them instead as signs that your body was energized, was preparing you to meet this challenge? Now that is exactly
what participants were told in a study conducted
at Harvard University. Before they went
through the social stress test, they were taught to rethink
their stress response as helpful. That pounding heart
is preparing you for action. If you’re breathing faster,
it’s no problem. It’s getting more oxygen to your brain. And participants who learned to view
the stress response as helpful for their performance, well, they were less stressed out,
less anxious, more confident, but the most fascinating finding to me was how their physical
stress response changed. Now, in a typical stress response, your heart rate goes up, and your blood vessels
constrict like this. And this is one of the reasons
that chronic stress is sometimes associated
with cardiovascular disease. It’s not really healthy to be
in this state all the time. But in the study, when participants viewed
their stress response as helpful, their blood vessels
stayed relaxed like this. Their heart was still pounding, but this is a much healthier
cardiovascular profile. It actually looks a lot like what happens in moments of joy and courage. Over a lifetime of stressful experiences, this one biological change could be the difference between a stress-induced
heart attack at age 50 and living well into your 90s. And this is really what the new
science of stress reveals, that how you think about stress matters. So my goal as a health
psychologist has changed. I no longer want
to get rid of your stress. I want to make you better at stress. And we just did a little intervention. If you raised your hand and said you’d had a lot of stress
in the last year, we could have saved your life, because hopefully the next time
your heart is pounding from stress, you’re going to remember this talk and you’re going to think to yourself, this is my body helping me
rise to this challenge. And when you view stress in that way, your body believes you, and your stress response
becomes healthier. Now I said I have over a decade
of demonizing stress to redeem myself from, so we are going to do
one more intervention. I want to tell you about one of the most under-appreciated
aspects of the stress response, and the idea is this: Stress makes you social. To understand this side of stress, we need to talk about a hormone, oxytocin, and I know oxytocin has already gotten
as much hype as a hormone can get. It even has its own cute nickname,
the cuddle hormone, because it’s released
when you hug someone. But this is a very small part
of what oxytocin is involved in. Oxytocin is a neuro-hormone. It fine-tunes
your brain’s social instincts. It primes you to do things that strengthen close relationships. Oxytocin makes you crave physical contact
with your friends and family. It enhances your empathy. It even makes you more willing
to help and support the people you care about. Some people have even suggested
we should snort oxytocin… to become more compassionate and caring. But here’s what most people
don’t understand about oxytocin. It’s a stress hormone. Your pituitary gland pumps this stuff out as part of the stress response. It’s as much a part
of your stress response as the adrenaline that makes
your heart pound. And when oxytocin is released
in the stress response, it is motivating you to seek support. Your biological stress response is nudging you to tell
someone how you feel, instead of bottling it up. Your stress response wants
to make sure you notice when someone else
in your life is struggling so that you can support each other. When life is difficult, your stress response wants you
to be surrounded by people who care about you. Okay, so how is knowing this side
of stress going to make you healthier? Well, oxytocin doesn’t only act
on your brain. It also acts on your body, and one of its main roles in your body is to protect your cardiovascular system
from the effects of stress. It’s a natural anti-inflammatory. It also helps your blood vessels
stay relaxed during stress. But my favorite effect on the body
is actually on the heart. Your heart has receptors for this hormone, and oxytocin helps heart cells regenerate and heal from any stress-induced damage. This stress hormone
strengthens your heart. And the cool thing
is that all of these physical benefits of oxytocin are enhanced
by social contact and social support. So when you reach out
to others under stress, either to seek support
or to help someone else, you release more of this hormone, your stress response becomes healthier, and you actually recover
faster from stress. I find this amazing, that your stress response
has a built-in mechanism for stress resilience, and that mechanism is human connection. I want to finish by telling you
about one more study. And listen up, because this study
could also save a life. This study tracked about 1,000 adults
in the United States, and they ranged in age from 34 to 93, and they started the study by asking, “How much stress have you
experienced in the last year?” They also asked, “How much time have you spent
helping out friends, neighbors, people in your community?” And then they used public records
for the next five years to find out who died. Okay, so the bad news first: For every major stressful life experience, like financial difficulties
or family crisis, that increased the risk
of dying by 30 percent. But — and I hope you
are expecting a “but” by now — but that wasn’t true for everyone. People who spent time caring for others showed absolutely no stress-related
increase in dying. Zero. Caring created resilience. And so we see once again that the harmful effects
of stress on your health are not inevitable. How you think and how you act can transform your experience of stress. When you choose to view
your stress response as helpful, you create the biology of courage. And when you choose to connect
with others under stress, you can create resilience. Now I wouldn’t necessarily ask
for more stressful experiences in my life, but this science has given me
a whole new appreciation for stress. Stress gives us access to our hearts. The compassionate heart
that finds joy and meaning in connecting with others, and yes, your pounding physical heart, working so hard to give you
strength and energy. And when you choose to view
stress in this way, you’re not just getting better at stress, you’re actually making
a pretty profound statement. You’re saying that you can trust yourself
to handle life’s challenges. And you’re remembering
that you don’t have to face them alone. Thank you. (Applause) Chris Anderson: This is kind
of amazing, what you’re telling us. It seems amazing to me
that a belief about stress can make so much difference
to someone’s life expectancy. How would that extend to advice, like, if someone is making
a lifestyle choice between, say, a stressful job
and a non-stressful job, does it matter which way they go? It’s equally wise to go
for the stressful job so long as you believe
that you can handle it, in some sense? KM: Yeah, and one thing
we know for certain is that chasing meaning
is better for your health than trying to avoid discomfort. And so I would say that’s really
the best way to make decisions, is go after what it is
that creates meaning in your life and then trust yourself to handle
the stress that follows. CA: Thank you so much, Kelly.
It’s pretty cool. (Applause)


100 Responses

  1. Aim High Life Coaching

    June 3, 2019 9:34 am

    I offer online stress management courses, This will help you to understand how stress affects you and how to make stress you friend so you can be well and healthy.

  2. sarah.

    June 3, 2019 12:55 pm

    I'd really like to know which studies McGonigal was talking about – they sound very interesting. Does anyone know the titles or authors? 🙂

  3. Vipin Yadav

    June 15, 2019 2:55 am

    Measuring "Death" in order to prove a hypothesis, is over-simplification of how our systems work. There are just too many factors involved. If the experiments would have proved that it improved our daily lives in some way, would have been a better parameter

  4. Tomer Wolberg

    June 15, 2019 3:16 pm

    Maybe thinking stress is good makes you less stress. It's not that thinking stress is healthy makes your stress being healthy but it make you less stress and by doing that you're healthier, and stress is still bad.

  5. Morgan Thomson

    June 20, 2019 8:52 am

    Amazing talk, really makes me think about how I react to and manage the stresses in life! 😀

  6. Jamie the Jaguar

    June 22, 2019 9:22 am

    I love Ted talks they are so thought provoking and inspiring, they make you really question what is possible 💭

  7. Aviva Hana Izdihara

    June 23, 2019 6:34 am

    “how you think and how you act can change your experience of stress. ”

    ›choose to view your stress response (heart pounding, palm sweaty, etc) as helpful, it'll bring joy and courage into your life.

    ›choose to connect with others under stress, you can create resilience.

    Literally the whole point is CHANGING OUR VIEW about our stress response, and BUILDING CONNECTION with someone during stress moment, to be happier and healthier also live longer.

    Good luck everyone!

  8. xstrawbrysx

    June 24, 2019 3:01 pm

    Wowee! This is fantastic information Kelly 👍💐👏 thank you ever so much, who knows u may have just saved dozens of others & my life, thank you 💞🌎💞

  9. Crystal Stobbart

    June 26, 2019 12:08 am

    "When you choose to view your stress response as helpful, you trigger the biology of courage." Damn.

  10. good video من الانترنت

    June 29, 2019 12:25 pm

    العيش في مجتمعات غبية يزيد التوتر والعصبية والقلق

  11. Danial Teaches

    July 15, 2019 5:08 am

    Stress is associated with negativity as opposed to positivity. Stress is a good thing, it encourages us to act. It is almost like the mindset of "I am nervous" as opposed to "I am excited". Same symptoms, different attitudes.

  12. grai

    July 15, 2019 6:21 pm

    I'm stressed at how TED talks insist their speakers pretend they're not reading or have memorised a script
    it makes them appear like robots as though they're acting like performers performing a in play

    its a very weird effect

  13. 247Heavensent

    July 22, 2019 2:03 am

    What if you're stressed because you're constantly helping people and everyone needs something from you?

  14. Dhiraj Chaudhari

    July 23, 2019 8:49 am

    Does this talk bolsters the point Amy cuddy said in the book 'Presence' that is fear to excitement

  15. M M

    July 23, 2019 8:52 pm

    So…people who deal with chronic stress alone without any type of support system are essentially ticking time bombs unless they are providing care and support to others? Seems counterintuitive possibly amplifying the neagtive effects of stress.

  16. Matthew Otremba

    July 24, 2019 7:34 am

    Could you possibly make me a personal case study ? and see what it would do for A-Fib , and Apnea , waking and sleep.
    Too much stress in my life , and , so glad I watched this . Before my second heart Ablation , 9 hours from now .
    Your smile would open my blood vessels pronto . (I mean that in the nicest way)

  17. Sho GR

    July 30, 2019 11:09 am


  18. Liang Gao

    August 2, 2019 8:13 pm

    Wow, such composure in the talk! The advice is truly life changing. Thank you, Kelly. I see so many things from your eyes.

  19. Ngọc Bích

    August 5, 2019 12:33 am

    "When you choose to view your stress response as helpful, you create the biology of courage" 💪

  20. Kate Cosette

    August 5, 2019 2:35 am

    Wow. This was amazing. I was captivated listening to her, this idea is wonderful. She’s also a fantastic speaker. Thank you!

  21. Donavan Freberg

    August 7, 2019 5:37 am

    This is a great talk but I also fear that it might add pressure to people who already feel very pressured. This is the kind of science that might be an ally for people to control others and increase the already insane workloads we consider “normal”. What about self-care? What if THAT is the true meaning of life. To do less. To just be ok with being who we are. As is.

  22. Gopichandu Vancharangi

    August 9, 2019 5:58 pm

    Fear can kill person with ulcer in less time
    But courage can make person with cancer live for long time…
    My point is fear causes stress😁

  23. NinjaNilsson

    August 10, 2019 1:40 pm

    so basically, me that is a Lonewolf and don't really socialize with people will die very soon 😛

  24. Antonio Patterson Premed

    August 14, 2019 12:24 am

    Good. So the next time I feel stress I will just chose to believe that it is not harmful and I will be just fine.

  25. Quantized Inertia

    August 14, 2019 9:20 am

    Disagree 100%!
    We are made of Particles and live in Universe. What we are doing on Planet Earth, is a Simulation which is made by US, Humans. Things like Money, God and Property, don’t exist in Universe, so consider it all as a Simulation of carrying Peaceful Life and so enjoy the Simulation and take it easy as neither Money exists, nor Success in Society. And when our beloved leave us, in this Universe, they always exist!!
    Take it easy, nothing is real, except Love!!

  26. pranavv gautamm

    August 15, 2019 7:36 am

    Who is this person who comes at the end? He looks like one of the Hollywood actors.

    Edit: he's the director of TED but he very much looks like an unknown Hollywood actor. If you recognize,.please let me know. I have a great OCD.

  27. Alexandra Ariel

    August 16, 2019 7:31 pm

    Narcissists get energy from causing and experiencing stressful interactions. It energizes and feeds them. They also do not empathize with others in stressful situations. The goal is not to resolve conflict, but incite it.
    When a narcissist gets attention by inciting a stressful situation, the empath dies earlier, but they live a long and healthy life. I have seen this. Only when the narcissist has burned all their bridges does it catch up with them.
    So I believe the research base may be flawed in that it assumed the two groups were the same to begin with.

  28. George Farage

    August 16, 2019 11:53 pm

    Interesting how the society nowadays want to change the meaning of stress. What is the reason? I think they want to we work more and more forgetting about stress 😂. Like being happy slaves! And they know how to do this getting this speech to psicologists. I don’t trust in them

  29. Z Mythos

    August 25, 2019 10:15 pm

    "Chasing meaning is better for your health than trying to avoid discomfort." That's a real good way of looking at it. 😮

  30. Anna Vajda

    August 27, 2019 6:06 am

    She thinks stress is psychosomatic? Sounds like a quack. Go tell starving abused children to just get over it.

  31. Martin Desrocher

    August 28, 2019 2:34 pm

    she"s beautiful ! i just woke up at 7:20 am and she was talking…nice way to wake up to a meaningful conversation !

  32. Semih Uşak

    September 5, 2019 7:58 pm

    I was repeating her directions. I guess I did something wrong. Instead of making stress my friend, I made my friend stress. Now I don't know what to do with that.

  33. Mon Bon

    September 6, 2019 2:24 am

    But how do you view stress as something helpful? When it makes you feel like that? I didn’t get her point. Can someone explain this to me?

  34. zeeshan haider

    September 7, 2019 4:31 pm

    Means to help other reduce your stress level…
    Thanks for sharing such a great and positive thoughts.💓


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