Is Stress our Foe or Friend?

is stress our foe or friendStress: Good or Bad?

We have been taught that stress is bad for our health.  But do we know that for sure?  Is stress our foe or friend?

Negative Symptoms of Stress

We know the bad effects of stress are:

 Emotional Symptoms

  • Irritability or short temper
  • Feeling overwhelmed or stopped
  • Depression or general unhappiness

Cognitive Symptoms

  • Inability to concentrate
  • Poor judgment
  • Constant Worrying

 Behavioral Symptoms

  • Eating more OR less
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Procrastinating or neglecting responsibilities

Physical Symptoms

  • Aches and pains
  • Frequent colds, coughs or stomachache/indigestion
  • Loss of Sex Drive


However, some of the latest research shows that when channeled well, stress can have a positive effect.  In a recent TedTalk, psychologist, Kelly McGonigal says that stress is not the enemy that we’ve made it out to be, stress is only a risk if you think it’s a risk to your health.  In a study over an eight year period, researchers found that people who experienced a high amount of stress faced a 43% increase risk of death, IF they also believed that stress is harmful to their health.      Click here for the link to her TEDTALK.

Here are some benefits to stress:

  • Stress may correlate with longevity if a person doesn’t view it as negative
  • Moderate stress can lead to cell growth in the brains learning centers
  • Stress can summon helper hormones to vulnerable areas.


Hormone Helper: Oxytocin

When you’re stressed, your pituitary gland releases oxytocin, a hormone that compels you to seek support.  Oxytocin, which is commonly referred to as the cuddle hormone, is a natural sedative that promotes emotional attachment, maternal behavior, sexual arousal, intimacy, and trust.   “Your stress response has a built-in mechanism for stress resilience — and that mechanism is human connection,” McGonigal said. In times of stress, she believes, you should seek social contact and social support to boost your oxytocin levels which will decrease your stress and bring you back to balance.

Oxytocin is also an anti-inflammatory that allows blood vessels to stay relaxed under stress as well as a neurotransmitter that reduces blood pressure and cortisol levels. When oxytocin molecules react with the heart’s receptors for this hormone, heart cells are compelled to regenerate, and thus recover from any stress-induced damage.   Pretty smart, huh?

The Power of a Hug

People love to feel a connection and oxytocin is released when you hug or cuddle someone, making a nice generating circle.  Did you ever notice there are some people who love to hug and others love to hug them?   Did you ever hear of Amma, the hugger?  Millions of people have lined up for hours to get a hug from her.  Why?  Perhaps her levels of oxytocin are off the charts and in hugging her they state they feel a sense of comfort, clarity and calm.   So just remember when you are stressed to reach out and hug someone to get support.  Sometimes it’s hard to remember to do this when we are in the middle of it all.  I do know that, if you can find someone to hug, it WILL switch those negative feelings of stress.

What we see in all of this, is as we build community here at RiverWest with our patients, it supports your feeling of belonging, and being connected, which in turn helps transform your negative stress reaction to a positive stress response.  Getting treatments will help you keep that oxytocin flowing and a stress-relief unto itself.

If you can’t quite get there with the hugs and cuddles………next time we will teach you a breathing technique that will help you change the stressful sensations.

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