A new way to look at stress

In this Goop Q&A, Stanford professor Kelly McGonigal explains why stress may actually be good for us sometimes, and that there is more than one type of stress.

The body has a whole repertoire of stress responses. Sometimes when we experience stress we’re experiencing a state that is healthy, that makes us resilient, that makes us more caring and connected, that makes us more courageous. The experience might be physically similar in some ways to stress states that we would describe as debilitating anxiety or other negative stress states, but they are not toxic. There are a lot of different ways to experience stress…

…And then there’s a relatively new idea, which is that there’s an ability to grow from stress built into our biology. I think people have always recognized that holistically, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger—they recognize that as a platitude. But to see it in the biology of the stress response—that your stress response can increase neuroplasticity to help your brain learn from the experience, that you can release stress hormones that function like steroids for not just your body but also for your brain—that’s an incredible and very new insight…

…we’ve been so inundated by this belief, this mindset, and this message that stress is toxic, that stress is harmful, that you should avoid or reduce stress, that in moments of feeling stressed out, we think: “I shouldn’t be stressed out right now. If I were a good parent, if I were a good mom, I’d be calm right now, I wouldn’t be upset. If I were good at my job, I’d be so smooth right now under pressure. I wouldn’t be frantic, I wouldn’t be worried, I wouldn’t be overwhelmed.”

And then that leads us to cope with situations in ways that make it harder to find meaning in them. It makes it harder to solve problems that can be solved. It makes it harder to connect with others so that we know that we’re not alone. And I think that’s what makes believing stress is bad for you so toxic. It’s not a magic trick. It creates thoughts and emotions that make it harder to thrive. And it changes the way we cope.

The Importance of Play

The importance of play for children before the age of 7 should not be underestimated. Outdoor, unstructured play is particularly important for children to develop the social-emotional tools they need to navigate life successfully.

In a blog post by pediatric occupational therapist Angela Hanscom, she recounts an interview she conducted with a highly experienced preschool teacher:

A few years ago, I interviewed a highly respected director of a progressive preschool. She had been teaching preschoolers for about 40 years and had seen major changes in the social and physical development of children in the past few generations.

“Kids are just different,” she started to say. When I asked her to clarify, she said, “They are more easily frustrated – often crying at the drop of a hat.” She had also observed that children were frequently falling out of their seats “at least three times a day,” less attentive, and running into each other and even the walls. “It is so strange. You never saw these issues in the past.”

Clumsiness, an inability to sit still, poor problem-solving, and poor emotional regulation could be avoided in many children if they were given the ample time they need to play and use their senses to explore the natural world. The three ‘R’s will happen in good time. There is no need to rush it. But giving children the space and time to play should not be neglected.