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.