Reaching out and reaching in

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Part 2 of 2 – see part 1 here: Why Stress Is Actually Good For Us

In Part 1, I wrote about the negative impact of stress on our health ONLY if we believe stress to be harmful for us. However, what is also becoming evident is that stress makes us more social, and for a species whose success lies in its ability to connect deeply with others, this is indeed great news!

Stress and Love?

It is generally a well-known fact that our brains release cortisol under stress and that too much or too little cortisol is bad for us. However, something we did not know until recently is that the brain also releases oxytocin under stress. Oxytocin is generally known as the love hormone. Stress and Love? I know – I was as surprised as you likely are!

Oxytocin is the hormone that increases empathy, makes us want to help and be close to the people we love. It is not surprising then that we seek out close friends and want to share our burdens with them when we feel stressed. Doing so not only makes us feel instantly better, it makes us healthier too.

Science guides us

Nature has provided amazing tools to ensure our emotional equilibrium so we are empowered to act upon our brilliance rather than our fears. In the days when people had much greater insight and inward connection than we do, they acted upon their wholesome desires and felt stronger in the process. Today, in our rushed and noisy lives, we may not have the same heartfelt sense and gut instinct to guide us but we do have ground-breaking advancements in neuroscience that let us know what works and why.

Reaching out

There are many ways we can take advantage of this oxytocin release during stress so that it is not lost on us. Kelly McGonigal at Stanford University says that when we choose a social response to a stressful situation, we become healthier, literally, even though we often try and convince ourselves that we have no time to connect, or would rather withdraw in shame. Some common ways to reach out are:

  • Turning to friends and family for advice
  • Seeking help and support
  • Being involved in the community
  • Helping someone in need

Self-Compassion

Love and connection is also inwards. When we are agitated or stressed, we often tend to be the hardest on our own selves. Paul Gilbert at Stanford University has developed a self-compassion routine that grounds you in the moment and takes away the uncertainty and fear and then builds you from within with the voice of love and wisdom. His 2 step process involves:

  • Slow and deep breathing – in on a count of 5, out on a count of 6 for a few minutes – about 6 breaths a minute
  • Using a kind voice of someone who deeply cares about you to calm yourself so you open up and find the courage to deal with the situation.

 

By reaching out in times of stress and providing ourselves with self-compassion, we return to a place of safety within ourselves. And in doing so, we enable our higher brain, the prefrontal cortex to take wise and thoughtful action and respond flexibly out of love and not out of fear.

Yay to oxytocin!

 

Now I’d love to hear back from you! How do you generally respond to stress? Do you approach friends and family? Are you easy or hard on yourself?

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