You Were Created to Handle Stress Sucessfully, Part 2 of 3
It is healthier to make career choices based on the meaningfulness of the work rather than how stressful or unstressful the work itself will be.
At the University of Rochester, stress researcher Jeremy Jamieson, used the Trier Social Stress Test, the most infamous and efficient method for inducing stress in a research setting to test this theory. Involving an unrehearsed speech about your personal faults and a relatively complicated math challenge while others rush you and judge your performance harshly, it’s known for making even the calmest and most confident of people break a sweat.
The combination of impromptu public speaking and math combined with negative and unsupportive feedback, for most, is a sure fire stressor. “If you were actually in this study,” says Dr. McGonigal, " 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 typically, we interpret these physical changes as anxiety, a sign that we aren’t coping very well with the pressure."
“But” she goes on to say, “what if you viewed them instead as signs that your body was energized [and] was preparing you to meet this challenge? Now that is exactly what participants were told in this study. Before they went through the social stress test, they were taught to rethink their stress responses as helpful. That [the] pounding [of your] heart was preparing you for action. If you were breathing faster, that’s great, it means you’re getting more oxygen to your brain. Participants who learned to view the stress response as helpful for their performance were less stressed out, less anxious, more confident.” What Dr. McGonigal found most surprising, however, was how their physical stress response changed.
“In a typical stress response,” she explains, " your heart rate goes up, and your blood vessels constrict. This is one of the reasons that chronic stress is sometimes associated with cardiovascular disease. It’s not 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. Their heart was still pounding, but [the relaxed blood vessels are] a much healthier cardiovascular profile. It actually looks a lot like what happens in moments of joy and courage.
The doctor further points out that “ 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. – this is what the new science of stress reveals” – How you think about stress matters.