How to manage stress more effectively

Kelly McGonigal rocked the boat in her 2013 TED Talk when she asserted that stress can be a useful ally - depending on how you look at it. She explained that a large part of how stress affects the human body has to do with how bad we believe it to be.

If we believe stress will kill us, it probably will. Eventually. But if we believe, instead, that stressful situations can be potent challenges that we can easily overcome, our brains flip into problem-solving mode. Suddenly, we become engaged, resourceful beings with all the tools we need to overcome the challenge before us.

In fact, in a US study cited by McGonigal in her TED talk, people who experienced a lot of stress in a particular year - and believed that stress was harmful - had a 43% increase in death rates. On the other hand, people in the same year with the same rates of stress, who did not believe that stress was harmful, had lower death rates than - well, anyone.

According to McGonigal, the simple take away from this is: “when you change your mind about stress, you can change the way your body responds to stress.”

The new science of stress research shows that how you think about stress matters. When you believe that your body will automatically respond to stress in a way that makes you better able to face the challenge, your body does in fact respond accordingly.

What is even more interesting is that one of the hormones released during a typical stress response that gets very little airtime is oxytocin: the so-called “cuddle hormone”. This hormone drives human interaction - it causes us to seek support when we need it. It also protects the heart from stress-induced damage. It actually strengthens your heart to deal with the stress response. And in fact, reaching out for help increases oxytocin release and builds even deeper physical health.

Stress Management Strategies

As we saw last week, there are only ever seven things in anyone’s life that they can actually control. The good news is that these seven areas are the very things that will help you reduce stress and improve your stress response.

Let’s take a look:

  1. Your Breath

    When we are stressed, our breathing shallows. This decreases oxygen to the brain, and increases carbon dioxide in the bloodstream. As a result, thinking becomes fuzzy, and we start to feel short of breath and panicked. Breathing deeply increases oxygen to your brain and tissues. It helps to clear your thoughts and relieve stress. Taking a few minutes to find somewhere quiet and breathe deeply can help your heart rate slow, your brain clear, and your mind to gain some much needed perspective.
  2. Your Self-talk

    As Brene Brown always says, the stories we tell ourselves are what kills us. We all have our filters and beliefs, and these colour our attitudes and reactions. What we believe about the actions and motives of those around us, and how we speak to ourselves, has a dramatic effect on who we are are, and how we live. If you spend a lot of time berating yourself for every decision rather than being compassionate with your own humanity, you will increase your stress as decrease your self-worth. What we often fail to see is that it shows: people believe about us what we believe about ourselves, and act accordingly. Those actions, in turn, can contribute to our stress levels as well.
  3. Gratitude is Good Medicine explained the benefits of being grateful recently. They have this to say about perennially grateful people: “They can appreciate the good times, but they also seem to be able to focus on the positive in the face of some pretty negative events. They see the good in difficult people, they see the opportunity in a challenging situation, and they appreciate what they have, even in the face of loss.”
  4. Your Body Language

    Have you ever smiled at someone to be polite, even though inside you were fuming about something else? Did you notice how that changed the way you felt - maybe diluted the anger a little bit? As Amy Cuddy explains on TED, your attitude and emotions affect the way you stand, sit, speak, and carry yourself. We all know this to some degree, but what is interesting to note is that the way we stand, sit, speak, and carry ourselves also affects our attitudes and emotions. It’s a it like a case of “fake-it-till-you-make-it” - when you behave as if you are confident and relaxed, your body believes it, and soon so does your mind.
  5. Your Mental and Physical Fitness

    According to, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, “Exercise and other physical activity produce endorphins—chemicals in the brain that act as natural painkillers—and also improve the ability to sleep, which in turn reduces stress. Meditation, acupuncture, massage therapy, even breathing deeply can cause your body to produce endorphins.”
  6. Your Diet

    You are what you eat. It’s as simple as that. A diet high in refined carbohydrates and sugars increases stress by increasing cholesterol and blood pressure. It’s like applying the effects of stress to the body - without the actual stressor. On the other hand, green leafy vegetables, fresh fruit, and getting enough water every day, all help the body heal and restore itself. A healthy body is far better equipped to deal with anything life throws at it.
  7. Your Sleep

    Nothing is more important for fighting stress than getting enough rest. We really can choose when we will go to bed, and how long we’ll stay there. Not getting enough sleep is often worn as a badge of honour on the stressed-out modern executive, but in reality it’s not smart, it’s not productive, it’s not efficient - and it shortens your life. More sleep makes you more creative, more productive, and more even-tempered. SO make sure you don’t miss out on your eight hours - it’s so much more than beauty sleep!
  8. Dr Sanua focuses his practise on helping patients live their best, healthiest lives. He helps them overcome health challenges by reviewing their lifestyles and making wise choices. Call Dr Sanua today on 011 463 1614 or email him at to get to the bottom of your health challenges.


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