But McGonigal goes further. She says that one surprising thing that stress does for you—this is something I’d never heard before—is make you more social. How does stress promote human relationships? By causing the release of oxytocin, which is a stress hormone just as much as adrenalin is. But it’s when we ask why our bodies make us more social in response to stress that we see how everything comes together: oxytocin motivates you to seek support, in whatever situation is causing your stress, from other humans.
Not only does oxytocin promote human relationships to help you deal with stress, but it actually has an anti-inflammatory and healing effect on your heart and a relaxing effect on your blood vessels. In other words, says McGonigal, “Your stress response has a built-in mechanism for stress resilience, and that mechanism is human connection.”
So instead of being at the mercy of an endless loop of stress—stress causing more stress, which causes more stress, and so on—we can cultivate an endless loop of resilience through human connection: stress causes the production of oxytocin, which encourages human connection, which produces more oxytocin. The trick, apparently, is simply to cooperate with the process.
So McGonigal’s research gives us a whole new way of dealing with stress:
- Start by thinking of your stress response as helpful.
- Listen to your body’s prompting to seek support from others, which will, in turn, increase your oxytocin production, offering even more protective benefits to your body.
- Even when you’re not stressed out yourself, encourage the production of oxytocin by caring for others, which will make you more physically resilient to stress.
McGonigal sums it up for us: “When you choose to view your stress response as helpful, you create the biology of courage. And when you choose to connect with others under stress, you can create resilience.