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Stress is an aphrodisiac

No, I’m not about to talk about stress being an aphrodisiac for your sexual desires; I’m talking about stress being a medium for good and exciting things in your life that can propel you to do things or actually even save your life and do good for your health and well being. Sounds rather farfetched, right? Stress = good for your health? Didn’t all doctors and wellness books tell us not to get stressed as it causes so many bad things to our body? Apparently the answer to that is yes and no.  

When people ask me, “How are you?”, I never really notice that I always answer them, “Here, stressed,” (well because I am, always) until my friend pointed it out. “Hello, what else is new, you’re always stressed, I think that’s already your middle name.”  So I found myself reading up on stress, because no amount of yoga or massage calms my brain. It’s like a 24/7 traffic jam and it agitates me and makes people around me jumpy as well. “Oh oh, here comes ‘Stress’! must be what people around me say when I’m walking to the door. I’m sure they already photoshopped a new addition to the Inside Out character and named it “Stress” and pasted my face on it. 

I came across Kelly McGonigal’s Ted Talk about making stress your friend which was posted last 2013. Had I known about it three years ago, I probably would treat stress a friend as well. Kelly McGonigal is a health psychologist and her job is to translate findings in psychology, neuroscience and medicine and use them for practical strategies for health, happiness and personal success. She states that “The old understanding of stress as an unhelpful relic of our animal instincts is being replaced by the understanding that stress actually makes us socially smart – it’s what allows us to be fully human.” She explains that when we change the way we think or feel about stress, then our body changes its response to it as well. Ever heard people say “I’m so stressed, so many rakets, oh but it’s okay this is good stress!” and laugh while saying it? Well, they may be right – it is indeed good stress and they are  treating stress the way it should be perceived. 

McGonigal explains that how we think about stress matters. In a typical stress response, our heart rate goes up and blood vessels constrict, and it is one of the reasons that chronic stress is often associated with cardiovascular disease. In a study conducted in Harvard University, they placed participants in an experiment designed to stress them out and they found out that when participants viewed their stress response as helpful, their blood vessels stayed relaxed and while their heart was still pounding as they undergo a stressful ordeal, it actually shows a healthier cardiovascular profile that resembles what happens when humans experience joy and courage. 

She explains further by talking about oxytocin, a neuro-hormone, the same hormone related to orgasm, close relationships, maternal behaviors, and anxiety. So how does it affect stress? “It’s a stress hormone,” says McGonigal. “Your pituitary gland pumps this stuff out as part of the stress response. It’s as much a part of your stress response as the adrenaline that makes your heart pound.” She explains that oxytocin protects the cardiovascular system from the effects of stress. “Oxytocin helps heart cells regenerate and heal from any stress-induced damage. This stress hormone strengthens your heart.” It’s like your body is strengthening you by letting you go through that thing that is supposed to be harmful to you. Maybe it can also explain why people who went through the toughest circumstances are usually stronger individuals. 

The health psychologist also cited that, “when oxytocin is released in the stress response, it is motivating you to seek support. Your biological stress response is nudging you to tell someone how you feel, instead of bottling it up. Your stress response wants to make sure you notice when someone else in your life is struggling so that you can support each other.” That’s why when we are faced with a difficult situation, our body urges us to be with other people. What’s more interesting in the study that McGonigal mentioned is that for every major stressful life experience, the risk of dying is increased by 30 percent. However, people who spent time caring for others showed absolutely no stress-related increase in dying. “Caring created resilience,” she adds. 

Hmm, this reminds me of an article I wrote last year (you may read it on www.thestandard.com.ph, Lifestyle section, Carotid Artery, December 12, 2025, “The Giving Way to Happiness”) about how the power of “giving” like “caring” actually gives people happiness for themselves. Maybe both studies should be put side by side so we can all learn how to be better and actually save more lives. 

So back to stress being an aphrodisiac. So now we know that if you treat stress as your friend, it can also be your aphrodisiac to do good, act, motivate, and learn. The next time you feel stressed, see it as a good situation and that you will eventually get something out of it. McGonigal ends by saying, “One thing we know for certain is that chasing meaning is better for your health than trying to avoid discomfort. And so I would say that the really best way to make decisions is go after what it is that creates meaning in your life, and then trust yourself to handle the stress that follows.”

For comments, suggestions and violent reactions, you may email me at tatum@thestandard.com.ph. For my crazy life’s adventures follow me at @tatumancheta on Instagram and Twitter.

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