When I was in graduate school, a lot of the focus was on how BAD stress is, how physically damaging it is to our bodies. As psychologists, we've been trained that stress is, well, kind of the enemy. However, Kelly McGonigal convincingly articulates in this TED talk that this is exactly the wrong approach and that we should see physical signs of stress (e.g. racing heart, faster breathing) not as something to dread, but as evidence that your body is helping you rise to the challenge.
She also makes the case that the hormone oxytocin is part of the body's incredible stress response — it motivates you to strengthen close relationships, to seek physical contact, be more empathic, offer help, or talk about your feelings. She explains to us that receiving/giving support has been demonstrated to help people recover faster from stress. As she so succinctly puts it, "caring creates resilience."
So, in times of crisis, and in the simple day-to-day bumps of life, I hope you will stay mindful of the importance of trusting your body's stress response and remember that reaching out might (literally!) save your life.
I assisted the awesome Jennifer Olden with one of her Hold Me Tight couples' workshops this weekend, and she shared this really wonderful video from Brene Brown on empathy. Although research continues to tell us how incredibly important empathy is to successful relationships, many of us have struggled to define what exactly empathy IS.
According to Brene, empathy has four qualities: perspective taking, staying out of judgment, recognizing emotion in others and then communicating that. "Empathy is feeling WITH people." Someone's in a deep hole, and you say, "hey, I know what it's like down here and you're not alone." An important lesson for all of is that you can't really stop someone's suffering, but you can make sure they don't suffer alone. Empathy, she says, is vulnerable because "in order to connect with you, I have to connect with something in myself that knows that feeling."
She also emphasizes how your empathic presence is the antidote to your loved one's emotional pain vs. trying to come up with a solution. "Rarely can a response make something better—what makes something better is connection."
Check out the clip and learn more about the awesome power of empathy…while watching a judgmental antelope eating a sandwich.