How to Make Stress Your Friend

UPDATED: April 11, 2020
PUBLISHED: January 18, 2017

Stress is not the enemy. Health psychologist Kelly McGonigal says if you can change the way you think about it, it can even become your friend.

In this TED Talk, McGonigal sheds a new light on stress and shares surprising research that could make what feels like a threatening sensation a little easier to bear.

McGonigal says people believe the visible signs of stress, like sweating and increased breathing, means that stress has taken over—that the body isn’t handling it well. But instead of thinking about what’s going wrong, she makes a strong case for focusing instead on what’s going right.

Related: 23 Questions to Ask Yourself When You’re Stressed Out

“Participants who learned to view the stress response as helpful for their performance, well, they were less stressed out, less anxious, more confident,” she says. “But the most fascinating find to me was how their physical response changed.”

Normally, when a person feels stressed, their blood vessels constrict, McGonigal says. If prolonged, this cardiovascular state could lead to major health problems. But in one particular study, those who viewed the effects of stress as helpful didn’t have any blood vessel tension. In fact, McGonigal says the response is similar to what happens when someone is happy, or even brave. Compared to the effects of viewing stress as a negative thing, embracing its presence is not only a better alternative, but a much healthier way to live.

“Hopefully the next time your heart is pounding from stress, you’re going to remember this talk, and you’re going to think to yourself, This is my body helping me rise to this challenge,” McGonigal says. “And when you view stress in that way, your body believes you.”

Related: How Successful People Beat Stress


Editor’s note: This post was originally published in March 2014 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy and comprehensiveness.

TED is a nonprofit devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks (18 minutes or less). TED began in 1984 as a conference where Technology, Entertainment and Design converged, and today covers almost all topics—from science to business to global issues—in more than 100 languages. Meanwhile, independently run TEDx events help share ideas in communities around the world. See more at