Modern life is stressful—so stressful that learning how to manage your stress has become a necessary life skill.
If you’re interested in learning new ways to cope with everyday stressors, the following TED talks on stress can help you. Not only will these best TED talks about stress share strategies for dealing with stress, they will also dig deeper and reveal the oftentimes negative effects of stress on your brain and behavior.
In this TED talk, health psychologist Kelly McGonigal makes a strong argument for the detrimental effects of perceiving stress as a negative thing. In fact, changing your attitude about stress from negative to positive can help increase your long-term health.
Through her research, McGonigal has discovered that people who believe that stress is bad for them have a higher mortality rate than those who see stress as a healthy physiological response to an external factor. People who recognize that stress is their body's way of preparing them for what is about to come are able to keep their blood vessels relaxed and reduce their chances of suffering a stroke or heart attack.
“When you change your mind about stress, you can change your body's response to stress." - @kellymcgonigal
Click to Tweet
McGonigal teaches her audience that stress can make people social because it releases oxytocin in the brain, which is the same hormone that gets released during loving physical contact such as a hug. This neurohormone also fine-tunes the brain's social instincts and motivates people to seek social support and be more empathetic with other people.
Oxytocin also helps heart cells regenerate, and the physical benefits of this hormone are enhanced by the social contact that it encourages. Research has shown that stress increases one's risk of dying by 30%, but people who have a sufficient amount of social interaction do not experience this increase in mortality. This shows that caring creates resilience, and it is beneficial for people's physical health to learn how to be better at coping with stress.
It is not inevitable to have harmful side effects from stress. The way you choose to think and act can change how your body responds to this common feeling. As Kelly McGonigal says, “When you change your mind about stress, you can change your body's response to stress."
Daniel Levitin begins this talk with a personal story recounting his experience with losing personal items like passports and keys. He uses this as an example of when it is a good time to think in a pre-mortem way, which means thinking ahead of time about any possible disasters that could go wrong, and putting systems into place to prevent these things from happening, or to lessen their effects.
“We all are going to fail now and then. The idea is to think ahead to what those failures might be, to put systems in place that will help minimize the damage, or to prevent the bad things from happening in the first place." - @danlevitin
Click to Tweet
Levitin also gives a larger-scale example of this that most everyone can relate to. According to him, every drug on the market has a "number needed to treat." This is the number of people who have to take a drug before just one person is impacted by it. He provides the data for the most popular statin to prove his point, saying that 300 people must take this drug in order for one person to gain the benefits from it. But side effects occur in 5% of the people who take it. This means that you are 15 times more likely to be hurt by a drug than to be helped.
By using pre-mortem thinking, you would ask the doctor the "number needed to treat" before taking any medication so you can weigh the pros and cons before deciding whether you want to take it or not. This would help you prepare for both the best- and worst-case scenarios.
Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist, shares with her audience a simple way for anyone to change other people's perceptions of them, as well as improve how people feel about themselves. She argues that nonverbals like body language are the first opportunity people have to judge others, and this often has an actual impact on the outcome of the relationship between two people.
“Our bodies change our minds and our minds can change our behavior, and our behavior can change our outcomes." - @amyjccuddy
Click to Tweet
If you can spend some time “power posing" every day with your arms or elbows out, your chin up, and your posture open, you will be asserting a dominant stance that can actually increase your testosterone by 20% and decrease your cortisol by 25%. Adopting these powerful postures can make you feel more powerful.
In addition to demonstrating dominance, people must also show that they are compassionate and warm toward other people. Cuddy explains that it is important to build trust with other people before trying to show your power. If you can show people that you understand and can relate to them. You're building trust, which will open people up to hearing your ideas.
Nonverbally displaying power shouldn't be used to intimidate people. Of course you don't want to slouch or make yourself small, but don't make yourself look so physically large that you are undermining the trust you are trying to build with people. Try to give nonverbal signals of warmth so you can come across as being strong without also seeming over-aggressive.
This TED talk by Bruce Feiler addresses how both businesses and families can work in a way that allows them to be more relaxed and get more accomplished.
He has found through research that out of everything that children want for their parents, they want them to be less tired and less stressed the most. By practicing agile development and doing small things in chunks, Feiler has found that this is possible.
“Recent scholarship has allowed us, for the first time, to identify the building blocks that successful families have. I've mentioned just three here today: Adapt all the time, empower the children, tell your story." - @BruceFeiler
Click to Tweet
Feiler urges his listeners to make their groups and teams work effectively by letting them manage themselves through small tasks. Leadership has to be constantly adapting to help empower their children (or employees) to make their own decisions and have an active part of their own upbringing. It is important to let children succeed and fail on their own terms.
This helps manage stress if groups are able to focus on their strengths and the things they are doing right rather than their weaknesses. It is also important to tell your story to your children so they feel like they are part of a bigger picture, and they know how the family or group has overcome failures in the past.
Finally, Feiler makes the point that happiness is not something you find—it is something you make. Similarly, greatness is not a matter of circumstances—it's a matter of choice
In this TED talk, Susan David challenges our culture that prefers false positivity over true emotions. She talks about the fact that how people choose to deal with their emotions shapes everything about their lives, including their actions, their careers, their relationships, their health, and their happiness.
Emotions are seen as being either good or bad, and positive emotions are deemed correct. Because of this, people lock down on their false positive emotions and become rigid in their thinking. People are often told to stop being angry, or those who are sick are told to think positively. But depression affects more people than any other illness worldwide.
“Life's beauty is inseparable from its fragility." - @SusanDavid_PhD
Click to Tweet
When emotions are ignored, they grow stronger. It is important to not only learn to accept your emotions, but also to accurately label them so you know what you must do to fix the problem. People must be open with their difficult emotions to help pave the way to their best selves.
This is what emotional agility is all about—being able to be with your emotions and have compassion and courage for yourself. The only certain thing in our fragile lives is uncertainty, so having emotional agility is paramount to the ability to walk with fear.
In this talk, David makes the strong argument that if you have emotional agility—or emotion courage—you will be more equipped to handle the stressors that life sends your way. Instead of ignoring the negative things that come up, embrace them and deal with them so you can move on.
Hopefully, these TED talks will help you look at stress differently and deal with it more effectively, so you (and your family) can avoid the negative emotional and physical tolls that are caused by unchecked stress.