The Tend-And-Befriend Response

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In The Upside of Stress, Dr. Kelly McGonigal tells us:

Your stress response doesn’t just give you energy. In many circumstances, it also motivates you to connect with others. This side of stress is primarily driven by the hormone oxytocin… It’s also a chemical of courage… This hormone doesn’t just make you want a hug; it also makes you brave.”

“Oxytocin is as much a part of your stress response as the adrenaline that makes your heart pound. During stress, your pituitary gland releases oxytocin to motivate social connection.”

“When oxytocin is released as part of the stress response, it’s encouraging you to connect with your support network. It also strengthens your most important relationships by making you more responsive to others. Scientists refer to this as the tend-and-befriend response.”

Oxytocin has one more surprise benefit: This so-called love hormone is actually good for cardiovascular health. Your heart has special receptors for oxytocin, which helps heart cells regenerate and repair from any micro-damage. When your stress response includes oxytocin, stress can literally strengthen your heart.”

“Your stress response has a built-in mechanism for resilience—one that motivates you to care for others while also strengthening your physical heart.”

To cultivate a tend-and-befriend mindset:

  • Focus on bigger-than-self goals.
  • Focus on supporting and caring for others.
  • Focus on seeing stress and suffering as part of a common human experience.

“When we care for others, it changes our biochemistry, activating systems of the brain that produce feelings of hope and courage. Helping others also protects against the harmful effects of even chronic or traumatic stress.