Tend-and-Befriend

Last week I got some news that really let loose a stress reaction in me. The news wasn’t life or death, but it represented an enormous amount of pressure to me. I felt my body stepping up into response-mixed-with-despair mode. I was getting emotionally swirly and weepy and starting to cave in while simultaneously becoming an irritable, defensive, crazy lady. I know, I’m a woman of many talents.

So, I paused. I remembered something about getting good at stress, from The Upside of Stress. “When oxytocin is released as part of the stress response, it’s encouraging you to connect with your support network……Scientists refer to this as the tend-and-befriend response.” (p. 52-53) I realized I needed to harness the oxytocin that is released during a stress response and reach out rather than isolate.

Here’s what I did in the five minutes that followed:

  • I texted a couple of good friends to let them know what had happened.
  • I emailed two people who I knew sometimes dealt with the same situation and asked them to pray for me that day.
  • I vented via email to my mother and sister.

I tended-and-befriended! And nearly immediately, the email assurances and empathy texts came back to me, lifting me up…..helping me know that I’m not alone.

Then I went to work. I drafted the necessary emails, thought through my action plan, and started the work that my stress response was empowering me to do. “…the tend-and-befriend response is a biological state engineered to reduce fear and increase hope….a tend-and-befriend response makes you social, brave, and smart. It provides both the courage and hope we need to propel us into action and the awareness to act skillfully.” (p. 138-9)

To tend-and-befriend like I did in this moment, I had to overcome a really strong tendency to cave in to this horrible, alone feeling. It was really vulnerable to reach out and let people know I was struggling. But I’m really glad I did it!

What are 3 things you could do to tend-and-befriend when a challenge hits?

Kelly McGonigal’s book The Upside of Stress is a great read. Click on the link to purchase.

2 comments


  • Tina Teng-Henson

    Great article, Janice! For me, moving from shock and shame into the safety and support of community is indeed that critical step!!

    October 1, 2015
  • Jacci

    Love that! Thanks!

    October 1, 2015

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