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Leading Thoughts

March 11, 2017
  • Comments Off on SXSW: A Conversation With the U.S. Surgeon General About Stress

SXSW: A Conversation With the U.S. Surgeon General About Stress

Guest post by Pauline Ma, Senior Digital Strategist

Stress- it’s a word that has become a regular in the vocabulary of people of all backgrounds, life stages, career tracks and genetic predispositions. It’s also a feeling that can be both mental and physical, and one that a reported 24% of adults in America have described they are experiencing.

Day one of SXSW Interactive also kicked off the Health track of the conference, and in a session titled “One Nation Under Stress: How Social Connection Can Heal Us,” we had the pleasure of hearing from U.S. Surgeon General, Vice Admiral Vivek H. Murthy.


What happens when stress is chronic and goes on for a long period of time? It is damaging to the body, accelerates aging, and contributes to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and a whole host of other conditions. As Dr. Murthy introduced, “the impact of stress on the body (both acutely and chronically) cannot be underestimated.”

He described an epidemic of chronic stress in America, and at its roots a gap in understanding that emotional well-being isn’t just something that happens to people; research shows there are tools that can contribute to it and can proactively be used to cultivate it. Among them, the U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS) Commissioned Corps. continues to explore advancing research to help people be resilient in the face of adversity, as it launches a campaign this year focused on improving emotional well-being.

Promising pursuits in this area of public health have included a focus on teaching youth to practice “the importance of pause” and understanding the signals of stress– along with its implications and how to manage it. In one example of its practical application, Dr. Murthy described how introducing a meditation program in a school contributed to a decrease in bullying.

In a time when the volume of digital platforms and methods for establishing a connection with other people and things continues to grow, it is also a time when 40% of adults report feeling isolated. While the nature of the correlation between isolation and social media usage is argued from several different angles, the bottom line is that we need to be consciously committed to how platforms for communication and connection are used. Dr. Murthy urges, “Let’s make sure that our contributions are positive ones that lift people up… they have a moral impact.”

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