For most people even hearing the word stress makes them immediately feel stressed. The constant push to be everywhere at all times will inevitably cause you to feel stressed.
The problem is that we’ve been told that stress is the enemy and whenever you feel stress, you need to immediately find ways to make it go away… which normally causes – you guessed it – more stress! It’s a vicious cycle.
I recently had the opportunity to watch a June 2013 TedTalk by Physiologist Kelly McGonigal on the topic of stress. Before you watch, here is the synopsis:
Stress. It makes your heart pound, your breathing quicken and your forehead sweat. But while stress has been made into a public health enemy, new research suggests that stress may only be bad for you if you believe that to be the case. Psychologist Kelly McGonigal urges us to see stress as a positive, and introduces us to an unsung mechanism for stress reduction: reaching out to others.
Is stress harmful for your health?
According to a study by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison asked 29,000 people to rate their level of stress over the past year as well as how much they believed this stress influenced their health – a little, a moderate amount or a lot. Over the next eight years, public death records were used to record the passing of any subjects.
The findings: People who reported having high levels of stress and who believed stress had a large impact on their health had a whopping 43% increased risk of death. On the other hand, those that experienced a lot of stress but did not perceive its effects as negative were amongst the least likely to die as compared to all other participants in the study.
What does that mean?
A very large percentage of people died because they simply believed stress was bad for you. How you think about how good or bad stress actually is for you – will dictate how stress affects your health.
So, can changing how you think about stress, make you healthier?
Science says yes.
A few key points for you to consider:
- When you change your mind about stress, you can change your body’s response to stress.
- How you think about stress matters.
- You need not get rid of stress – you need to change how you think about stress.
A few of my favourite quotes from Kelly:
“When life is difficult, your stress response wants you to be surrounded by people who care about you.”
“When you reach out to others under stress – either to seek support, or help someone else – you release more of this hormone, your stress response becomes healthier and you actually recover faster from stress.”
“Your stress response has a built-in mechanism for stress resilience – and that mechanism is human connection.”
“Chasing meaning it better for your health than trying to avoid discomfort.”
One of the best points Kelly made (IMO) in this talk was from the study findings which found that no matter how you view stress – negative or positive – going after what creates meaning in your life and trusting yourself to be able to handle the stress that follows, still proved to be better for you above all else.
I hope this changes your perspective of stress, it definitely has for me. This moment forward, I’m going to be more mindful about how I react to stressful situations and change my thinking from negative – to positive.