When we talk about stress, its almost always with a negative connotation. Too much stress can be bad for your health, but it turns out the way we think about stress is even more important than how much stress we experience.
In a recent study, 30,000 adults were tracked over eight years. They were asked “how much stress did you experience over the last year (low, medium or high).” They were also asked, “Do you believe that stress is harmful to your health.” At the end of the study, they used public death records to see when participants passed away.
The bad news is that people who felt they had a high amount of stress had a 43% increased risk of dying. However, this was only true for those who believed that stress was bad for their health. Amazingly, those who had high amounts of stress but didn’t see it as harmful to their health had the lowest chance of mortality of the entire study. Even less than those who reported having low stress!
The study concludes that over the eight-year study, 182,000 Americans died not from stress, but the belief that the stress is bad for you. If this hypothesis is correct, the idea that stress is bad for you would be in the top 15 causes of death in the US! That puts it above skin cancer and homicides.
So can changing how you think about stress, make you healthier? Science says yes! When using your mind to change how you feel about stress, you can improve your body’s response to it.
How The Body Responds To Stress And How To Harness It
Many of us know the feeling of stress creeping in. Picture yourself in a crowded room with all eyes on you. Your heart starts to beat faster and your palms and face begin to sweat. Typically our blood vessels constrict, which is why chronic stress can so often be attributed to heart disease. Many of us begin to feel uncomfortable and view these symptoms as something going terribly wrong in the body.
But what if you change your perspective? What if we told you that your heart beating faster is actually helping to get more blood to your brain making you think faster and more intelligently. And the sweaty palms and face are designed to keep your body cool as your about to perform at your highest level? Would that affect the way that you viewed stress?
One Harvard study did just that with a group of participants in a social stress experiment. When participants were told that their stress responses were helpful for their performance, they were not only noticeably less anxious and more confident, their blood vessels stayed open rather than constricting. Scientists said that the openness of these blood vessels of those who thought of stress responses as healthy was closer to those observed in moments of courage or joy. This difference in the constriction of blood vessels could mean the difference between someone who dies prematurely from a heart attack or someone who lives well into old age.
How you think about stress truly matters. Time and time again we have seen that the mind can influence the body in ways that we never even thought possible. The goal of stress science is not to eliminate stress, but to learn how to manage and use it in a healthy way that is empowering.
So the next time you feel stressed, think of it as your body going into overdrive to help you rise to the challenge. If you think in this way, your body will believe you and your stress response will literally become healthier.
Here at the Stress Management & Prevention Center, we use Mind Body Stress Reduction techniques as well as Trauma-Management Yoga, mindfulness yoga and other stress management techniques taught through our private life coaching sessions, to help students to better cope with stress and stress symptoms to live happier and healthier lives. If you’d like to learn more about our public and private classes as well as stress management programs contact us via email, phone or stop by our office in Rancho Mirage, California.
Do you suffer from negative views on stress? Have you changed your mind about the benefits stress can offer you if managed correctly? Let us know if the comments below!