There is a preconceived notion that stress always has an adverse effect on individuals therefore we all tend to view stress as an enemy or a negative occurrence, and we continuously work towards eliminating stress entirely. Extensive research proves this notion wrong.
A study (Keller et al, 2012) tracked 30,000 adults in the United States for eight years, and it started by ascertaining the level of stress that each participant had experienced in the last year. The study sought to find out if the participants believed that stress is harmful to health.
The study showed that people who experienced a lot of distress (the negative form of stress) in the past year had a 43% increased risk of dying but interestingly, that discovery was only true for the participants who also believed that stress is harmful for health. Participants who experienced a lot of stress but did not view stress as harmful had the lowest risk of dying of anyone in the study, including participants with very low stress levels.
The researchers estimated that over the eight years they were tracking deaths, 182,000 Americans died prematurely, not from stress, but from the belief that stress is bad. Based on that estimate, the belief that stress is bad ranked as the 15th largest cause of death in the United States that year, ranking amongst causes like Skin Cancer, HIV and Homicides.
It is important to note that handling stress positively can actually increase our mental capacity and improve our approach to life’s situations, but viewing stress as trouble and developing a negative mindset towards it can create depression, ill health, frustration can result in mental break downs.
Stress in the human body is designed by nature for survival. It typically describes a negative condition or a positive condition that can have an impact on a person’s mental and physical well-being. This stimulation triggers a fight-or-flight response which allows the brain to quickly process information and therefore deal with life-threatening or exciting situations.
Stress can be caused by either external factors (traffic, job deadlines), or internal factors (being hungry or lack of sleep), but the approach to dealing with either category of stress should be similar.
A research on stress mindsets, which was conducted by Stanford psychology Assistant Professor Alia Crum, showed that viewing stress as a helpful part of life, rather than as harmful, is associated with better health, emotional well-being and productivity at work – even during periods of high stress.
In an article on embracing stress, Stanford psychologist Kelly McGonigal notes that the most helpful mindset toward stress goes beyond a generally positive attitude toward stress. He suggested three vital points to train your mind on stress:
- View your body’s stress response as helpful, not debilitating – for example, to view stress as a positive energy one can use.
- View yourself as able to handle, learn and grow from the stress in your life.
- View stress as something that everyone in the world would have to deal with at one time or the other, for some folks every day, and not something uniquely made to ruin your life.
The lesson to be learnt here is simple; when you change your mindset about stress, you can change your body’s response to stress from negative to positive.