The harmful effects of stress are well documented- high blood pressure, headaches and depression all come to mind. However what if these health implications are a result of how we view stress rather than the causes of stress itself?
In a recent Ted talk, health psychologist Kelly McGonigal revealed a fascinating idea: by seeing stress differently, we can all but negate the harmful effects of stress. Amazingly, by simply believing that stress won’t negatively impact your life becomes self-fulfilling, no matter how stressed you are.
McGonigal refers to a number of studies that support her view however there is one that sticks in my mind. By analysing mortality rates, researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison found that 43% of participants who experienced extreme stress had a considerably higher chance of premature death. However what was surprising was that this increased risk was completely negated if the participant didn’t believe that their highly stressful lives affected their health.
I find this incredible, the fact that changing our perception of an emotion can have such a profound effect on something as important as our own life expectancy. So next time you’re feeling stressed, see your racing heart rate as something that’s preparing you for the situation ahead- providing your brain with the extra Oxygen it needs to perform the task to the best of your ability.
This is undoubtedly an impressive insight into mental health, however even after understanding its importance, how easy is to change an approach to stress that’s been engrained by a lifetime of experience?