As you’re reading this, you’re probably going through some sort of stress. Whether it’s your boss chasing you on a project deadline or your mounting credit card bills, stress is part and parcel of everyday life. In fact, just thinking about stress may cause us to feel even more stressed out. That’s because we know the harmful effects that stress can cause – it lowers your immunity and increases the risk of everything from the common cold to cardiovascular disease.
However, I recently watched a fascinating TED talk about stress, and the points brought up by the speaker inspired me to see stress in a whole new light. I’ll like to share the pertinent points with you, here:
It’s not stress per se that is harmful; it’s how you think about stress that makes a difference
In an eight-year study that tracked 30,000 adults in the United States, the researchers asked participants, “How much stress have you experienced in the last year?” They also asked, “Do you believe stress is harmful for your health?” Here’s what the study found:
1. People who experienced a lot of stress in the previous year had a 43 percent increased risk of dying. However, this was only true for the people who believed stress was harmful to one’s health.
2. People 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 people who had relatively little stress.
What this tells us is, it’s not the experience of stress that increases our risk of chronic illnesses, but our attitude towards it. Why?
Our minds influence our biology
Ever notice the physical changes your body goes through during stressful situations, say right before an important presentation or during your annual performance review? Your heart is pounding wildly, you might be breathing faster or you might even be breaking out in sweat. All these physical signs are usually interpreted as anxiety, or that we aren’t coping well with the pressure. But what if you changed the way you thought about these physical manifestations? Your pounding heart is gearing you up for action and your rapid breathing is sending more oxygen to your brain.
That was exactly what participants in a recent social study on stress were instructed to do. The results were astounding.
Participants who learned to view their stress response as helpful to their performance reported feeling less anxious and more confident, but that’s not all. Their blood vessels also stayed relaxed! In a typical stress response, your heart rate goes up and your blood vessels constrict, which is one of the reasons why chronic stress is sometimes linked to cardiovascular disease.
So, by viewing their stress response in a positive light, these participants were actually exhibiting a much healthier cardiovascular profile. In fact, it actually looks a lot like what happens in moments of joy and courage!
The next time you experience the physical signs of anxiety – a pounding heart, rapid breathing, etc – tell yourself, “This is my body helping me to rise to the challenge.” You’ll start to view your situation differently. Instead of the situation being an unscalable mountain, it becomes a challenge that you’re well-equipped to take on.
I’m not sure about you, but I found this incredibly empowering. It definitely changed the way how I view stressful triggers in my life, and I hope it does for you too.
To watch the entire TED talk, click here.
About The Author: Vanessa Tai is a founder of Material World who has previously worked on magazines Simply Her and Cosmopolitan Singapore. Now a freelance writer and a full-time contributor to this website, the 26-year-old dreams of attending every single major music festival before she turns 30. Follow her on Twitter @VannTaiTweets.
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