Here are some facts of life: the sky is blue, grass is green, Justin Trudeau is a babe, and stress is bad for your health. Agreed? Actually, that last bit is only partly true. Stress can have a negative effect on your health, but only if you believe that it’s harmful.
We’ve long subscribed to the idea that stress is something we need to continually battle if we want a happy and healthy life. We’ve turned to colouring-in books and meditation apps in droves in an effort to Keep Calm and Carry On. But scientists from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the US have found the ultimate hack for avoiding the harmful effects of chronic stress is to simply believe it can’t hurt you.
Overhaul your perspective on [stress]. Instead of trying to avoid it, start accepting that it’s a part of life and explore its positive aspects, like how it can make you more driven and productive at work.
In the study, nearly 30,000 adults were asked about their stress levels and whether they thought it was harming their health. When the researchers followed up eight years later, they found that those who said they felt stressed and believed that it was hurting their health had a 43 per cent increased risk of premature death.
On the flipside, those experiencing high levels of stress but didn’t believe it was affecting their health had the lowest risk of mortality – even lower than those experiencing little stress. Mind blown yet?
“Working too hard to control and ‘manage’ your stress can backfire,” says Dr Lissa Johnson, a Sydney-based clinical psychologist. “This, paradoxically, may be partly why ‘trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle’ is one of the top causes of stress for Australians.”
Here’s the deal – stress isn’t always the bad guy. In fact, “The stress response is a healthy physical and psychological reaction to life’s challenges, difficulties, frustrations, threats and obstacles,” Dr Johnson explains.
Scientists from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the US have found the ultimate hack for avoiding the harmful effects of chronic stress is to simply believe it can’t hurt you.
A little stress can motivate you to take on new challenges, meet deadlines or escape danger. When it becomes incessant and distressing, however, it can interfere with your wellbeing, raising your risk of heart disease, lowering immunity and impacting your mental health. Especially if you start worrying about how much you’re worrying.
“People who are more accepting of stress suffer fewer adverse health consequences, even under chronic stress,” says Dr Johnson. “This is thought to be driven by our feelings about stress itself – feeling fearful, worried and guilty about being stressed is arguably the most corrosive aspect of the stress response.”
So, your best defence against the harmful effects of stress is to overhaul your perspective on it. Instead of trying to avoid it, start accepting that it’s a part of life and explore its positive aspects, like how it can make you more driven and productive at work. “Stress involves the internal mobilisation of resources – focus, energy, drive, activity, motivation – to do difficult and sometimes arduous things,” reveals Dr Johnson. “Stressors are also often positive, for instance, challenges mixed with excitement, fun, adventure, mastery and new horizons.”
Feeling fearful, worried and guilty about being stressed is arguably the most corrosive aspect of the stress response.
If you’re feeling frazzled on a regular basis, watch out for the words you use to describe how you’re feeling and try giving them a positive spin. “I’m swamped with work,” for example, might become, “I have loads of exciting opportunities to work on.” Recognise that if you’re feeling stressed about a project or a situation in your life, it’s an indication that you care about the outcome – not a signal that you can’t handle the pressure. Most importantly, “Give yourself a break,” says Dr Johnson. “Don’t beat yourself up about being stressed. Make stress your friend and harness the energy of your stress response to meet the challenges in your life.”
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