For many years, health officials, talk show hosts and every alternative guru have been trying to help individuals eliminate the stress that blankets nearly everyone’s daily lives. Stress has been victimized as being a number one silent killer, especially within the western culture, and considered the culprit in many cancer and heart disease related deaths, as well as body aches, mood swings, the common cold, and other common health related issues. However, within all of the awareness brought to this public enemy and its place in the demise of a healthy life, some researchers have started to look at the components of stress differently, and in turn have discovered there are as many myths circulating about the silent killer as there are tips for living a stress-free life.
Too much stress, and how people respond to it, reportedly causes deterioration in the brain and inhibits the immune system, therefore making it more difficult to fight of diseases. While over the years this has been determined a substantiated fact, health psychologist Kelly McGonigal has recently revealed research that while stress, and most likely a lot of stress, is a constant factor is nearly everyone’s life, stress in and of itself is not necessarily bad. In fact, according to this particular research, which she shares in the TedTalk included below, she reveals the theory that the predominant factor of how stress effects the individual is directly related to how the individual views the stress. Not unlike other health officials, McGonigal’s ultimate goal is to help people live long, productive and happy lives. Her previous attempt was to help her clients eliminate the heavy burdens in their lives that brought on mass amounts of stress. After discovering the following research, her mind was dramatically changed.
The mind-altering research done at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health tracked 30,000 Americans for over 8 years. The study asked participants two questions: How much stress have you experienced within the last year? and Do you believe stress is harmful for your health? After checking public death records to find out who had died, results indicated that people who said they experienced a lot of stress within the previous year had a 43 percent higher chance of dying, but that statistic was only true for people who believed that stress was harmful to their health. People who experienced a lot of stress, but did not consider stress to be a silent killer, resulted in having the lowest percentage of death, even outliving those who said they experienced low to little stress, but still considered it a health risk. In conclusion, over the eight years researchers conducted the study, they concluded 182,000 of its participants died prematurely not because of stress, but because of what they believed about stress.
Andrew Bernstein, founder of ActivInsight, which is an optimistic movement dedicated to the promotion of healthy ways to deal with stress and resiliency, reveals in his book, The Myth of Stress, where the “silent killer” actually originates and offers a lot of advice on how to transform problematic relationships and other societal burdens, such as finances, weight loss, heartbreak, losing a job, and so forth. According to Bernstein, stress is not a result of one’s circumstances, it is a result of one’s thoughts about their circumstances. In today’s society, it is nearly impossible to eliminate the daily stressors, but what everyone is capable of changing is how they think about challenges. As a result, stress is lowered, because one is no longer viewing the particular stressor as a threat.
If stress were independent of the individual, then everyone would respond the same way to each stressor. But, everyone does not. Bernstein points out that stress is not related to circumstances, but thoughts, similar to the research revealed in McGonigal’s speech. In addition, Bernstein adds that stress should not be considered a motivator. Many times, people are prone to say they operate better when stressed, or under a major deadline, but working while upset, anxious or frustrated reduces the ability to perform well. Accomplishing goals while in this state is succeeding in spite of stress, not because of it. True motivation should come from stimulation, not stress. He contests that people are often afraid to conduct themselves without stressful motivation, fearing they will not be productive. In response, he says that children are an excellent example of having boundless energy and endless time for creativity, yet they operate without nearly any stress. Imagine harnessing that stress-free approach, even with every adult responsibility, and the same can be true.
In conclusion, research put forth by both McGonigal and Bernstein end with the result that stress is a byproduct of thoughts and the subconscious beliefs people hold about the world. Having the right insight is key to managing stress and reducing its toll on the length of life. In order to manage stress, the belief system and the worries that abound around the myths of stress and its threats must be changed, so that what is considered one of the world’s most threatening silent killers, even if it cannot be eliminated completely, can at least be manageable and not misunderstood. In McGonigal’s TedTalk below, she offers a lot of enlightening evidence on stress reduction with a neurological point of view.
Here’s to a lighter load:
Opinion by Stacy Feder