Since the 1970s a deluge of research studies, books, documentaries, media and internet articles have conditioned us to believe that all stress is bad for us. Dubbed as the ‘health epidemic of the 21st century’ by the World Health Organisation, stress is reported to adversely affect the lives of millions of people across the world. It’s been linked with the six leading causes of death. Many countries cite stress as their number one health problem. On average, 33% of people in a survey of 121 countries when asked: “Did you feel a great deal of stress yesterday?’ answered ‘Yes.’
On the back of the ‘stress is bad’ mantra, a billion dollar stress management industry has sprung up to teach us how to minimise, or avoid, the stress it in our lives.
But is all stress bad?
I’ve been studying stress and anxiety for over seven years and, as part of my research, I deliberately set out to find evidence that challenged the accepted view of stress as being only bad.
Here are three interesting things I discovered:
- if you believe stress is bad – it is bad for you. Researchers found that people who told them that they felt stressed and believed stress was negatively affecting their health were more likely to die prematurely in subsequent years. A number of studies have confirmed this finding. So if you believe stress is toxic, and you keep telling yourself you’re stressed, then your mind perceives the stress you experience as a threat which results in more stress, which is perceived as a threat …. and so on. In this way the belief that stress is bad can become a self-fulfilling prophecy as the research shows.
- a single stress episode isn't the problem. It's when we experience stress over a prolonged period (also known as 'chronic stress'), without relief, that it degrades our immune system exposing us to increased likelihood of infection and disease. Chronic stress also shuts or slows down vital body functions. This is in fact what the majority of the studies, books, documentaries, media and internet articles mean when they refer to ‘bad stress.’
- there are upsides to stress. Let’s take a look at them….
The upsides of stress
When we are faced with:
- a pressure moment, and we perceive we can handle the pressure, we experience what I refer to as Pressure Stress (P-Stress). Research findings show that P-Stress (also known as 'eustress') enhances our performance and productivity; increases our brain’s processing speed; focuses our attention and improves our memory! For example in one study scientists found that the subjects in the midst of a bungee jump could process information much faster than a non-free falling control group. In the above picture the lioness is experiencing P-Stress.
- a real and present (or imminent) danger we experience the infamous 'Fight or Flight' response. I refer to the stress we experience as a result of a Fight or Flight response as Threat Stress (T-Stress). T-Stress helps us fight against the danger and/or escape it. In the above picture the antelope is experiencing T-Stress.
Research has found that T-Stress can also improve our health and vitality by enabling a quicker recovery from injury, enhancing the effectiveness of our immune system and building resilience. The fact that T- Stress enhances our immune system makes sense from an evolutionary perspective because if we are physically injured that’s the time when we want our immune system working at its optimal level.
- Experiencing Pressure Stress helps us perform to the best of our abilities.
- Experiencing Threat Stress helps to:
- keep us alive and safe from physical harm
- improve our health and vitality
- enhance the effectiveness of our immune system
- build resilience
- If you believe all stress is bad – then it is - for you. However, we can negate the negative impacts of stress by changing the way we think and give meaning to stress.
- It's chronic stress that's ‘bad’ because it adversely impacts our performance and well-being.
For more information on the upside of stress I highly recommend health psychologist Kelly McGonigal’s TEDGlobal talk, ‘How to Make Stress Your Friend.’
Helping people to regain control over their stress and anxiety is my passion. If you'd like to explore how I can help you manage your stress, contact me today on 021 056 8389 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or use the Book Now button below.
Wishing you a happy, calm and productive week full of P-Stress!
REMEMBER - "When you change your mind you change your life."
Tony helps individuals to harness the power of their mind to achieve success and well-being in life, work and business. Tony's particular area of expertise lies in helping people to 'change their minds' so they gain freedom from worry, anxiety and stress, overcome limiting beliefs and unhelpful habits. Tony’s solution focused approach to coaching uses a range of techniques drawn from the fields of solution focused coaching, neuroscience, positive psychology and clinical hypnosis.