While stress has been viewed as a public health enemy, psychologist Kelly McGonigal introduces us to the new perspective as to how we look at stress as positive and that too backed up by the research findings that she shares in this TED talk 2013. She says stress may only be bad if you believe so.
Listen to the MP3 Audio here: Kelly McGonigal How to make stress your friend
Kelly McGonigal – Health psychologist
I have a confession to make, but first, I want you to make a little confession to me. In the past year, I want you to just raise your hand if you’ve experienced relatively little stress. Anyone?
How about a moderate amount of stress? Who has experienced a lot of stress? Yeah. Me too.
But that is not my confession. My confession is this: I am a health psychologist, and my mission is to help people be happier and healthier. But I fear that something I’ve been teaching for the last 10 years is doing more harm than good, and it has to do with stress. For years I’ve been telling people, stress makes you sick. It increases the risk of everything from the common cold to cardiovascular disease. Basically, I’ve turned stress into the enemy. But I have changed my mind about stress, and today, I want to change yours.
Let me start with the study that made me rethink my whole approach to stress. This study tracked 30,000 adults in the United States for eight years, and they started by asking people, “How much stress have you experienced in the last year?” They also asked, “Do you believe that stress is harmful for your health?” And then they used public death records to find out who died.
Okay. Some bad news first. People who experienced a lot of stress in the previous year had a 43% increased risk of dying. But that was only true for the people who also believed that stress is harmful for your health. People who experienced a lot of stress but did not view stress as harmful were no more likely to die. In fact, they had the lowest risk of dying of anyone in the study, including people who had relatively little stress.
Now the researchers estimated that over the eight years they were tracking deaths, 182,000 Americans died prematurely, not from stress, but from the belief that stress is bad for you. That is over 20,000 deaths a year. Now, if that estimate is correct, that would make believing stress is bad for you the 15th largest cause of death in the United States last year, killing more people than skin cancer, HIV/AIDS and homicide.
You can see why this study freaked me out. Here I’ve been spending so much energy telling people stress is bad for your health. So this study got me wondering: Can changing how you think about stress make you healthier? And here the science says yes. When you change your mind about stress, you can change your body’s response to stress.
Now to explain how this works, I want you all to pretend that you are participants in a study designed to stress you out. It’s called the social stress test. You come into the laboratory, and you’re told you have to give a five-minute impromptu speech on your personal weaknesses to a panel of expert evaluators sitting right in front of you, and to make sure you feel the pressure, there are bright lights and a camera in your face, kind of like this. And the evaluators have been trained to give you discouraging, non-verbal feedback like this.