As a typically Type-A, serial over-committer, stress has always been a big part of my life.
Wait, did I just say “big”? I mean huge. Stress has always been a HUGE part of my life. Which means, like many people I know, I’ve spent a huge part of my life trying to manage my stress out of my life.
Now don’t get me wrong. Some stress in life is actually good.
Stress equals arousal and being at optimum arousal allows us to perform at our best under pressure. This comes in handy when we need to get a uni essay done in a day, or cater for six unexpected dinner guests.
But existing in a state of ever-present stress takes us beyond optimum arousal. It takes us into a permanently aroused state – one where our sleep is affected, our blood pressure rises and we can suffer from headaches or stomach pains. And if you’re like me, stress can also trigger anxiety and depression.
It’s for these reasons I’ve always believed ongoing stress is terrible for our health and have preached long and hard that it’s something we all need to be aware of.
And I’ve been in good company. Health psychologist Kelly McGonigal had always thought this too.
In a TED talk viewed over 4 million times she confessed:
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’. Basically, I’ve turned stress into the enemy.
Up to this point in her talk I was thinking ‘well duh, stress IS the enemy. Stress IS bad.’
Then McGonigal reveals the first of two surprising things that can help all of us deal with stress better.
1. Stress is only bad for us if we think it is
A study from the University of Wisconsin-Madison asked the question: “Does the perception that stress affects health matter?”
And stunningly, the answer was YES.
Translated into the simplest terms, the results of the study revealed:
If we think stress is bad for us, then it is.
So now we know why McGonigal was mortified she’d been telling patients for years that stress was