Science says it's all about changing the way we think about it.
You’ve probably been told that stress decreases your life expectancy. Although this isn’t wrong, new science shows that it’s incomplete. In fact, high levels of stress decrease life expectancy only if you think that it will. Too good to be true? Nope.
In her TED talk, Kelly McGonigal cites one study on this subject which questioned 30,000 participants in the US about both their stress levels and their beliefs around whether stress was detrimental to their well-being. Over the course of the next eight years, the researchers then tracked which participants lived the longest. According to their findings, people who had experienced high stress levels in the past year were 43 percent more likely to die, but this was true only for those who also held the belief that stress was harmful.
The group that fared the best? Participants who experienced high stress levels but did not believe that their stress was detrimental to them fared better than participants who experienced low levels of stress.
This means that we can improve our well-being just by changing the way we think about our stress. How can we think about it as a positive thing? Stress often manifests in physical symptoms, such as racing heart and quickened breathing. But rather than viewing these symptoms as difficult, perhaps we can choose to remember that the reason our body manifests these symptoms is to prepare us to fight.
“When you choose to view your stress response as helpful,” McGonigal says, “you create the biology of courage. And when you choose to connect with others under stress, you can create resilience.” Stress doesn’t need to be the end of your physical and mental well-being; it might just be the key to unlocking it.
You can find out more in the video below.