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Stress and Health | How Changing Your Mindset Changes Everything

Stress and Health | How Changing Your Mindset Changes Everything
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The connection between stress and health is remarkably clear. Consider the many negative consequences of stress: it leads to excessive worry, interferes with performance, reduces immune function and takes years off people’s lives in extreme cases. Whether stress is present in your professional life, in your personal relationships or in multiple aspects of daily life, finding a positive relationship between stress and health can mean the difference between a miserable existence and a life filled with health and happiness. Believe it or not, the way you view stress can have a significant impact on your health.

The inescapable truth is that most people view stress as bad – and rightfully so. When you consider the negative mental and physical reactions to excessive stress, it’s easy to see why so many of perceive a negative relationship between stress and health. However, recent research sheds an interesting light on stress and health, suggesting that your mindset about stress may an important predictor in how it affects your life. The results of the groundbreaking study suggest that if you simply change your beliefs about stress and health, then stress can actually be a good thing.

Stress is Bad, Stress is Good

We have all experienced the negative aspects of stress. Most of us know that excessive stress leaves us feeling depressed, lethargic and a host of other negative and debilitating symptoms. It’s hard to view the relationship between stress and health as anything but negative.

On the flip side of the coin, stress can also create a number of surprisingly positive outcomes: mental toughness, increased clarity and a greater appreciation for our own circumstances, among the most noteworthy. Interestingly enough, stress can even contribute to a sense of long-lasting confidence. Imagine how great it feels when you overcome a history of obstacles and the positive relationships between stress and health begin to rise to the surface. Above all, mindset is a key factor when it comes to stress and health, according to the study.

The Study

For their study on stress and health, researchers set out to explore the stress mindsets of 400 employees from an international financial institution. The research team then divided subjects into two groups: the first with a stress-is-debilitating mindset and the second with a stress-is-enhancing mindset.

Subjects in the first group believed that stress is a bad thing. The stress-is-debilitating group believed that stress creates negative consequences and should be avoided at all costs. The second group of subjects with a stress-is-enhancing mindset instead believed that stress is a good thing. The relationship between stress and health is positive, according to the second group, as stress actually improves the learning process and promotes personal growth.

You probably already know where this is going but just to clarify: the group of subjects with the stress-is-enhancing mindset reported having better health, greater satisfaction in life and superior work performance than the group with the stress-is-debilitating mindset. The clear connection between mindset, stress and health brings exciting innovation to people with all types of stress-related anxiety disorders.

The Meaning of Mindset

What is the meaning of mindset in dealing with stress and health? Well, there are both mental and physiological factors to consider.

Mentally, subjects from the stress-is-enhancing mindset proved more likely to use productive strategies in dealing with stress-inducing tasks. This group was also more likely to seek out feedback regarding such tasks. Anyone looking for a better stress and health relationship should consider these positive perspectives.

Physiologically, the stress-is-enhancing group also showed optimal levels of cortisol activity. A brief lesson on cortisol sheds more light on the benefits of a positive stress and health mindset.

Cortisol levels serve to keep us more aroused, focused and ready to respond both physically and mentally to the stressors in our lives. Optimal cortisol levels, which can improve your professional and personal life, are thus a significant factor in tipping the scales toward a positive relationship between stress and health.

Stress and Health (and Happiness, too!)

When it comes to stress and health, the message behind the study is clear. Most of us equate the amount of stress we face with our own health, happiness and overall effectiveness. Increased stress reduces health and happiness while decreased stress improves them. Our view of the relationship between stress and health is both simple and fundamental. On the contrary, perhaps it is instead the way we look at stress that may have the greatest influence on our health and happiness.

Here’s the good news: all of us are capable of changing our mindset about stress and health. Even people with a stress-is-debilitating mindset can learn to view stress as enhancing to improve well-being, work performance and overall quality of life. If you want a better relationship between stress and health, perhaps it’s time for a simple change in perspective.

Let us know, how do you view the relationship between stress and health? Do you have a stress-is-debilitating or stress-is-enhancing mindset? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Written by Anthony D'Aconti

Anthony D'Aconti is the Founder of Breathe Into the Bag, an anxiety magazine created to help people suffering from generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), OCD, PTSD, panic disorder, phobias, acute stress disorder, agoraphobia and social anxiety disorder. You can also find Anthony D'Aconti on Google+, Facebook, and Twitter

  • jonathan

    An interesting article and study. It is not those who have obvious stress that are necessarily stressed. There was an experiment done some years ago where two salesmen were connected to stress registering machines (heart rate, pulse, blood pressure etc.) and sent on a journey from London to Manchester. The one who said he never suffered from stress had readings over the top whereas the one who said he always felt stressed when driving was only a little above normal. This is the problem with stress. It is not until it actually belongs to affect our lives in a negative way that we realise we have a problem.

  • Anthony D’Aconti

    That’s an interesting study, too. I suppose that if you tell yourself that you won’t be stressed, and a lot of stress happens to occur, then you’re in a situation where the stress is actually debilitating. You can say to yourself, “Wait, this is not supposed to cause me stress, and now I am stressed out because something is wrong here.” You could even be stressed over being stressed! On the other hand, if you anticipate stress, much like the second driver, then the stress will be less debilitating because it feels “normal”. I’m not a medical doctor, but I do know that “expected stress” affects me a lot less than unexpected stress.

  • jonathan

    Yes Anthony. It reminds me of the guy suffering from insomnia.” I wont go to sleep until I solve this sleep problem”!! Fearing stress must create more stress. I believe that for any form of stress or nervous anxiety fear must come into the picture. This is so obvious but it still surprises me that some still say “Oh no, I am not fearful just stressed” There is still inner conflict and thus fear there which causes the stress. A person at peace with themselves and thus not fearful would not be stressed. Jonathan.

  • Anthony D’Aconti

    Good point. I suppose there is no denying the connection between fear and stress.

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