Okay, so stress is bad right? It’s linked to cardiac problems, high blood pressure and studies have shown that some term long extreme cases of stress such as financial problems can increase the chance of death by 30%! But does this have to be the case?
The body undergoes a range of changes during periods of stress, some of which we physically feel, like heart pounding and sweating. This is how our bodies react to situations of challenge or threat whether we like it or not. A study in 2012 however suggests that if you believe that these responses are not a horrible thing that’s damaging your body, but a mechanism that is preparing your body to cope with whatever situation you happen to be facing, it changes the effect stress has.
Altering the physiological perception of stress (known as “reappraisal”) does not take the stress away, but it has been shown to reduce the amount of vasoconstriction (squeezing of the blood vessels) in your heart, therefore increasing the amount of blood getting around your body and reducing health risks. Participants in this study who have had the reappraisal also recovered from the stress-inducing tasks they were given a lot quicker than the control group, who unbeatably believed that stress is very bad, like most people do.
This theory was also applied to a group of students who were about to sit an exam that would determine if they could go to graduate school. Saliva samples were taken to test levels of alpha amylase to measure the amount their sympathetic nervous system (also known as fight or flight response) was working and half were given the reappraisal and half were not. After the exam students came back and the ones who had the reappraisal showed an increase in alpha amylase suggesting that their fight or flight response wasn’t needed as much, and they even had better overall test results than the control group.
Another study on the perception of stress asked people how much stress they had experienced in the past year and what their perception of stress on health was. The participants who said they experienced a lot of stress and thought stress had a drastic effect on their health had a 43% percent increased risk of death! Now that’s a lot! However this was not the case for the people who said they had a lot of stress but thought it wasn’t all that bad for them.
Stress can kill you but if you change your mind about it, not only can you protect your body from harm but it can also not kill you quite as quick. So whether you’re preparing for an exam or doing something that terrifies you, don’t think your body is harming you, it’s empowering you!
Keller A, Litzelman K, Wisk LE, Maddox T, Cheng ER, Creswell PD, & Witt WP (2012). Does the perception that stress affects health matter? The association with health and mortality. Health psychology : official journal of the Division of Health Psychology, American Psychological Association, 31 (5), 677-84 PMID: 22201278
Jeremy P. Jamieson1, Wendy Berry Mendes2, and, & Matthew K. Nock3 (2012). Improving Acute Stress Responses:
The Power of Reappraisal Current Directions in Psychological DOI: 10.1177/0963721412461500