McGonigal spent the last ten years of her career teaching people how to get rid of stress and it wasn’t until recently that she realized she’s been looking at stress wrong her whole life. Her new approach is to make stress her friend and teach people that stress is a helpful emotion and not a scary one. A pivotal study of 30,000 adults followed for 8 years inspired her change of mind.
The study began by asking people, “How much stress have you experienced in the last year?” Then they asked, “Do you believe that stress is harmful for your health?” The group that felt stress was harmful to their health experienced a 43% increased risk of dying compared to those people who experienced the same amount of stress but did not view stress as harmful. In fact, they had the lowest risk of dying of anyone in the study, including people who had relatively little stress. Subsequently the researchers concluded 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.
After hearing about this, McGonigal wondered if changing the way you think about stress could actually make you healthier, and now it seems science is pointing in that direction. McGonigal elaborates, “We interpret these physical changes as anxiety or signs that we aren’t coping very well with the pressure. Instead, we should view them as signs that your body is energized and preparing you to meet a challenging situation.” Based on a study conducted at Harvard University, participants went through a social stress test. They were told to rethink their stress response as helpful. “That pounding heart is preparing you for action. If you’re breathing faster, it’s no problem. It’s getting more oxygen to your brain.” Those participants proved to be less stressed out, less anxious, and more confident. McGonigal says her goal as a health psychologist has now changed, she doesn’t want to get rid of your stress, she wants to make you better at stress.
When working with us at Seaside Medical over the next year, we will harness this insightful information, helping us better your overall wellness and decrease your risk of dying. We want you to be the best that you can be, and that starts with a sound mind.