35If you are like me and most of the people I know, you are convinced that high levels of stress might be really dangerous for you – you are convinced, because there were thousands of books, articles and researches in the past decades that demonize the stress and its effect on your mind and body. But what if we were to tell you that this is only true if you believe it is?
A research conducted with over 30,000 adults in USA in the period of 8 years showed that people, who regularly experienced intensive stress have a 43% increased risk of dying – but this only applies to those, who also believed that stress is harmful for them. In fact, people who experienced a lot of stress, but did not believe it's bad for them had the lowest risk of death from all groups in the study, including people with relatively little stress.
This means that when you change your mind's perception of stress, you change your body's response to it. Whenever you get into a highly stressful situation and you start feeling your heart pounding, your breathing getting faster, and sweat breaking on your forehead don't think of this as a moment of anxiety. Think of this as your body getting mobilized – your pounding heart is preparing you for action, the faster breathing is getting more oxygen into your brain, believe that what's happening is really good for you! Just know that your stress response is helping you to overcome the challenge. This is your body's weapon to ensure your next success! This is like excitement vs. anxiety.
The research shows that this single change of perception directly alters what happens with your cardiovascular system during stress. In the classic stress situation your heart rate increases and the blood vessels constrict, which increases the blood pressure and might be harmful in the long run. However, if you see your body's stress response as something positive, or even as leverage, this makes your blood vessels remain relaxed, which is a lot healthier state for your cardiovascular system. In fact, this actually resembles the physiological states in moments of joy... and courage!
Another positive side of stress is that it makes you social. This is due to the release of the hormone oxytocin a.k.a. the "cuddle hormone". Its purpose in stressful situations is to boost your brain's social connectivity skills and to make you seek help from your social network, people you care about etc. However, it also affects your body – it protects your cardiovascular system from the stress effects: it's a natural anti-inflammatory, it helps the blood vessels stay relaxed during stress and most importantly – it helps the heart cells regenerate and heal from any stress-induced damage! And this is how a single change of perception may give you many more years to enjoy life!
There is a really powerful TED talk with the health psychologist Kelly McGonigal, which is a true wake-up call for anyone with a stressful lifestyle. Her video is a definite must-see and if you have 15 minutes to spare I would highly recommend you to watch the video here.
Best regards,

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