If you believe that stress is not a negative experience, this reduces the physiological effects of stress. Does this sound familiar? Those of you who have learned about ‘hardiness’ know that control, commitment and challenge are means of reducing the experience of stress.
In a recent TED talk health psychologist Kelly McDonigal referred to some interesting evidence that supports the hardiness model. A study by Keller et al. (2012) tracked 30,000 adults in the US over a period of 8 years. At the outset participants were asked (a) how much stress have you experienced in the last year and (b) whether they believed that stress was harmful to their health. Using public health records they found, after 8 years that those people reporting high levels of stress had a 43% chance of dying. However this only true for those people who had said they believed that stress was harmful. Those participants who did not view stress as harmful had minimal risk of dying – about equivalent to those who experienced very little stress.
This shows that it’s the believe in the negative effects of stress that causes the harmful effects. McDonigal goes on to explain, at a physiological level, how such beliefs actually reduce the effect of sympathetic arousal on the heart.