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How Rethinking Stress Makes You Live Longer: Discover the Shocking Truth That Could Save Your Life!

Worried man sits with hands in front of face

Stress is an unavoidable aspect of life, influencing us in numerous ways. For decades, it's been portrayed as a precursor to various health conditions, from the common cold to cardiovascular diseases. However, emerging research suggests that our perception of stress may influence our well-being as much as the stress itself.

Life or Death Beliefs

Consider this groundbreaking study by Health Psychology involving 30,000 adults tracked over eight years. Participants were asked about their stress levels and beliefs regarding the health effects of stress. The findings were revealing: those who perceived stress as harmful faced a 43% increased risk of mortality. This perception could be responsible for an estimated 20,000 deaths per year in the United States alone, making it the 15th most significant cause of death.

Yet, individuals experiencing high stress levels but viewing it as non-threatening had the lowest mortality risk. Remarkably, participants who experienced a lot of stress but did not view it as harmful had the lowest risk of dying, even lower than those with relatively little stress.

During a stress test, participants who viewed stress as helpful experienced less stress, anxiety, and more confidence. Furthermore, viewing stress as helpful led to healthier cardiovascular responses, with participants' blood vessels staying relaxed.

Understanding Physical Damage

Understanding the physiological responses to stress is crucial in explaining its impact on health. When we encounter stressors, our bodies initiate a flood of hormonal responses, including releasing cortisol, adrenaline, and norepinephrine. These hormones prepare us for 'fight or flight' by increasing heart rate, blood pressure, and energy levels. While these responses are adaptive in the short term, chronic exposure to stress can lead to detrimental health effects.

Take, for example, the damaging effects of prolonged cortisol elevation. This can disrupt bodily functions, including metabolism, immune response, and cardiovascular health. It can contribute to conditions like atherosclerosis, where plaque builds up in the arteries, increasing the risk of heart attacks and strokes. Additionally, stress can wreak havoc on our digestive system, leading to issues like irritable bowel syndrome and acid reflux. Moreover, stress can interfere with appetite regulation, promoting unhealthy eating habits and weight gain, particularly around the waistline. This type of visceral fat increases the risk of diseases like heart disease and insulin resistance. These examples illustrate the urgent need to manage stress for better physical health.

Hidden Health Impacts

Moreover, chronic stress can take a toll on our mental and emotional well-being, leading to symptoms such as anxiety, depression, and burnout. It can impair cognitive function, disrupt sleep patterns, and exacerbate health conditions. Over time, these cumulative effects can significantly impact our overall quality of life.

Stress's Secret Weapon for Health

However, the story of stress is not all negative. Interestingly, oxytocin, released during stress, acts as a natural anti-inflammatory and helps the cardiovascular system by keeping blood vessels relaxed and aiding heart cell regeneration.

The groundbreaking findings from earlier suggest that our beliefs about stress can profoundly influence its effects on our health. By reframing stress as a natural and potentially beneficial aspect of the human experience, we can empower ourselves to navigate life's challenges with greater resilience and well-being. This positive perspective on stress management can lead to significant improvements in our overall health and vitality. 

Taking Charge of Stress

There are many effective techniques for managing stress and improving our stress response. Mindfulness practices like meditation and deep breathing can help us stay calm and centered when facing challenges. Regular exercise is a powerful stress reliever and promotes overall physical and mental well-being. Additionally, building strong social connections and engaging in activities we enjoy can buffer the adverse effects of stress.

Individual Differences in Stress Response

It's also important to acknowledge that people respond to stress differently. Some individuals are genetically predisposed to be more reactive to stress, while others may have developed better coping mechanisms. Understanding your stress triggers and responses is crucial for developing personalized stress management strategies.

Cultivating a Healthier Relationship with Stress

In doing so, we can cultivate a healthier relationship with stress and pave the way toward optimal health and vitality. By reframing our perception of stress, employing effective stress management techniques, and understanding our individual responses, we can navigate life's challenges with greater resilience and well-being.

Want more? Download my essential checklist today “How to Rethink Stress in 3 Simple Steps” and take charge of your health and vitality!

All content of this blog is intended for general information purposes only and is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please consult a medical professional before adopting any of the suggestions on this page. You must never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking medical treatment based upon any content of this blog.

Affiliate disclaimer: *Heads up: My posts may contain affiliate links. If you buy something through one of those links, you won't pay a penny more, but I earn a small commission that helps keep the lights on!

Sources and Further Reading

  • Keller A, Litzelman K, Wisk LE, Maddox T, Cheng ER, Creswell PD, Witt WP. Does the perception that stress affects health matter? The association with health and mortality. Health Psychol. 2012 Sep;31(5):677-84. doi: 10.1037/a0026743. Epub 2011 Dec 26. PMID: 22201278; PMCID: PMC3374921. —

  • Jamieson JP, Nock MK, Mendes WB. Mind over matter: reappraising arousal improves cardiovascular and cognitive responses to stress. J Exp Psychol Gen. 2012 Aug;141(3):417-22. doi: 10.1037/a0025719. Epub 2011 Sep 26. PMID: 21942377; PMCID: PMC3410434. —

  • Poulin MJ, Brown SL, Dillard AJ, Smith DM. Giving to others and the association between stress and mortality. Am J Public Health. 2013 Sep;103(9):1649-55. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2012.300876. Epub 2013 Jan 17. PMID: 23327269; PMCID: PMC3780662. —

  • The Upside of Stress: Why Stress Is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It - Book by Kelly McGonigal, Health psychologist

  • Yau YH, Potenza MN. Stress and eating behaviors. Minerva Endocrinol. 2013 Sep;38(3):255-67. PMID: 24126546; PMCID: PMC4214609.

Kelly Sherman, MS, NC, CPT owner Provision Nutrition

Kelly Sherman, MS, NC, CGP, CPT, is a licensed nutritionist specializing in empowering women to reclaim their health by cutting through misinformation and ditching the diet culture. She has a master’s degree in nutrition and is degreed in exercise science as well as a certified personal trainer. With over 20 years of experience in the field, she combines the best of both nutrition and exercise sciences to best help her clients reach their potential. To nourish is to flourish!


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