How much stress have you experienced in the last year?
Do you believe this was detrimental to your health?
These were the questions asked to a group of subjects by American Psychologist, Dr William James, over 100 years ago. His results uncovered possibly the simplest stress-busting tool that is still effective today.
The study looked at 30,000 people in the US over eight years. It asked those two simple questions. What it found was that those who reported high levels of stress and viewed it as detrimental to their health had a 43% risk of premature death over those eight years. Those who had high levels of stress but did not believe it was detrimental to their health had the lowest risk of premature death.
This is still relevant today. A study published in Health Psychology 2012 found the same to be true. It looked at data from nearly 186 million US adults and specifically examined the interaction between the amount of stress and the perception that stress affects health, controlling for sociodemographic, health behavior, and access to health care factors.
The findings were not just similar to Dr James’ research, but they were exactly the same. It reported “The amount of stress and the perception that stress affects health interacted such that those who reported a lot of stress and that stress impacted their health a lot had a 43% increased risk of premature death.”
So it’s not always stress per se, it’s how we perceive stress. When harnessed correctly, we can use stress to our advantage but when we become overrun by it—and deem it detrimental—that it becomes a problem.
“What matters most then is how we perceive stress, not the level of stress we are experiencing. If we demonise stress, we make it toxic. If we understand that stress is inevitable and it is important in making us more productive and healthier, we can build resilience.” – Greg Stark, Sweat Equity