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Make Stress Your Friend

Kelly McGonigal | 14:31


I have a confession to make. But first, I want you to make a little confession to me. In the past year, just raise your hand, if you've experienced relatively little stress anyone about a moderate amount of stress? who's experienced a lot of stress?

Yeah, me too. But that is not my confession. My confession is this. I am a health psychologist. And my mission is to help people be happier and healthier. But I fear that something I've been teaching for the last 10 years, is doing more harm than good. And it has to do with stress. For years, I've been telling people stress makes you sick, it increases the risk of everything from the common cold to cardiovascular disease.

Basically, I've turned stress into the enemy. But I've changed my mind about stress. And today, I want to change yours. 

Let me start with the study that made me rethink my whole approach to stress. This study tracked 30,000 adults in the United States for eight years. And they started by asking people, how much stress Have you experienced in the last year? They also asked, Do you believe that stress is harmful for your health. And then they use public death records to find out who died.

Okay. Some bad news. First, people who experience a lot of stress in the previous year had a 43% increased risk of dying. But that was only true for the people who also believed that stress is harmful for your health. People who experienced a lot of stress but did not view stress as harmful, were no more likely to die. In fact, they had the lowest risk of dying of anyone in the study, including people who had relatively little stress. 

Now, the researchers estimated 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. That is over 20,000 deaths a year. Now, if that estimate is correct, that would make believing stress is bad for you, the 15th largest cause of death in the United States last year, killing more people than skin cancer, HIV AIDS and homicide.

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