3. How You Handle Stress
Stress is difficult to understand, and many people see it as the worst thing we can experience. However, hear me out:
While stress can be harmful to our health, how we respond to it matters much more to our bottom line.
In a famous TED talk from 2013, Kelly McGonigal, a health psychologist and lecturer at Stanford University discussed an observational study and made some interesting arguments. In her talk, she talks about a paper that tracked 30,000 Americans over eight years. The experiment began by asking participants two simple questions:
- How much stress have you had in the last year?
- Do you think stress is harmful to your health?
The findings were interesting and not that surprising. People who reported experiencing more stress had a 43 percent higher chance of dying early. Interestingly, that was only the case for the individuals who believed that stress was harming their health. People who didn’t hold that belief but experienced more stress weren’t more likely to die than individuals with relatively little stress in their lives. In fact, these people were at the lowest risk of death among all the subjects in the study.
In other words, the way you perceive stress impacts how it affects your health. The problem is that we are taught to avoid, manage, or find ways to minimize stress. But what if, instead of seeing it as this Boogeyman, we learn to embrace stress and see it as something that makes us better?
For example, weight training is a stressor, but most people don’t see it that way. Despite it being challenging, we see it as something good for us. The first time you enter the gym, you can’t lift much weight or last very long. But, as you keep going back and exposing your body to this physical stress, it adapts by building muscle and getting stronger. As a result, your capacity to tolerate that stress improves, leading to better workouts and health benefits. The same can be true for all types of stress we face, but we first have to change how we perceive difficulties in life.