THE NEW SCIENCE OF STRESS
By Anna Elena Berlin
CPC, Experience of Life Researcher
A University of Wisconsin (Univ. of WI) at Madison study conducted in 2012 by Keller, Litzelman, and Wisk examines the relationship between participants’ stress levels, the perception that stress affects their health, and health and mortality outcomes in a nationally representative sample of U.S. adults. The study shows that participants’ amount of stress and the perception that it affects their health interacted with each other. Those that reported a lot of stress who also believed that stress negatively impacted their health had a 43% increased risk of premature death.
Again, individuals who reported a large amount of stress and believed that it had a bad effect on their health had a huge increase of premature death over those with similar levels of stress that believed their stress didn’t affect them. Take just a moment to reflect on this new finding of how belief about stress affects health and well being. This evidence is contrary to decades of previous stress studies, and is part of the new science of stress. My research and writing about the human experience of life based on decades of previous studies has gone through an upheaval.
I’m not alone, Kelly McGonigal PhD, a leader in the growing field of “science-help”, has been thrown for a loop too. She is a Health Psychologist and lecturer at Stanford University that has been teaching that stress is bad for you for more than ten years, about the same amount of time I have been researching stress and its effects. We both had to change our paradigm about stress upon learning the compelling results from this U of WI study. As it turns out, we were both unwittingly encouraging people to believe that stress is harmful to their health based on the findings of previous studies.
Kelly McGonigal’s enlightening Ted Talk about stress has important information that can save people’s lives by changing their beliefs and perceptions about stress and its effects on their health and well being. This is the web address for her talk: http://www.ted.com/talks/kelly_mcgonigal_how_to_make_stress_your_friend#t-74060 I urge all of our readers to invest eighteen minutes to learn about the new science of stress by watching this easy to understand and absorb talk.
That being said, it is important to point out that there are different kinds of stress. The kind of stress that was the focus of the U of WI study appears to fit in the category of acute stress, which raises the heartbeat and breathing enough so that people are aware of it. This kind of bodily stress response is normal and healthy. The category of stress that concerns me the most is chronic stress, that people may not be aware of or may barely be aware of as something that is not right going on within them.
This kind of stress can certainly be caused by factors on the outside of us such as ongoing noise that grinds on our nerves constantly. However the more insidious type of chronic stress is the kind that comes from our own subconscious minds as a result of habitual judging and emotional distress. These do more to negatively impact the way we experience our own lives than practically anything else. Chronic stress tends to keep us in a state of hyper-vigilance, which keeps our fight or flight response turned on, which keeps our sympathetic nervous system activated, which suppresses our parasympathetic nervous system and keeps it from doing its rest, digest, and repair job, which leads to immune system issues and the deficiency and toxicity that leads to most human disorders and diseases. It is possible for this domino reaction to be so subtle as to be imperceptible.
So how do we save ourselves from ourselves? As with every good thing we do throughout our lives, we do it one conscious act at a time, because it is worth it to us. The most effective way to activate the subconscious mind and get answers from it is to ask it questions. What kind of experience of life will make me content, fulfilled, satisfied? What changes can I make to accommodate this life upgrade? Are these destiny goals worth the investment in time, effort, and resources needed for me to achieve this personal growth?
It’s your subconscious mind’s nature to keep everything it has received throughout your life stored safely within you. To make the most of this vast potential just keep asking yourself questions about what you need. The answers sometimes come in unexpected ways that your intuition will recognize as true for you. They appear when your subconscious mind is ready to push them into your awareness, so be patient. To make the most of your very finite existence know yourself deeply.
As always, self-knowledge is the best knowledge.
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- March 2023 - February 28, 2023