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Is it time to learn to embrace stress?

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 “Life is like any other contact sport. You may encounter hardships of one sort or another. Wise people find happiness not in the absence of such hardships, but in their ability to understand them when they occur.” Syd Banks.

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“If you have stress in your life, you’re 78.256% more likely to keel over in the next few months.”

“Stress destroys health, squashes happiness and your head is probably going to explode, if you can’t deal with it.”

We’ve all read the headlines, haven’t we? Even if they’re all made up like these ones above.


We’re all familiar with those feelings of rushing heartbeat, feeling breathless, knot in the pit of the stomach.

And we’ve all comfortable buying into the belief that our fight and flight response was healthy when we lived in caves, but in today’s modern world, it’s a time bomb health risk.

Hello to the bumper cars of stress in the fairground of ill health – it’s only a matter of time until the two collide and crash!

And yet.

What if it were one big misunderstanding? What if stress wasn’t the big, bad wolf we’ve been led to believe it is?

My attitude towards stress did a complete  direction turn when I came across the work of Dr Kelly McGonigal, health psychologist, lecturer at Stanford University and author of the wonderful book The Upside of Stress.

Kelly had spent almost a decade teaching about the health risks of stress.

But then she realised she’d made a huge mistake.

Looking over the results of a research study, led her towards a search for a new understanding.

So here’s what she discovered.

Did you ever lie in bed as a child, terrified by the dark monster in the room, only to discover in the morning, it was simply a pile of toys?

The damage stress does to us is not caused by the stress itself but our beliefs about its dangers.

The eight year-long study looked at 30,000 American adults. Each person was asked how much stress they had experienced in the last year and if they believed stress was harmful. And then the public death records were tracked over the next eight years.

Not surprisingly, those who self-reported high levels of stress and believed it was harmful had a 43% increased chance of dying.

Those who had the same amount of stress but believed stress wasn’t harmful were less likely to die than those people who were experiencing low levels of stress in their lives.

Again, the only difference, (have you got this because it’s huge), the only difference researchers could find was the belief about whether stress was harmful or not.

Turns out what we believe or don’t believe is a whole lot more important than we ever could have imagined in a big life-saving way. And maybe, just maybe it’s time to embrace the stress in our life rather than resisting and fighting it.

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