What is stress?
Stress is something that we can’t live without, in other words it’s vital to survive. If we didn’t have the ability to feel stressed, we probably won’t be alive today. Historically, our ancestors had to face real treats such as mammoths. When our body perceives a threat or experiences a shock, it releases hormones such as adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol, which help us to “get away” by running faster or fighting harder (fight or flight).
Those hormones trigger physiological responses like increasing heart rate and blood pressure, delivering more oxygen and blood sugar to the main muscles. In the meantime, they increase sweating in an effort to cool down these muscles so they can function better. Our focus and attention are at their peak – the pupils of the eyes dilate to see better and the ears perform better as well. The brain also releases endorphins to reduce pain sensation and the immune system is activated to administer to wounds. But unfortunately, those physiological responses can only be beneficial for a certain moment. When it becomes too frequent or chronic, the organism becomes weak and is more suitable to injuries, for instance.
Scientific study over 30, 000 people
In 2012, a study on stress has followed nearly 30,000 people over 8 years in the United States. They asked them a simple question: “How much stress did you experience in the last year and do you think stress is bad for your health?”
Here are 2 main highlights of this study:
- 43% increase in risk of premature death for those who reported high stress. But this was only true for those who thought that stress was harmful to their health;
- Those who said they had a lot of stress, but the stress perceived as banal had the lowest mortality rate!
“During the time of the study, 182,000 people died, not from stress, but the belief that stress was harmful to their health – Making stress the 15th cause of death in the US, before skin cancer, HIV, aids and homicide! “
How to cope stress and make it your ally!
To sum up, stress is a vital response from the organism to fight or flight against a threat. Without it, we probably won’t be alive today. But unfortunately, it is more common to see chronic stress in our modern society that promotes performance constantly. Because of that, stress has been made one of the main public health enemies.
Recent studies and researches suggest that stress may only be bad for your health if you believe that to be the case. In another term, it’s the subjective assessment which is making the situation more important than objective facts. “Remember, it’s not our stress levels that need to be modified, but our mindset and attitude toward it.”
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Chevalier, Richard. (2014). À vos marques, prêts, santé! 6e Édition. ERPI Éducation physique. 442 p.
Keller, A. and al. (2012). Does the perception that stress affects health matter? The association with health and mortality. Health Psychol. 31(5) :677-84.
McGonial, Kelly. (2015). The upside of stress : Why stress is good for you and how to get good at it. Avery 2nd edition. 304 p.
Ted Talks. (2013, 4 septembre). Kelly McGonial: How to make stress your friend. [Vidéo en ligne]. Repéré à https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RcGyVTAoXEU