How often have you felt stressed over the past week? The past month? Stress is very common and unfortunately is associated with being more likely to catch a cold, developing heart disease and premature death. However, new research suggests that our perception of stress plays an important role in health outcomes. A recent study looked at stress perception, the amount of stress experienced and health outcomes among a nationally representative sample of 28,753 American adults. The researchers examined data from the 1998 National Health Interview Survey and linked to death reports between 1998-2006. Findings from this study revealed that people who reported high levels of stress and perceived that stress negatively impacted their health were 43% more likely to die prematurely. Those who did not think that stress affected their health or who had taken steps to reduce their stress were less likely to report poor health.
The findings from this study highlight the importance of effectively coping with stress. While it may be difficult to fully eliminate stress from our lives, this research suggests that changing how we think about the stress we experience can positively impact our health. Findings from studies in the area of health psychology suggest that thinking of a stressful event as a ‘challenge’ versus a ‘threat’ can help you to overcome the adversity. When you feel stressed it is important to recognize the feeling and tell yourself that feeling ‘stressed’ is your body’s way of preparing you to rise to the challenge. A budding new area of research also suggests that learning to be self-compassionate can help people to effectively cope with stress and also is associated with overall improved quality of life and well-being. Self-compassion is a positive way of relating to oneself and involves mindfulness, self-kindness and embracing a common sense of humanity. Check out the resources section to learn more about self-compassion and how it can help you to effectively cope with stress.