Written by Stephanie Klok
Stress is subjective. The level of stress felt is dependent how we evaluate a stressful situation, if there are coping resources available, how controlled we feel over a situation and if we have a strong or weak social support system.
I cannot even count the number of times at Brock that I have over heard the words, “I AM SO STRESSED,” something I am also guilty of! I hear this phrase and variations of it on almost a daily, constant basis and there’s data to back me up on this:
A Brock University wide study was done last year to assess a range of health-related behaviours & attitudes amongst Brock students. The results showed that 28% of females and 18% of males have felt overwhelming anxiety in the last 2 weeks. The study also showed that 62.8% of females and 46% of males reported feeling overwhelmed within the last 2 weeks. Feelings of ANXIETY and feeling OVERWHELMED are mediators for stress. These percentages are quite high, but are they not understandable? Given the WORKLOAD we face in university, exams, tests, labs, financial strain, relationships, being away from home, family problems, sickness, extra-curricular activities, varsity sports, and workplace stressors it’s no wonder we are overwhelmed. These daily stressors build within us, whether we realize it or not and can cause reduced immunity and increase our risk of illness.
In the video link provided below, Kelly McGonigal, a health psychologist, describes several ways to make stress your friend. McGonigal quotes an American stress study that reported those who believe that stress is harmful to their health had a 43% increase risk of dying. However those people who noted feeling moderate levels of daily stress but did not believe it was harmful to their health had the lowest risk of dying compared to everyone else in the study! She then goes on to state “believing stress is bad for you” could actually be the 15th top cause of death in America—that is huge!
McGonigal states that if we can change our mind about stress, we can change our body’s response to stress:
“…We interpret these physical changes as anxiety or signs that we aren’t coping very well with the pressure. But what if you viewed them instead in that your body is energized; your body is preparing you to meet this challenge… That pounding heart is preparing you for action. If you’re breathing faster, it’s no problem. It’s getting more oxygen to your brain. Participants who learned to view the stress response as helpful to their performance felt less anxious, less stressed-out, more confident….” (McGonigal, 5:06)
Through this interpretation, a biological change was seen in individual’s cardiovascular response. McGonigal explains that this one biological change may be the difference between someone who suffers a fatal heart attack in their fifties or lives well into old age.
I was wondering how those who likely experience more stress than the average Canadian, those on the streets, those with mental illness, who are in solitude and isolated from an outside world either due to choice or chance—what about these individuals? I truly think more initiatives driven towards the powerful human connection could solve this problem or at least help to alleviate chronic stress these individuals are faced with. If we all reached out to just ONE person in need a day, a week, a month even. How much stress would then be reduced for both parties? I am seeing a kind of “pay it forward” domino effect in the future– we can hope.
The speaker discusses another study that showed that individuals who helped and caredfor others in times of need showed no increase in death due to stress related ailments. How we think and act can indeed change our stress response, especially when we choose to connect to others under stress—
I believe compassion goes a long way.
I encourage you to check out the video I am referencing, there are so many other important points touched upon there. Maybe you will benefit during this stressful next couple of weeks.
Remember, you don’t have to sweat stress!
TEDTalks: “Kelly McGonigal: How to Make Stress Your Friend”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RcGyVTAoXEU
For more resources, check out: