Many of us have no choice but to trust those that are smarter than ourselves. We believe information telling us that eating vegetables, not smoking, and running away from bears are all good for our health. We don't know for certain what's conducive to our own longevity, so we have no choice but to trust the advice of others. But sometimes the things we're told can be put into question, or even completely contradicted.
Most of us have been programmed to see stress as the enemy, as the most insidious, poisonous, ageing thing that can happen to our bodies. But new studies have shown that it doesn't have to effect us at all.
According to a TED video published yesterday, stress doesn't have to kill us. The video, titled: How to make stress your friend by Kelly McGonigal, explains that the reaction we have to stress is crucial, and could even be the difference between life and death.
In the TED video, Kelly talks about a US study that tracked 30,000 adults for eight years. It found that there was a 43% increased risk of dying for those who experienced stress, but that this was only true for participants who believed stress to be harmful. Those who were stressed but didn't think stress was unhealthy had no increased risk of dying at all. Their blood vessels stayed relaxed during stress, showing a similar reaction to moments of happiness.
Instead of thinking of it as harmful, we need reprogramme how we see stress and think of it as our body's way of preparing and allowing us to cope with challenges. Kelly advises us to interpret a racing heart as just a clever way for the body to give us more oxygen to prepare us to cope with difficult situations.
Kelly also explains that stress makes you social. Oxytocin - the 'cuddle hormone' - is released alongside adrenaline when your body responds to stress. This encourages you to talk to others, notice when those around you need help, and protects the heart from the effects of stress. Another study tracked 1000 adults and found that for any major stressful life experience, the increase in risk of dying was 30%. But the participants who spent time caring for others showed no stress-related increase in dying at all.
Stress is stressful. First, we get stressed, then we worry about what that stress is doing to our insides. After trusting that stress can only be harmful, now we can relax. And wait for the news that chocolate is actually really healthy.