Research Suggests Stress Only Damages Your Health If You Think It Does

The 2017 Gallop Poll on global emotions reports that people are more stressed than ever before. Up to 40% of adults are stressed, resulting in a range of health problems. The 2019 poll results are no better.


Stress Hurts Work and Life Performance


Stress impacts work performance causing constant worrying, racing thoughts, forgetfulness and disorganisation, inability to focus and poor judgment. Stress inevitably impacts relationships and limits joy.


Work Stress Also Causes Disease


Dr Gabor Mate proposes that the evidence is that "job strain is a more important risk factor for heart disease than all the other risk factors combined including hypertension, smoking, and high cholesterol. Further, that stress in general and job strain, in particular, are significant contributors both to high blood pressure and to elevated cholesterol levels."[1]


Stress is a key factor in anxiety, depression, self-harming behaviours and a myriad of physical conditions such as insomnia, and headaches. Chronic emotional stresses also sensitises the immune system, so that it becomes overly reactive to any number of triggers. Bruce Lipton also surmises that the greatest influences on human development, health and behaviour are our perceptions of the environment. [2] Consider that stress is a response to a perception of threat.


What We Get Wrong About Stress


We deny stress rather than learn from it. We wouldn’t do that if our car was causing us problems. We would explore, learn and then address the problem – not simply say it shouldn’t be there.

Because we ignore the message stress is trying to give us the situation can only get worse. As a result, we don’t seem to recognise stress as much until it carves into our wellbeing.


As Gabor Mate says “When you don’t pay attention to emotional signals, your body says, ‘Okay, here are some physical signals for you.’ If you don’t pay attention to them either, you really are in deep trouble.”


Alter your perception of stress.


Stress is trying to tell you something.


A Positive Perception of Stress is Good for us!


A U.S. study [3] involving nearly 30,000 adults found that people who experienced significant stress and viewed the stress as harmful had 43% higher risk of dying than people who viewed stress as a helpful response.


Key finding:


“Participants with more positive perceptions of stress had the lowest risk of death out of all involved in the study, even lower than those experiencing very little stress.”


Recent studies have shown that the best way to deal with stress is to alter your perception of it


One of the reasons we miss the message of stress is our refusal to consider the negative. Positive thinking is great, but a lot of what is considered positive thinking could often be more seen as a form of avoidance of the negative to not feel what we don’t want to feel. Often (compulsively) positive thinkers exclude the negative parts of their thinking to avoid confronting them. Genuine positive thinking must loosen our attachment to positive only thinking to include all our reality as a first step in reclaiming our health.


Genuine thinking includes positive and negative aspects of thinking to consider what is working as well as what’s not. Without considering what’s missing or not working, stresses will remain hidden.


Lack of information, seemingly because we can’t handle it means the sources of stress remain unknown and rampant and we are dictated to by them. Seeking out the causes of our stress by considering the negative opens up the possibility of becoming free to experience more autonomy. Autonomy is impossible while being driven by anything. In other words, like or not you are being dictated to by your stress not “managing it”.


Positive states of mind designed to tune out anxiety lower resistance to illness. The more people tune out their anxiety the longer that stress will act on them and the more damaging it will be. As Gabor Mate puts it “When one lacks the capacity to feel heat, the risk of being burned increases.”

Of course, honest thinking will present us with difficult feelings we have avoided. In the absence of this knowledge, we lose the opportunity to outgrow our limiting behaviours and ways of seeing the world.


Realistic thinking provides an opportunity to leave self-delusion and self-harming behaviours behind, an opportunity denied by needing to recognise only be positive.


[1] Maté, Gabor. When the Body Says No. Scribe Publications Pty Ltd. Kindle Edition. [2] Lipton, B. H. (2005). The biology of belief: Unleashing the power of consciousness, matter and miracles. Mountain of Love/Elite Books. [3] Keller, A., Litzelman, K., Wisk, L. E., Maddox, T., Cheng, E. R., Creswell, P. D., & Witt, W. P. (2012). Does the perception that stress affects health matter? The association with health and mortality. Health psychology : official journal of the Division of Health Psychology, American Psychological Association, 31(5), 677–684. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0026743