Can Stress Actually Kill You?

By Mari Wood

School is stressful, and most students believe their stress will kill them. For example; Those stupid vocabulary notes you should have finished last night just took a year off your life. But any students who are sure their stress will be the end of them should be interested in this potentially life saving study.

 The study began by tracking 30,000 adults in the United States for eight years. Before they began, the participants were asked how stressful they would rate their lives, and whether they believed their stress was bad for them or not. The results showed that people with more stress had a 43% more likely chance of dying… but only if they believed that their stress was bad for them. So: your stress won’t actually kill you. It’s the belief that stress will kill you that kills you. Dr. Kelly McGonigal, health psychologist, shared that: “Over eight years, 182,000 Americans may have died prematurely because they believed their stress was harming their health.” Over 20,000 deaths a year! “According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that would make ‘believing stress is bad for you’ the fifteenth leading cause of death in the United States, killing more people than skin cancer, AIDS, and homicide.”

But how can just your belief of something change your response to it? Well, take your own body’s response to stress. In the typical stress response, your heart rate rises and your blood vessels restrict your blood flow, which helps you react quickly. In a life threatening situation in nature, this would enable your fight or flight response for survival. However, it’s not a healthy state to maintain for long periods of time. People who believed that their stress response was good for them had less blood flow constriction, which made them more relaxed and therefore more healthy.

The human heart has built in mechanisms to combat stress as well. It has receptors for the hormone oxytocin, which is released in moments of stress as well as moments of compassion, physical contact, and helping others. So reaching out to people around you, friends and family, can strengthen your heart and reduce your stress response. Connecting with others is your body’s natural reaction to counter stress, and is the most effective way to keep yourself healthy.

So, is stress really going to kill you? No way! In fact, people with higher amounts of stress generally rated their lives more meaningful than then people with less stress. Just remember: it’s how you handle your stress that will change your life!

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