Are your beliefs killing you?

We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make the world.
c. 563 BCE – c. 480 BCE

We all know the impact stress has on our health–that it’s the underlying cause of so many health-related issues today. But we also know that not all commonly held beliefs are true. So what about this one?

It turns out that stress is a little more complicated than we thought. Researchers conducted an eight year study involving thirty thousand U.S. adults. At the beginning of the study, participants were asked two questions: how much stress have you experienced in the last year, and do you believe stress is bad for your health?

At the end of the study, researchers used public records data to determine the death rate of those being studied. It turns out that individuals who reported a high level of stress had a forty-three percent increased risk of dying–but only if they also believed the high stress level was bad for their health. The ones who reported a high level of stress but didn’t believe it was a health risk had the lowest risk of dying among those being tracked. It wasn’t the stress that hurt people; it was the belief that it was harmful that actually caused the harm.

Based on these results, researchers estimated that over the eight year period of the study, 182,000 Americans died from the belief that stress is harmful to one’s health. So what can you do to avoid being hurt by your own belief?

You could try to limit the anxiety and worry in your life, but given the state of the world today, that seems difficult, if not impossible. You could also try techniques like mindfulness meditation that help you combat negative thinking and increase your resilience. But the best approach might be the simplest: you can change the way you think about stress. Remember, you control your attitude and your thoughts. And by changing the way you think about stress, you can change the way your body reacts to it.

Instead of viewing stress as something you can’t handle, try viewing it as helpful. Think of the stress response as actually preparing your body to meet a challenge.

In the typical stress response – where we view it as harmful – the blood vessels constrict, leading to cardiovascular problems. When we change our attitude toward stress – when we view it as preparing our body to meet a challenge – we still have increased heart rates and sweating or rapid breathing, but our blood vessels do not constrict.

Change the way you view stress and you can shift your body’s reaction from dangerous to benign. In these difficult times, that’s a change worth pursuing. Otherwise, your thoughts really could kill you.

I realized that if my thoughts immediately affect my body, I should be careful about what I think.
Yoko Ono
1933 –

Copyright © 2020 John Chancellor


Are your beliefs killing you? — 3 Comments

  1. Fascinating results to this eight year study, John. This could be a life-saving post!

  2. Excellent post! Something for me to work on. Could you please reference the study you mentioned? I would like to read more about this study. We definitely “are what we think!”