Too much stress hurts mind and body, but the stress response exists for good evolutionary reasons. Recognising that is the first step to turning its negative effects around
Many of us have felt more than a little stressed over the past couple of years. For me, exhibit A is my teeth. A recent trip to the dentist confirmed that months of pandemic-induced jaw-clenching, product of the usual deadline stress amplified by the demands of two young children, had left four of them broken.
Crumbling teeth are small fry. Last year, the American Psychological Association found that two-thirds of people in the US reported feeling more stressed in the pandemic, and predicted “a mental health crisis that could yield serious health and social consequences for years to come”. Increased risk of diabetes, depression and cardiovascular disease and more are all associated with high stress levels. It’s enough to make you feel stressed just thinking about it.
Perhaps we just need to think about stress differently, though. That, at least, is the startling conclusion of researchers studying the mind-body connection. There are natural benefits to being stressed, they say, and if we change our “stress mindset”, we might be able to turn things around and make stress a positive influence on our lives. Fortunately, there are some simple hacks that will allow us to do this, and they bring with them the promise of better physical health, clearer thinking, increased mental toughness and greater productivity.
There is no denying that too much stress can harm both body and mind. It has been linked to all six of the main causes of death in the West: cancer, heart disease, liver disease, accidents, lung disease and suicide. It can weaken the immune system, leaving us more prone to infection and reducing …