Apparently, it’s official – stress doesn’t kill you.
A report called ‘Does happiness itself directly affect mortality?’ has recently been published in the medical journal, The Lancet. It’s based on the findings of a study carried out on more than a million women in the UK and Australia over the course of ten years. The main aim was to find out whether being unhappy or stressed would increase the chances of dying. And the answer… apparently not.
This got me thinking, as I strongly believe that unhappiness or stress is usually very bad indeed. Long-term stress is bad for your health, it’s bad for your state of mind and it’s bad for those around you. So do I have it completely wrong?
In the hope of finding out that I’m not going to have to reconsider my own life’s work, I took time out to read a bit more. I soon found some relief in the researchers’ finding that ‘Poor health can cause unhappiness and poor health increases mortality, so unhappiness is associated with increased mortality. Additionally, unhappiness might correlate with some adverse lifestyle choices.’ Are we just going round in circles then? Can being unhappy then make you ill, or is it just that being ill will often make you feel unhappy or stressed?
It seems difficult to picture a truly stressed person being happy; they may have some happiness in areas of their life, but they are not happy overall. It might be preferable to deal with the cause of the stress, but that can be really difficult – telling an overworked family man to cut out the stress is not too helpful; he needs to work to provide. If he’s not providing, then a different kind of stress will soon follow.
What’s actually helpful is finding a way to cope with the stress, to make the mind healthy enough to accept the pressure and manage through it. For the mind to manage this, the body needs to be strong too. As the study in The Lancet has found, an ill body will make for an unhappy mind. At Twenty Two Training, we always work as a team, using our own areas of expertise to create the right programme for each client – body and mind – to help them become fit, healthy and happy.
And we shouldn’t forget that some people need stress some of the time. They respond well to having a tight deadline; they perform better when a goal is in danger of slipping away. Sportspeople are great examples of individuals who relish the thrill and heightened anxieties of being in competition – would they be able to attain their personal best without competing alongside other brilliant athletes?
But no-one can perform well with constant levels of stress or anxiety, and we all need to know how to get rid of excess or residual stress before it has a chance to impact our health. And the reality is that while stress in itself may not make us unhealthy, the effects of dealing with it can – resorting to a bottle or wine or eating too many takeaways or chocolate bars will definitely impact on health.
The one thing a stressed person very rarely does is to give themselves some time out – because they don’t have the time! Or, at least, they don’t think they have the time. But with some good exercise, some good nutrition and some good relaxation it becomes possible to apportion life well – so, in truth, they really can’t afford not to give themselves just a few minutes a day.
In short then, I’m glad to know that stress doesn’t directly affect our health – that my heart or immune system isn’t being harmed at those times when I’m feeling the pressure. But I wouldn’t want the world to think that stress is then something that doesn’t need to be addressed and taken seriously by health professionals. It’s still a prime motivator in creating unhealthy, unhappy people and they need to be helped back into a positive way of living, reducing stress and caring for themselves.
So, next time you’re feeling stressed or unhappy, give your body and mind some relaxation – a quality massage or just 15 minutes of sitting quietly. It really is good for your health.