A study from the University of Wisconsin- Madison tracked 30,000 adults in the United States for eight years and found that people who experienced a high amount of stress in one year’s time had a 43% increased risk of dying. But that was only the case for the people who believed that stress is harmful. Those who experienced a lot of stress, but viewed stress as a positive force, however, had the lowest risk of dying out of everyone in the study. Including those who had relatively little stress.
Harvard University conducted a study where the participants were taught to see their stress response as helpful before being exposed to a social stress test. When participants took the test, they viewed the pounding of their heart as preparation for action and quickened breathing as a way to oxygenate their brain. The results showed that they were not only less stressed and more confident, but their stress response actually changed. Instead of tightening, their blood vessels stayed relaxed. And their heart responded the same way it does during moments of courage.
A 2013 study published in The Journal of Positive Psychology sampled 397 adults, and asked them how much they agreed with the statement, “taking all things together, I feel my life is meaningful.” The researchers then looked at what distinguished people who strongly agreed with the statement from those who did not. Surprisingly, those who had experienced the highest number of stressful life events were most likely to consider their lives meaningful. Rather than being a sign that something is wrong, feeling stressed can be a barometer for how engaged people really are in activities and relationships that are personally meaningful.