Stressful situations seen as threats harm health and wellbeing

Seeing stress as a more significant threat is linked to worse health and well-being.

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If you think stressful situations are bad, you might have more health issues, says a study from the University of Bath. They studied 395 athletes and found that those who see stress as a threat have more mental and physical problems. The researchers think this applies to non-athletes, too.

Study co-author Dr Lee Moore from the Department for Health at Bath said,“We found a convincing link between mental and physical ill-health, and the way a person typically views stressful situations. The more you’re able to appraise a stressful situation as a challenge, the more likely you are to report good health and wellbeing.”

Repeatedly seeing stressful situations as threats can lead to more mental health issues like depression, physical illnesses such as colds, and lower well-being. Dr. Moore from the University of Bath hopes this study helps doctors identify those at risk of stress-related problems. He suggests teaching people to see stress as a challenge, not a threat, could improve their health. The study, led by Dr. Ella McLoughlin, is the first to thoroughly explore the connection between how people assess stress and their health.

Dr Moore, who supervised the project along with Dr Rachel Arnold, also from the Department for Health, said: “Researchers have speculated for the past 15 years that people who repeatedly believe they don’t have the resources to cope in stressful situations are putting their health at risk, but we believe this is the first time the theory has been properly tested, leading to us finding a link between stress appraisals and health.”

Dr. Moore explains that when faced with stress, people typically see it in two ways. Either it’s viewed as a threat, making it overwhelming and harmful to performance and health, or as a challenge that can be managed and lead to growth and good performance. Most people shift between these views, but some consistently see all stress as a threat, leading to poorer health and wellbeing, according to the study.

This research, led by Dr. Ella McLoughlin, is a pioneering effort in delving into the connection between stress appraisal and health outcomes. The study highlights the critical role of one’s perception of stress in influencing both mental and physical health, emphasizing the potential benefits of interventions aimed at modifying these perceptions for improved overall wellbeing.

Journal reference:

  1. Ella McLoughlin, Rachel Arnold et al., The tendency to appraise stressful situations as more of a threat is associated with poorer health and well-being. Stress and Health. DOI: 10.1002/smi.3358.

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