It’s the reason why the placebo effect works so well; if we are truly convinced of something, it will most likely work. It’s the reason why positive thinking is encouraged, and some magical “willpower” will help you improve yourself in all aspects of your life.
But as most of us know, the power of the mind does not always lead to a positive experience. In fact, if you are reading this, you are familiar with the ways your brain likes to trick you into thinking something is wrong. Even people unaffected by mental illness are tricked by their brains, as this article humorously outlines.
There is more to it than that. The stress that is (or seems to be) created by our minds has actual impacts on our physical bodies. I used to think that my tired, aching body was “all in my head” when I was at the valley of my latest depression episode.
WebMD tackles this topic in multiple articles:
Stress is the body’s reaction to any change that requires an adjustment or response. The body reacts to these changes with physical, mental, and emotional responses.
Stress is a normal part of life. Many events that happen to you and around you — and many things that you do yourself — put stress on your body. You can experience stress from your environment, your body, and your thoughts.
The article goes on to say that stress can be a positive thing. It’s true, the adrenaline that allows us to lift cars off babies in times of acute stress is arguable a positive (and freaking cool) thing.
Officially, a negative stress reaction is called distress.
Distress can worsen symptoms of a pre-existing illness, and not just of an anxiety disorder: diabetes, blood pressure, and insomnia, among other things, can all be worsened by the effects of stress. From the same WebMD article (for those that have not yet clicked the above link):
- Forty-three percent of all adults suffer adverse health effects from stress.
- Seventy-five percent to 90% of all doctor’s office visits are for stress-related ailments and complaints.
- Stress can play a part in problems such as headaches, high blood pressure, heart problems, diabetes, skin conditions, asthma, arthritis, depression, and anxiety.
- The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) declared stress a hazard of the workplace. Stress costs American industry more than $300 billion annually.
- The lifetime prevalence of an emotional disorder is more than 50%, often due to chronic, untreated stress reactions.
Don’t take your stress lightly. Find ways to manage it. Easier said than done, but until you begin putting as much emphasis on stress-reduction as you do on primetime TV/exercise/watching the kids’ soccer games, things are not going to magically get better.