Files piling up at work, relationship difficulties, moving, exams: stressful situations follow one another without ever being the same but have in common the fact that they can ruin your health. It really all depends on how you approach them, a new British study reveals. Viewing such situations as challenges, rather than threats, could prove beneficial to your physical and mental health.
The figures are clear: the world population is doing badly. According to data from the World Health Organization (WHO), nearly a billion people suffered from at least one mental disorder worldwide in 2019, and the situation has since worsened significantly. The health authority estimates a 25% increase in the global prevalence of anxiety and depression, just during the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic. An edifying observation which is not without warning about the importance of acting to try to stop what some are already calling the evil of the century. If actions are necessary on a global and national scale, everyone also has, at their own level, the opportunity to act to try to better cope with situations that could undermine health and well-being.
The best way to deal with stress is to…
This is what reveals a new study carried out by researchers at the University of Bath, in the United Kingdom, which shows that the way you approach a stressful situation can impact – or not – physical and mental health. The authors of this work started from a simple observation: a person can perceive a so-called stressful situation in two ways. She can either feel overwhelmed, and therefore consider it as a threat, or feel capable of confronting it, or even managing it, and therefore view it as a challenge. Something that we can particularly observe in sport with an influence on the performance of athletes.
The researchers also turned to athletes to carry out their research, which is based on “valid and reliable” measures of the evaluation of challenges and/or threats, mental health, well-being , and physical health problems of 395 athletes who responded to an online survey. Published in the journal Stress and Health, the findings suggest that participants who view stressful situations as threats are more likely to experience physical and mental health problems, compared to those who view them as challenges.
Better manage stressful situations to preserve your health
“We found a compelling link between poor mental and physical health and how a person generally perceives stressful situations. The more we are able to approach a stressful situation as a challenge, the more likely we are to report good health and feel good.“, explains Dr Lee Moore, from the Department of Health at the University of Bath, in a press release. And to specify: “Researchers have hypothesized over the past 15 years that people who consistently believe they don’t have the resources to cope with stressful situations are putting their health at risk, but we think it’s the first time this theory was properly tested, allowing us to find a link between stress appraisal and health“.
Although it was carried out among athletes, this study also applies to the rest of the population, its authors believe. The latter point out that the negative effects induced by the way of approaching a stressful situation can range from a simple cold, or the flu, or even a weakened immune system, to mental health disorders such as anxiety. or depression. They hope that this work will ultimately make it possible to better identify and treat people likely to suffer health problems due to increased stress.
“Most people fluctuate in how they evaluate a situation, depending on the details of the specific situation, but some people are much more likely to evaluate all stressful situations as threatening, and this study shows that this tendency is associated poorer health and well-being“, concludes Dr Lee Moore, one of the co-authors of this research.