By Joy Hinman
What we believe matters! Our thoughts, convictions, beliefs have effects on the body. For example, the effect “stress“ has on us is a hot topic in the news – including warnings and health tips to lessen or manage stress for better mental and physical health. The focus has been on stress or stressors considered to be a cause of illness or premature death. But new research is examining something else – the patient’s attitude toward stress. What people believe about stress is causing physical effects on the body – for better or for worse!
A Medical Psychologist, Ms Kelly McGonigal gave a TEDtalk on this topic. The sidebar on the video says “Stress. It makes your heart pound, your breathing quicken and your forehead sweat. But while stress has been made into a public health enemy, new research suggests that stress may only be bad for you if you believe that to be the case. Psychologist Kelly McGonigal urges us to see stress as a positive, and introduces us to an unsung mechanism for stress reduction: reaching out to others.”
See the TEDtalk video here
For ten years McGonigle educated patients to believe that stress was the enemy. She has reversed her own beliefs and health focus because of insights revealed in new studies on the stress response by Harvard and other universities. She recognizes now that belief has a measurable physical effect on health! McGonigal mentioned the condition of heart cells when the patient was not afraid of the stress they were under. Their mind was not under the additional stress of fear, and the body cells responded in a relaxed, not constricted manner. McGonigle said it was similar to the effect of courage on the body.
The studies examined two large groups of individuals. They were asked two questions: Did they have a lot of stress? Did they believe that stress is bad for their health? Then, over the next few years those people’s health records were tracked, including the medical record of the number of deaths in that group. Over 20,000 people per year in the USA died — but the cause of death was not stress. McGonigle stated that they died from the belief that stress is bad for you. This belief was the 15th largest cause of death in the USA. McGonigle wants to see that belief system change.
McGonigle also points out that people who spent time caring for others develop a resilience to stress “ …the harmful effects of stress are not inevitable…. You create the biology of courage.” She attributes it to a naturally produced stress hormone. And, she notes that reaching out to others – either to gain comfort or to give it to others – is a health-giving factor also governed by the beliefs of the patient. McGonigle stated “How you think and how you act can transform your experience of stress.”
Over 140 years ago Mary Baker Eddy, a health and spirituality researcher and discoverer of Christian Science, stated: “A change in human belief changes all the symptoms and determines a case for better or for worse.” (Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures page 194.) As a Christian healer she and her students and patients proved this many times – with prayer being the catalyst for a change in belief and thus in the health of the patient. The study and application of this spiritual principle continue today.
McGonigle is now teaching people how to monitor and change their own thinking when faced with stress – and hopes that doing so will be a life-saver, literally.
Joy Hinman is a Christian Science practitioner and spokesperson for Christian Science in Alberta. She lives in Turner Valley.