Does Stress Really Cause Illness and Shorten Our Life?

We have all been warned many times that stress can make us sick, cause heart attacks, and reduce our life expectancy. Is that really true?

First of all, we have to distinguish between different kinds of stress because stress hormones have multiple roles. According to Bruce Lipton, there are two types of stress: distress and eustress.

Distress occurs when we perceive that our survival is threatened. Cortisol and adrenaline cause us to shift into protection mode. That response would be very helpful if we were being attacked by a mountain lion. However, everyday traffic or a job we hate can have the same effect. We experience chronic stress that can cause illness. Important to note though is that the chronic stress is based on our perception!

Eustress literally means “good stress”. It occurs when we engage in physical activities, like exercising, or mental activities, like writing a book. Falling passionately in love has the same hormonal effect. Cortisol is released in all of those situations.


Newer stress research even suggests that stress may only be bad for you if you believe that to be the case. As a belief change coach, it does not really surprise me that our physical responses depend on our beliefs. When we believe stress causes us physical damage, it does. When we don’t view stress as dangerous, it does not have the same negative effect.

“When you change your mind about stress, you can change your body’s response to stress,” says health psychologist Kelly McGonigal in her Ted Talk, “How to Make Stress Your Friend”.

In a study in which participants were trained to view their stress responses as helpful rather than harmful, their physical responses were affected. Participants’ hearts still beat faster, but their blood vessels remained relaxed. They showed a much healthier cardiovascular profile, similar to the profile we see in moments of joy or courage.

McGonigal also points out that stress makes us social. The hormone Oxytocion is released. Oxytocin is a neurohormone that fine tunes our social instincts, makes us crave physical contact, enhances our empathy, and makes us more willing to help and support others. It is part of our stress response just like adrenaline. It motivates us to seek out others for emotional support. We want to be surrounded by people who care about us.

Oxytocin is also a natural anti-inflammatory. It helps our heart cells regenerate and heal from any stress-induced damage. We could say that our stress response has a built-in mechanism for stress resilience. That mechanism is the yearning for human connection caused through oxytocin.

McGonigal sites a third study in which people who spent time caring for others lived longer. Caring created resilience, despite stressful events in their lives.

Interesting for me as a hypnotist and belief change coach is that how you think about stress transforms your experience of stress and consequently your physical responses. When you choose to view your stress response as helpful and connect with others under stress, you increase your health and your life expectancy.

How you think about stress matters! It makes a big difference as to whether stress is actually harmful or not. Here are some constructive ways of thinking about stress:

“My body is helping me to rise to this challenge!”

“My body has the built-in mechanisms to deal with stress.”

“I trust myself to handle life’s challenges well.”

“I remember that I am always supported to face life’s challenges!”

“I love my job.”

“I thrive on being busy.”

“I handle deadlines well.”

“I am peaceful and calm in every moment.”



To shift your personal stress perception and clear out limiting beliefs that cause unhealthy stress, contact me


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