The Stress Prescription
‘Worrying is like a rocking chair, it gives you something to do, but it gets you nowhere.’
Recently, I read a book called The Stress Prescription.
To worry or not to worry – that is the question.
Did you know that in some cases, worrying about a bad thing happening can cause you more stress overall than the bad thing actually happening?
By constantly worrying about an upcoming event, we repeatedly re-live a worst-case scenario when in fact, things work out better than we anticipated.
We also worry about too much that is out of our control.
A new study published in Nature Communications supports this theory. Perhaps you haven’t kept up your subscription of Nature Communications so I will fill you in!
In the study, researchers took 45 volunteers, broke them up into 3 groups and asked them to play a computer game.
In the computer game, the participants would turn over rocks.
Some rocks had snakes underneath them.
In the first group, if a participant found a snake underneath a rock, nothing would happen. Everything would remain the same and the participant would continue to play the game.
In the second group, if the participants found a snake underneath a rock, they were given a small but uncomfortable electrical shock to their hand. Ouch.
In the third group, if the participants found a snake under a rock, they were given a small but uncomfortable electrical shock to their hand, but only some of the time.
All of the participants were measured for stress symptoms which included signs like increased heart rate, pupil dilation and sweating.
Which group do you think showed the most symptoms of psychological stress?
If you guessed the third group (the group of participants who were shocked occasionally) you would be correct.
It turns out that worrying about a bad outcome can actually be worse than the bad outcome itself.
Increased heart rate, pupil dilation and sweating weren’t the only side effects, however. Participants were slower when it came to making decisions. Their overall performance was worse.
This is sometimes known as anticipation stress.
It is hard to convince worriers of this but you are no better off whether you worry or not.
In fact, you might be worse off.
Research has shown that long lasting worry and stress over time can lead to issues like ulcers, heart attacks, cancer and Alzheimer’s, to name a few.
So how do we minimize the stress element when something might or might not happen?
One researcher in the previous study noted:
“What this research implies for us is that telling people what we know is important. Reducing the range and number of things that are uncertain and focusing on what is known will reduce stress even if you can’t completely remove uncertainty. The research also implies that telling people certain bad news (you are going to get an electric shock, or a reduction in sales etc.) is better than leaving people wondering.”
As the study would suggest, knowing that you are always going to get the shock can be better than knowing that you are randomly going to get the shock.
The study also suggests that telling people bad news is sometimes better than leaving them wondering.
Uber apps are a perfect example of relieving people’s minds by giving them immediate information.
Even though we have no real control as to when the Uber cab is going to arrive and our cab is sometimes late, we still feel better when we can see the little image of the Uber cab driving towards us and the little box beside it with the minutes counting down.
Many public transit systems have electronic boards that tell commuters when buses and trains are going to arrive.
I’m not a worrier (no really, I’m not hahaha) but I know a lot of people who are. At the very least, I would like to try and minimize their anxiety stress with these two last quotes.
“Worry is a total waste of time. It doesn’t change anything. All it does is steal your joy and keep you very busy doing nothing.”
“If the problem has a solution, worrying is pointless. In the end the problem will be solved. If the problem has no solution, there is no reason to worry, because it can’t be solved.” -Zen proverb
Until next time, laugh long and prosper…and try not to worry!
If you would like to catch up on any of my other Laugh Long and Prosper episodes, voted one of the best podcasts of 2021 in Canada by CTV, check me out.
Until next time folks, Laugh Long and Prosper!