Can Thinking About Stress Kill You?

According to a new study, perceived stress can increase the risk of premature death by as much as 43%. “The perception that stress affects one’s health is conceptually distinct from the amount of stress an individual experiences; indeed, one could report experiencing very little stress but still believe it to have a great impact on their health,” said Abiola Keller of the Department of Population Health Sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and lead author of the study. “This study aims to examine the relationship between the perception that stress affects health and current health, mental health, and mortality.”

Abiola and colleagues from the university examined data from the National Health Interview Survey of 1998 and compared it to data from the National Death Index in 2006. The team found that just over one third of the subjects thought their stress would cause adverse health effects. “Both higher levels of reported stress and the perception that stress affects health were independently associated with an increased likelihood of worse health and mental health outcomes,” said Abiola. “The amount of stress and the perception that stress affects health interacted such that those who reported a lot of stress and that stress impacted their health a lot had a 43% increased risk of premature death.”

While those statistics are grim, one factor that could considerably change the outcome is resiliency. “Individuals who have experienced a moderate amount of adversity in the past exhibit more resilience to recent adversity, suggesting that previous experiences with stress may help individuals cope with current stress,” said Abiola. “Resilient individuals, therefore, may not perceive that stress affects their health or experience negative health outcomes even when faced with a lot of stress.” Abiola added, “Research is needed to evaluate the relationship between resiliency and the perception that stress impacts one’s health to further determine whether resiliency development interventions could improve health outcomes among those with high stress.”

Keller, A., Litzelman, K., Wisk, L. E., Maddox, T., Cheng, E. R., Creswell, P. D., & Witt, W. P. (2011, December 26). Does the Perception That Stress Affects Health Matter? The Association With Health and Mortality. Health Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0026743

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  • matt


    January 5th, 2012 at 11:34 PM

    “one factor that could considerably change the outcome is resiliency.”

    this is the first thing I thought when I read the title.any person not used to stress would definitely consider even a little bit of it to be a lot and some experience with handling it is no doubt an advantage.

  • Nicole


    January 6th, 2012 at 9:05 AM

    Well you’re just as much in trouble as you think you are, so there’s no doubt that you could burn yourself out by thinking too much about some problem..Yes, problems, just like anything else, need our attention but they should be let to become so big that they threaten us..!

  • mathew jefferson

    mathew jefferson

    January 6th, 2012 at 11:35 AM

    my mom is always fretting about things and weighing problems too heavily.always ask her to stay calm and not force things onto herself.guess I need to show her this.

  • alita w

    alita w

    January 6th, 2012 at 4:10 PM

    It kind of all goes back to those self fulfilling prophecies. If you think something about yourself for long enough then chances are that this is what you will become. The same thing goes for life and life’s little stresses. If this is the only think that you can find to dwell on then this is what your life is destined to become. I know people who stress about the small stuff all of the time and they have become miserable people as a result. They are convinced that life in general and everyone in it practically are out to get them and that they can do nothing to save themselves from that. If I ever get to that point where I feel like I have no control over my own life and the things that happen to me, then please, someone just go ahead and put me out of my misery because I can’t stand the though of wallowing around in all of that self pity all of the time.

  • Dale


    January 7th, 2012 at 7:48 AM

    Convinced that my own dad died as a result of always having to have something to worry about. It was like he did not feel right if there was not something for him to be worrying about. And when there was nothing real for him to be concerned about then he would make up something just to occupy his mind.

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