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Our beliefs about stress affect our health more than the stress itself!

Updated: Aug 25, 2022

Isn’t it interesting to know, what we believe about something not only affects our psyche but can cause actual changes in our body. Our mindset affects our health and the effects are direct and quick.

Finding meaning or receiving a stressful situation as a learning experience is something I see happening naturally when people are in therapy and they heal.

Few days back, I came across an interesting study, and it’s popularly known as the “Milkshake study” by A.J. Crum et al. In this study, researchers studied the effects of high calorie and low calorie milkshake on participant’s hunger hormone “Ghrelin”.

On two separate occasions, participants were given two different milkshakes to drink - a high calorie indulgent shake and a low calorie sensible shake. And each time their Ghrelin (hunger hormone) levels were measured. The way ghrelin works is if we have eaten nothing for a while, our ghrelin level rises, urging us to seek food and when we eat something, ghrelin level drops. Generally, higher the calorie content of the food we consume, higher will be the drop in the ghrelin level indicating satiety.

What they found was, when participants had indulgent milkshake, their ghrelin levels fell more than when those participants had sensible low cal milkshake.

Well, so what’s the big deal? That’s how ghrelin works, right?

Here is the catch :)

Both the milkshakes were exactly the same - same nutrition and calorie content!

Participant's body responded differently when they believed they were having high calorie shake than when they believed they were having low calorie shake!

We might have heard many spiritual teachers talk about the power of belief. This is also the premise for positive thinking. Self-help literature extensively covers this area, and most of us agree beliefs affect our lives. But, it was quite fascinating for me to see such a direct and immediate effect of belief on the biology.

We can also apply the same understanding in stress regulation/coping.

How we perceive stress as (Stress appraisal) and our beliefs about stress (Stress mindset) contribute to how stress affects us.

So whether we view a stressful situation as - harmful/threat or as a challenge;

And whether we believe - stress is enhancing or stress is debilitating;

Can affect the way a situation impacts us.

Above mentioned study gives us an insight into how adopting a stress is enhancing mindset can be more favourable mindset during stressful times.

I have also observed that stress is enhancing mindset also put people into action.

  • They actively try to find ways/solution to come out of the situation.

  • In a way, it expands their vision, they are able to see different possibilities.

  • They are more open to asking for help/open to receiving help to overcome the situation.

  • They are more likely to change behaviour, lifestyle or beliefs when the situation demands to adapt/cope better.

  • It also encourages people to find meaning even in uncertain stressful situations or they look at it as an impetus to grow and take it as a learning experience.

Finding meaning or receiving a stressful situation as a learning experience is something I see happening naturally when people are in therapy and they heal. This not only give them a sense of power on what has happened or is happening, but also make them feel open and positive for the future.

But, does that mean, if we keep telling ourselves certain stress is good for us, it will turn out to be good? For example, if a smoker convinces him/herself that smoking is healthy, or if a smoker is ignorant of the harmful effects of smoking will that stop its harmful effects on the body?

This would be an interesting discussion, and I’ll keep it for some other time. But yes, I want to wrap up by saying with full respect to all spiritual teachings, health advice, scientific studies, which provide a guideline to support health and wellbeing but nothing is an absolute formula. Use your wisdom to apply any information and knowledge.

I'll love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Do share your comments.

Get in touch with me if you want to learn how to ‘Reframe Stress’.

Stay healthy, stay happy,

Kanika Gupta


Some interesting videos to check with respect to today's discussion.


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