Why some people don’t feel stress

Researchers at Harvard gave people a social stress test. Kelly McGonagall explains it likes this: Imagine you’ve got to give a five-minute impromptu speech on your weaknesses to a panel of experts who roll their eyes every time you stutter. Now they make you count backwards from 996 in steps of 7. Try it. Come on, what’s wrong with you!? Sadism is a useful character trait in stress researchers. For most people the stress response kicks in. Adrenaline and cortisol pump through the body, raising breathing, heart rate, blood pressure and constricting the blood vessels.

But before another group gave their speeches, they were told that the stress they were likely to feel was good. Their increased breathing was pumping oxygen into their brains making them more alert. Their rapid heartbeat was helping them raise their performance. Their bodies were gearing them not for fear and failure but courage and success.

Amazingly, the ones who were taught to see their stress response as good, were not just less anxious and more confident, their hearts pumped more efficiently and their blood vessels didn’t constrict. Vascular constriction is what makes stress dangerous. Seems even when stressed, if you have a healthy mind you can have a healthy heart. The father of modern psychology William James said: “The greatest weapon against stress is our ability choose one thought over another.” The next time you feel stressed try changing your thinking. Remind yourself that your body is preparing you to perform at your peak.