We’ve all had days when you can’t hold it together, but how come some people seem to stay cool and collected no matter what is thrown their way?
To help answer that question let’s take a sneak peak at the article, recently published in the New Scientist magazine, “Don’t stress: The scientific secrets of people who keep cool heads” by Helen Thomson:
YOU know that person. The one who uses a delayed train as an excuse to get stuck into a good book. The one who can make a joke 10 seconds after breaking their ankle. The one who loves giving presentations and never falters under pressure. They seem to float through life unfazed by the stress that can overwhelm the rest of us. What’s their secret? Are they blessed with stress-resistant genes? Did their upbringing make them exceptionally resilient? Have they learned specific ways of coping with life’s challenges? Or do they just know how to avoid stress altogether? To answer these questions, researchers have been examining how humans and animals react and adapt to adversity, identifying those who are particularly resilient to stress and teasing apart the factors that contribute to this ability.
Stress is an essential physiological response that allows us to quickly adapt to the world around us. But sometimes the stress response kicks in unnecessarily or is so powerful it overwhelms us. Sudden or severe stress can result in post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression. And low-level, chronic stress creates a slew of health problems. With no let up, raised levels of adrenaline can damage blood vessels and increase the risk of heart attack and stroke. Cortisol can cause digestive problems, weight gain and diabetes. And constant modulation of the immune system can lead to fatigue and physical and mental health issues.Whether stress has positive or negative consequences often depends on how we deal with it. Your reaction to stress and how quickly you return to normal when the stressor has passed is called resilience. This is what varies significantly between individuals.
But what makes some of us so resilient while others struggle to cope? There is no doubt that upbringing plays a part as well as genes. However, recent groundbreaking research has identified two more important factors involved in stress resilience:
1.PERSONALITY, particularly “sense of humour”
Research shows that people who see the funny side of life’s mishaps are likely to interpret and react to stress more positively, buffering themselves against some of the negative effects. Laughing releases feel-good hormones thought to make us less likely to ruminate on or re-experience stressful events. It also helps us build relationships, providing the social support that is a key to resilience. But there is good news for anyone who struggles to find their funny bone. A pilot study in Austria put 35 people who were experiencing stress, exhaustion or depressive symptoms through a seven-week “humour training” course, including role play, finding humour in everyday life, cultivating playfulness and learning how to make others laugh. The training seemed to decrease perceived stress and increase cheerfulness, although it was limited by not having a control group.
The second factor influencing your stress resilience is more surprising:
Growing evidence points to an intimate relationship between gut bacteria and our mood and behaviour. What’s more, several studies have highlighted differences between the gut bacteria in people with stress-related conditions, such as depression and PTSD, and in people without these. Stress can also make your gut more leaky, allowing bacteria to escape into your bloodstream, which triggers inflammation that can lead to physical and mental health problems. One study, for example, found that couples experiencing the chronic stress of a bad marriage had leakier guts than less hostile couples. But the relationship works in the other direction too. Mice given “good” bacteria called Lactobacillus rhamnosus for 28 days before facing chronic social stress were protected against some stress-induced behaviours.Although there are still major gaps in our understanding of the complex dialogue between gut and brain, there is substantial evidence that therapies aimed at changing the balance of microbes in the gut, and also what we eat, could have an exciting role in protecting us against – even reversing – the negative consequences of stress.
This article was adapted from New Scientist magazine article “Don’t stress: The scientific secrets of people who keep cool heads” written by Helen Thomson.
I wish you all the best,