Does stress get a bad press?

In the past few days I’ve twice come across presenting a novel argument about stress: it might not be as bad as you think. Instead they suggest that what matters is the way people respond to it.

First there was a BBC news article reporting that:

The findings of a ground-breaking study, published in the journal PLOS ONE today, suggest that brooding too much on negative events is the biggest predictor of depression and anxiety and determines the level of stress people experience. The research even suggests a person’s psychological response is a more important factor than what has actually happened to them.

A total of 32,827 people from 172 countries took part in the online stress test devised by the BBC’s Lab UK and psychologists at the University of Liverpool, making it the biggest study of its kind ever undertaken in the UK.

“We found that people who didn’t ruminate or blame themselves for their difficulties had much lower levels of depression and anxiety, even if they’d experienced many negative events in their lives,” says Peter Kinderman, who led the study and is a professor of clinical psychology at the University of Liverpool.

Then there was this TED talk by Stanford psychologist Kelly McGonigal with much the same argument:

I’m not qualified to comment on the quality of the research but I might ignorantly speculate that this is perhaps a case of correlation not equaling causation: the kind of person who responds to potentially stressful events by ruminating or worrying might be more prone to depression anyway.

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