A number of studies have recently emphasised the benefits of living a stress-full life.

(Yup … you read right … stress-full.)

The studies tend to contradict received wisdom that assumes that ‘stress’ is undesirable and should be eliminated from our experience as much as possible. It’s important that we have strategies to manage excessive demands and we’ll look at these later.


But, it’s also vital to recognise that we thrive on and are strengthened by the pressures that we experience. In 2013 Alia Crum and others produced the report ‘Rethinking Stress: The Role of Mindsets in Determining the Stress Response’ [1].

Following three studies that explored the role of mindset in the context of stress, they point out that for many years the spotlight has been on negative aspects of stress (such as detrimental health effects, loss of productivity, and depression).

They argue that this interpretation may be well intended, but that the result of the perspective could be countereffective.

The study indicates that people could be prepared to adopt a ‘stress-is-enhancing’ mindset which might have positive consequences in improved health and work performance.

This doesn’t mean that we should seek out more pressure, but that we shouldn’t need to focus single-mindedly on reducing our stress.

The bottom line is essentially a positive one: finding the enhancing aspects of stress may be in part a matter of changing one’s attitude.


In 2012 Jamieson and others showed that changing the way we think about our bodily responses can improve our psysiological and cognitive reactions to stressful events [2].

Individuals who are better able to reappraise situations so as to decrease their emotional impact show more adaptive emotional and physiological responses when provoked to anger.

They found that participants in the study who were instructed to reappraise or ‘rethink’ arousal as functional exhibited increased perceptions of available resources, improved cardiovascular functioning, and less threat-related attentional bias. 

So, in line with research on emotion regulation and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, interpretations of one’s bodily signals impact on how the body and mind respond to acute stress. 


Keller and others reported in 2012, concluding that high amounts of stress and the perception that stress impacts negatively on health are each associated with poor health and mental health [3].

People who perceive that stress affects their health and who report a large amount of stress have an increased risk of premature death.


Poulin and others in 2013 show that helping other people predicted reduced mortality specifically by buffering the association between stress and mortality [4].


In 2014 Abelson and others concluded that brief intervention to shift focus from ‘competitive self-promotion’ to a goal orientation of ‘helping-others’ can help alleviate psychosocial stresses [5].

This supports the potential for developing brief interventions as inoculation tools to reduce the impact of predictable stressors and lends support to growing evidence that compassion and altruistic goals can moderate the effects of stress.

So …
The positive takeaways from these recent reports indicate that we can all play a significant part in the impact that external and internal pressures have on us if our attitudes to the pressures can be managed, moderated, regulated, and thought about.

We can play a significant part in whether the pressure benefits or harms us.

An altruistic frame of mind can inoculate against mental illness.

For some of this for some of us this may be the simple activity of managing our clients’ interests, looking after our teams, or, for the judiciary, caring for the process of justice and thinking empathically about those in the court, wherever they may be sitting.

The recent evidence tends to indicate that nature can be affected by our capacity to nurture.

To achieve this we must be proactive. 

It won’t happen on its own. 

To avoid rehab we have to consider prehab …




[1] Crum, A. J., Salovey, P., & Achor, S. (2013). Rethinking Stress: The Role of Mindsets in Determining the Stress Response, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 104, 716-733.

[2] Jamieson, J. P., Nock, M. K., & Mendes, W. B. (2012). Mind over Matter: Reappraising Arousal Improves Cardiovascular and Cognitive Responses to Stress, J Exp Psychol Gen, 141, 417-422.

[3] Keller, A., Litzelman, K., Wisk, L. E., et al. (2012). Does the Perception that Stress Affects Health Matter? The Association with Health and Mortality, Health Psychol., 31, 677-684.

[4] Poulin, M. J., Brown, S. L., Dillard, A. J., & Smith, D. M. (2013). Giving to Others and the Association Between Stress and Mortality, American Journal of Public Health, 103, 1649-1655.

[5] Abelson, J. L., Erickson, T. M., Mayer, S. E., et al. (2014). Brief cognitive intervention can modulate neuroendocrine stress responses to the Trier Social Stress Test: Buffering effects of a compassionate goal orientation. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 44, 60-70.


(This is an edited excerpt from my book A Lawyer’s Guide to Wellbeing and Managing Stress published by ARK Group in 2015.)

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