by Susan Andrews, PhD
Do laypersons’ beliefs about stress influence their mental and physical health? In 2016, German psychologists from Berlin addressed this question and developed The Beliefs About Stress Scale (BASS), which is a standardized questionnaire to assess stress beliefs. The BASS consists of an item pool of 24 statements. To standardize the instrument, it was administered online to 455 university students at the start of term. Other information about students’ subjective stress levels, optimism, pessimism, neuroticism and somatosensory amplification was collected. A sub-group of these students were reassessed at the end of term exams 6 to 8 weeks later.
Analysis included factor analysis which suggested 3 dimensions of stress beliefs: negative stress beliefs, positive stress beliefs, and controllability. The item pool of 24 statements is given in the appendix of the publication. Some of the statements include:
“Being Stressed …
1 . . . is, for me, a sign of weakness 2 . . . impacts negatively on my ability to perform 3 . . . causes damage to my health in the long run 4 . . . is something I am able to inﬂuence through my actions 5 . . . enables me to work in a more focused manner 6 . . . makes me more productive 7 . . . makes my life more exciting in a positive sense 8 . . . causes damage to my health in the short-term
One study in 2016 by Drs. Johannes Laferton and Susanne Fischer, published in the International Journal of Behavioral Medicine, showed that students who held negative beliefs about stress being dangerous to one’s health did, in fact, complain of more somatic symptoms during a stressful period.
It is interesting to see the wide range of negative to positive statements included in the BASS questionnaire. Further research using the BASS with differing populations is needed.
In the light of these self-fulfilling and predictive beliefs, I might behoove all of us who are active and busy to take time to examine our own beliefs about stress. And, our beliefs about how well we believe we manage our stress is also critical. We may need to decide that Stress is NOT the “Bad Guy” after all. Dr. Kelly McGonigal, a health psychologist, gave a TED talk in which she said, “For years I’ve been telling people ‘stress makes you sick!’ …But I’ve changed my mind.” And, she quoted several large N studies to prove her point that changing how you think about stress can change the outcome.