In an experiment led by the Stanford psychologist Alia Crum, when people had only 10 minutes to prepare a charismatic speech, simply reframing the stress response as healthy was enough to relax them and reduce their physiological responses, if they tended to be highly reactive.Thinking about this seriously, I suspect the second finding points to something deeper than a “reframing.” People differ a great deal in how they respond to stress, and from hating it to loving it. Maybe the ones who think it is bad for them do so because it is bad for them, whereas the sort of people who become bush pilots or emergency surgeons think stress is good because they really do thrive on it. Also, studies of work situations have found that stress is much better for people who think they have control over their lives than for people who don't. So if you are the CEO and face lots of decisions, that is stressful but in an empowering way; whereas if you are a factory worker worried about being laid off, that is stressful in a harmful way. And maybe CEOs think stress is good, and nervous workers think it is bad.
In a nationally representative eight-year study, adults who reported a lot of stress in their lives were more likely to die, but only if they thought stress was harmful. Over a hundred thousand Americans may have died prematurely, “not from stress, but from the belief that stress is bad for you.”
So I would not dismiss the harm of stress as a failure of positive thinking. But this is yet another piece of evidence that on the whole taking a positive attitude toward life is good for your health, and wallowing in misery or anguishing about things beyond your control is bad.