Impact of Distrust on Physical and Psychological Well-being
December, 2010 by Robert Porter Lynch
It’s been proven in study after study that stress has a highly detrimental impact on health and well being.
Stress is the emotional and physical strain caused by our response to pressures from the outside world or
seemingly being out of our control.
Causes of Stress
There are two basic causes of stress: Fear and Loss.
- Loss includes things such as:
- loss of a Loved One (death, grieving),
- loss of Financial Security (bankruptcy, job loss),
- loss of Home (foreclosure, moving, hurricane), or
- Major Disruption (divorce, parents in ill health, child being arrested).
- Fear manifests where there is some threat of harm or conflict, whether physical (such as a fistfight,
being raped, or robbed or attacked by a deadly weapon) or psychological (such as heated arguments
or verbal abuse or increased competition among co-workers who fear a layoff). Fear is typically
accompanied by Anxiety and Distress:
- Anxiety is the anticipation of being harmed in the future,
- Fear is the anticipation of being harmed in the present.
- Distress is the awareness of actually being harmed at this particular moment.
Lumped together, these forms of Fear and Loss are termed “Stress.” If the Fear or Loss is related to other humans
(not natural causes), then Distrust is at play. Distrust is not benign; it not only causes economic damage, it can
wreak havoc on one’s health. (Later we’ll show how.)
Fear Can Kill
For example, the theory that fear alone can kill people is backed by compelling evidence from a study of deaths
following the 1994 Los Angeles earthquake. Dr Robert Kloner, a cardiologist at the Good Samaritan Hospital in
Los Angeles, analyzed the records of the Los Angeles County Coroner's Department for the week before the
earthquake, the day of the earthquake and corresponding control periods in 1991, 1992 and 1993.
His team found that on the day of the quake, the coroner recorded five times more sudden cardiac deaths than
would ordinarily be expected. None of the deaths were related to people having a heart attack from over-exertion
as they dug themselves out of the rubble. Dr Kloner said: "The typical story was that a patient clutched his chest,
described chest pain, and dropped over dead."
Other research has shown that chronic anxiety may increase the risk of sudden cardiac death, and that even
low-to-moderate levels of anxiety may be capable of increasing that risk. A 2008 report from the Archives of
General Psychiatry examined more than 2,700 Americans before and after the terrorist attacks of September 11th,
2001. For the next several years after the attacks the scientists monitored the impact of people’s fears of terrorism.
They found that the most fearful people— about 6 percent of the sample – were three to five times more likely than
the rest to receive diagnoses of new cardiovascular ailments.
Not all stress is bad; Not all stress is created equal.
A little stress can do us good — it pushes us to compete and innovate. And the type of emotional stress one
experiences makes a very large difference.
Many professions, such as business executives, doctors, police, and firefighters live in high-stress environments,
and there is no evidence that they have higher rates of cancer, heart disease, or stroke. But when the effects of
job-related stress were measured, researchers found that those people who were unable to exert much control over
their workplace destinies (clerks, secretaries, low-level factory workers, for example) suffered much worse from stress
than their bosses.
Why? Because those who respond well to stress believe they have reasonable control over their lives and the lives
of others. These people believe they are able to solve most of their problems. They don’t feel helpless in dealing with
their problems in life. They affirm that what happens to them in the future depends mainly on their own abilities;
and they can do just about anything they really set my mind to do.
People who answer positively to questions about being in control of their destinies report very strong satisfaction
with life. Giving a person some sense of control over their own destiny evidently turns job related stress into something
that’s exhilarating rather than debilitating.
It’s when people don’t feel like they have any control over their outcome, or they’re victims of an ugly fate, or that
life has no meaning or purpose that stress becomes mentally and physically debilitating. When people feel
disempowered, they become depressed, emptied of energy, hopeless, and helpless – slaves to circumstances.
Their performance on the job or in sports reflects their mental attitude. Innovation and teamwork drops dramatically.
But worse, the physical effects of stress can turn deadly.
Impact of Stress on Personal Health
The after-effects on health caused by stress have been studied extensively by the medical profession.
Stress often triggers major physical reactions, including tension, irritability, inability to concentrate, poor decision
making, and anxiety, along with a variety of physical symptoms that include headache and a fast heartbeat.
If the stress is prolonged, serious physical effects then damage the immune system, resulting in disease. (This
occurs because continued stress produces a never-ending release of hormones that, while good in the short run
to defend against danger, ultimately turn destructive against the immune system.) Stress has been directly attributed
as a major causative factor in fatalities from heart disease, and stroke, as well as suicides, auto fatalities, headaches,
diarrhea, absenteeism, and increased illness, and the ability to recover from cancer. According to the American
Academy of Family Physicians, two-thirds of office visits to family doctors are for stress-related symptoms.
Trusting Attitudes and Beliefs Saves Lives
Trust can play an important role in such matters of life and death.
There is a strong case to be made that people who are capable of building trusting relationships have more
supportive people in their lives who will come to their aid in times of adversity. These relationships make a big
difference in mortality. According to one study, middle-aged men under severe stress who lacked emotional
support were five times more likely to die within seven years than those who had the same amount of stress
but had close personal ties.
People who are trusting tend to be optimistic, and those who distrust tend to be pessimistic. What difference
does that make? Optimists live longer, healthier lives than pessimists.
For example, researchers at University of Pittsburgh, led Dr. Hilary Tindle, examined the death rates and chronic
health conditions among participants of the Women's Health Initiative study, which tracked more than 100,000
women ages 50 and over for fifteen years, since 1994.
Women who were optimistic were 14 percent less likely to die from any cause than pessimists and 30 percent
less likely to die from heart disease after eight years of follow up in the study. Optimists also were also less likely
to have high blood pressure, diabetes or smoke cigarettes.
Other studies have shown that people who go to church regularly or believe in God live three years longer and
report higher levels of well-being. Researchers have also found that married persons have higher well-being
scores than divorced ones. Higher levels of trust are associated with lower national suicide rates.
Clearly, the role of trust in the health and well-being of our society is enormous. It certainly points to the conclusion
that it should be a vital component of our educational system, national health policy, and a priority in our workplaces.