The claim that people fear public speaking more than death has been successfully debunked, but it doesn’t seem to be anyone’s idea of a fun time. The only thing that might be less fun is solving math problems in front of an audience. Both of these activities seem guaranteed to get your cortisol pumping – cortisol, the “stress hormone“, and everybody’s current favorite bad guy in the body, blamed for a host of health problems from insomnia to obesity to heart problems, even a greater risk of death. This is one of those hormones we want to have…just not have too much of.
Fortunately, mindfulness can help with that. College students who reported higher mindfulness scores not only reported less negative emotion after giving a speech and solving math problems for an audience, they also had lower levels of cortisol afterward, suggesting that mindful awareness of your emotions and surroundings might actually prevent you from feeling as stressed, and therefore protect your health.
This is not to say that mindfulness is a cure-all; there was a definite uptick in both negative feelings and cortisol even for the more mindful college students. But perhaps the next time I am in a stressful situation, I can comfort myself with the knowledge that my feelings, and my cortisol levels, might be so much worse if I were a less mindful person.
Brown KW, Weinstein N, & Creswell JD (2012). Trait mindfulness modulates neuroendocrine and affective responses to social evaluative threat. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 37, 2037-2041. PMID: 22626868