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Seven Myths About Stress That You Really Need to Know About

by Mike on April 17, 2009 · 9 comments

zeus sm Seven Myths About Stress That You Really Need to Know AboutStress was only named as a factor in our lives only in the 1930′s! What did we do before then?

Certainly, human beings have been experiencing stress for eons, but it seems to be getting worse as we become more entangled locally and interconnected globally. The current economic situation is only the latest major cause for stress in many people’s lives.

As much as we all live with stress, many of us do not understand the basics about stress and its role in our lives. This ignorance can lead to very real negative consequences: Stress can bring on and exacerbate a host of physical illnesses — from heart disease to Alzheimer’s disease. And stress can also trigger or make many mental illnesses more severe. Anxiety and Anxiety Disorders are among the most susceptible to stressors.

This post examines 7 common myths about stress, with explanations for why they are not true, under these headings:

  • Myth 1: Stress is the same for everybody
  • Myth 2: Stress is always bad for you
  • Myth 3: Stress is everywhere, so you can’t do anything about it
  • Myth 4: The most popular techniques for reducing stress are the best ones
  • Myth 5: No symptoms, no stress
  • Myth 6: Only major symptoms of stress require attention
  • Myth 7: Stress always comes from the outside

Myth 1: Stress is the same for everybody

Every person is different, not only in their genetic and biological makeup, but in the environment of their upbringing and their personalities. Every one of us has a different stress threshold and learned ways of handling stress. Stress does not affect everybody the same way, nor can it. What is a stressful situation for one may not be stressful for another. Each of us responds to stress in a different way.

And stress affects us differently at different times of our lives. As we go through our lives the stressors will change: We do not face the same situations as when our children are young, when they go to college, or when we are facing retirement. Studies have shown that our reactions to stress change as we age and as we gain experience in our lives. 

Myth 2: Stress is always bad for you

Humans have always had stress of one sort of another, whatever the society, whatever the millennium. We have become dependent on certain types of “good” stress to keep us active and productive. Excitement is a type of stress, as are hunger, an imminent test, or the anticipation of a good event . 

Stress is to the human condition what tension is to the violin string: Too little and the music is dull and raspy; too much and the music is shrill or the string snaps.

Stress is essential to the daily conduct of life, and is not bad in and of itself, especially in small amounts. It can be the kiss of death or the spice of life — the key is to understand how to best manage it.

Myth 3: Stress is everywhere, so you can’t do anything about it

It is true that our modern society seems to generate stress as a byproduct of its 24/7 activity. It’s everywhere, from the job, to the home, to the school. But always remember that stress is neutral: It doesn’t become bad until we accept it and transform it into something bad.

You can shape and plan your life so stress does not overwhelm you. Effective planning involves setting priorities and working on simple problems first, solving them, and then going on to more complex difficulties.

When stress is mismanaged, it’s difficult to prioritize: All your problems seem to be equal and stress seems to be everywhere. Learning to deal with stress keeps stressors from all being the same size and helps you prioritize your reaction to them.

Myth 4: The most popular techniques for reducing stress are the best ones

No universally effective stress reduction techniques exist (although many magazine articles and pop psychology articles claim to know them!). There are hundreds — if not thousands — of articles on the internet about how to handle stress. Many of them contain valuable information applicable to all people, but many of them are simply lists that come off the top of an uninformed person’s head!

We are all different — our lives are different, our situations are different, and our reactions are different. A comprehensive stress management program tailored to the individual works best. But self-help books that can teach you many of the successful stress management techniques can also be of great help, as long as you are careful about your choice of books, you stick to the program and practice the techniques daily.

Myth 5: No symptoms, no stress

An absence of the negative symptoms of stress does not mean the absence of stress in your life. Many people go to their family physician for stress and are given a medication to help them. Others use alcohol and drugs to “self-medicate” their stress away. But camouflaging symptoms with medication, alcohol, and drugs may deprive you of the signals you need for reducing the strain on your physiological and psychological systems.

Many of us experience symptoms of stress in a very physical way, even though stress is a psychological effect. Feeling anxious, shortness of breath, or simply feeling run down all the time can all be physical signs of stress. And stress produces psychological effects. Common symptoms are feeling overwhelmed, disorganized, and having difficulty concentrating.

Myth 6: Only major symptoms of stress require attention

This myth assumes that the “minor” symptoms, such as headaches or stomach acid, may be safely ignored. Many of us are trained by our parents or society to ignore such symptoms; giving into them is somehow being “weak.” 

But minor symptoms of stress are the early warnings that your life is getting out of hand and that you need to do a better job of managing stress. Ignoring them is just asking for them to grow and become big problems.

If you wait until you start feeling the “major” symptoms of stress (such as a heart attack), it may be too late. Those early warning signs are best listened to earlier rather than later. A change in lifestyle and attitudes to deal with those early warning signs will be far less costly in time and money than dealing with the effects of not listening to them.

Myth 7: Stress always comes from the outside

We tend to think about stress as coming from the outside: the boss, driving, unruly kids. But at least half of all the stress in our lives comes from within ourselves. We generate it ourselves for our selves alone. Perfectionism that is not required by the circumstances, worrying about things you can’t control, and the effects of procrastination are all examples of inner stress.

Inner stress is much harder to handle than stress coming from the outside. A person can be be stressed out when their lives are placid and without external pressure or conflict. Dealing with inner stress requires admitting that you have a problem, identifying the sources of the stress, and working to get rid of it, not only for the present, but in the future as well. This often requires the help of a life coach, counselor or another mental health professional.

Unfortunately, inner stress can easily grow and become symptomatic of a more serious mental disorder, particularly the Anxiety Disorders. It can take over your life, making you miserable whatever your external circumstances. The solution is to separate your external and internal stresses and work proactively to nip them in the bud.

What do you think?

It may be significant that the concept of stress was not used until the 1930′s, when endocrinologist Hans Selye used it to describe the perceptions and responses of humans trying to adapt to the challenges of everyday life.

What did people call stress before Selye named it? Nerves? Pressure? Many people who ignore the stress in their lives still resort to such euphemisms to avoid taking action on their stress.

  • Do you know some terms that people used for stress before it was named?
  • How do you handle stress? Do you have some favorite “secrets?”
  • Do you agree with all these “myths,” or do you thinks some are invalid?
  • Could you add more myths to this list?

As always, your comments are welcome!

If you have enjoyed this post, please consider subscribing to this blog, either via RSS or email at the top of your screen. It’s free! You can also follow me on Twitter from the same place. I would also appreciate your sharing this post using your favorite social media, such as StumbleUpon or Digg. Just click the little green “ShareThis” button at the bottom of this post.

RESOURCES USED IN THIS POST

Six Myths About Stress – Psych Central  

RESOURCES THAT YOU MIGHT FIND HELPFUL

The Physical Effects of Long-Term Stress – Psych Central  

Stress And Diet: You Aren’t What You Eat – Psych Central

Stress, Anxiety Can Make Allergy Attacks Even More Miserable And Last Longer – Science Daily

Caregiver: Stressed Out? Advice to Help You Cope – WebMD

Tips for Better Managing Your Stress – Psych Central

Tips To Reduce Family Stress – Psych Central

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Bill Burniece April 17, 2009 at 3:46 pm

Wow – great site Mike. This is my first visit here. I’ll be doing alot more poking around soon. Nice work and thank you for your contribution. :)

Bill

Reply

Mike April 17, 2009 at 3:54 pm

Thank you, Bill, for your comment and the compliments!

Be sure to use the Categories tab, the search function, and the tags pulldown to find earlier articles on the subjects you’re interested in.

Reply

Maria April 17, 2009 at 9:55 pm

Mike,
This is a great site with a lot of information. I came across it looking for information on Separation Anxiety in Adults. I have to do a short internet research paper for school in my online Abnormal Psychology class. I chose your site b/c it’s not too broad and it has a lot of accurate and reliable information. One of the best features is the ability to talk to you and to blog and talk with others ;) Thanks Mike!
Maria

Reply

Mike April 17, 2009 at 11:05 pm

Maria, thank you for the compliments! I’m really glad you found AP&H helpful.

And I hope you were able to use some of the footnotes in the Adult Separation Anxiety Disorder article. To get the most information, be sure to use the ASAD reference article found under the “Reference & Info” heading in the right sidebar. The “parts 1 & 2″ posts seriously abridged the reference article’s content.

To me, one of the best features of any blog is the ability for readers to communicate with each other. There have been some great conversations here. I encourage people to comment by asking questions at the end of each article just to get things started.

Since you have used AP&H for a research paper, I would appreciate it if you have any suggestions that could make the site more useful. You can leave a comment here, or email me directly using the “Contact” tab at the top of each page.

Mike’s last blog post..Seven Myths About Stress That You Really Need to Know About

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jan geronimo April 24, 2009 at 11:05 pm

My good sir, this is marvelous work you’ve got here.

This item got to me: Myth @5 – No symptoms, no stress. I must be in denial then.

When I started blogging 5 months ago, I thought it would be a breeze. What could be easier – I’m no stranger to writing, after all. I was in for a surprise.

Lots of things to do and so little time to do it. Very stressful.

I think your blog deserves more than perfunctory reading. I’d be back to read up on your resource-rich posts. Have I said they’re insightful, too? “,)

jan geronimo’s last blog post..The Secret to Earning a Good StumbleUpon Review

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Mike April 25, 2009 at 5:28 pm

Hi Jan! Thanks for your comments and compliments!

Yes, we can get so preoccupied in our lives that the stress builds up without our noticing it. When we finally do have symptoms of stress, it comes as a complete surprise.

In the best of all possible worlds, we would have the inner composure and awareness to always be on the alert for possible signs of stress, but this isn’t a perfect world and none of us are perfect. So we let stress build up little by little until it rises up to bite us!

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Fara S August 8, 2009 at 5:23 am

Dear Mr. Mike
I think this piece is splendidly done. I like how you brought up the idea that ‘stress’ is indeed something that’s personal, and that everyone can’t escape it. For me, I see it as something universal. I can simply get very stressful when I’m bored coz I thought that ‘there must be something that i can do!..i can’t be lingering around like this doing nothing’. — i think this is the kind of internal stress that you stated in your article.

I believe in ‘good stress’. It’s good for human development. In contrary, ‘bad stress’ can ruin your life – That’s what I thought. So it’s really up to us to choose.

Secrets? Hmm…One way I think is to love what I do, and I simply won’t do something that can cause me severe stress. if it’s a choice. If not, oh~ there’s so many ways of relieving my stress. I just chose to be simply creative about it *smile*

This is certainly a good read.
.-= Fara S´s last blog ..Food That Helps You Stays And Looks Young =-.

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Mudassar December 30, 2009 at 9:00 am

what extent concerns about stress are fact or hype?

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