Stress 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!
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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