- Mental Health
Common Myths and Misconceptions about Stress
What Is the Truth about Stress?
There are a number of myths and misconceptions about what stress is, its effects on your health and more. Let's try to set the record straight so you can go about the important business of learning what is and isn't useful about this malady that so many people experience, and changing your life for the better by learning how to reduce the stress in your life.
What Is Stress?
Many people refer to themselves as being "stressed out," but what does that really mean? Stress is a societal term to explain the condition or feeling experienced when they perceive demands in excess of their personal and social resources, explains the American Stress Society.
Stress has also been explained as those conditions and feelings that arise when two forces are trying to move in opposite directions -- such as when your boss is pushing for an early deadline and you hadn't planned on working overtime. Stress can also be the reaction for the reality of the situation versus your expectations of the situation. An example of this often happens at family holidays: You work diligently to prepare the meal and host the family gathering that in your mind's eye will be something like the scene in a Norman Rockwell picture but turns out to be a little more like the epic Hatfields and McCoys.
Those events, situations and interactions to which the individual is reacting are called stressors.
Stress occurs when your perception is that the event or situation is out of your control. People who feel that most things that occur in their lives due to someone else's efforts or blame others instead of accepting responsibility for their own actions are more likely to experience negative reactions to stressors. These people feel out of control on a daily basis; life must be one stressful reaction after another for them.
People describe feeling stressed in a variety of ways. Some explain feeling overwhelmed, some tired or exhausted, others explain anger and/or anxiety.
Resources and References
- Stress in America: 5 unnerving new facts - The Week
- What is stress? | The American Institute of Stress
Stress is not a useful term for scientists because it is such a highly subjective phenomenon that it defies definition. And if you can't define stress, how can you possibly measure it? The term stress, as it is currently used was coined by Hans Selye
- Health Education Center - Stress
- Facts About Stress And Your Health - Business Insider
Do you suffer from "cortical inhibition"?
Myth: Stress Is Bad for You
Repeated or prolonged negative reactions to stressors do take a toll on mind and body; the two are interconnected. But not all stress reactions have negative effects.
Good stress is termed eustress. Good stress is what motivates you to do what needs to be done to meet a self-created goal or the goals of others. Good stress helps you push forward when other motivation is lacking -- say, at mid-term exam time.
You wake up in the morning to the alarm clock and are tempted to roll over and go back to sleep, but you want to be able to pay the bills next week or save for an upcoming vacation. Eustress is the factor working in your favor here.
But there comes a point for every person where good stress reaches a pinnacle -- and on the other side comes a loss of productivity and the beginnings of negative reactions to stressors. That point is different for each person and can actually be changed in yourself by employing stress reduction techniques so that you learn to cope or change your manner of thinking and your attitude so that you are in better control of your reactions.
Misconception: Stress Can't Hurt You
Eustress, positive stress, is not likely to take too much of a toll on your well-being. Negative stress, on the other hand, can lead to conditions such as infection, diabetes, obesity, heart disease, irritable bowel syndrome, stroke, anxiety and/or depressive disorders.
Stress, Business Insider tells us, is the #1 cause of chronic illness; 75 percent of health car costs are related to chronic illnesses.
Look at some of your daily habits. How many of them do you attribute to stress or as a coping mechanism when you feel angry, tense, or overwhelmed?
- How about the fried pie you rewarded yourself with after working overtime?
- Does your head or neck ache from storing your day-long tension there?
- Do you cut off other drivers on the road who just aren't moving fast enough for you?
- Did you really need to smoke a whole pack of cigarettes in one day?
- How high was your blood pressure the last time you had it checked?
- Do you drown your sorrows with too much food, too much alcohol or other substances?
- Do you sit in front of the television, paying little attention to family or friends, because you just don't want to be bothered?
Negative reactions to stressors is not healthy mentally or physically. The sooner you begin to control your reactions, the sooner you can replace or change unhealthy habits.
Perhaps even more dangerous in terms of health consequences are those people who live a high-stress lifestyle -- the type A personality who seems to thrive on pressure and deadlines. The absence of the usual symptoms of stress is not an indication that unhealthy processes are happening within the body, the silent symptoms and sometimes the silent killers, like high blood pressure, blood sugar changes and increased cholesterol.
Misconception: Kids Aren't Affected by Their Parents' Stress
You might think your kids don't realize or recognized when your affected by stress, but an article in TheWeek.com revealed that 91 percent of kids 8 years-old through 17 years-old said they could tell when their parents were feeling the effects of stress and as a result, the kids reported feeling sad, worried and frustrated themselves.
Yikes! As a parent you try to shield your kids from some of the adult realities of life. Kids pick up on small signals, signals you might not even be aware of yourself.
Additionally, since you are a role model for your children, it's likely they will emulate your coping -- or non-coping --mechanisms.
Open communication is one key in addressing this issue; be honest with the children, let them know you are going to handle whatever it is and the family will get through the situation. Give the kids an opportunity to express their feelings and/or concerns so you can provide the necessary reassurances and answers.
If One Drink Relieves Stress, More Drinks Will, Too
In truth, alcohol stimulates you body to release the stress hormone, cortisol.
And it seems that the way stress and alcohol affect one another varies from one individual to another, according to research published Oct. 2011 in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research. For some people, the underlying stress can lead to dulling the effects of alcohol and increasing the desire to drink more.
If you find yourself drinking alcohol often in response to feeling anxious or tense, you may want to reconsider your inclination to do so.
Myth: You Can't Change Your Stress Reactions
The fact is, you can indeed learn to control how you react to stress and learn ways to relieve and reduce the stress you feel. The changes can only begin when you make a conscious decision to do something about your reactions and the amount of negative stress in your life and then follow-through by educating yourself, choosing one or more ways to make the changes happen and then do them.
Learning to re-frame negative thoughts into positive thoughts; taking control of your attitude and making it a positive one; adopting more realistic expectations of yourself and others; using guided imagery and/or meditation for calmness and centering of self; learning to use mindfulness-based stress reduction -- all of these and more are available for your use.
Restructure your time to include more physical activity; try yoga or tai chi; look into reiki; try massage or reflexology.
Use as many or as few of these stress-reduction tools that you need to gain back control of yourself and your life. Change will come; it may be slow --after all, you've likely been thinking or reacting like this all your life. Have patience and faith in yourself; you will reap the rewards.