Stress: Busting Six Myths
Stress can be defined as any pressure, demand, or threat placed on an organism (say, a human being) that causes a need to re-establish balance or “equilibrium”. The Oxford Dictionary online adds that stress is “a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances.” The notion of stress has become a common word in our modern lexicon, but how much do most of us really know about it?
The American Psychological Association busts six myths about stress below. Knowing these basics about it can help us understand how to achieve higher levels of wellness.
Myth 1: Stress is the same for everyone. No, it isn’t. People experience life events in their own unique way. What is stressful for one person may be neutral or even anticipated by others. For example: some people hate flying, whereas others are completely relaxed, even on long-haul flights.
Myth 2: Stress is always bad for you. Not necessarily. Small to moderate amounts of stress help us develop our self-discipline and resourcefulness, and some stressful events are happy ones (e.g., eustress, such as a wedding). It becomes “bad” for us when there is too much to handle or it is mishandled. Managing it well, we thrive and are productive. Managing it badly hurts us.
Myth 3: Stress is everywhere, so you can’t do anything about it. Partly true. No life is stress-free, so in that sense, there is always the possibility of a stressful event occurring, just like there is always the possibility of an automobile accident. The accident possibility doesn’t stop us driving, just like the stressful event possibility doesn’t stop us living. The trick is to plan life so that stress does not overwhelm us. If we have multiple stressors at once, we can prioritise, working on simple problems first before tackling more complex ones. Even when we cannot change the stressor, we can choose how we respond to it.
Myth 4: The most popular stress reduction techniques are the best ones. There is no one-size-fits-all here. A personally-tailored stress management program designed in conjunction with a mental health professional is a great idea, but if that’s not possible for you, there are many self-help books, CDs, and DVDs, plus an overload of information on the internet. You can choose strategies that seem compatible to you and try them freely, adapting as you find out what works for you.
Myth 5: No symptoms = no stress. Definitely not. Hans Selye’s General Adaptation Syndrome showed clearly many years ago that, if a stressor continues, the physical symptoms (Stage 1) may disappear, but then the person starts adapting on a mental level (Stage 2), which takes considerable energy. Once the physical symptoms reappear at Stage 3, collapse or even death is not far away. Too, symptoms may be camouflaged by medication, which is not a good idea in that the person does not receive the warning that the symptoms are trying to deliver.
Myth 6: Only major symptoms of stress require attention. So, you think you can ignore “minor” symptoms like headache or stomach acid? Think again. The minor symptoms are the warnings that your life is getting out of control and your stress needs to be managed differently/better. Of course, if you prefer to wait until the symptoms manifest in a heart attack or stroke, it’s your choice . . . (adapted from APA, 2007, in Psych Central, 2013).
- Bressert, S. (2013). The impact of stress. Psych Central. Retrieved on 3 February, 2016, from: hyperlink.