Myths About Stress
If we are to be able to reduce, manage and prevent stress we need to understand what it is. The problem with the word ‘stress’ is that it’s too vague, most of us cannot get a grip on it. For example, we use the word ‘stress’ to describe the stressor, the stress response and the signs and symptoms of stress. This is why misconceptions about stress and myths about stress can be very confusing.
Misconceptions about stress
To get some clarity on stress myths and misconceptions about stress, we first need to understand that what most of us call ‘stress’ is actually our stress response. Our stress response is the automatic unconscious activation of our biological, physiological and psychological stress responses, every time we feel we have been physically, emotionally or psychologically threatened on any level. Without this knowledge, every time we go online to learn something about stress, we’ll be overwhelmed by the plethora of ‘stress myths’, ‘myths about stress’, ‘misconceptions about stress’ and ‘stress management myths’ etc, that never explain that what we should be trying to reduce, manage and prevent is our stress response. The following will help bust some of the online myths about stress and give an idea of which misconceptions about stress have a basis and which do not.
Stress Myth 1: Stress is the same for everybody
Here the word ‘stress’ could be referring to stressors or to the stress response. Either way, this stress myth is not correct. Stressors are not the same for everybody and not experienced the same way by everybody.
We all respond differently to stressors. For example; some people get stressed out at the very thought of conflict, while others enjoy it. Some people thrive on stress, while other’s are destroyed by it. What is stressful for you may not be stressful for your friend or colleague and vice versa.
Our stress response and our stressors are subjective, how we cope with our stressors depends a lot on our upbringing, our norms, education, experiences, coping abilities and personality, so stressors and our response to stressors are not the same for everybody. This is why misconceptions about stress and some myths about stress can do more harm than good; they infer we should all be the same when it comes to stressors and our stress response, this is just not possible. One size does not fit all.
Our stress response and our stressors are subjective, how we cope with our stressors depends a lot on our upbringing, our norms, education, experiences, coping abilities and personality.
Stress Myth 2: Stress is always bad for you
Here the word ‘stress’ describes the stress response.This stress myth is not correct.
There are two kinds of stress:
Knowing the signs and symptoms of our stress response and managing these signs and symptoms will keep us productive and healthy. It’s when we mismanage and ignore our (negative) stressors that our stress response is bad for us, causing us to become dysfunctional and ill.
Just like our stressors can be negative or positive, our response to our stressors can be negative or positive; our state of mind when confronted with our stressors will dictate our positive or negative stress response. Put simply, we decide what’s stressful for us, no one else.
The secret is knowledge and balance. Knowledge of stressors and stress response and how we can balance them. Most ‘stress myths’, ‘misconceptions about stress’ and 'myths about stress' will not make this clear.
Eustress: positive stressors, triggers a positive stress response which drives and motivates us to achieve. We need eustress when we are faced with challenges in our lives.
Stress Myth 3: Stress is everywhere, so you can’t do anything about it
This stress myth is a tricky one; it seems to refer to the stressors in our lives and not to our stress response. Let's try to break it down.
What we experience as stress is our stress response; our physiological, biological, psychological and behavioural response to a stressor. So no, this is not everywhere. This is our unconscious automatic response to what we perceive is a threat to us (the stressor). However, the stressors that trigger our stress response can be anywhere, anything or anybody; but not everywhere and we can do a lot about them.
We decide what is stressful for us and what is not. If we decide a stressor is stressful we trigger our stress response. To avoid being overwhelmed we can simply decide that the event, situation or person is not stressful because we can cope.
What we should understand is that when we mismanage our stress response, we get overwhelmed by our stressors and perceive that stress is everywhere. When things get this bad, we may need stress education or a stress counsellor to help us find our way through our stressors, put the brakes on our stress responses and balance our stress hormone levels; which are the culprits making us think that stress is everywhere.
What we experience as stress is our stress response; our physiological, biological, psychological and behavioural response to a stressor. So no, this is not everywhere.
Stress Myth 4: The most popular techniques for reducing stress are the best ones
Here the word ‘stress’ refers to our stress response. This stress myth is not true.
As I already mentioned, when it comes to stress we are all different, so it stands to reason that when it comes to techniques for reducing stress we are all different; one size does not fit all. Why would ‘the best ones’ fit all, and who decides what the ‘best ones’ are?
There are no universally effective stress reduction techniques, no matter what anyone says or what we may read on the internet or in magazines. We may choose to use some well-known stress relief techniques such as; mindfulness, meditation, yoga, exercise, being creative, listening to music, etc., but who’s to say these are best for you? You just might be someone who dislikes all these approaches.
The trick is to choose stress-reducing techniques you enjoy; techniques that work every time, that suit your personality and lifestyle. If this is not possible, develop your own stress relief techniques with the help of a stress counsellor; sometimes just tweaking your daily routine, or taking a different approach to work and home life can take a lot of stressors out of your daily routine, thus reducing your stress response and lowering your stress levels.
Some suggestions for ‘every day’ techniques for reducing stress response are:
It’s important to keep all this in mind when googling ‘stress management myths, misconceptions about stress and other websites giving advise on myths about stress.
The trick is to choose stress-reducing techniques you enjoy; techniques that work every time, that suit your personality and lifestyle.
Stress Myth 5: No symptoms, no stress
This stress myth refers to the symptoms of our stress response. This stress myth is also not true.
There are many misconceptions about stress that are deceptive and some myths about stress that are too easy to accept. For example, if we’re constantly irritable but convinced we have no symptoms of stress, we are in denial. Irritability is a symptom of stress. The same goes for overeating or not eating a healthy diet; not sleeping properly etc. A lot of what we think are ‘normal behaviours’ are actually symptoms of our stress response, which we should never ignore. Camouflaging symptoms with medication, alcohol, drugs, food or anything else is a symptom of stress response and may prevent us from picking up more serious physical and psychological signs and symptoms of stress response.
It’s a well-documented fact that most of our stress behaviours are designed to escape from, or camouflage, the stress we are experiencing. These stress behaviours are themselves symptoms of stress which we generally tend to ignore; for example comfort eating, smoking a lot, consuming too much alcohol, substance abuse and more.
We all experience physical, psychological and behavioural signs and symptoms of our stress response; even though we may not realise these are signs and symptoms of our stress response, or, not realise we are choosing to ignore or deny them. Signs and symptoms of our stress response will not go away without resolving the stressors causing these responses; this is why it’s very important we’re honest with ourselves when assessing the signs and symptoms of our stress response. Ignoring them will only increase our stress responses; switching our level of stress from acute to chronic stress response, which is our long-term stress response. If we ignore the signs and symptoms of our long-term chronic stress response we will eventually suffer physical and psychological illness, including stress-related illness and burnout.
Be honest with yourself when assessing the signs and symptoms of your stress response, "no symptoms, no stress" is not an option, there are always symptoms and stress.
It’s a well-documented fact that most of our stress behaviours are designed to escape from, or camouflage, the stress we are experiencing.
Stress Myth 6: Only major symptoms of stress should be taken seriously
This stress myth refers to symptoms of our stress response. This myth assumes we can ignore the ‘minor’ symptoms of our stress response. This is not true.
The minor symptoms of our stress response are the early warning system reminding us that we need to do a better job of managing our stress response. A good example of this is burnout; before the body and mind shut down in burnout, they send out symptoms of fatigue, insomnia, depression, mood swings and more. If these symptoms are ignored for long periods the body will eventually shut down, after which the mind will shut down. We call this shutdown burnout. Burnout happens when we have burned out our own stress response system (our fight or flight response).
If we wait until we start feeling the “major” symptoms of our stress response, such as; high blood pressure, heart attack, diabetes, stroke, burnout and more, it’ll be too late. All symptoms of stress response should be taken seriously; minor symptoms of stress lead to major symptoms.
Its good to remember that dealing with the minor symptoms of stress will be far less costly; physically, mentally and financially than dealing with the major symptoms of our stress response.
Its good to remember that dealing with the minor symptoms of stress response will be far less costly; physically, mentally and financially than dealing with major symptoms of our stress response.