Are you stressed? If you are then you are with the majority. As a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Holistic Health Coach, I’ve supported hundreds of clients over the years. When I ask, “what is your biggest concern at this time?” the majority of my clients indicate an answer related to stress. Whether the stress is from relationships, health issues, work, or other sources – everyone has stress. But unfortunately there are a lot of false beliefs about stress too.
Virtually everyone will experience stress on a regular basis, sometimes daily. Stress can show up when you’re experiencing any type of change to your usual norm including medical problems, relationship discord, difficulties at work and any other number of events. But the problem with stress is that it’s often misunderstood. On the one hand we hear constant warnings that stress is unhealthy and to be avoided at all costs. After all it’s known that stress can cause a myriad of health issues such as diabetes, inflammation, and cardiovascular disease. But we also hear from other sources that a certain degree of stress is necessary in life and can even be healthy.
Has all of this conflicting information about stress been stressing you out? If so, that’s quite understandable. Let’s take a look at what stress is and some of the common beliefs we hold about stress.
What is Stress?
There are many definitions of stress but in basic terms stress is our reaction to anything perceived as a threat to our equilibrium. This can be a physical situation, internal experience or a behavior. If a situation seems like it is beyond our ability to cope, we may become “stressed.” The good news is that our bodies are designed to experience and handle stress in both of it’s forms, eustress (the positive kind) and distress (the negative form). But one of the biggest problems surrounding stress might actually be all the misunderstandings that most of us hold about it. Let’s address some of this confusion right now by taking a look at 10 of the most common false beliefs about stress.
False Beliefs About Stress
#1 All stress is bad
Stress is not generally associated with positive experiences but the reality is that not all stress is bad. Having a certain amount of stress can actually be a good thing. One form of stress is physical exertion of the body. Therefore, activities like exercise can be considered stressful but beneficial to your health at the same time.
In the right doses, stress can also be a motivator helping you to excel, thrive, and even focus to get tasks completed that would otherwise be neglected without a little boost from stress. This type of “positive stress” can lead to things such as being more productive at work, developing problem-solving skills, and even being a happier person in general. Yes, some stress can actually make you happier and healthier.
#2 Stress is the same for everyone
Stress is not a one-size-fits-all experience and is definitely not the same for everyone. It’s a bio-individual process that has a different form and effect on each person. We don’t define it the same way, and we do not all experience stress the same way either. Stress shows up differently for every person. One person’s stress may manifest as digestive problems, headaches, or sleep problems, while another’s may lead to irritability, sadness, or withdrawal. Also, different people experience the same stress quite differently. A situation that stresses out Person A might be a walk in the park for Person B. We each have a unique lens through which we perceive stress so our experience of it will never be the same as another person’s.
Also the way in which you effectively deal with stress will be individualized too. While one person may benefit from yoga and tai chi, another may benefit from individual psychotherapy to manage their stress.
#3 Kids don’t get stressed
Most of us want to believe that children go through life as happy-go-lucky little beings. With little responsibilities they really don’t have much to worry about, right? That’s actually wrong.
Children experience stress too. According to kidshealth.org, “stress is a function of the demands placed on us and our ability to meet them.” For kids, some of these demands may be external such as overhearing parents discussing a relative’s health problems, being given a complicated school projects, or watching disturbing world events on television. The sources can also originate from internal sources. This happens when they perceive the demands placed on them as disproportionate to their ability to do them, which leads to overwhelm and the experience of stress.
So even though your little one is not working a nine-to-five and paying bills, they may be experiencing stress relative to their developmental level, expectations, and their own perceptions of what’s occurring in her environment.
#4 Stress won’t affect your health
Stress is known as the “silent killer” for very good (or bad) reason. Although the signs and symptoms of stress might not be clearly visible, stress can work behind the scenes to do a great deal of damage to our health.
Health problems can develop after years of chronic stress with no visible signs. Chronic stress is stress that is constant or stress that continues beyond the fight-or-flight response period. The National Institute of Mental Health notes that chronic stress can “suppress immune, digestive, sleep, and reproductive systems, which may cause them to stop working normally.”
Other studies have linked stress to
#5 There’s no time to deal with stress
Have you been putting something off because you think it’s too time-consuming to deal with? Is a stress management plan one of them? Dealing with stress doesn’t necessarily mean setting aside blocks of time every day or week to address the stress. You can easily incorporate stress management techniques into your everyday life. Start by being more mindful about the sources of stress and how you respond to them. Here are a few other tips to build stress management into your daily life.
Try meditation to restore balance and calm. Meditation can be done anywhere (even in the midst of a mind-numbing office meeting). And a few minutes in meditation can help restore your inner peace.
Another technique, Diaphragmatic breathing, can help activate the relaxation response by decreasing the heart rate. Using this deep breathing technique you can lower your heart rate and stress level, and ultimately your stress level.
Modify your diet to lower stress. The foods you eat could be one of the culprits behind your stress levels, with the biggest offenders being sugar which can lead to mood swings and other effects on mental health. Another stress influencer is processed foods. These foods have a laundry list of ingredients linked to poor mood, irritability, and even depression. Lowering stress could be as simple as getting healthier foods into your diet, which could be as easy as eliminating junk foods, planning more nutritious meals, and keeping healthier snacks within easy reach.
#6 A little stress does no harm
You can separate your different sources of stress
You may feel that you can compartmentalize stress into separate boxes within your life. But ultimately, when stress is chronic there’s going to be leakage and overlap. Chronic stress at work will eventually make it’s way into your home. The stress of dealing with financial problems may eventually start to affect your marriage or other relationships.
#7 Stress is “all in your head”
There is a mistaken assumption that stress lives only in the mind. This is not the case. Stress originate in the mind, but it ripples into the rest of the body. Furthermore, when it comes to managing stress means that it must be processed on some level.
Let’s look at a quick example. Think of a time when you were faced with a situation and had to react contrary to how you would have really liked. Perhaps a store clerk was blatantly rude to you but you smiled, took your change, and left the store with a pleasant smile on your face. What you may have really wanted to do was give him a piece of your mind (and then some). But no, no. That would be socially unacceptable, would it? Therefore, you kept your reaction under control, holding it inside. But where did the stress go? If you didn’t release this stress in some way, even if it was simply a few deep, cleansing breaths, that stress may be lingering inside your mind and your body.
Dealing with stress, even small daily stresses, is a must. This could be through exercise, psychotherapy, journaling, relaxation techniques, venting, or simply taking a few deep, cleansing breaths. Stress can originate from stressful thoughts or stressful situations. When it is not released, it remains within our bodies and can manifest into physical symptoms. Stress can literally become lodged within your body causing things like muscle tension or pain, tightness in the chest, fatigue, and other symptoms. Stress is not only in the mind, it is also in your body.
#8 Stress is invisible
This new study further connects how stress affects health overall and the brain, which adds to the groundbreaking Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study. The ACE Study revealed that people who have been affected by multiple types of trauma in their childhood experience elevated hormone levels that can impact the brain negatively and lead to health problems in adulthood.
#9 Stress is out of your control
Well, actually you can control how stress influences and impacts your daily life. If you’ve been plagued by a series of stressful events, get them under control. Make a plan to address the sources of your stress. Plan and prioritize which ones to tackle first. Start with the simpler ones (think, quick win); then work on the more complicated ones until you’re able to manage your stress more effectively. Doing this prevents stress from becoming something that you feel unable to control.
If stress has been a problem for you, contact your primary care provider or a mental health professional to discuss treatment options. If you’re overwhelmed by stress, get in contact with a health professional.
Where to Get Help
Seek help right away if you have suicidal thoughts, are overwhelmed, feel you cannot cope, or are using drugs or alcohol to cope. Visit www.nimh.nih.gov/findhelp to find resources and information for mental health providers.
Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Anyone experiencing severe or long-term, unrelenting stress can become overwhelmed. If you or a loved one is having thoughts of suicide, call the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (suicidepreventionlifeline.org ) at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The service is available to anyone. All calls are confidential.
For More Information
For more information on conditions that affect mental health, resources, and research, visit www.mentalhealth.gov , or the NIMH website at www.nimh.nih.gov. In addition, the National Library of Medicine’s MedlinePlus service has information on a wide variety of health topics, including conditions that affect mental health.