How bad could it be?
The word "stress" gets thrown about in casual conversation every day, but stress can be a serious health problem—and people tend to carry more stress than they realize. (Make sure you know the signs and symptoms of stress.) The most recent Stress in America survey revealed that stress continues to go up, year over year. And although people admitted stress had a negative impact on their mental and physical health, most of them weren't doing enough to manage their stress levels. So be sure you don't believe any of these stress "facts" that follow.
If you ignore stress, it will go away
It is common for people to try to take an "out of sight, out of mind" approach with stress, says Jessica Rohlfing Pryor, PhD, clinical lecturer, department of psychology, Northwestern University. This is incredibly harmful to your body and well-being, Dr. Pryor warns, and it puts you at risk problems such as heart disease, gastrointestinal conditions, reproductive issues, sleep problems, weight gain, cognitive impairment, and mood disorders. "I often tell my clients that compartmentalizing stress is akin to trying to put water in a cardboard box: It will leak out in one way or another."
Willpower can overcome stress
You may have heard people say to someone with stress: "Oh, just get over it," or "Pull yourself together."
"Stress is not something you can just 'get over,'" says practicing clinical psychologist John Mayer, MD. "We need coping mechanisms and lifestyle changes to be stress-free." Here are some tips for managing stress.
Stress is all in your mind
Stress is closely linked to mental health in two major ways: It can make mental health problems worse, and it can be caused by mental health problems, like anxiety or depression. However, stress can also have an impact on physical health. "I have seen stress be the cause of very unusual ailments that one would not normally associate with stress," says Mayer. Sore throats, ringing ears, dizziness, muscle aches, bloating, heart disease, and nervous shakes may all stem from stress.
You can put off managing stress
Stress can't wait. "In my practice, I work with a considerable number of high-functioning professionals, and I have now come to expect them to commit to taking care of themselves after the busy season or their next professional deadline," says Pryor. "The thing is, we cannot make up for stress periods similarly to how we now know we cannot make up for lost sleep. It is important to maintain good self-care practices because of this."
Stress won't interfere with your thought process
While stress isn't a psychiatric diagnosis, it can lead to distorted or paranoid thinking, reveals Mayer. If chronic stress is left untreated, it can lead to a delusional disorder, a serious mental illness. "People with delusional disorder generally experience non-bizarre delusions, which involve situations that could occur in real life, such as being followed, poisoned, deceived, conspired against, or loved from a distance," says WebMD. Here's how to stop paranoia from ruining your relationship.
Stress is the same for everybody
Like all mental health issues, there is no "one size fits all." In fact, quite the opposite is true, says Mayer. "Stress is idiosyncratic, which is why there are so many varieties of physical manifestation." Whether you get stressed about your finances, your career, your relationship or having people over for dinner, your stress triggers are unique to you. Everyone responds to stress in their own way, too. Some people's responses are emotional, others are physical, and others are a combination of the two.
Stress is a motivator
People often say that stress is a motivator, but this is antiquated thinking, says Mayer. "Research has shown that the best motivators are internal motivation, not external motivators. Stress as a motivator is temporary, thus ineffective." It's important to distinguish between stress and stimulus. Setting goals, figuring out how to overcome obstacles, and pushing yourself to succeed are stimulating, and that isn't the same as stress. If you know someone who seems to thrive under pressure, consider that they're succeeding in spite of stress, and not because of it.
Stress is good for you
While mild stress in certain situations may be beneficial in very particular circumstances, such as "mild performance anxiety" before a speech, presentation, or performance, which can help a person be alert and energized, it's dangerous to put a positive spin on all types of stress. When your stress has reached a level that it has an adverse effect on your overall health, your job, your family, or your relationships, it is time to seek help. If stress is constant and prolonged, it develops into chronic stress, warns Pryor.
Stress is inevitable
Life does come with unavoidable stressors, but we shouldn't expect to get stressed simply because we are alive. "The key is how we cope with the daily bombardment of stress," says Mayer. It is possible to take steps to manage your stress, to make it less likely to overwhelm you. Being aware of your stress triggers is another great stress management tip, as it lets you plan ahead, take all necessary precautions, and put self-care mechanisms in place. (But avoid these ways to reduce stress that might actually backfire.)