Stress is an extremely common word that we almost hear daily. It has practically become a part of our daily vocabulary; however, could it be possible that the meaning of stress is somewhere lost and jumbled up along with the other jargon we use regarding our mental health? With the rise in awareness and acknowledgment of mental health problems, stress has also come to be known as a leading cause of issues like anxiety, depression, OCD, etc. There has also been a surge in mental health awareness on social media, especially since the pandemic hit the world. Though it is essential to acknowledge the contribution of social media in these accomplishments that have occurred over the years in the mental health field and the reduction in the stigma around it, there has also been a surplus of information around us. Therefore, it is easy to overlook facts vs. opinions. Stress is one of the most common topics that are discussed today. Thus it is important to differentiate some of the myths around stress and focus on the facts. This is essential for understanding the terms better and knowing when to turn to professional help if the stress is unmanageable and seeping into other areas of our lives.
Myth 1: Stress is a psychological experience only
Stress can manifest itself in psychological and physiological ways. Many believe that stress sits within our minds and can look like overthinking. However, research has depicted that stress can also show up in physiological responses. Some examples are tremors, change in appetite, headache, sleep disturbances, etc.
Myth 2: Stress looks the same for everyone
Though stress is a universal phenomenon, it manifests differently for everyone ( Syele, 1974 ). Two individuals can deal with the same event, such as an exam, a visit to a doctor, a job interview, etc. but can have different psychological or physiological reactions. Therefore it is crucial to monitor how we react to stressors around us and how the stress manifests for us rather than looking at it from a general perspective. No stress is considered good or bad, and this also debunks the myth of eustress (moderate or normal psychological stress interpreted as being beneficial for the experiencer) vs. distress. As suggested by Bienertova‐Vasku et al.( 2020), since stress affects us differently, the effects of stress depend on how each individual’s body reacts to it.
Myth 3: It is not necessary to seek professional support for stress
Many assume that since stress is a part of our lives, it can be managed at home. Still, even though stress is unavoidable due to various factors, it should not become a part of everyday life where it starts interfering with our day-to-day functioning. Some stress levels are expected; however, it is essential to know when it is becoming an obstacle to leading a fulfilling life. Though there are ways to practice stress management techniques at home, many individuals believe that it is something they can take care of with the help of friends and family. While having a solid support system is essential, seeking professional help with stress can also be beneficial and becomes vital when stress becomes heightened.
Myth 4: Stress and anxiety are the same
It is essential to understand the meaning behind stress and anxiety. The two terms are interchangeably used; however, some amount of stress can be good for us. Not all kinds of stress are wrong, but it is essential to know when it is heightened and when stress turns into anxiety and not mistake stress as anxiety or either way around. Anxiety, as defined by APA, is a feeling accompanied by heightened levels of tension, worry, and even physical symptoms. The key feature of anxiety can be considered intrusive thoughts. Thus while the two can look similar, they are also highly different.
It is important to look out for when stress starts becoming heightened and when we can reach out for help. As mentioned earlier, the same event can cause different stress reactions within us; therefore, being aware of our responses to events and stressors is the first step in managing stress. Mindfulness practices, meditation, having good social support, taking time for yourself, etc., are a few ways that stress can be managed at home; however, seeking professional help can also be considered. Remind yourself that no stressor is big or small, and being kind to yourself is the key to being able to manage your stress effectively.
By: Samah Nanda
Mental Health Counseling Intern
Bienertova‐Vasku, J., Lenart, P., & Scheringer, M. (2020). Eustress and distress: Neither good nor bad, but rather the same? BioEssays, 42(7), 1900238. https://doi.org/10.1002/bies.201900238
H. Selye, Stress without Distress, 1st ed., Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Philadelphia 1974