Under the Hood

4 Stress Misconceptions Debunked By A Psychologist

For a long time, many of us tend to have an understandably negative view of stress, given its role in causing or exacerbating certain health conditions.

Stress is defined by the the MedLinePlus Medical Encyclopedia as a "feeling of emotional or physical tension," which can come "from any event or thought that makes you feel frustrated, angry, or nervous." It is a result of our body's reaction to all sorts of challenges and situations. The definition also said that although stress is harmful if it lasts for a long time, it can actually be beneficial in short bursts, especially when avoiding danger or meeting a deadline. In short, when used right, stress can benefit our lives.

For effective stress management, here are four stress misconceptions that have been debunked for you by health psychologist and Stanford University lecturer Kelly McGonigal:

Stress is always a sign of something wrong

We tend to assume stress means something is wrong in either our lives or our choices. Nothing could be further from the truth. "People have this fantasy that if they could just get life right, they could have everything they want and none of the stress," McGonigal said. 

Contrary to popular belief, stress is actually a part of life. According to Hans Seyle, who coined the term, absence of stress can lead to death. So it is a great idea to stop dreaming of a stress-free life, and instead dream of effectively managing stress.

Stress prevents us from knowing what matters

We all know what is important. What we did not know is that in stress we can see things that trigger a physical response, probably as a result of the most important things. For McGonigal, one of the "fundamental goods" of stress is how it allows us to tap into our priorities and passions, adding that stress is "what arises in your brain and body when something that you care about is at stake."

There is no way to prevent stress 

Many misconceptions on the feeling of stress can be blamed on our limited view of it. "We talk about stress in this very limited way—as if the body and brain have one way of responding to all things that we would call stressful," McGonigal said.

However, the truth is that we do have control over how to manage our stress in life, and science has shown that there are healthy and productive ways to effectively handle stress. One strategy that McGonigal recommended is trying to have a "bigger-than-self stress response," which focuses on the idea that our problem is "not a do-it-yourself project" and that others are having similar experiences. In other words, knowing that our problems may be the same as others.

Stress brings despair 

Choosing a more calculated response to stress can turn it from limiting to beneficial just by the simple nature of its power to motivate people. McGonigal noted that the right response can help in tapping into our "capacity to have hope when things seem hopeless, to be catalyzed to action rather than paralyzed by despair." That response is real, helping our brains release hormones that encourage us to use stress positively, which include oxytocin, dopamine and endrophins.

stress Image REUTERS/Olivia Harris