Stress is bad; everyone knows that, right?
Stress is neither good nor bad. It’s inevitable, but the part that affects our health is how we respond to and deal with it. We throw around the word stress frequently and remark that we are “stressed out,” but many of our ideas about stress are far from accurate.
Myth #1: “Being busy is the same as being stressed.”
Being stressed in response to our activity level happens when there is a mismatch between our personal stress tolerance and the amount we having going on. For many people, lack of purposeful activity can be just as stressful as too much going on. A key here is to know ourselves, and create a schedule that is workable based on our individual temperaments and not just the amount of time available. If you know you feel easily overwhelmed with a high activity level, balance out a busy work week with quiet activities at home in your down time instead of going out.
Another factor to consider here is your personal tendency toward introversion or extroversion. This is another concept we have many stereotypes about. Introverts are not all shy or quiet. Extroverts are not all loud and boisterous. Here is a great rule of thumb:
Extroverts feel relaxed and re-energized by time spent with others.
Introverts feel relaxed and re-energized by time spent alone.
Many of us fall somewhere in the middle, but it’s worth a little self-examination to see what your needs are during a busy time.
Myth #2: “Everything is going well; how could I possibly feel stress?”
In the field of stress management, we look at both distress and eustress. Distress represents the negative events we’ve come to lump under the heading of stress. Eustress refers to positive events, which may still take their toll on us. Moving, getting married, a promotion, a new baby—all of these things are wonderful; all of them create stress. And to add to that stress, many people will begin to feel guilty about their stress response to positive events. Relax! Even good changes are still changes. We still need to be gentle with ourselves and work at cultivating our resilience to these events.
Myth #3: “The best way to deal with stress is taking time to sit and relax.”
Spending time in seated meditation practice is a great stress relief for many people. For others, trying to sit still in this way will only add to feelings of stress and anxiety. Stress management is a very individualized process. As we looked at with individual stress tolerance levels, a person’s learning style and current activity level play a big role in choosing the activities which will alleviate the stress response. For example, someone who’s already experiencing stress due to his activity level being too low to fit his needs would probably benefit more from a walking meditation or hike than seated meditation or quiet reflection. This isn’t one size fits all.
Myth #4: “The best way to deal with stress is just to find ways to get through it.”
We all have times in our lives where stress levels are high. If your stress levels are high consistently, you may start to feel like you are just surviving life instead of thriving. When the stressful events of life leave you feeling continuously anxious or begin interfering with your health, it’s time to seek outside help and to assess what stress factors can be eliminated.
Sometimes we just have years where the hits keep coming in terms of stressful life events—good and bad. These are the times when it’s most important to check in and see where there are things we can let go of. If you’ve recently changed jobs, is it possible to wait six months to move? When we know we are at high risk for getting colds or flu, we often take precautions or add extra immune supports like vitamin C or Airborne. The same should be true when we are under extra stress. Get the support you need to deal with the stresses you cannot eliminate, and let go of the ones you can.
Myth #5: “Stress is just part of our society. I just need to accept that this is how life is.”
Stressful events are part of life, but that doesn’t mean we need to live in a constant state of heightened reaction to them. Staying in a “stressed out” state doesn’t just affect our emotions; it takes its toll on our physical health as well. When stress hormones like cortisol are released in excess, it can have adverse effects on the heart and adrenal glands, as well as weakening our immune response. Trying to buck up and fight our way through stressful times instead of taking the time to assess and adapt is counter-intuitive.
Managing the stress response isn’t just important so we can “feel better,” it’s important for us to maintain optimal health and avoid disease.
Photo credit: Flickr / bottled_void