Stress: Separating Fact from Fiction

Stress: Separating Fact from Fiction

Stress: Separating Fact from Fiction

We all feel stressed from time to time. It could be something short-term like getting stuck in traffic. Or it could be longer-term stress due to worries about divorce or the death of a loved one that make you feel tense. As much as we wish it wasn’t so, stress is part of our daily lives.

Your body is even designed to deal with it. Our natural fight-or-flight response kicks in when we feel threatened. The brain triggers the release of hormones and a sense of alarm. The hormones are meant to help us either fight the threat or run away from it.

What happens if your body feels stressed a lot? How does your body fare if you are in a constant state of alarm?

When your body is in a prolonged stressed state, it doesn’t have time to recover. You may feel tired and anxious. It also takes a toll on your organs and can trigger disease. Heart attacks, cancer, diabetes and other life-threatening illnesses have all been linked to stress.

That’s why it’s so important to fend it off. Still, there are a lot of myths surrounding our understanding of stress and the best ways to prevent it.

Here are four you should know about.

Myth 1: Stress comes from outside factors.
Some situations are more stressful than others. A death in the family and starting a new job are two. In both cases, stress is triggered by the way you deal with what’s happening, not from what’s happening itself. That’s why people have different reactions to the same scenario.

Myth 2: Everyone experiences stress in the same way.
Something that triggers stress in one person may not in another individual. Understanding what makes you feel stressed is an important step. It’s key to finding ways to avoid triggers so you can fend off stress or better cope with it when it strikes.

Myth 3: Some stress is good for you.
It's important to know the difference between stressors and things that can excite you to action. If you feel worried, anxious or depressed, these feelings can be harmful to your overall wellbeing. On the other hand, goal-setting and striving to meet deadlines can be good for you. It can motivate you to be your best.

Myth 4: Stress is not a big deal.
Stress can affect your entire body. It can make many health problems worse – everything from depression and migraines to asthma and sleeplessness.

Stress also raises your heart rate and blood pressure, making your heart work harder. Over time, this may damage your blood vessels and contribute to heart disease.

Managing Stress

Because stress can cause many health issues, one of the best things you can do is learn ways to manage it. A few simple steps can help you get started. Try a deep- breathing break. Go for a walk. Build in some time to relax each day. Catch up with a friend, watch a favorite movie or take a nap. Do things that help you step away from the fray.

Sources: Stress, leaving site icon Cleveland Clinic, 2021; Stress Management, leaving site icon Mayo Clinic. 2022; Lower Stress: How Does Stress Affect the Body?, leaving site icon American Heart Association, 2021

Originally published 3/14/2023; Revised 2019, 2023