The top three myths about stress…
When you think about stress, if you’re like most people, you probably think about what’s happening in your life – tension at work, a disagreement with your partner, your child’s recent bout with the flu, or the list of 237 things you were hoping to get done over the weekend.
It would be natural to conclude that these situations creating your stress. But what if it turns out that what you believe about stress isn’t true?
The top three myths about stress.
Challenging these myths about stress leads to some surprising stress management facts.
- Myth 1: Challenging life events create stress.
- Myth 2: In our fast-paced society, stress is unavoidable.
- Myth 3: It’s best to accept that we’ll always feel some stress, and learn to live with it.
Your brain and stress management
Let’s look at these myths about stress in light of the following 7 stress management facts:
1 – Stress doesn’t come from events in your life. Stress comes from how you think about those events. Imagine this: your child gets the flu, you take a day off work and take care of him, and he recovers. This is simply a series of events.
Now imagine the thoughts that come along with it: “Oh no, he’s sick again. I wonder if he’s going to get bronchitis. Should I call the doctor? I just called. They’re probably getting annoyed. No, I need to call. How am I going to get that report done? My boss is going to be pissed off. He wanted it yesterday, but I couldn’t do it. I hope I can get my son to eat something. He needs nutrition when he’s sick”….and so on.
These thoughts are the real source of stress.
2 – Your body can’t tell the difference between real physical danger and imagined danger. Take a look at the brain images to the right. The top set is from a group of volunteers after 5 days of practicing a new finger exercise on the piano. The second set is from a group of volunteers who imagined themselves practicing. The last set is from a group of control subjects who weren’t asked to do anything specific. The brain images from the first two groups – the ones who practices and the ones who imagined practicing – were startlingly similar.
The brain responds similarly to danger. Thoughts like, “What if my boss hates this report?” or “What if no one at the party talks to me?” affect you the same way your boss’ disappointment or being ignored at a party would affect you.
Habits and stress management
3 – Stress can become a habit. Your body is designed to handle stress now and then. But for many people, a state of stress can become the new norm. Not surprisingly, this causes problems. Jeff Goelitz of Heart Math says that a typical stressful event creates “a cascade of 1,400 biochemical events in your body.” These changes interfere with your memory, to make good decisions, and ultimately can make you sick.
Over time, these create more serious physiological problems. According to WedMD, 75 – 90% of all doctor visits are stress-related.
Stress Management Facts and Saber-Toothed Tigers
4 – Stress is avoidable. Most people believe that stress is inevitable. Fortunately, it’s not. Author Andrew Bernstein (The Myth of Stress) offers this scenario:
Ten thousand years ago, saber-toothed tigers didn’t trigger a fight-or-flight response….It was thoughts about tigers that triggered this response. If a caveman and cavewoman were sitting in their cave and a saber-toothed tiger sneaked up on them – and they had no idea that it was there – these cave people would not have experienced stress. Yes, they might have died, but don’t let that distract you from the point here.
Until there’s a thought, there’s no stress. And if the cavewoman thought she saw a tiger but it was actually a bunch of reeds, she would have experienced stress even though there was no tiger, because stress is a psychological process….It comes from your thoughts about your circumstances. This is the Iron Rule of Stress. There are no exceptions to this rule. (p. 13)
5 – You can learn to live without stress. This is one of the most surprising stress management facts of all. If stress comes from your thoughts, then it follows that if you can change your thoughts, you can learn to live without stress. Abraham Lincoln once said, “Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.”
Stress Management in 3 Steps
If you want to live without stress, you need to shift the way you think. Here’s a simple True/False method I often teach my clients.
First, identify a thought that’s causing you problems. Here are some examples:
- Work: I have too much to do.
- Relationship: He’s not doing his share.
- Parenting: My son’s going to fail algebra.
Next, find the TRUE part of the thought. Notice that the truth is always about facts.
- I promised a client I’d have this proposal ready by Friday.
- My husband left a big pile of laundry next to the washing machine.
- My son got a D on his last algebra test.
Third, challenge the FALSE part of the thought. Notice that the challenges lead to action.
- BUT that doesn’t mean it’s too much. Here’s what I’ll have to postpone/delegate/let go of to make it happen…
- BUT that doesn’t mean he’s not doing his share. I would like more help with chores though, so I’ll specifically ask him to…
- BUT that doesn’t mean he’s going to fail. I’ll help him work on a study plan so he stays on top of his homework and does well on the next test.
The Thought That Counts
Stress isn’t about your to-do list or a disagreement with your partner. It’s not the saber-toothed tiger in your life that creates problems. It’s your thoughts about the tiger. Those thoughts might have served you well back in those cave days when your life was in danger.
Fortunately, you can change your thoughts. The True/False method of making this change can help you not only reduce stress, but also helps you move toward action.
If you want to live stress-free, your greatest ally is your ability to understand the myths about stress, and to choose one thought over another. For a stress-free life, Choose wisely.