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79 misconceptions about stress that promote mental health problems

Have you been trapped by any of these misconceptions?

We've all heard it...

Stress kills... But...

Did you know that your belief's about stress will kill you faster than stress itself could?

You see, if your beliefs about stress are all purely negative, then your beliefs will create more stress in your life, which will then create more negative beliefs, which will then create more stress... and so on.

It has also been scientifically proven that If you believe stress is harmful and should be avoided at all costs, then this belief system will literally hamper your body's ability to produce the necessary hormones that help protect your body form the toxic impact of stress hormones.

(Source: Boudarene, M., J.J. Legros, and M. Timsit-Berthier. "[Study of the Stress Response: Role of Anxiety, Cortisol, and DHEAs]." L'Encephale 28, no. 2 (2001): 139–46.)

Studies like this have proven that having some positive beliefs about stress can help preserve your whole system, making it far easier to bounce back, recoup and heal.

That said...

In my 22 years of working as a mental health practitioner, I discovered that most people do not even realize that they are holding firmly to such toxic misconceptions about the stress in their lives. And this was taking a massive toll on their capacity to live their lives to the fullest.

That's why I have decided to pull out all the stops to share 79 of the most sneaky misconceptions about the stress I have come across to help give you a better fighting chance against toxic stress.
Okay, let's fire on...

1. I need to lose weight to control my stress.

Wrong! Losing weight won't make you feel better immediately.
Over time, a consistent weight loss of even a few pounds will improve your overall health and energy level and make a dramatic difference in how you feel emotionally.

But ultimately, thin people get highly stressed too.
As you make efforts towards losing weight, you will need to put in some time into learning healthy coping habits to control stress effectively.

2. Stress is a bad thing.

Sadly most people in first world countries have been told a huge lie.
You've been made to believe that you have to constantly be on guard against the build-up of stress or else you'll be overtaken by life.

The truth is that you can die from having no stress hormones in your system. You need some stress in your life to function effectively. It is the extremes of stress that cause the problems, not stress itself.

3. Stress can go away on its own.

No, no no! Thinking that It's better to ignore stress and get on with your life. Is a big trap.

Yes, it's not healthy to obsess over stress. Ignoring stress does not mean you are living a balanced healthy life. It is better to be aware of how stress might creep into your life so you can take steps to reduce getting overly stressed whilst managing life.

Otherwise, stress can easily become an abusive slave driver in your life, which can take the joy out of everything you do.

4. Stress is just a feeling.

Stress is NOT simply a feeling. Stress can be an insidious presence in your life which robs you of joy, peace and security. It saps your energy, increases your vulnerability to disease, and limits your ability to perform at an acceptable level.

Stress can also be the healthy force in your life that enables you to prosper. Stress can bring beauty, enjoyment and meaning to life if you remain in the driving seat.

5. Stress comes from outside forces only.

The most toxic form of stress is what comes from within. Why?

Your world may be beautiful... And your experiences may be wonderful... However, if your beliefs about your world are very distorted, you may need many positive outside influences to help stop the wave of stress created from inside you.

6. I'm not stressed because I'm still calm.

It's a big misconception that stress is the opposite of peace... That peace is never stressful. The truth is that sometimes peace is very stressful.
Just ask any man hiding away in his man cave for hours how often that sort of peace brings in unexpected stress from his wife, who has been left to deal with all their unruly kids.

7. Stressed people are generally pessimistic.

I've known some highly stressed optimistic people and some highly stressed pessimistic people.

The reality is that we are all pessimistic in some way and optimistic in others. Those viewed as mainly pessimistic have moments in their lives where they are relaxed, at peace with very little stress.

And in the same way, most people viewed as optimistic can get extremely stressed, provided the right circumstances.

8. If my stress goes away, I'll be happy.

This is not always the case because... A life without any pressure is a life that's not going anywhere.
Yes, reducing your sources of stress will give you more energy to deal with more pressure. But stress is a natural part of life... And learning to live with it is a crucial ingredient to true happiness.

9. Less stress will make me healthier and happier.

The truth is that stress is like a double-edged sword. Sometimes stress can be a destructive force that wreaks havoc on your life.

But sometimes, it can be a force for good, like a fire in the furnace of creativity. In some situations, more stress will make you a lot happier, whilst in other situations, increased stress will cause you a whole world of havoc.
The key is in learning how to balance your life to use stress as a tool for success.

10. You can be completely stress-free

There will always be something in your life that causes you stress. The question is not whether or not something will cause you stress, but what are you going to do about it? Will you let it run your life and drain you of your joy, peace and security...

Or will you learn to manage it in such a way that it enhances your life instead of depleting it?

11. Stress is a waste of time

Stress is not a waste of time; it's a necessary part of life. In fact, the ability to manage stress is one of the most important ingredients to being healthy and having a satisfying life.

12. High-stress levels are an indicator of poor health self-neglect.

Indeed, many people who are chronically stressed out physically and emotionally don't take care of themselves.

However, it's also true that many people who are very highly stressed out are overworked, overtired, and unhealthy in other ways.

These people may eat junk food, abuse drugs and alcohol, and have a lack of exercise. Essentially, a high level of stress is not the only reason for poor health.

13. Being stressed means I'm a weak person

Ever heard people say they become stronger when under a high amount of stress. In fact, many people do their best work and finish huge monumental tasks under a lot of stress. There is no way a weak person can achieve this.

14. I should accept my stress as inevitable

Many people wrongfully believe that stress is a useless emotion because it freezes you up and makes you vulnerable. And that you can’t plan for it as it always shows up unannounced.

The truth is that stress has a pattern it follows. If you can learn to suss out of this pattern, you can become a master at managing stress effectively.

15. It's better to avoid worrying about the consequences of stress

If you believe that stress is the death of joy. That It robs you of your energy and creates havoc in your body... Sadly you are dangerously wrong! Stress can be your body’s way of getting your attention that something is about to go wrong.

True worrying about the consequence of stress can lead to more emotional health problems. However, ignoring stress totally will cause you to miss out on the chance to “re-wire” your brain use your stressful experiences for growth.

16. If something really stressful is happening, it doesn't matter how you react

If something really stressful is happening, it doesn't matter how you react to others with disrespect. Reacting angrily or sulking like a spoiled child may actually give people more power to make you feel bad.

17. People under stress react in unpredictable ways because they lack willpower

People under stress react in unpredictable ways because they lack willpower. That is a really stigmatizing thing to say. If I gave you the amount of stress that many highly stressed people have to carry, the chances are that you might even have a breakdown.

18. I'm never as stressed as I think I am

Stress is not something you can see or feel. It's something you experience on a cellular level. As such, it's hard for us to correctly determine how stressed we are simply by how we feel.

I recall feeling very calm myself until one day. I realized that one of my lower teeth had cracked in the middle due to being under too much pressure.

19. Stress will eventually kill me if I let it get too much

The truth is your body can handle a lot more stress than you realize. And yes, prolonged or overwhelming stress CAN damage your health. However... if you are handling your stress, intelligently your body will actually repair and rejuvenate itself.

When this happens, your energy increases, your disease resistance improves, and your mental acuity remains at peak throughout your life.

20. The more stress you experience, the less productive you'll be

The exact opposite is true. High levels of stress cause us to make bad decisions, procrastinate, and become dysfunctional. But when we learn how to manage our stress we can perform like a well-oiled machine.

In fact, those of us who have learned to manage our stress actually become more productive under pressure.

21. Stressed people are less likely to sleep well

Whilst there is some truth to this because stress may affect certain parts of your brain, which causes you to need less sleep. More paradoxically, when you finally fall asleep, your sleep is likely to be deeper and more restful.

22. Stress is usually caused by a person's personal problems

Stress can also be caused by biological defects in the body, like hormonal imbalances or certain types of medical conditions.

Stress can also be caused by environmental factors like working in an unhealthy atmosphere, living in unhealthy housing or too much noise or other forms of pollution.

23. If I'm not stressed, I'll be a bad employee

Many employees are very stressed and work very hard but produce bad work.

And others are less stressed and don't work as hard but are ironically more effective.

The reality is that we are all different, and each of us has a unique combination of skills, experiences, talents and knowledge that makes us all uniquely valuable.

Being stressed or not being stressed is not a good determining factor of one's value.

24. Stress is inevitable and cannot be avoided

Yes, this is true. We will all have a degree of stress. However, toxic stress is avoidable. You just need to learn what toxic stress feels like and learn the strategies to reduce or prevent it.

25. When you're stressed, you should avoid triggering more stress, or you will have a breakdown.

Stress is not the enemy...It might be prudent to give yourself a breather. However, the fear that more stress would cause you to breakdown itself may be what causes you to break down than the stress itself.

Avoiding stress is NOT the answer to avoiding a breakdown. By avoiding stress, even in moments of high stress, you will deprive yourself of opportunities to learn, grow and thrive.

26. When circumstances are stressful, it's a weakness to need some allowance to recuperate.

There is nothing weak about needing some time off. True strength comes from being able to bounce back from difficult situations. If anything, seeking some R&R when needed shows great character

27. My stress will be much less if I don't have so many demands on my time

You can be stressed both by the number of things and also by the quality of things. If you have many low-priority tasks and very few high-priority ones, your stress level could still be low.

28. Having no stress is a sign of laziness

Yes, there are an awful lot of highly stressed people who are workaholics. Sadly, though they are so stressed, they have to work twice as hard as others to get the same results.

The person who appears lazy to you may have just done the work quicker and then had more time to enjoy lazing about.

29. If my stress goes away, then I'll have more time for others or myself

 Having time for yourself and other's can't just happen by magic. If your stress goes away, you won't have any time for others or yourself unless you plan actively for the other people in your life.

30. Constant high stress is a sign of mental imbalance

You could also say that constant low stress is a sign of mental imbalance. Why? Because the absence of stress is also unhealthy. We could be going through a time of life where there are moments of stressful things happening.

In such a situation, having constant stress could be absolutely normal.

There is a delicate balance in your mind and body that enables you to function at maximum efficiency. 

When that balance is off-kilter all the time and all your life, disease and mental health problems are more likely to occur.

31. Stressed people aren't good at relationships :(

Many stressed people are functioning perfectly well in their personal and professional relationships.

It's not the amount of stress you are under that determines whether or not you will have satisfying relationships but rather how you deal with that stress.

32. It's unhealthy to focus on stress when there are more important things to worry about (like poverty, war)

You could focus all your mind on big issues in the world and lose total sight of the war happening inside your body. This is exactly when stress can become a stealthy killer.

It's better to focus a little bit on both and not neglect either one.

33. If I'm busy enough, I won't have time to get stressed

Busyness is the ultimate cause of stress. And even though being busy might help you avoid thinking about problems in your life. The very fact that those problems are not being resolved is skyrocketing the stress in your body.

34. Stress is something that happens to me. I have no say whatsoever.

Not only do you have a lot of say in how you react to life's inevitable pressures, but you also have a lot of control over the amount of stress in your life.

35. Stress will make me less creative

Creativity is one of those rare human traits which is enhanced by stress. And while it is true that stress can diminish our ability to think clearly and creatively. But for many people, creativity flourishes under pressure.

36. I must always let go of stress to remain mentally sane

This is a highly toxic belief for anyone trying to cope with a high level of stress. And that is because it wraps you in a sea of paranoia that leads to panic attacks, emotional numbness and derealization.

37. People who are not stressed are stronger than people who get stressed all the time

The truth is that prolonged or chronic stress makes us weaker and more vulnerable to disease and premature death. It is not the absence of stress that gives us strength and endurance.

In fact, the most resilient people in the world have the most stress in their lives.

38. If I'm stressing, I can't choose how I feel

There are many times in our lives when we have no control whatsoever over how we feel. We get a nosebleed in a movie theatre or have an attack of the vapours while visiting relatives.

The truth is that often, we do have some control over how we feel, but we just don't realize it. We can learn to take charge of our feelings and emotions... Or... we can decide to let them take charge of us.

39. People who are stressed aren't in touch with what they're doing

This is not true because, yes, some people are stressed because they have so much on their plates that they have no time for self-reflection or to attend to the feelings inside them.

Other people are stressed because they pay too much attention to what they are doing and what's happening around them.

40. Stress is always good for me

Yes, moderate amounts of stress actually improve your memory and focus. Stress keeps you sharp, but too much stress kills your brain cells and causes Alzheimer’s and other forms of

41. If I don't have any stress, I'm doing something wrong

If you truly have no stress, then you'd likely be dead. It is more likely that you feel the absence of stress because you don't know how to tell if you are stressed.

42. If I'm not stressed, it means my life's perfect

If your life is perfect now, then you have no growth potential. And no growth potential almost always equates to less happiness.

True joy is rarely achieved by remaining in your current situation. True joy is almost always associated with change... And often, change is uncomfortable.

Therefore, stress is NOT a sign of personal inadequacy or that your life is perfect just the way it is.

Stress is an indication that something needs to change... Or perhaps that you need to change to accommodate the situation.

43. If I'm not stressed, then I must be happy  

Happiness is a skill you can actually forget if you neglect acknowledging your reasons to be happy for too long. As such, it is highly possible to feel unhappy even when you are not stressed.

44. Stress is an extreme form of frustration

False! Frustration is when you become enraged that something isn't going your way.

Frustrated people boil over and do something rash like hit you or throw a tantrum. In contrast, stress is the body's normal reaction to pressures and challenges in life.

45. Stressed people are unrealistic

That's total nonsense! In truth... no one is totally unrealistic about their own reality. We do have blind spots. And we all make mistakes.

However, when you meet someone who is stressed... and then you take the time to observe them in action... you will discover that person is very much in touch with their reality.

46. I should just accept my stress and do nothing about it

 If your body's production of this chemical is too high, doing nothing about this could lead to health problems like insomnia, weight gain, muscle loss.

It can also affect your mental and emotional state and cause you to make poor decisions.

That said, if your norm was that you always got stressed about getting stressed, then yes, accepting your stress and doing nothing else will help healthily balance your stress levels.

47. Stressing too much is in my genes. I have no power to change this

This is not true because science has proven that your genes can change if you make the necessary changes in your lifestyle and consistently keep to these changes. This would eventually influence your genes to support you in your efforts to become less stressed.

48. Bad things won't happen if you avoid thinking about them

This is magical thinking. You can't avoid bad things happening to you purely by not thinking about the bad stuff. But thinking too much about bad things will definitely increase your level of stress.

It is more likely for bad things to happen because you are not prepared due to this sort of avoidance.

49. Stress needs to be cured at all cost

This stance often comes from the belief that curing stress-related problems is a life or death matter. This type of thinking can lead to a speedy mental health breakdown

50. Stressful things always get worse

No, this isn't always true. Sometimes very stressful things do get worse... But sometimes... even when stress seems to get worse, it actually gets better.

When this happens, we have learned something new about the situation, or someone has changed the rules (in our favour) in the situation. Sometimes it also happens because we have grown and changed ourselves.

51. once you're stressed, you can't enjoy doing anything else

Yes, if the stress has been way too high for too long, your enjoyment nerves would all be numbed out. However, your body can take on a ton of stress before it reaches that stage.

And if you do get to this stage, all you need is time off and rest to get back to enjoying things again.

52. Everything good comes at a price

There is massive wisdom in this belief. However, should we put a hold on living to avoid paying the price for the good things we achieve in life? No, of course not.

But we must be careful not to confuse paying the price with feeling stressed or broken. And sometimes payoff for the good we manage to get in our lives is priceless.

53. It's unhealthy to express how I'm feeling

People with this misconception often believe you should suppress your feelings to appear strong. However, true emotional expression is healthy and will help you cope with the traumas of life.

54. People who can't handle stress are less productive

This is not always the case. Some people do become distracted and unproductive when they are under too much stress.

But many of these same people often become super productive when they are under too much stress. Sometimes stress makes you productive, and at other times it makes you less productive. That's just the way stress works.

55. My stress will force me to do things that make me unhappy  

Stress does not cause us to do inherently wrong things, nor does it cause us to feel bad about ourselves.

It causes us to focus on problems and difficult situations in our lives in such a way that we become hyper-aware of them.

That makes us more likely to do whatever is needed to solve the problem. In other words, stress causes us to "be awake" and pay attention, enabling us to discover solutions and get through difficult times easily and quickly.

56. If I'm not stressed, I'll become poor and worthless 

Stress does not have to be an obstacle; it only has to be recognized as such. Once you are aware of it and begin to understand how to manage it, stress no longer has to be a negative force in your life.

57. Being stressed means I'm sacrificing happiness to maintain my health

True happiness does NOT have to come at the expense of your physical or mental health. In fact, maintaining your health and well-being enhances your ability to achieve true happiness. And reducing your stress levels makes it easier to do both.

58. If you can cope with stress, nothing else in life will be too hard for you

There is one major difference between stress and true challenges. True challenges are losing your job, being dumped by someone you love or getting into a serious health situation. These are events that are out of your control.

You can be very good at managing stress, but then, one of these true-life challenges comes and brings you to your knees. This does not mean you have lost your ability to cope. It just means you are human.

59. Stressed people are responsible for their own problems

This is only partially true. You are responsible for your own actions and reactions. However, you are NOT always responsible for the events which cause you stress. And oftentimes, these are beyond your control.

60. Being stressed out is a character flaw

Stress is not a character flaw; it's a survival mechanism. It helps us to remain resilient, and resilience is the ability of a system to continue functioning even after being severely stressed. Hence stress can help us develop beautiful and robust characters.

61. If I ignore what's going on around me, I can't get stressed

Refusal to pay attention to things happening around you will actually bring more stress to you because much of what you are missing will either turn out to be positive events you missed out on or critical things that can bite you in the back from not addressing them.

62. I should never let anyone see me when I am stressed out.

It takes tremendous courage to remain open to the world despite your challenges. Yes, when we are stressed out, we are more likely to do or say things that are less than our best.

By keeping open and not wearing a mask despite these temporary lapses in our "acting skills," we send a powerful signal to others and ourselves that we are strong and have the capacity to handle whatever life throws at us.

63. Stress doesn't matter if it doesn't affect my life and wellbeing

Sadly, when you think stress doesn't matter, that's when it's more likely to affect you. Thinking stress doesn't matter will lead to poor stress management.

And if you are not dealing effectively with the stress in your life... it affects almost everything about your life. From the quality of your relationships to the amount of money you make to the health of your body, to the wisdom of your decisions, to the creativity of your work...

Everything about your life is 

64. Stress is something that happens to other people.

Stress is something that happens to other people. This is a common belief for many people who later developed PTSD in their life. Because they thought stress only happened to others, they never prepared themselves to cope well before stress hit them hard.

65. If you are struggling, then something is wrong with you

We all struggle with things from time to time. What is important is that we do not become prisoners of our struggles. Again, to struggle is being human.

66. I irritate people because of my stress

This may be true; however, it is not a weakness because you may also irritate people from being too calm. In this case, the problem is more with the people in your life who are impatient and not with you. Don't let them get to you.

67. Getting stressed a lot means I am self-absorbed

When you're deep in your own world. Getting stressed a lot means you may not be paying attention to details in your life. Not paying attention to details means you are distracted from the big picture, and that's when you make mistakes.

Stress can make us more self-aware and more self-focused so that we can avoid such mistakes. This self-focus isn't always due to being self-absorbed or vein.

68. When you're stressed, it's always okay to take a break

When you're stressed, it's always okay to take a break. This is not always true because this may lead to developing procrastination habitually. Sometimes it is okay to take a break...

But taking a break every single time will interfere with your ability to develop resilience. I could make you feel worse... Because you'll get even more stressed needing to "make up" for lost time.

69. Stress indicates a lack of control by the person experiencing stress  

People often wrongly believe that the best way to regain control over stress in their lives is to take charge of each aspect of life. The truth is that if you were to do this, you would remove all the colours and pleasant surprises from your life.

Most people who have become experts at controlling every aspect of themselves and their lives tend to be very unhappy and unfulfilled.

70. Stressed out people are less intelligent

 I once heard an ignorance guru suggest that stressed-out people become intellectually and emotionally less capable of coping with life's challenges. 

They develop poor judgment and a negative attitude that affects their ability to cope with life's challenges.

This is total nonsense. The truth is that stress can be a great teacher that makes you more intelligent as you experience life through each stage of your development. You are you you you are you are

71. Stressed people blame others for their problems

Not all people who are stressed are blaming others for their problems. Some are overwhelmed and need help to see how they can take some of the burdens off themselves.

Also, most people who are stressed are highly motivated when it comes to changing their circumstances. They just need some help to overcome the roadblocks life has placed on them.

72. If I'm not stressed, then everything must be going well for me  

The reality is you can be very stressed about something that is not at all important. This is true with many over-stressed people. They are so caught up in the details of their lives that they lose sight of the big picture.

Therefore, they get stressed out about things that are not even remotely threatening to their well-being. Thus they miss the glaring big life accidents caused by their lack of awareness.

73. Stress will make me feel better about myself  

If you are familiar with the term stress junkie, you agree that stress can make you feel better about yourself. But, if you are addicted to stress, it can also make you feel horrible and drained of all your resources.

74. People who aren't stressed are more active than people who are

People who aren't stressed are more active than people who are. This is not true because a stress-free life can actually sap away all your energy and make you zombie-like because there's nothing left to motivate you.

75. Stressed people are worried about being stressed

Yes and no. Mostly, people are concerned about something else... like money... health... a difficult situation at work... or some other pressing concern. However, some people do worry about getting stressed because they believe stress has the power to cause them permanent damage

76. People who aren't stressed tend to be more productive

There is a lot of truth in this statement, but productivity is not the only barometer of success. Often people who are "not stressed" are not challenged and therefore lack the enthusiasm, the motivation and the commitment to excel truly.

77. Stressed people have terrible relationships with others  

False! Some highly stressed people are the most loving people you will come across. They may be a little withdrawn and even a little difficult to get to know at first. But they are usually the most giving and loyal friends you will ever have.

They have compassion for other people and have an unshakable faith in the value of human interaction.

78. If I get stressed, I will lose control of myself

This is also not true because true stress within safe levels does not cause us to act irrationally... but... impulsive behaviour often occurs when we try to "de-stress." Stress actually helps keep us in control... because... it forces us to slow down and reflect.

79. Stress will always affect my creativity negatively because stressed-out people are uninspiring

People who are highly stressed and exhausted are often uninspiring because they lack enthusiasm. But that does not mean that everybody who is stressed will become uninspiring. Some of the most inspired people I've ever met were under a lot of stress.

On the other hand, many of the most uninspiring people I've ever met were in a life where they were floating on a sea of peace.

Whew!! That's been a marathon...

Ironically life can feel like a marathon too, especially if you have a lot of stress on your back.

Choking out the flowers, the beauty and the joy. Stress can prevent you from growing into the best version of yourself. And if poorly managed, your stress can easily become a weed that grows wild in your life.

However, stress doesn’t have to be that bad. In fact, stress can be good for you. But most of us have been taught to fear it. To run from it. To think that any stress is too much.

But what if… the kind of stress you are experiencing now is actually the healthy kind?

The kind that wakes you up and makes you stronger for yourself and the people in your life?

Book a consultation with Adewale

Written by Adewale Ademuyiwa
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