Addicted to Stress: Why We're So Willing to "Normalise" Our Struggles
By Dr Becky Spelman
We live in such a fast-paced world that is placing evermore increasing demands on us that stress has become something of an accepted state of being. It has become our norm. And in some respects, it has become a quasi-badge of honour. Our stress legitimises our efforts. And we’ve come to accept it as an accompaniment to our success. It’s not so much of a side effect as it is an expectation that to attain a certain level of fulfilment, it’s going to come with some frayed nerves and bad moods along the way.
The reason we’re so willing to normalise our stress is that we’ve built up a culture both in our work and social lives that force us to accept it. Stress is often written off as being ‘not a real condition,’ or as something that you should push your way through. To admit stress is to admit weakness. And to do that – especially in corporate cultures – is to mark yourself as potentially unfit for your job. Ironically, the thought of this can then lead to yet further stress, exacerbating the situation and making your worst fears a reality.
The normalising of stress exists because we’ve allowed it to become so much a part of our culture that it’s become something of a cult – one that we’re all unwittingly a part of to a greater or lesser extent. And what makes it so insidious is that this cult has a policy of self-admittance. We willingly volunteer ourselves because to be unstressed – at least on the subconscious level – would be a sign that we’re not making the most of our opportunities. And it’s the creation of myths such as these that perpetuate this ongoing narrative of acceptable stress.
8 Popular Myths About Stress
Stress Can Be A Motivator and a Catalyst for Success
There’s an important distinction that needs to be made here between working within constraints and be stressed about your current working conditions. Goals and deadlines can be motivating factors, of course. But they don’t need to accompanied by stress. In fact, the only thing that stress is likely to do in this situation is panic and affect the overall quality of your work.
Stress Can Actually Be Good for You in Measured Doses
Another myth that’s taken root, especially within sports is that stress can actually be good for you. Again, this is an idea that’s been skewed. In the past, it’s been suggested by Dr. Hans Seyle, a leading figure in modern stress, that the production of stress hormones equate to being ‘healthy.’ However, more recent developments have proven that stress contributes to around 75%-90% of all medical conditions.
Without Some Stress Your Life Would Be Boring and Uneventful
For some, stress is associated with having a good time, and that exciting things are happening. There are people who are so entrenched in the idea of their stress that they genuinely can’t remember a time without it. Life would seemingly lose its meaning if there was no struggle. But to look at young children, the exact opposite is true. They don’t have a care in the world. And yet, for the most part, are incredibly well adjusted and create enjoyment out of almost any situation.
Being Stressed is a Choice (So Choose to be “Unstressed”)
This is potentially the most damaging of all myths as it denies people the permission to seek help for their problem. This line of thinking belittles people who would dare to stand up and say, ‘I’m not ok.’ You can’t just choose to be unstressed. It’s an unconscious response that’s the result of your past experiences. If you don’t have the emotional grounding to manage certain situations, you’re going to react in an almost involuntary way. You don’t get to choose.
Stress Happens to Everyone (It’s Inevitable So Accept It)
Again, this follows on from the previous point, but in this case, it goes a step further by suggesting that stress is simply a fact of life. And of course, some stress is unavoidable. It will happen in some cases – that’s life. But what we’re talking about here is chronic and persistent stress. That is not a fact of life. It’s symptomatic of an unsustainable lifestyle – one that’s running your biological clock further and further to the time of your final curtain call.
Stress is the Same for Everyone
Mental health conditions are subjective, and stress is no different from depression, anxiety, bipolar and any others you could care to mention. What might represent a manageable situation for one person may be an arduous ordeal for the next. And so too is the way people deal with stress is unique to them. Some individuals will be very well adapted and be able to draw on coping skills and past experience, while other’s will need more time and emotional support.
No Symptoms = No Stress
Just because you can’t see that someone is visibly stressed doesn’t mean that they aren’t suffering on the inside – silently. People who deal with long-term stress often become very adept at hiding it. Oftentimes, because they have to for the sake of their job, their social standing, and their family life. They don’t want to be perceived as being a ‘flake’ that doesn’t have their act together. But that doesn’t make their challenges any less deserving of attention.
Stress is Really Nothing to Worry About…
This echoes many of the other myths stated here but also makes its own point. And that is that word stress has become such a commonly used part of our vocabulary that it really loses the full weight of its meaning. In many cases, it’s become a by-word for disappoint and minor frustration. People get ‘stressed’ because they can’t get their own way. But in reality, it’s simply entitlement masquerading under the banner of what is a serious mental health concern.
About the author:
Dr Becky Spelman is a leading UK Psychologist who’s had great success helping her clients manage and overcome a multitude of mental illnesses.
***If you’re struggling with your stress and think you might benefit from speaking to someone, we offer a FREE 15-MINUTE CONSULTATION with one of our specialists to help you find the best way to move forward. You can book yours here.
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