Everyone feels stress at some time in their lives—some, chronically. And while the internet is abuzz with stress-busting techniques, perhaps the key to successfully handling stress would be to first understand exactly what it is—and what it isn’t.

The physical symptoms of stress can include feeling anxious, being short of breath, or feeling run down.

To that end, MDLinx has rounded up some of the more well-known misconceptions about stress in the hopes that knowing what you are up against may help you deal with it more effectively.

Stress is always bad. Healthy stress—also known as adaptive stress or eustress—is actually beneficial, and can release endorphins and temporarily boost your performance. Unlike harmful stress, healthy stress causes the blood vessels to dilate instead of constrict. This increased blood flow to the brain, muscles, and limbs makes us feel pumped both emotionally and physically, and ready to “adapt” to meet the challenge at hand.

In response to emergency situations, stress is your body’s response to danger, and can help you focus, sharpen your vision, or give you strength. Stress is what helped our prehistoric forebears escape from predators. So, while we may not be fighting saber-toothed tigers anymore, a car accident, for example, will evoke the same response. Stress also comes into play when we have to make quick decisions, meet deadlines, or even make it to a board meeting on time. It’s what helps us meet challenges successfully.

Plus, without stress, things like roller-coaster rides, first dates, or the first day on a new job would all be boring. Without the “good” stress, our motivations, sense of meaning, and excitement for life would disappear.

Stress is universal. Stress is different for everyone, with different causes and different manifestations. Stress does not arise from circumstances or occurrences, but from our thoughts about them. That is why it is different for everyone—people have different emotional reactions to the same circumstances. For example, you may be stressed out by having to attend an industry cocktail party after a long day of seeing patients, while another doctor may be excited and happy to attend the same event, seeing it as a break and something to look forward to.

Changing the way you perceive stressors, therefore, is key to reducing stress.

Stress is directly related to the hours you work. The more hours you work, the more stress you will have. This is simply not true. Those who love what they do will have less stress despite working more hours than those who may dread going in to work. The difference in stress levels depends on one’s attitude, rather than on the hours worked. Again, same stressor, different attitude.

Try to love what you do for a living, and if you don’t, it may be time to seriously consider a change.

Stress only needs attention when you develop major symptoms. The physical symptoms of stress can include feeling anxious, being short of breath, or feeling run down. Mental symptoms include feeling overwhelmed, disorganized, or having difficulty concentrating. Minor symptoms include excess stomach acids and headaches. But these are only a few manifestations. According to the American Institute of Stress, there are as many as 50 common symptoms of stress.

You may not even realize that what you are feeling are symptoms of stress, but you are doing yourself a disservice if you ignore even minor symptoms. Not managing your stress can lead to major symptoms, such as high blood pressure or even a heart attack.

Listen to what your body and your mind are trying to tell you, before you do develop major symptoms.

Stress management means eliminating all stress. While reducing stressors in your life is one of the goals of stress management, it’s important to realize that no one can totally eliminate all stress. Undertaking a stress-management program with this goal in mind would only create more stress.

Instead, focus your stress-management efforts on eliminating the stressors in your life that you can control, and developing strategies to manage those you cannot. The basic goal you should have in mind is maintaining your balance, and being confident that you can handle what will come.

If you get off-kilter, use stress-relief techniques to get you back to a balanced and calm frame of mind.

Here are five tips from the American Psychological Association, supported by psychological research, to help you manage your stress over both the short and long terms:

  • Take a break from whatever is stressing you out,
  • Exercise,
  • Smile and laugh,
  • Get social support, and
  • Meditate

Remember, stressors in your life, both good and bad, are inevitable. But with a little confidence and stress-management work, you can regain your equilibrium.


Liz Meszaros, MDLinx | August 06, 2019

Featured Articles in Internal Medicine