by Jim Porter, M.A.L.S., FAIS, President of StressStop

Over the years, I’ve been made painfully aware of some of the roadblocks we are up against when it comes to raising awareness about stress management. In this regard, it seems to me, we are today where smoking was in the mid 1960’s. That’s when the first warning label went up on a pack of cigarettes. Do you remember what it said?

Smoking MAY be hazardous to your health

It wasn’t much of a warning, but the fact that cigarette packages had any warning label at all was a MAJOR public health victory. And that started the ball rolling on some additional cultural shifts that would take place over the next four decades. One of the problems plaguing the anti smoking campaigns at the beginning was the fact that the science wasn’t all there yet. Even though smokers were dying left and right of lung cancer, researchers couldn’t’ say definitively that smoking was causing it. Back then it was mostly correlation and very little causation.

It’s similar to where we are with stress today. We can’t say definitively that stress causes anything, and yet we know that stress CAN contribute to heart disease, stroke, immune system disorders, gastro-intestinal problems, depression, anxiety and much, much more. But we can’t really say that it CAUSES these health problems. This is just one of ten key points I make in a new lecture I present entitled THE FUTURE OF STRESS MANAGEMENT. Here is a brief summary of each of the ten points.

  1. Our culture promotes stress. With modern technology we never leave the office. People speak of their issues with stress like a soldier in the trenches: enduring it because they have no other choice. Nobody takes much vacation and they work 24/7. With our American work ethic even the word RELAXATION seems un-American!
  2. There’s a mindset against managing stress. Managing stress and taking care of our health always comes DEAD last. And as a result, our perception is that there is NEVER enough time in the day to take care of our own needs.
  3. We cope with our stress counter-productively. We drink, we smoke, we eat and we spend money on things we can’t afford: All in an effort to let off a little steam at the end of the day. Trouble with these methods of managing stress is they lead to even more stress and more problems.
  4. Doctors receive no training in stress-related illness and even if they did, they wouldn’t have the time to dispense any advice. According to the American Institute of Stress, 75-90% of all doctor visits are for stress related concerns and yet when was the last time you ever heard a doctor even mention the word stress? Doctors don’t want to touch this subject with a ten foot pole. They’d rather send you home with a pill. It’s quicker and easier for all parties. And what about side effects? Just pretend they don’t even exist.
  5. The stress management message is way too complicated. Dr. Hans Selye, the Canadian scientist who popularized the word stress defined it as: The body’s nonspecific response to demands placed on it. What does that mean? Ever tried to explain the difference between good stress and bad stress? It’s confusing. You can’t even recommend one form of stress management (like meditation) for all people, since, according to the experts, no one method is right for everybody.
  6. The science needs updating. The fight or flight response (used interchangeably with: the stress response) is over 100 years old. Few people know that we’ve added the word freeze to lexicon of stress (e.g., the fight, flight or freeze response, which is particularly apropos to any discussion of PTSD) and even fewer people know about the female response to stress dubbed: “tend and befriend.” Still more troubling to me, is that there’s a level of stress(I call it social stress) that DOESN’T activate a full-blown fight or flight response, and because it doesn’t, exists below the radar screen almost like a kind of phantom stress.
  7. It follows the mainstream medical model. People use stress management reactively, just like taking a pill. Even though stress management gets grouped in with wellness and prevention, people tend to use it like a band-aid: As a way of getting through a particularly stressful day.
  8. We don’t acknowledge stress sensitivity. Some people are more sensitive to stress than others. This is an important topic that gets completely overlooked. People react to stress differently, and some people are highly sensitive to it, almost like a person who has PTSD. In other words, the sensitivity is built-in and can’t really be addressed with standard stress management training techniques.
  9. Corporations are in denial about stress. Job stress is the #1 source of stress in the US and yet corporations for the most part behave as if it’s entirely up to the employee to figure out how to manage it. As if they, the corporation, had nothing to do with causing the stress that occurs in the workplace.
  10. We’re looking for stress in the wrong places. We need to look deeper at underlying causes. Once you start looking below the surface at issues like disorganization, financial concerns, time pressure and relationship problems, that’s when you start getting at the root of most stress-related problems.