Pursue What Matters
Episode 140: Debunking Stress Myths
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Dr. Melissa Smith 0:00
Do you believe stress is bad? That if you have stress, it’s evidence that you just can’t hack life? Well, if you’ve ever fallen for these stress myths, you’ve got to join me today, because it is time to debunk myths about stress.
Dr. Melissa Smith 0:36
Hi, I’m Dr. Melissa Smith, welcome to the Pursue What Matters podcast where we focus on what it takes to thrive in love and work. So the truth is, most of us have stress all wrong. There are three big myths about stress that I want to talk about today that have contributed to a fundamental misunderstanding of the role of stress in our lives. It’s these beliefs are so pervasive. And I really want to help you tackle these today. But you might be asking, right, why does it matter? What we think about stress, and I’ve got a very important answer for you. So if you look at the research, on stress, it is very clear crystal clear that the way you think about stress alters the impact it has on your body, resulting in either health protective benefits, or health destructive costs. So I want you to pay attention to that, because it’s profound. It’s not just whether you have stress or not in your life to You know, in terms of impact in your well being, that actually is not much of a factor because as humans, we’re all wired for stress, it’s actually very functional. But what we think about stress in our life actually changes the way it impacts us. So whether it’s protective or destructive, when I read this research, and I’ve been studying it now for a while, it kind of blew my mind. And I think that so many of us have been late led astray. And I think a lot of psychologists have done us a disservice. Because there’s so much talk about stress in the media that is absolutely negative and wrongheaded. And so, this research has big implications, not only for our health, but also our quality of life, happiness, and overall well being. And so, you know, it is important to, to consider how you think about stress, and challenging these myths will help you to get on that path toward greater well being. I know that sounds too good to be true. But I promise it’s not. I am such a zealot about this topic. I love talking about it. Mostly because I can see the impact it has on folks lives. And it has transformed my own life, I have absolutely been changed by this research. And not just in a geeky, GE was kind of nerdy scientists way. But in a deep, profound way that has changed the way I see myself, the world and the future. And I really want to share that with you today. I’m also really excited because I just launched stress course. So I told you, I’m geeky about this, I told you I’m a zealot, and I have a great new course, called stress is not the problem. And it is open for enrollment now. So I will include the link to enrollment in the show notes. So you can hang on till the end of this podcast and get that link. So you can enroll in this course, it’s simple, it’s straightforward. It’s really focused on helping you challenge your beliefs around stress so that you can start using stress for good and for growth. And now my sound pretty crazy, too. But I hope by the end of the podcast, it makes a lot more sense to you. And then of course, looking to the course it’s very practical. It’s designed to help you really move forward in your life, to cope with stress effectively, so it doesn’t take you down and to realize the great benefits that stress has for us. So hang on and live in the shownotes. I will share the link with you where you can enroll and learn more about the new course that just came out. And it’s only gonna be open for a limited time, so I hope you will consider it. So first, we want to examine the stress myths. So there are three big ones that really trip us up. And so let’s start with myth one. We believe stress is bad. That is bad. It’s you. It’s assignment messed up. So we’ve been taught that stress is a big problem, that it’s a great plague in our lives. And it should be eliminated ASAP right as soon as possible. And my response to had is as if like good luck with that, because stress is pretty pervasive. We’ve been taught that if we have stress in our lives, it will hinder our progress, it will destroy our health. But what if this myth isn’t true? So I know I have totally fallen.
Dr. Melissa Smith 5:18
For this stress myth, it is so pervasive everywhere you go. So if you scan the news headlines media feeds, you would quickly see just how pervasive this myth is. So it is an assumed truth that stress is bad for us. And can I just tell you, these, like, this is not the full story of stress, this is not accurate. So what is the truth? Right, so we’re going to talk about stress, Truth Number one, right to tackle this first myth, stress is a normal part of what it means to be human doesn’t feel better. Stress is actually very functional, we are wired for the stress response. It is a normal response to facing challenges in life. And if your goal is to banish stress, you lose a very valuable source of information to help guide you through life. Just think about that. Think about the purpose of stress, it’s there to help us. Stress serves as a signal to help us to be cautious, to respond to dangers, or to reach out for help. We don’t want to lose those signals. He’ll also be terribly frustrated, because it’s not a thing to eliminate stress, you can’t do it. Right. As humans, stress is inherent to our wiring, and our thriving in life. And so with if you take as your goal, to banish stress, you’ll just be chronically frustrated, because you can’t do it. And what I would say is you shouldn’t do it, we shouldn’t try to do that. We actually create a lot of stress for ourselves when we try to get rid of stress. So stress myth, one, we believe stress is bad. And stress, truth one, stress is a normal part of what it means to be human. So now let’s learn about myth to stress as a sign you’re doing something wrong. So we have been taught that if you experience stress, it is a sure sign. You can’t hack life, you are failing at life. Well, you know what this sucks, like that does not feel good. And you can see pretty quickly how it’s very easy to feel bad about yourself, when it comes to this stress myth, because instead of accepting the reality of stress, with this myth, you become the problem. You can’t hack life. And there are so many messages telling us we need to get rid of stress. And if you don’t, there’s something wrong with you. So, you know, we try because we hear all of these messages. And what happens well, right, we can’t get rid of the stress because it’s a normal part of being a human. So we think about truth number one. And so we conclude that we’re the problem, we’re doing something wrong. We can’t be successful. So we just need to go eat worms, right. So it really leads to a sense of failure and incompetence in your life if you’re not careful. So, you know, when you feel overwhelmed with stress, it is so easy to look at others who seem to have life figured out. And let me tell you social media is full of glossy faces, living their best life. Apparently, they’re happy, successful and seem like they don’t have a care in the world. And we know that that’s not real, right? Hopefully, we know that that’s not real. It’s so easy to get down on ourselves in these moments, though, believing that the stress we feel is strong evidence that we don’t know how to do life.
Dr. Melissa Smith 8:46
So let’s tackle that myth with stress truth. Number two, stress is a sign you are living a meaningful life. I love that. Stress is a sign that you have things you care deeply about, that there are things in your life relationships in your life that you are willing to fight for. That stress is a sign that you have a sense of purpose and you’re willing to do hard things in order to live to purpose. Isn’t that encouraging? Isn’t that remarkable, right? That you have things in life that you care deeply about? This is so beautiful. And by the way, is the exact opposite of what this myth teaches us. That stress means you’re somehow failing at life. The truth that you have things that you care about that you have relationships that you care about, that you have a sense of purpose and meaning actually is like the best sign that you’re doing life right, that you have, you have things in your life that you care about. This truth is something to be celebrated, not criticized. Okay, so stress myth two is grasses assign, you’re doing something wrong. And we just debunk that myth with stress truth to which is stress as a sign, you are living a meaningful life. Okay, so now let’s move on to our third and final myth for our purposes today. So this is the myth. If you want to be healthier and happier, your goal should be to eliminate stress from your life pool. Right? So we’ve already talked about this a little bit, we’re told that eliminating stress is the secret to health, happiness, you know, the fountain of youth, you name it, you could go on and on. This myth as well, is all over the headlines. And while it’s definitely coming from a good place, there, there is no nuance to most of these conversations. And when it comes to this, this aspect of stress, right? Nuance really matters because it is in the nuance that we learn the truth about this stress myth. Okay. So what is the truth? It is if you want to be healthier and happier, get better at stress. Okay, now, that might sound really curious too, but just stick with me. So stress conveys many health protective benefits for both mental and physical health, right? It actually is very protective of our health. But here’s what you need to know, right? This is the nuance stress only becomes a problem if we fail to cope effectively with it, which is why I’m totally as li Rizal about a lot of things today, apparently. But I’m a zealot about encouraging folks to consistently use effective coping skills, because that’s how you harness the benefits of stress without accumulating the costs of stress, right. And we know that anything unbalanced, can be harmful can be ineffective for us. And stress is no different.
Dr. Melissa Smith 12:00
But if you take as your goal, to eliminate stress from your life, you actually will end up eliminating joy, you’ll end up eliminating connection, you will definitely eliminate growth. Because these experiences are the result of facing our vulnerabilities, taking risks, and learning like there’s no other way. So if we try to eliminate stress, we end up eliminating joy and connection and all of the things that make life meaningful. So the other thing, so part of this truth, avoiding situations that might be stressful leads to poor outcomes on every front, okay? So when we don’t face stressors, right, when we don’t take on challenges, we actually end up in worse condition, right? So we end up with more anxiety, more depression, less social connection, less meaning in life, less growth, less success, and less positive influence on others. And so when we avoid stress, we end up living a very small, very sad life. So facing challenges, right, which is always stressful is always stressful to face challenges is the path to growth, and building confidence in life. There’s no other way, there’s absolutely no other way. So instead of trying to eliminate stress, you’ll actually want to learn to get better at stress, you want to get better at going through stress. So taking on challenges helps you build resilience, delay gratification, and develop important skills, right so that you can contribute at your highest level. So all of this is known as stress inoculation. And it is a very powerful tool that helps you thrive in highly stressful situations, while learning so that when you next face a challenge, you are better protected and prepared. And we think about stress inoculation it’s, you’re better protected from the chronic harmful effects of stress. But in the short term, right, when we go through these challenging situations with stress inoculation, we’re actually reaping the benefits of stress. So this process actually increases our physical and mental health and overall well being. So I want you to just consider some of the most remarkable individuals throughout history. So right think about your personal heroes. Think about people you’ve read about. When you look to the details of their lives. You see struggle you see challenges, you see adversities. Think about your favorite movie characters. Think about your favorite story characters, right? Their life is not stress free. In fact, their lives are marked by intense challenges, struggle, adversity, all of these bring with us Stress. But what we also see when we think about remarkable individuals in history, or our favorite movie or Story characters, is you see the rising above, you see the tackling challenges directly, you see they, they give and receive support, you see that they become wiser that they learn as a result of their experience, there is no shrinking, there is no avoidance, right? There’s only one path. So ultimately, what you see is confidence to live life on life’s terms, which always includes stress, there’s no way to avoid that, right. And that’s okay, it’s actually a good thing. So once you’re not falling for them, that’s the stress myths, you recognize that stress is not a problem. And that is the focus of the course that I have available now, that stress is not the problem. And actually you can, you can harness it for your growth. So before we jump in to some recommendations for you, I just want to take a moment and, and just know how we all fall for these stress myths.
Dr. Melissa Smith 16:12
You know, I I’d like to share a little bit of my experience with stress over the years, it’s one of the reasons is that I’ve been transformed by this research. So as I said, at the at the top of the podcast, having an accurate understanding of the role of stress in our lives, has really fundamentally shifted the way I see myself, the world and the future. And I’m telling you, that is not an understatement. So I’m hoping that my experience can help you if you find yourself feeling ashamed or overwhelmed, or hopeless, because let me tell you, I have felt those things when it comes to stress. So these myths have led to heart heartache and suffering for me, and it’s one. One of the reasons I really want to deep bunk these myths. I don’t want others to suffer under the same delusions I had. And I don’t want these myths holding you back. Because what I know for sure, is we need your gifts. And when we see stress as a blocker, to progress and a blocker to success, we don’t keep moving forward. And that to me is so sad. So you know, for most of my life, I would say I’ve had big ideas and big goals like even as a child, I was a goal setter. But I’ve also been pretty susceptible to anxiety and fear. I definitely would, I can definitely see that thread throughout my life. And so what would happen, I would set out on a path with an idea in mind, right? And I was excited about the idea or the goal, that very quickly, I felt overwhelmed with fear, anxiety and dread, right? In a word, I became overwhelmed by stress. Because right remember, whenever you take on a big goal, or whenever you tackle challenges, it’ll always kick up stress. This is actually a normal response. But I didn’t know that. Right? I fell for it. Because I fell for the stress Smith. So this is what I believed. First. The fact that I had stress is bad. And in fact, I’m bad. This, of course, is not a great feeling, especially if you’re a people pleasing perfectionist who just wants to get life, right. And that’s exactly who I was. So when I had stress come up, it kicked me into shame. I was convinced I was the problem, that there was something that everyone else had figured out that I did not. And second, right. So this is a second belief, the fact that I had stress that that I can’t hack it, that I’m incapable that I’m incompetent that I can’t do the things that I really want to do that I’m really excited about. Of course, we know this is not a great foundation for self worth, to say nothing of willingness to grow, right? It just feeds more fear, more stress, more anxiety, and add to these feelings, the flood of anxiety hitting me in these moments. And it just seemed to confirm my beliefs. Right. So the anxiety that I had became evidence that I couldn’t do hard things. And by I’ve got to tell you, right, that did not feel good.
Dr. Melissa Smith 19:26
So you know, third, right? So this is the third belief that it led to. It led to me believing that I’ve got to do every living thing I can to eliminate this stress, because it’s bad. And if I have it, it’s a sign of failure. And you know, I also don’t want to mess up my health, right? Because I’m scared about that. And so all of that right, ramped up by stress, maybe it ramps up your stress too. And it makes it that much harder to engage in coping skills that could help Plus, when you feel bad about yourself, you, you move to self criticism, not self care, not self compassion. And so instead of encouraging yourself and having some empathy for the challenge, you tend to be more critical, right? You tend to blame and judge and label. So instead, you tend to push yourself harder, thinking that that will do the trick. And I spent years doing that, just push, push, push harder, and then I’ll get rid of this stress, except that pushing harder never does the trick. It just leads to a deeper stress hole. And here’s the other thing, this is the kicker, it leads to lower self worth and lower self efficacy. Because it’s like, gosh, I’m working so hard, why am I not getting traction? And it’s because there’s no way to get traction on that, if you believe the stress myths. So of course, all of this led to more stress for me, which meant even poor functioning. And it all felt like a self fulfilling prophecy. See, it’s true. I can’t do big things I can’t, you know, grow in the ways I want to. And so, you know, of course, this resulted in some pretty negative beliefs about myself, and also some cognitive distortions about the world. And when it comes to the future, right, it lead to feelings of helplessness, and hopelessness. I just kind of thought, what’s the point? And if you have felt any of these things, if you feel these things now, I just first of all, I want to tell you, you’re not alone. And you are not the problem, right. And the next thing I want to say is, stress is not the problem either, right? So we need to tackle these myths, we need to challenge some of our beliefs that, right, they they come to us as self evident beliefs, and yet they might be leading us astray. So now I want to share with you three things that can help you challenge these stress myths, okay? Because all is not lost. When you feel stress, I want you to remind yourself that it is a sign of a meaningful life, and it does not need to be a problem. And then I would recommend that you do these three things, which the research indicates are three things that the most successful people do to cope with stress. Okay.
Dr. Melissa Smith 22:21
So the first thing is challenged cognitive distortions, including those stress myths, okay? So every time you hear yourself expressing one of these stress myths in your head, you need to call BS on it, you need to talk back to these troublesome stories. You need to challenge your cognitive distortions, speak back with truth, speak back with an accurate view of reality. So when you feel that stress come up, and you feel that shame come up, I want you to say, this doesn’t have to be a problem, right? It, this is something I really care about, I’m going to pay attention to that. And that can really shift your experience.
Dr. Melissa Smith 23:02
So second, I want to encourage you to reach out for support. As humans, we are wired for connection. Don’t try and go it alone. Everyone needs support in life, including you. So ask a trusted friend for perspective on a situation. Ask, am I seeing the situation clearly? Because I’m really freaking out? Am I seeing myself clearly? I think that’s a really important question, as well. Talk about your concerns and make sure your loved one your loved one can empathize with you, don’t they? We don’t want them pitting you or anything like that. But can they empathize with you and really seek to understand your experience, and then know that affection can make a huge difference. It’s one of the most important ways we cope with stress. So now the third thing, engage effective coping skills to help yourself, okay. So this is really important, because when we have stressors, we need to counterbalance that with effective coping skills. And the truth is, most of what we do to help ourselves cope and I’m going to put that in quotes actually harms us it actually undermines our ability to cope well with stress. So we’re doing things that we think are helpful, but they’re not. So these things that I’m going to share with you now are all grounded in solid research, right? To be effective for coping with stress. So laughing, crying, creative expression, distress tolerance skills.
Dr. Melissa Smith 24:39
So when we think about this, think about paced, breathing, diaphragmatic breathing, box breathing, slowing your breathing down. We think about meditation or other mindfulness practices, and we think about paired muscle relaxation, there certainly are other distress tolerance skills. Those are some of the most popular though. Other coping skills Besides distress tolerance skills include balanced movement. Right? So exercise do you exercise regularly, plus what I’ve already talked about in step one and two, the first one being challenging cognitive distortions, and then reaching out for support.
Dr. Melissa Smith 25:16
So those are my three recommendations to help you challenge these stress myths. So the first one challenge cognitive distortions, including the stress myths. Second, reach out for support. And third, engage effective coping skills to help yourself. Now I have a really great resource right now it is debugging stress myths. And you can get that by going to the link that I’ll share with you in a minute, and it has a lot of these coping skills listed. So you know, if you’re listening, and you want to follow up on these, go ahead and get that resource is totally free. And that can be helpful for you, and challenging these stress Smith’s. And then of course, if you recognize that you would like to have a little more support and understanding about stress, please know that my course is available right now is only for a limited time, and so you got to act on it. But you can enroll now for my my course on stress. So it’s it’s stress is not the problem. And I will link to that in the show notes. And just just know it’s a limited time enrollment. But it’s really practical. It’s designed to help you understand and shift your shift your understanding about stress so that you can cope more effectively is super practical with some really great coping skills to help you without overwhelming. Okay, so you can find all of those resources by heading to my website www.drmelissasmith.com/140-stressmyths/. One more time www.drmelissasmith.com/140-stressmyths/. I’m social. I’m on Instagram @dr.melissasmith. I’d love to hear from you there. I’d also really appreciate it if you would consider doing a review of the podcast that helps people to find the podcast and it helps me to know what’s working for you. So in the meantime, I’m Dr. Melissa Smith. Remember love and work, work and love. That’s all there is. Until next time, take good care.
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