Stress: Myths & Misconceptions
More than one-third of Americans report being under extreme stress, the side effects of which can be detrimental to one's health, including sexual health. Let's clarify some truths behind a few of the most common misconceptions.
Myth: Stress is always bad.
Reality: Chronic stress can take a serious toll on an individual's health, but stress in the short term is a normal and important part of our biological function. Stress causes an increase in cortisol, a hormone that tells the body, "Be alert, something's happening." From an evolutionary perspective, this response was designed to help protect humans—all animals, for that matter—from threats.
Today, short-term stress can actually increase cognitive function and physical performance, and even boost the immune system.
Myth: Stress causes gray hair.
Reality: Our hair goes gray when the follicle loses its pigment, which for most people begins around age 35 and continues throughout life. However, stress can cause a condition called telogen effluvium, in which hair sheds much faster than normal; when it regrows, if the follicle has lost pigment, it will come back gray, several years before it would have if the individual didn't have the condition.
Myth: Stress is the same for everyone.
Reality: While 75 percent of Americans say they've felt stressed in the past month, stress does not manifest the same for everyone. In fact, stress generally comes with a plethora of emotional and physical symptoms, which vary dramatically from person to person and between men and women. Some experience anxiety, depression, insomnia, fatigue and sadness, while others notice headaches and weight changes, and sustain impacts to heart health.
Women are more likely to talk about and seek help for stress, while too many men use distraction, escapism or physical activity to escape having to communicate their issues.
Myth: Stress can't be avoided.
Reality: You can't control the world around you to preempt stress triggers—such as the death of a loved one, a financial recession or a nationwide pandemic—but you can definitely reduce certain factors and take control of your response.
Positive helpful behaviors and actions include accepting situations as they are, staying optimistic, learning to forgive, sharing feelings, improving time management, exercising, practicing a balanced healthy lifestyle, connecting with friends and family, and taking time for fun and relaxation. Additionally, there are also techniques to relieve stress in the moment: snuggling with a pet, meditating, inhaling a calming scent or taking a walk.
Myth: You need help only if your stress is severe.
Reality: Regardless of the degree of stress you're under, finding relief is essential for reducing negative impacts on your health and maintaining emotional equilibrium. Keep in mind that stress is relative: It's not easy to measure, and we all experience it differently. Even mild cases of chronic stress can take a toll on long-term physical and mental health.
Make time for laughter, self-care, reflection and movement. Look after yourself, share feelings with people around you and don't be embarrassed about seeking professional help.
Myth: Stress causes cancer.
Reality: Chronic stress can weaken the immune system and cause inflammation. While research thus far has not proved a strong link between stress and cancer, some data have identified it as a risk factor for the disease.
That said, other studies suggest stress is only a risk factor for cancer because of how some people manage it, with lifestyle habits that include tobacco, poor diet, alcohol and reduced physical activity. Notably, research has been carried out to show how stress is linked to tumor growth in cancer patients. Certainly, reducing stress and finding healthy coping mechanisms can help ward off disease and ill health.
Chronic stress is a challenging obstacle for millions of people. Understanding how it puts you at risk and what you can do to protect yourself—primarily, reduce stress where you can and practice stress-relieving and coping methods—can minimize the impact stress has on your life and well-being. Talk to friends, or put on your favorite comedy show and laugh hard. It helps!