Here is a list of my top ten reasons why you don't manage stress:
1. Our culture promotes stress. With modern technology we never leave the office. Nobody takes much vacation and everyone works 24/7. With our American work ethic even the word relaxation seems un-American! If you're not "crazy busy" there must be something wrong with you.
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 health needs.
3. We cope with our stress counterproductively. 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 to 90 percent 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 of stress 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 the 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. Stress management follows the mainstream medical model. People use stress-management techniques 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 U.S. 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 corporations, had nothing to do with causing the stress that occurs in the workplace and undermining work-life balance.
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 job redesign, disorganization, financial concerns, time pressure and relationship problems that's when you start getting at the root of most stress-related problems.
Hopefully this list of ten problems will get you thinking about stress and stress management. In my next blog I'll write about the possible solutions to each of these ten problems and how we'll tackle these problems in the future.
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