3 myths about stress management: A stress coach explains
Stress management, like any other topic, is surrounded by a lot of myths and misunderstandings. Jessica Silis, a certified stress coach, shares three common myths about stress management that she believes should be ditched ASAP.
Worldwide, individual and collective stress levels have been rising for quite some time - most notably since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. According to a Gallup poll, people had more negative experiences and fewer positive ones in 2021.
In short: rising uncertainty left a mark on all of us. People also felt less well-rested and experienced less enjoyment in general. According to the latest Gallup Global Emotions Report 2023, “as positive emotions rebounded in 2022, the global rise in unhappiness stalled, but negative emotions remained at the record high set the previous year.“ Stress, worry and pain, however, have reached new heights.
Now more than ever, it is crucial that people learn about stress and stress management, so they can maintain or regain their health - mentally as well as physically. Unfortunately, there are several myths surrounding the topic of stress management, which may keep people from reaching their goals - or even getting started in the first place.
1. Stress is always a bad thing
You might not think it, but never experiencing any stress is not a desirable thing. That would mean that we don’t care about anything. Not all stress is bad. Anything that is important to us can be a source of stress. Moving outside our comfort zone, so we can grow, is not necessarily a bad thing. Excitement is also a form of stress.
We need to differentiate between positive stress (eustress) and negative stress (distress). Training for a competition is stressful, and during the competition itself, we experience a lot of stress. Without that stress, we would not be able to perform on point. Why? Stress is energy and what is crucial is to differentiate between energy that moves us forward and energy that brings us down.
We need to find our stress “magic spot” - the spot where we perform and feel the best and the point that gives us the greatest benefit towards reaching our goal(s): not too much stress or pressure, but not too little, either.
If we move past our “magic spot”, the benefit for our goal decreases, as you can see in the image above. That’s where we need to reduce our stress level in order to get back into our magic spot. Because that is indeed where the magic happens.
2. We should always aim for work / life balance
Work / life balance is something we should all strive for, right? After all, working with two energy systems is exactly what we need to do in order to manage our stress. To tell you the truth, this way of thinking is a bit too rigid for me. It implies that “work“ is always a time to push oneself, to generate and spend energy, while “life“ is always relaxation and downtime. I do not think that this reflects our every-day lives. Do you?
As human beings, we are not built for prolonged periods of stress, but for a certain rhythm - a dance, if you will. Animals work the same way and, as opposed to most humans, they still behave accordingly: the only time they experience any kind of stress is if they are being attacked, if the instinct of procreation kicks in, or if they are in a situation involving food. Other than that, they just are. So, what exactly are these two energy systems I mentioned at the beginning?
“Push” mode is a certain energy that means stress (eustress or distress), alarm; you feel tense, focused or tight (almost like you have tunnel vision). “Push” mode is loud and short-sighted. You actively push for something. Cortisol is produced. You can equate this to a diesel engine.
“Pull” mode, however, is quiet, soft and centred. You are able to take a step back and see the bigger picture; there is no adherence. By accepting what you cannot control, you attract the things and people that are meant for you. In “pull” mode, your mind can sometimes be a little scattered, too. “Pull” mode is more like an electric vehicle.
Both of these vehicles have the same horsepower, generate performance and get you to where you need to be. The big difference is torque, however. For some tasks (goals), you need a little more torque, and the diesel engine fits best, and for others, the electric vehicle is better suited. Each one has its advantages and disadvantages.
When you have mastered the art of push and pull, you literally know which doors in your life open with pushing and which with pulling. You know which kind of energy you need for a specific task or goal - at a certain point in time or over a period of time. What matters is that this gets you to your magic spot.
It is certainly healthy to operate in “push” mode – if that is what is needed at that moment. One example of switching to “push” mode to generate a little more torque would be to set a smart deadline. That can certainly be helpful in reaching your goal, right? Sometimes, a little urgency is needed to get us going.
For our overall wellbeing, it would be incredibly beneficial if we could switch between these two energy systems while we are at work. The same goes for life, too. Some people go on adventure trips during their time off: they are in “pull“ mode while on vacation, which can also be super beneficial for us for a short period of time.
What is important is that we regularly switch between these two energy systems, as we need them both. After periods of stress, there needs to be stress relief and relaxation. After periods of relaxation, there needs to be a build-up in stress, so we can complete certain types of tasks. You might know the concept of Yin and Yang. There’s no light without darkness, no summer without winter. The same goes for push and pull: one doesn’t work without the other.
3. You must do yoga or meditate
Yoga and medication can indeed be good tools for relieving stress and aiding relaxation, but not everyone feels comfortable with these two activities. So, get started and find out what works for you.
Forest bathing is a great alternative and one that I can recommend personally. For physical stress relief, any type of physical activity that discharges energy works (lifting weights, running, boxing, and so on). Do what works for you!
What is crucial in this process is that relaxation comes second to stress relief: our brain will not let us relax if we’re still loaded with energy. Think about it this way: imagine you see a tiger and your flight reflex kicks in. You will not be able to relax until your brain can sense that you did indeed run away, spent the energy that was built up and that you are safe again.
Until you spend said energy, your brain will not let you relax, as it still believes that the tiger is nearby and that you are still in danger. That makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it? Periods of stress without stress relief result in difficulties relaxing. So, discharge the energy first and then find something that helps you relax.
Feeling rushed, stressed, inadequate and overwhelmed seems to be the new normal, but guess what: nowadays “normal“ does not necessarily mean “healthy“ or “sustainable“! If we want different results, we need to do things differently or do different things: change is inevitable and the time is now. Yes, change comes with risks, but do you know what change also creates? Opportunities!
Unlock your own stress management superpowers!
It's not easy, but we can all learn to better manage our stress and emotions. At the end of the day, it all comes down to the choices we make every single day. The more we know and the more clarity we have (both about ourselves and our environment), the better choices we can make.
What keeps you from unlocking your own stress management super powers? Imagine what would be possible for you if you were able to find your stress magic spot? What would your life look like and how would you feel if stress wouldn’t feel like such a burden? It’s time to ditch the old victim mentality and get behind the driver’s seat - because you’re worth it.
Jessica Silis is a certified stress coach who helps her clients find their magic spots for feeling and performing their best. Schedule a free 60-minute call to start reconnecting with your own superpowers.