Stress Myth #1: Stress Is Something That Actually Exists!

Copyright (c) 2011 M.C.Orman, M.D., FLP

(NOTE: This is the first in a series of eight articles on common myths about stress.)

Most stress relief experts take two things for granted: 1) that stress is something that actually exists, and 2) that stress is something human beings commonly suffer from.

I used to believe in both of these common sense notions about stress. However, I eventually discovered there are better ways to think about stress and how to cope with it, including better ways to think about what it actually is, in the first place.

What Is Stress Really?

If you ask people to tell you what stress is, they will usually give you answers like this:

• Some believe stress is being mentally or physically overwhelmed by too many external pressures or demands;

• Some believe stress is not being able to sleep well or concentrate during the day;

• Others will say stress is feeling anxious, angry, frustrated or depressed;

• Still others will point to physical symptoms in their bodies, such as muscle aches, headaches, indigestion, excessive perspiration, or rapid heart beats;

• And some will say stress is the inappropriate activation of the body’s “flight or fight response,” which results in excessive stress hormones being released into the bloodstream.

You probably have your own personal definition for stress, which may or may not be similar to those above. Thus, there are many popular definitions of stress around, all of which do have some merit.

However, none of these definitions gets to the heart of what stress really is. None of them adequately captures its true essence.

As you’ll soon see, this truth is very different from what you’ve been taught to believe.

The Truth About Stress

The real truth about stress is that it is just a word.

That’s right. Stress is not some “thing” or “condition” that actually exists in the real world. The only place stress exists is in human language. It’s just a word—an abstract concept—that someone invented years ago to stand for many other things in life that really do exist and that really do bother us from time to time.

While this basic truth about stress may seem silly or insensitive, I assure you it has profound implications. I will explore some of these implications in later articles in this series.

However, if you doubt that “stress” is just a word, all you have to do check what the originator of the term said about it.

Origin Of The Term “Stress”

The term “stress” was first introduced in its modern context by Hans Selye, an Austrian-born physician who did much of his pioneering research on stress in Montreal, Canada during the 1930s and 1940s.

In his 1956 book The Stress of Life, Selye very clearly states:

“If we are to use this concept (stress) in a strictly scientific manner, it is important to keep in mind that stress is an abstraction; it has no independent existence.” (p.43)

As time went on, however, we forgot Selye’s important warning. As a result, we continue to think of stress as a “thing” or a “condition” that actually does exist, and that we actually do suffer from.

In order to become a master at stress relief—or anything else in life—you first must understand the fundamental nature of what you’re trying to conquer—i.e., what it is, and what it is not. That’s why understanding “stress” is just a word is the first important step you must take if you want to develop true stress mastery.

Mort (Doc) Orman, M.D. is a physician, author, and stress coach who has been helping people eliminate stress, without managing it, for more than 30 years. Follow his innovative stress relief blog You can also download his free, 30-page, PDF stress mastery training “Common Myths About Stress” (no email or registration is required).

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