Stress: The Misunderstood Messenger

Stress has a bad reputation. It is largely undeserved. Stress itself is not the problem. The stressor (of which stress reaction is the messenger) is the problem. Moreover, there is more than one kind of stress: the good stress that motivates and the unmanaged stress that damages.

Unmanaged stress is generally understood as a bad outcome, a mental disorder from which we suffer either in acute (short-term) or chronic (long-term) form. However, we believe that all stress is bad and pathological because that’s what we are being told over and over.

Many times a stressor takes us by surprise. But many more times we can see it coming, we can expect it to happen, we can see the warning signs. Too often the warning signs are ignored or, worse, are turned off so that they won’t bother us anymore. Many choose to turn them off by

self-medicating with alcohol, over-the-counter pills, drugs, sex, overwork, and other numbing down and covering up activities.

And when all of this occurs, and because it does occur this way (or worse), it adds to whatever stressor caused it to begin. The stress reaction becomes itself a stressor. It becomes a state of being, a condition, a problem of its own. It becomes a disease.

Stress Mismanagement

To “cure” this type of stress we turn to stress management.
Conventional stress management approaches consist mostly of attempts at reducing or eliminating stress. This is done with anti-anxiety medication or with relaxation techniques of various kind. The objective of these “remedies” is to reduce stress as much as possible.

Since eliminating stress altogether appears to be their ultimate goal, it appears to be a strategy aimed at killing the messenger, while doing little to address the real problem, the stressor.

Why Stress Itself Is Good

Many of the negative consequences of stress result from a faulty understanding of its purpose. Bad stress, the pathological kind, is simply a focus on the wrong target. Stress is a reaction to a stressor. Stress is not the problem. The stressor is the problem.

Stress is there to alert us to it. It is the amber light that flashes before the red one to give us a heads up that we need to stop and pay attention because something or someone requires our full alertness and our best intervention. That’s why the stress reaction is good.

It is normal to have a physical, emotional and social reaction to a stressor. I’ll say more: It is VITAL to have a stress reaction to a sudden danger, a threat to our physical well-being, to our loved ones, to our relationships, to our possessions, to our principles and ideals.
The stress reaction is necessary for survival, for learning and for personal growth. Stress motivates us and mobilizes us to action.

Without the stimulation of stress, what would happen to the human race?