Four myths about stress

We all experience stress in our lives, and yet the causes and effects of stress are often misunderstood.

Stress is part of our body’s ‘fight or flight’ response that helps us react to danger. Before industrialisation, this would have usually been a physical danger, requiring us to run, hide, defend ourselves or attack the source of the threat. In our modern world, the threats we face are often more abstract, such as the fear of losing our jobs, money worries or social conflicts.

This makes it harder to understand and identify the causes and effects of stress, giving birth to many myths and misconceptions on the subject. So here we address some common stress-related myths you may have encountered.

Physical illnesses that are linked to stress are psychosomatic

While stemming from psychological factors, stress can cause physical health problems. Sometimes, however, physical illnesses that are caused or worsened by stress are confused with illnesses that psychosomatic. In other words, ‘it’s all in your head’.

Stress causes chemical changes in the body. For example, it causes the hormone cortisol to be released, which can alter our weight, our skin and our hair. Stress raises the heart rate and the blood flow, accelerating the release of cholesterol. It can also affect the blood glucose levels of those with Type II Diabetes.

Stress makes your hair go white

There’s no evidence to support the idea that stress can make your hair grow white or grey. However, it can cause your hair to fall out. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, hair loss can occur up to three months after a stressful event. After the initial hair loss, hair usually grows back in six to nine months.

Stress is in itself a mental illness

Stress isn’t a psychiatric diagnosis. But, as pointed out by the mental health charity Mind, stress is closely linked to mental health problems. The effects of extreme or long-term stress can be devastating, with widespread impact on our careers and relationships. It can also lead to problems such as anxiety and depression, which is why it’s important to tackle it when it rears its head. Additionally, stress can be caused by mental health problems. For example, someone who has depression may have to balance their work and family duties with medical appointments, which can be stressful.

Admitting you’re stressed shows weakness

If you’re under pressure, it’s sometimes easier to say ‘I’m fine’ than it is to talk about it. It’s important to remember that stress, and any mental or physical health problems that result from it, are not weaknesses. Talking about how you’re feeling could make things a whole lot easier to manage, and may help the people around you feel more comfortable talking about their feelings too.

My Possible Self is a self-help app that helps reduce stress, anxiety and depression in eight weeks.