Exploring Stress: Do We Really Understand Its Role?

Stress is bad for you, mentally, emotionally, and physically. This is a commonly held belief today, within the world of therapists and counselors and in the general public, and there’s plenty of data to back it up. A comprehensive study just released by the American Psychological Association is titled 2010 Stress in America and looks at stress across the whole board. Particularly interesting in this study is how stress plays in family dynamics. The average parent reported a stress level of 6.1 out of 10, and one third of parents were in the 8-10 range. While the majority (69%) said their stress did not impact their children, kids had something else to say. Only 14% reported that their parents’ stress didn’t bother or upset them.

That means that the vast majority notice their parents stress and they are bothered or upset by it. Kids raised in stressful environments are more like to have physical and mental health problems in both the short and long term. So what to do about it? For those whose anxiety is out of proportion to the struggles they face, stress management counseling is certainly a good idea.  Therapists can help people understand why they’re reacting to stress in such a strong way, and to develop new, healthier responses and habits.

But many people who are stressed don’t struggle with anxiety: often, life really is that stressful, especially in times of financial instability. We have two choices: change our lives to be less stressful, or change the way we think about stress. That’s exactly what Professor Salvatore R. Maddi believes we can do. Maddi has been studying the psychological and behavioral elements of stress for more than three decades. While many of us are overwhelmed by stress, some people thrive, and Maddi has been working to identify what makes the difference. His answer? Hardiness. Stress is unavoidable, but if we respond to it with hardiness (comprised of commitment, control, and challenge) we can actually use it to our advantage. So maybe it’s not stress itself that’s bad for us, but rather how we deal with it (or don’t deal with it) that affects our physical and mental health.

© Copyright 2010 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Oliver


    November 15th, 2010 at 5:36 AM

    I think that that is the thing about so much stress- it is hard to pinpoint exactly what its role is and just how much or how little of a role it actually does play in our lives. There are some things I guess that are beyond knowing. I know that for me on a personal level sometimes when I get too stressed out nothing feels like it is going right. It is like my entire health takes a downward spiral and it negatively impacts the way that I think and live. I know that there are those people for whom stress motivates them to do more and to do better but I do not happen to be one of those people. Calm and tranquility suit me much better than stress and anxiety and I think that my work would prove that.

  • Ether


    November 15th, 2010 at 12:00 PM

    Make best use of the situation you have.This is something that I live by and I believe this is the same message this article wants to send across.There will be difficulties and problems but we need to resolve them and move ahead.

  • XM


    November 16th, 2010 at 2:49 AM

    Stress here and there sometimes is in fact good if you ask me.When I’m just starting to get stressed I work harder and usually put in more effort and reach my goal.This has happened a lot of times.

    But at the same time too much stress can really derail a person’s work and ability to do so.

  • runninfast


    November 16th, 2010 at 5:38 AM

    I am one of those crazy fools who gets motivated by stress, like I want to take it on and succeed in the face of the craziness. I can’t let it get me down to the point of not being able to function because that is no way to live. Just smile in the face of adversity and stress and say bring it on. I can conconquer this.

  • HG


    November 16th, 2010 at 11:40 PM

    you just cannot ignore it when someone around you is stressed. I feel guilty when someone close to me is stressed and I am not able to help them. hence it is no surprise that kids feel low when their parents are stressed.

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