Common Misunderstandings About Stress—Stress Fairy Tale No. 1

by Doc Orman, M.D.

Stress  Fairy Tales--Fairy Tale No 1This week, I’m going to revisit some popular myths about stress that I wrote about earlier in this blog, but that most people continue to misunderstand.  

I’m going to highlight three of the biggest misunderstandings which are widespread today—so widespread that they’ve become as beloved as some of our most cherished fairy tales. 

Fairy Tales About Stress

All throughout our history, human beings have had a fondness for fairy tales.  Just think about some of the entertaining stories you were told as a child, or that you yourself have shared with your kids:

  • Snow White and the 7 Dwarfs
  • Little Red Riding Hood
  • Santa Claus and His Reindeers
  • The Tooth Fairy
  •  It Was Definitely The YouTube Video

The only difference between these fairy tales and the ones we tell ourselves about stress every day is we know these fables aren’t really true (at least some of us do), while the ones we tell ourselves about stress are rarely questioned.

Stress Fairy Tale No. 1

Take the frequently told story that stress is a physical/emotional condition which actually exists and which human beings frequently suffer from.  This story is assumed to be true by just about everyone who speaks, writes, or teaches about stress today.  Pick up any newspaper or magazine article about stress, and you’ll find this story embedded within it.  Go on the Internet and Google the word “stress,” and I guarantee you that 9 out of 10 (if not all 10) of the top 10 sources you find listed will all assume that this basic story about stress is a factual given.

The only problem is…it is not.  As I’ve pointed out many times in this blog, there is no such “thing” as stress, and human beings never, ever suffer from stress.  This only happens in fairy tales (i.e., in the stories we constantly tell each other about stress).

In the real world, where we live, enlightened individuals recognize that stress is just a word we humans use to stand for hundreds of different problems in our lives.  In the land of reality, as opposed to the land of Snow White, Santa Claus, and the Tooth Fairy, it is problems that we suffer from…not stress.  

Unlike stress, these problems are indeed very real, and they often can affect us, even to the point of making us sick or causing us many different mental, emotional or physical symptoms. 

Thus, losing your job and having serious financial difficulties is not stress.  It is losing your job and having serious financial difficulties. 

Being angry or frustrated all the time is not being stressed.  It’s being angry and frustrated, which are both very specific (as opposed to nebulous) emotional problems.

Stop Trying To Slay The Imaginary Dragon Called Stress!

In many fairy tales, the hero or heroine has to go up against formidable obstacles or adversaries in order to accomplish some noble mission or goal.  In some stories, this obstacle takes the form of a gigantic, menacing, fire-breathing dragon.  The protagonist has to somehow do battle with this dragon and eventually defeat it.

Of course, the dragon isn’t real—it’s just a figment of the story teller’s imagination—and everyone understands this.  However, when you turn the word “stress” into some sort of dragon that you have to personally do battle against, and then you set off to “deal with your stress,” you immediately enter into Fairy Tale Land.  Only you continue to think the dragon is real—and that your problem really is stress—when in fact, your problem is something else.  And by making this frequent mistake, you guarantee that your focus is largely on some mythical, non-existent problem, rather than being on the real specific problems that you actually are suffering from. This immediately places you at a huge disadvantage.

So the next time you find yourself thinking that your problem is stress, just remember Stress Fairy Tale No. 1, and picture a little fire-breathing dragon in your imagination.

Fire-breathing stress dragon

 Then remind yourself that the dragon isn’t real, and neither is stress.

Hopefully, this will force you to get much more specific about the problem or problems that really are troubling you, which is the first essential step to dealing with your problems effectiv

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Best wishes and happy reading (and learning)!ely. 

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

moiraesfate October 16, 2012 at 12:48 PM

I think you’re smoking something. Stress is NOT “problems”. Stress is the combined physical and mental effect on the body these problems cause.

As a doctor, you should be bright than to say something so stupid.


Doc Orman, M.D. October 17, 2012 at 11:40 AM

How about we say that neither of us is stupid but that we are both intelligent, caring people, and we happen to have slightly different points of view? How about we have a dialogue to explore what might be valid/useful about each other’s particular point of view/definition of stress? Are you interested?


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