Stress Awareness Month: The “Negative Events Cause Stress” Myth

by Doc Orman, M.D.

The Negative Events Cause Stress MythApril is National Stress Awareness Month ( and this week I’ve been highlighting excerpts from a recent article that appeared in the Huffington Post last week on common myths about stress.

Stress Myths: 9 Common Misconceptions About Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

One of the purposes of Stress Awareness Month each April is to stimulate more open discussion about harmful misconceptions regarding stress that are prevalent in our society. 

The Huffington Post took on this challenge, and while I don’t totally agree with all of the nine myths they chose to focus on, I do think they included some really good ones, which I’ve been sharing with you all week. Two of these are:

The “Stress Motivation” Myth

The “Stress Is Unavoidable” Myth

Negative Events Alone Rarely Cause Stress

The last myth I want to comment on from this recent Huffington Post article is the belief that negative events directly cause us to experience stress.  The author of this article once again quotes Kathleen Hall, Ph.D, a stress expert and founder of the Mindfulness Living Network:

“Negative events can lead to stressful thoughts, but so can happy events.  It’s not the event or the thought itself, but rather you emotional response to it that causes you stress.  Anything that disrupts your routine and triggers strong emotions, negative or positive, can lead to stress.”

Almost Correct…But Not Quite

As Dr. Hall correctly points out, it’s not the events all by themselves, whether positive or negative, that cause us to become stressed.  It’s the events coupled with less visible processes simultaneously taking place within us that leads to a stressful outcome.

Events alone (with the rare exceptions of truly horrendous ones) usually don’t have the power to cause us to become stressed unless we are contributing to this outcome.  However, I differ with Dr. Hall when she says that it is not our internal thoughts but rather our emotions that cause us to become stressed.

Internal Thoughts And Action Patterns

Yes, it is generally negative emotions we are experiencing when we say we are feeling “stressed,” but where do those emotions come from?  Do they come directly from either external or internal events? 

I say no.  I say they come directly from internal thoughts and action patterns that automatically get triggered with us by events.  The same event that may result in stress for one individual may not produce stress or negative emotions in another person.

For example, if somebody told me to jump out of an airplane at 10,000 feet, I would have all sorts of “stressful emotions” running through my body, most of them coming from very negative thoughts about impending harm and the very strong pull of automatic avoidance behaviors, even though the act itself may be very safe (and possibly even enjoyable) with today’s modern equipment and jumping techniques.  In contrast, an experienced skydiver, who’s completed hundreds of successful jumps before, may not be anxious at all about making just another routine jump.

But I do give the Huffington Post and Dr. Hall credit for correctly pointing out a very widespread myth that results in tremendous confusion about what really causes our stress to occur.  Thanks to both of them for doing their part to support Stress Awareness Month, and hopefully they will continue to do so.

Forgiveness Book Promotion

Remember that all next week, starting on Monday, April 15th and lasting through Friday, April 19th, you’ll be able to download my new Kindle book (below) for free directly from Amazon:

The Art Of True Forgiveness: How To Forgive Anyone For Anything Anytime You Want (Doc Orman, M.D.)

If you recently downloaded my Kindle book, The Irritability Cure, you’ll notice there’s a good bit of content that is the same in both of these books, especially with regard to understanding the origins of human emotions in general and learning how to identify the internal causes of anger in particular.

However, this is really important information that’s good to review a second time. It can be applied equally well whether you are dealing with anger when it first happens (acute anger) or much later on, when it has turned into smoldering resentment and seems very difficult to overcome.

So if you missed the first free offer this month for The Irritability Cure book, please make sure to take advantage of this second free offer that will be available all of next week (Monday through Friday only).

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