People usually believe of stress and anxiety as adverse ideas, but while stress and anxiety can achieve unhealthy levels, psychologists have known for a long time that both are inevitable— and often play a useful, not damaging, part in our daily life, according to a lecture at the American Psychological Association’s annual conference.
“Many Americans now feel stressed about being stressed and worried about being nervous. Unfortunately, as soon as someone reaches a specialist for assistance, stress and anxiety, they have already constructed up to unhealthy rates,” said Lisa Damour, PhD, a psychologist in private practice who presented at the conference.
Stress generally happens when individuals work at the brink of their skills–when, according to Damour, they push themselves or are compelled by conditions to extend beyond their familiar boundaries. It is also essential to realize that both bad and good occurrences can result in stress. For example, being fired is stressful, but for the first time it brings a baby home.
It’s important for psychologists to share our knowledge about stress with broad audiences: that stress is a given in daily life, that working at the edge of our abilities often builds those capacities and that moderate levels of stress can have an inoculating function, which leads to higher than average resilience when we are faced with new difficulties.”Lisa Damour, PhD, private-practice psychologist
Anxiety, according to Damour, also receives an unnecessarily poor rap.
Viewing anxiety as useful and protective at times enables individuals to make excellent use of it. For instance, Damour said she often tells the adolescents she works with in her exercise to pay attention if they begin feeling nervous at a party because they might be alerted to a issue by their nerves.
That doesn’t mean that stress and anxiety can’t be harmful, said Damour. Stress can become unhealthy if it is chronic (allowing for no possibility of recovery) or if it is traumatic (psychologically catastrophic).
Damour also encouraged psychologists to play an active part in counter-messaging what she calls “the happiness industry,” or those wellness firms that sell the concept that individuals should feel calm and comfortable most of the moment.
“Psychologists are good at taking a more measured approach to thinking about human experience. We want to support well-being, but almost all of the time don’t set the bar to be pleased. That’s a hazardous concept because it’s pointless and impossible,” she said. “If you feel you should always be happy, your daily experience may eventually turn out to be quite miserable.”