The short history of stress research has failed to produce a standard definition for stress, let alone provide conclusive findings of the impact of stress (Cooper & Dewe, 2004; Jex, 2002; Schwarzer & Taubert, 2002). Regardless, lack of definition has not stopped a lamenting among governments, NGO’s, media pundits, management gurus, special interest groups, and the general population about stress being the killer disease of modern times (Manzies, 2005; Oz, 2009). For example:
- The American Psychological Association declares that “stress is a major health problem” that threatens psychological and physical health, and that contributes to developing existential illnesses like heart disease, depression, and obesity (American Psychological Association, 2009).
- The United Nations proclaims that stress is the epidemic of the century, while the World Health Organization promotes stress as a worldwide epidemic (Manzies, 2005).
- Popular daytime television personality Dr. Oz (2008; Stress kills: The truth behind America’s #1 health crisis, 2009) laments that stress is not only the “#1 health crisis”, but also that “stress kills.”
- A Google search on “stress” and “kill” returns a long list of articles and news items with titles like: “Why stress kills you,” “Kill stress before it kills you,” Why does stress kill?” “Don’t let stress silently kill you,” “Work-related stress can kill,” and, of course, a string of hits that begin with “Stress kills!”
The resounding message from government and non-government organizations, health professionals, consultants, gurus, marketers, media, special interest groups, con artists:
People should be stressed about stress.
Failure to reduce or eliminate stress will ensure sickness, misery, and death.
A key to a happy and fulfilling life is to avoid, reduce, and eliminate stressful situations and stress symptoms.
“Buy this product.” “Support this proposal.” “Join this group.” “Pass this law.” “Follow this philosophy.” “Take this pill.”
When viewed from a marketing standpoint, the stress-as-killer-disease pitch makes sense: the more people feel they are stressed and believe that stress will kill them, the more likely they are to seek help for the cure being pitched. MSNBC (2009) estimated that Americans spend more than 14 billion dollars a year on products peddled to relieve their stress; then advertises products intended to eliminate stress symptoms. The American Psychological Association uses a similar marketing pitch, emphasizing that stress causes illness, saying: “For a healthy mind and body… talk to a psychologist” (American Psychological Association, 2009), with an associated “find a psychologist” link for generating leads for members (American Psychological Association, 2007).
Unfortunately, contemporary stress dialogs tend to focus on the negative aspects of stress while they barely acknowledge or completely ignore the benefits of stress. They tend to promote dysfunctional coping strategies that may enrich those who promote them but can limit the capacity of people to develop functional perspectives and practices that can allow them to cope in and adapt within a dynamic environment.