Better Stress Management Means Better Mental Health

happiness first(1)

This year the American Psychological Association (APA) released another disappointing study in their Stress in AmericaTM series. Why do I consider their annual reports disappointing? They perpetuate harmful illusions with the questions they ask in the survey.

According to Merriam-Webster, manage is a verb that means:

  • To have control of something
  • To take care of and make decisions about
  • To handle or direct with a degree of skill
  • To exercise executive, administrative, and supervisory direction of
  • To try to alter for a purpose

Nowhere in the definition of manage does it say “put one’s head in the sand and ignore the problem” nor does it say “ignore the problem by not thinking about it” or “don’t be proactive.”

In their annual survey, the APA asks over 3,000 participants what stress management techniques they use and provide the following possible answers:

  • Watching television or movies for more than two hours per day
  • Surfing the internet
  • Napping or sleeping
  • Play video games
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Eating
  • Smoking
None of these activities meet the definition of manage.

The APA could introduce real stress management methods and stop calling mere distractions stress management.

The APA does a good job of measuring how much stress Americans feel. The stress level Americans experience has a significant adverse effect on every area of our lives—health, relationships, career, finances, and leisure activities. Our lives are shorter and we are sicker (mentally and physically) than we would be if we were less stressed.

Education that informs people about the detriments of an action (or a failure to take beneficial actions) is a poor motivator. It’s the most common approach—but it is far from the best possible approach.

The publication seems designed to encourage people to talk to a psychologist “for a healthy mind and body.” Now, I have nothing against psychologists. They help a lot of people. But there are serious problems with this approach being the only solution promoted, including:

  1. Our country has a severe shortage of psychologists. On July 1, 2015, a 232 page list of about 3,000 counties that lack adequate resources to help people seeking mental health care was published in the Federal Register.
  2. Stigma prevents many individuals from seeking help from mental health professionals.[1]
  3. The cost of counseling is a barrier many cannot overcome and poverty creates mental health problems that make it more difficult to recover from financial setbacks.[2]
  4. At least 1/3 of Americans who need mental health care receive it from their primary care physicians, which means drugs not therapy. The problem with any drug-only approach is that it treats the symptoms of the illness, but does nothing to cure it.[3]

“Mental health disorders are common in the United States, affecting some 44 million adults and 13.7 million children each year. . . Despite the facts that mental health disorders are as disabling as heart disease or cancer in terms of premature death and lost productivity . . . fewer than half of adults and only one-third of children with a diagnosable mental disorder receive treatment”.

Center for American Progress, 2010[4]

The reason is we do not understand how to accurately interpret and respond to our emotions. This problem is not limited to the United States. Depression is at epidemic levels worldwide. Researchers recently rejected long-standing theories about emotions that were commonly accepted and taught for eighty years.[5]

Can the new theory solve the mental health crisis in America?

Yes. When human behavior is viewed through the lens of the new theory, formerly inexplicable behavior makes sense and is even predictable. Understanding how to interpret and respond to our emotions improves mental health and overall outcomes in every area of life.

Can we teach enough people how to accurately interpret their emotions?

Yes. Teaching individuals how to accurately interpret their emotions can be done in both online and in person classroom settings. Costly one-on-one sessions are not required to teach the techniques. The basics are simple enough that young children can understand them.

While it won’t completely eliminate mental health problems, it will reduce the burden significantly. The root cause of depression, anxiety, and most suicides could be prevented before mental illness develops. The techniques reduce stress at the root cause. Chronic stress sets off bio-chemical reactions in our bodies that lead to depression, anxiety, most suicides, and even psychosis.

The new understanding of emotions is that the purpose of emotions is to guide us toward self-realization and away from danger. Understanding emotional guidance is like developing the ability to self-administer cognitive behavior therapy, but unlike during therapy, you don’t have to explain to anyone else what you’re thinking and feeling.

Today, most people believe their emotions validate the thought that preceded it—as if the emotional response to a thought validates the accuracy of the thought. If they feel fear when they hear about crime on the news, they believe they should be afraid. That is an inaccurate interpretation of their emotional guidance that leads to lower emotional states. Today, misinterpretations of the meaning of emotions happens frequently throughout the day, which compounds the problem.

The new method of interpreting emotions increases psychological and emotional flexibility, which increases resilience and happiness and lowers stress. With epidemic levels of depression and anxiety decreasing the quality of life of millions each year, people deserve the best possible information.


Baumeister, R. F., Vohs, K. D., DeWall, C. N., & Zhang, L. (2007, May 16). How Emotion Shapes Behavior: Feedback, Anticipation, and Reflection, Rather Than Direct Causation. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 11(2), 167-203.

Corrigan, P. (2004). How Stigma Interferes With Mental Health Care. American Psychologist, 59(7), 614-25.

Russell, L. (2010). Mental Health Care Services in Primary Care: Tackling the Issues in the Context of Health Care Reform. Washington D.C.: Center for American progress.

Vohs, K. D. (2013, August 30). The Poor’s Poor Mental Power. Science Magazine, 341, pp. 969-970.

Wang, P. S., Demler, O., Olfson, M., Pincus, H. A., Wells, K. B., & Kessler, R. C. (2006). Changing Profiles of Service Sectors Used for Mental Health Care in the U.S. American Journal of Psychiatry, 163(7), 1187-1198.

[1] (Corrigan, 2004)

[2] (Vohs, 2013)

[3] (Wang, Demler, Olfson, Pincus, Wells, & Kessler, 2006)

[4] (Russell, 2010)

[5] (Baumeister, Vohs, DeWall, & Zhang, 2007)


Jeanine Joy, Ph.D.
Jeanine Joy, Ph.D.
WORLD CHANGER, International Speaker, and Trainer – Dr. Joy stepped up to do everything she could to help humanity thrive more after she discovered that she could help to improve societal problems by empowering people to manage their mindset, develop psychological flexibility, and use their innate emotional guidance. She began studying the genesis of human thriving in 1995 and as her knowledge grew she became a thought leader and educator. The evidence-based techniques she teaches and writes about create improvements in physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral health. Her approach has a direct, positive effect on crime, violence, relationships, racism, educational outcomes, suicide prevention, employee engagement, happiness, career success, and more. She focuses on solutions that are both affordable and scalable because she wants to help everyone have a greater opportunity to achieve their dreams and goals. As the owner of Happiness 1st Institute, a Thrive More Now Company, Jeanine speaks internationally and provides training to organizations through her empowering, practical, and usable techniques that target the root causes of human thriving. She is recognized as a bridge builder who creates bridges by translating jargon-laden research into usable information with practical examples that help individuals fulfill more of their potential.

DO YOU HAVE THE "WRITE" STUFF? If you’re ready to share your wisdom of experience, we’re ready to share it with our massive global audience – by giving you the opportunity to become a published Contributor on our award-winning Site with (your own byline). And who knows? – it may be your first step in discovering your “hidden Hemmingway”. LEARN MORE HERE


  1. Jeanine: While I had very stressful jobs most of my adult life, the stress never really bothered me. Early on I determined how to handle it and while my method may not work for all, it may work for some. To a degree it is a lot like what you have enumerated, but greatly simplified.

    First one must identify the root cause of the stress. Too often we focus on the identifiable symptoms, not the cause of those symptoms. (You note that too.) Once the root cause (s) of the stress is identified then look it in the eye and deal with it. Ignoring the issue doesn’t make it go away, it just creates increasing stress levels both from the original cause and from the fact that the person can’t fix it and therefore feels inadequate and trapped and that creates more stress.

    Follow this: Lord give me the strength to fix those issues that I can fix, the discipline to ignore those I can’t, and the wisdom to know the difference.

    • Ken,
      Thank you for commenting and congratulations on finding a way to manage your life so that stress did not have a large role.

      Your method is much like what I recommend with an emphasis on the perspective that is causing the stress being the easiest aspect to change. Often it is the only thing that is causing stress–a negative perspective when a positive one is just as accurate. (i.e. problem vs. opportunity)