This is the fourth in a series of articles about 21st Century families.

Q: What are dysfunctional ways families cope with 21st Century stress?

A: Stress is different for each person. It can be an external event, an internal emotional pain or a combination of both. Stresses are pressures or problems that exceed one's coping skills. By definition, stress usually is assumed to be detrimental, but the truth is too little, as well as too much, is harmful. Life without any stress produces boredom, lack of ambition or lack of goals or direction. Too much stress overwhelms individuals and can cause acute stress, which produces many emotional and physical symptoms.

Before examining poor stress coping skills, there are several myths that need to be dispelled, according to the American Psychological Association. The first of these myths is stress is the same for everyone, meaning people experience the same stressors. That myth is not true. One person's stress might be a challenge for the next person. The extent to which two people feel stressed by the same stressors also can be different, in that one takes the stress in stride and the other becomes immobilized.

A second myth is stress never is good for people, and no stress is best. In reality, too little or too much is bad for people, and the most important aspect is learning to cope. Even too little stress needs to be changed if it renders a person dysfunctional.

Stress exists everywhere, so there is nothing people can do. Part of that statement is true, that stress is everywhere. But human beings who manage their stress, do not perceive stress as everywhere; only those who fail to cope have that perception.

Techniques for reducing stress that are best are those most popular is a myth. Actually, stress management has to be geared to the individual. The most popular coping skills might not be the most effective.

Another myth that can be damaging is if a person has no symptoms, there is no stress. Medication or denial can mask stress symptoms. People might not recognize a symptom is caused by stress, especially with physical symptoms such as headaches or stomach upsets.

The next myth is only main stress symptoms need attention. Minor symptoms are red flags or warning signs of more to come. Minor symptoms indicate a need to make lifestyle changes before symptoms become significant concerns.

Facts about stress document 43 percent of adults experience adverse effects of stress. Somewhere between 70 percent and 90 percent of adults who make physician office visits have stress-related symptoms. Stress plays a role in the top six leading causes of death: heart disease, lung ailments, cancer, accidents, cirrhosis of the liver and completed suicides.

There are several common dysfunctional patterns practiced by people. One of the most widely practiced is judging or trying to change others. Women tend to try to "fix people" more often than men.

Parents and their children practice many ineffective techniques trying to get someone in the family to do a task, such as homework for children or mowing the lawn for a spouse. Family members resort to nagging, criticizing, shouting, throwing tantrums, throwing things or withholding rewards. Family members continue to repeat ineffective coping skills, when spouses and children fail to change their behavior.

Businesses also practice ineffective coping skills. They might have impressive mission statements, but treat their employees in ways that run counter to their stated purposes. Their actions contradict their written guidelines.

The following self-destructive coping skills can be found in 21st Century families and workers. They have been around a long time, but most of these coping skills show no signs of diminishing. They include the following unhealthy stress management skills found on

* Drinking excessively.

* Under eating or overeating.

* Zoning out for hours with the computer or TV.

* Withdrawing from family, friends and activities.

* Sleeping too much.

* Procrastinating.

* Practicing constant busyness to avoid facing problems.

* Taking out stress on others by lashing out, verbal abuse or physical violence.

Next week's article will elaborate on stressors related to various types of 21st Century families.

Judy Caprez is associate professor of social work at Fort Hays State University. Send your questions in care of the department of sociology and social work, Rarick Hall, FHSU.