The Stress Culture – Why Society Thrives on Anxiety

Stress should be like a cold. It’s unpleasant, but you still can go about your daily life and get things done. For many people, however, stress is more like an all-out chronic flu or pneumonia. Stress is no longer like an annoying runny nose or itchy eyes, but more like a debilitating infection. And if you don’t treat pneumonia, you may not ever recover. The above is not the most pleasant comparison, but it seems to be a valid one in this day in time. According to , the definition of stress is, “a mentally or emotionally disruptive or upsetting condition occurring in response to adverse external influences…”

We learn growing up that putting off a book report until a day before it is due causes stress. Or we forgot to walk the dog and our parents screamed at us once they found Rover’s accident in the corner. Or we had a fight with our best friend and didn’t talk for a week. Those were stressful situations; they were events that occurred that upset us, and then they were over. Of course, as adults, stress results from more complicated incidents. You’re in debt, your partner cheated on you, or maybe your parents’ health is failing. Still, these are individual issues that the “disruptive or upsetting condition” you experience directly relates to. Nowadays it seems like stress isn’t just a response to an isolated situation or even a group of incidents. Now stress seems to have become a lifestyle. People do not know how to function without stress in their lives. Our gogogo! high-tech culture is slowly destroying us.

Think about it. Children are born into this culture and watch their parents work extra long hours for minimal pay; for years they witness their foremost role models being exhausted or short-tempered. Elementary school students are having hours of homework so that they can excel at a standardized test rather than developing a strong body of knowledge that will aid them throughout their lifetime. Within in the first ten years of life, kids learn that feeling anxious and carrying pressure upon their little shoulders are how things are supposed to be. Parents tell their kids that all they need to do is try their best, yet these same children are witnessing these same parents lose it if they forget to run one little errand. We are teaching mixed signals, which, ironically, cause even more stress. This attitude continues to flourish in adulthood. Anything less than perfection is failure. We don’t give ourselves permission to say “I’m doing the best I can, and that’s good enough.” We don’t even give ourselves the right to rest or relax. We get up early to get a head start on the day, and toss and turn in bed at night thinking up “to do” lists in our heads. We have to be the best employee, the best mother or father, the best friend, the best cook, the best housekeeper, the best fill-in-the-blank, and look good doing it all.

Our goals are often unrealistic and unattainable. In short, we are setting ourselves up to fail. Magazines and news shows are constantly advising the public on different methods of reducing stress or the newest relaxation techniques. Get a massage, light a candle, listen to some soft music, take a nap, play with a puppy, or take a bike ride we hear. Don’t knock any of these ideas, because they really can give you a few moments of peace. Yet it is essential to understand that taking 30 minutes a week to listen to New Age music while lying in a dark room is not going to change your life. It is not going to rid you of that nagging feeling of “shouldn’t I be doing something?”

It is hard to change your whole perspective on the way life should be approached, but until people start to question their pro-stress attitudes, nothing will change. We’ve created a stress culture-a group of people that thrive on pressure and anxiety. That lovely feeling you get after a full body massage will only last if you don’t run a bunch of errands as soon as you leave the spa. We will only know the long-lasting benefits of relaxation techniques if we realize that limiting stress-causing situations in our lives is essential. Rethinking our pro-stress perspective is the first step in truly grasping the concept of a lower-stress life. We can’t prevent the death of loved ones or soaring gas prices or a friend’s illness, but we can choose to enjoy the sunset rather than rushing inside to do the dishes.

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