Forget the luxury car and the designer heels; stress is the new status symbol.
You know her, don’t you? The one who’s always running to a meeting, juggling a thousand things, so stressed she could weep, always being pulled in a million different directions, and talking about how stressed she is.
That could even be you, if you can’t help responding to a friend or colleague’s story of stress woes with your own, more stressful story (and secretly feel a little shiver of importance and accomplishment as you do).
There appears to have been a shift in how stress is viewed. Far from being ashamed to admit that we’re stressed, the word, and the associated actions and behaviours, has become a badge of honour, worn proudly and spoken of openly.
Proud as a (highly stressed) peacock
Western culture has long placed an emphasis on getting things done, with the implication being that the more things you have to get done, the more important you are. Add to this the pressure to work late, the fear that other people are doing more with their lives than you are, society’s almost allergic response to any hint of laziness, and the smug feeling of delight we get when people congratulate us on juggling so many balls without dropping any (in public, at least), and the result is a competition to see who is The Most Stressed.
Are you addicted to stress?
What might have started as an attempt to make yourself appear important, or to make yourself feel indispensable (either at work or in your personal life), could have turned into an addiction to the powerful hormones (adrenaline buzz) released by your body in response to the constant stress. It’s easy to become hooked on this feeling, where you get used to the adrenalin rush and slowly start to accept that feeling as the norm.
There are warning signs that point to a developing (oralready full-blown) stress addiction. These are: tuning outduring conversations because you’re thinking about otherthings; feeling rushed wherever you are because you feelthat you ought to be completing the next task somewhereelse; or feeling uncomfortable, worried or nervous in your mind or body when you find yourself without something that you must do right now.
Bow out of the competition
The problem with competitive stress, in addition to the potential stress addiction, is that you run the risk of showing yourself up as someone who isn’t able to deal with the daily pressures of life. So…
- Stop the boasting and the one-upmanship, no more regaling friends with stories of what you have to do. And instead of responding to their gloats by going one better (or worse), commiserate, and then ask when they’re planning to take some time to relax.
- If you still feel the need to see exactly how much you’re getting done (and it is satisfying to feel that we’ve ploughed through plenty of admin), write it all down and use your boldest red pen to scratch out each completed task.
- Sit down and work out how much time you’re spending posting those ‘This is the most hectic day ever!’ statuses on Facebook. If nothing else, realising that you spend two hours a day online will show you that clearly you do have some potential free time on your hands.
- Treat the word “stress” as a swearword, and stick a ‘stress jar’ on your desk. Every time the word gets mentioned throw some coins in the jar. You’ll soon find something else to compete over!