Why Are We Trying to Manage Stress?

Joe Luca

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What long term effects do constant stressors like: endless traffic, insane work hours, low-paying jobs, Covid-19, sleepless nights, doing without, 24/7 childcare, living paycheck to paycheck and endless financial arguments have on the human psyche?

Let’s find out.

It’s Just Two Words, but it’s wrong-headed

Managers manage things so that they improve, become more profitable, more well-known. Managing stress is like managing fire. Our focus should be on putting it out or reducing its impact on our lives. So, I am definitely not seeing the connection between managing something and getting rid of it – as in Stress Management.

I am not a doctor or a scientist, but from a purely practical perspective, I am an expert on stress. And from the vantage point at the top of my world, I see that getting rid of what’s causing stress, would be the better approach. But that’s just me.

Let’s start at the top: What is Stress?

According to one online source - Stress is your body's reaction to a challenge or demand. In short bursts, stress can be positive, such as when it helps you avoid danger or meet a deadline. But when stress lasts for a long time, it may harm your health. (Medlineplus.gov)

That’s a little like stating: Standing next to a fire may keep you warm, but being engulfed in it may be harmful to your health.

STRESS IS THE SYMPTOM

Bouncing a check, being late on rent, or baby won’t stop crying are all things that cause stress. Stress is a reaction to something in our lives not going well or as we intended. It’s our body and mind’s way of saying, “please, not again.” It’s an organic reaction. It happens every day, everywhere, so is it even possible to do away with it?

Should we even try to?

Is Stress Invisible? Because Many of Us are Pretending it’s Not there.

If Stress is this major link, or one of the key contributors to dementia and other ailments, that’s been bobbing up and down in our collective rear-view mirrors for decades, then what causes stress and why haven’t we made it a priority to get rid of it?

To my way of thinking, stress has always been an equal opportunity assailant. It will prey upon third-graders, high school cheerleaders, math majors, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, large town mayors, small time crooks, CEOs, CFOs and on occasion, dolphins.

In other words, it’s as obvious as a crew cut on Queen Elizabeth and yet, here we are trying our hardest to manage it and detain it and severely distract it, while we carrying on living our 24/7 lives in a bubble. Not a physical one, but one crafted out of perspective and agreement that our lives are just fine as they are.

If nothing else, this Pandemic has singlehandedly challenged our view of the efficacy of our own lives and brought into focus major cracks that have been there for some time, and now, really do need to get addressed.

So, What’s Really Behind Stress

I was unhappy with the same repetitive definitions found online telling us what stress is. So, I took a different tack and looked up – Stress Fracture. Yes, a little outside the box but hear me out.

Stress fractures are tiny cracks in a bone. They're caused by repetitive force, often from overuse — such as repeatedly jumping up and down or running long distances.

While ignoring the jumping up and down part for a moment, I firmly believe that repetitive force and often from overuse are key phrases and, in my humble opinion, are what we should be focusing on.

If an engineer points to a broken plate under a bridge and mumbles – stress fracture. Everyone gets the general idea.

If a car mechanic frowns and cleans his hands with an already dirty rag and offers up, suspension is shot, stress fracture. We nod and reach for our check book.

But why is it when a few billion people manifest the obvious signs of stress and poor management of it, we all assume this somewhat dazed expression, like Neil deGrasse Tyson, is explaining the inner workings of a black hole and then go about our business as if nothing has changed?

Is it possible that we know exactly what is causing stress – and we just can’t deal with it?

Vacations

Let’s face it, Americans love their vacations. Picnics, BBQs, boating on the lake. They just don’t get enough of them. Why is that?

America falls below, Myanmar, Somalia, Sudan, Papua New Guinea and many other countries in number of vacation days each year. So much for being a superpower. We average 10 per year. Other major players like the UK, Ireland, Germany, France, and Russia, average 20-30 days per year.

So, what happens when people are not given an opportunity to disconnect from the actions or situations in their lives that are causing stress. What if they can’t disconnect from them?

Vacation days may not be THE cause, but it’s an indicator. Americans are stressed because they have to work. Depending on what study you’re reading, somewhere between 70% and 80% of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck. Which neatly explains all the working.

This means that behind the weekly paycheck is insufficient funds to keep the household going for very long. Look to the recent stimulus package and the partisan in-fighting concerning the second one to understand the added stress that the pandemic and no job prediction has added to the overall American stress levels.

And yet week in and week out, Americans hear from the White House, that our economy is booming, that Wall Street is going great and there’s nothing to worry about.

  • Translation: The economy is booming – just not for most Americans. Money is flowing, just not to the average American.
  • Americans currently have $1 trillion in credit card debt. What are we buying? Have credit cards replaced the higher waged jobs that we no longer have?
  • America's student have $1.6 trillion in student loans. Is this now part of the American Dream?

Stress is Systemic

For generations Americans have been served up a dream and that dream comes with a home, new cars, a proper education and lots of things, that fortunately, we can now buy more easily on the Internet.

Stress is a by-product of our programming. We are told every day of our lives – through advertising, marketing, billboards, family discussions and endless pieces of social information that we should

Do better

Be Better

Have better (more)

Think better (smarter, better educated

Feel better (lighter, sexier, fitter)

And for the most part, we believe it.

Could it be that stress is the inevitable by-product of our programming? Programming, as in, what we have come to believe we must have, in order to be successful and happy?

So, we work and work some more, and focus and stress and stress some more as we systematically try to achieve the next level of Being, Doing, Having, Thinking and Feeling better.

We are driving ourselves crazy and are being brilliantly enabled in our endeavor by marketers and corporations around the globe, who are spreading this “way of life” in an effort to expand profits, into new markets.

People love things, the shinier the better. But perhaps we love them too much, and this love affair is doing us in.

Some takeaways from this are -

1. Stress is systemic. It’s in the systems that have grown up around us. They need to be updated.

2. Stress is Nature’s way of telling us to stop, look and change what isn’t working.

3. Stop managing stress, instead get rid of what’s causing it, even if it’s scary just thinking about it.

4. Stress is made worse the longer we procrastinate. Example: We’ve had a government in gridlock for decades. It’s time we changed that.

Stress is inevitable, but not in the doses we are now experiencing. This can be changed by changing the focus of our lives away from things and towards better understanding of ourselves and others.

"In any given moment we have two options: to step forward into growth or step back into safety.” Abraham Maslow

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To inform, entertain, enlighten and otherwise engage in the age-old practice of storytelling. To be part of the process of keeping all of us informed on what is happening in the world around us and perhaps, if I do my job well enough, bring about change in the way we control our own lives and make the decisions that will impact our future and those of the people we care about.

Los Angeles, CA
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