We all experience stress. It’s all around us and it exists in many varying forms. It comes from within and it comes from all around us. Trying to avoid it is like trying to avoid atoms—you can’t!
How we deal with that stress is the important thing. Like everything else in life, some people are better at dealing with it than others. Some have to endure more of it than others. It isn’t a competition either way; it’s life and we all deal with it in whatever ways we know best.
Stress isn’t all bad. The right kind of stress can push us onto better things and motivate us to perform. It can make us stronger and more resilient. It can make us more self-aware and teaches us about the limits of our abilities. There are many good things that are born out of stress.
Unfortunately, the majority of stress is negative. It causes us to doubt ourselves and retreat within if it’s applied too hard. It rarely comes at us in one small burst at a time either. It’s usually several prolonged bursts from every angle and most minds struggle to cope with it.
I often hear people compare folk of nowadays to those of years gone by; how people of old didn’t complain about what life threw at them and how they just got on with it. There’s a rather strong belief amongst the many that people nowadays are weak-minded and love to play the victim.
Firstly, I’m amused at that belief. How does anyone know what the folk of yesteryear were like? How can anyone say with so much conviction that the Victorians, Georgians, and Edwardians just got on with it like they know that for sure? Were they there? How do we know they coped so well? Chances are they talked about how badly the world got them down too. Chances are stress affected them every bit as bad as it does modern people. The only difference is that they didn’t have places like Facebook to air their feelings. They also couldn’t nip to their GP and get counselling when things got hard. Take a look at the timeline in Stigma & Mental Health; those things didn’t exist back then. Mental illness meant you were committed to an asylum, segregated from society, and plied with sedatives whether you wanted to be or not. So, of course, it stands to reason people wouldn’t announce they felt unwell in the mind. Who would choose that kind of life?
Secondly, the population of the world has multiplied incredibly in the last one hundred and fifty years. More people, more exposure, more pressure. Most of us are met daily with the face of this celebrity or that celebrity, constantly reminding us that people are successful and wealthy while you’re a nobody. They sell us this idea that we can all be super-famous and super-sexy. The problem is that eight billion people cannot be famous. Eight billion people cannot be successful. Eight billion people cannot be rich. Why? Because if everyone was famous and/or successful and/or rich then nobody would be! There are too many people on this planet for there not to be huge class divisions. That doesn’t mean, however, that we don’t feel the stress applied by the media to be much better than what we are. This pressure motivates some. It makes most feel like a failure and the onset of depression begins.
This is where the stress is applied both from outside and from within. We feel the pressure from others that we must be better than what we are. We apply the pressure to ourselves because we think we should be better than what we are based on society’s yardstick. I say society’s yardstick; what I really mean is the yardstick applied by the media in glorifying celebrities as the be all and end all and society adopting that same belief because most humans are looking to be told what to do and what to like. Most humans need direction. This is where the media and corporations are onto a winner. We’re generally very easily manipulated, so they manipulate us as much as they can.
This manipulation keeps the stress coming. “What? You haven’t got the latest iPhone? What? You haven’t got the exact same eyeliner that [enter generic celebrity here] uses? What? You aren’t watching this trite reality TV show that everyone is watching? How do you expect to be accepted?” That, in my mind, is the message being conveyed and what is applying needless and unfair stress onto people. All the while, they’re trying to convince you that you’ll be unique by being like everyone else a lot of the time. Mmmmkay…
Media and societal pressure are bad enough. Throw work and/or study into the mix and your problems are only multiplying. It seems to be that places of work want the absolute maximum effort for the least reward they can get away with giving. Not only that, but they’ll expect you to feel somehow grateful that you’re in a job at all. Honestly, they’ll make you jump through hoops of fire to get the smallest of kudos. You’ll eventually get the small thing you want and you’ll thank them profusely for it. It’s all a power play. Then they’ll expect you to work your arse off because of the ‘favour’ they’ve done you.
The work-life balance in the UK in general is extremely unfairly tilted. We work more hours on average than anywhere in Europe as corporations and businesses vie to squeeze as much out of us as they can. They want us there doing their work and getting them their money. They’re happy to push people to their limits for the paltry sum of money they’re prepared to pay. Mark my words: if not for the minimum wage, most would pay as little as they possibly could.
This causes us to feel undervalued. We’re tired from the hard work, poor because of the awful wage, and bereft of confidence because we don’t feel worthy of better. The result is a whole lot of stress and yet more pressure. How on earth does a person keep calm when there’s so much for us to keep up with? The fact is that we can’t keep up, but it’s sold to us in a way that it’s achievable if we only try a little harder and part with a little more money we don’t have.
In my mind, societal pressure is the biggest cause of stress on people today; that need to be accepted and not to alienate or offend people. Work and study follow closely behind. We deny ourselves things we really want to have and do just so people won’t judge us. We have to plan meticulously because work or finishing that assignment must come first. How can anyone truly and fully relax with all of this going on? They can’t. They just can’t.
The deck is stacked against us from the moment we reach adulthood and before. The way life works is to apply stress and it’s down to us to deal with that in whatever way we can. Some of us can’t and succumb to the mental cave-in that the stress forces. What chance does wellbeing have against this onslaught? What help can mindfulness and meditation do without taking time out to do it several times daily?
The upshot of this post? We’re all pretty much screwed! Until the system changes, until workplaces and educational centres lighten the load and increase the reward, until the media stops shoving celebrities and expectations of success down our throats, we’re stuck in this stress minefield and there’s no way out. Stress will get you; it’s a case of how you handle it when it comes.