Stress is . . . all in your head

Here’s a thought for a Monday morning:

[A]ccording to Angela Patmore, author of The Truth About Stress, the ubiquitous term ‘stress’ is ‘bogus and illogical’ . . .

Patmore started researching the concept of stress in the 1990s, while working at the University of East Anglia with a team of World Health Organisation scientists. A meta-analysis of the clinical literature on stress showed that there were ‘literally hundreds of different definitions [of stress], some of them opposites, some of them irreconcilable and all of them felt to be “the correct one” by somebody or other.’

Patmore’s real beef is with the “stress management industry;” she says the number of “stress councillors” in the U.K. ballooned by 804 percent between 1991 and 2003, becoming “a multi-million-pound industry . . . that is entirely unregulated.”

And it’s not having any positive effect on peoples’ well-being. In fact, the British are worse off than ever: stress has “overtaken back pain as the single biggest cause of long-term sickness absence.”

No word on whether the incidence of back pain in the U.K. has decreased :-D

But back to the concept of stress itself. So, okay, it’s not a pinned-down, clinically understood condition. Then what is it? In the eye of the beholder? Is it any sort of physical or emotional discomfort?

I’m guessing that the roots of the whole stress meme can be traced to the 1950s-era classification of personality types, and the corollary (which appears to be standing up sixty years later) that so-called Type A individuals are more prone to heart attacks.

Friedman’s discovery caught our imaginations because it validated something we tend to believe is true, anyway: that our state of mind affects our bodies.

So the stress management movement is our crude and fumbling attempt to dampen down our Type A tendencies. We want to be laid back, let life roll off our feathers. We’ll live longer if we do, we tell ourselves.

Yet I agree with Patmore that there’s something pitiable about all the stress-related hand-wringing. We really can take it too far, can’t we. And, after all, dealing with discomfort (I’ll use that word!) isn’t that hard. If something bothers you, set aside some time to feel it fully — don’t stuff it. Otherwise, just take a couple of deep breaths and relax.

Oh, and if the bothersome-ness is a signal that you need to change your life, then you’d better change your life. But that’s between you and your soul/God/unconscious — not your stress management councillor — isn’t it.

[tags] stress [/tags]

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2 Responses to Stress is . . . all in your head

  1. Bernita says:

    I agree. A little stoicism would be most refreshing.
    Too often “stress” is a socially approved crutch and excuse.

  2. Bernita,
    Of COURSE it’s an excuse. And a darn good one. I use it myself sometimes. But yeah, that’s all it is, unless you internalize it and believe it really is real and that it’s harmful. Because if you really believe that, then you’re right. For you.


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