Tuesday, November 9, 2010

If Stress is Normal, Why be Normal?

"Stress is normal."

We've been hearing this a lot lately. Usually from well-meaning family and friends. And to some extent, they are correct. In our society, stress IS normal. It's a part of our everyday life. But why is it normal? And should we accept it?

Let's take a look at the words themselves.

Stress noun

2 a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances:he's obviously under a lot of stress
Oxford Dictionaries Online

Normal adjective

conforming to a standard ; usual, typical, or expected:it's quite normal for puppies to bolt their food normal working hours
Oxford Dictionaries Online

Perhaps I'm am being overly simplistic here, but if it is "expected" that the standard for our society is a "state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances," I worry about the state of our country.

I think of students experiencing the demands of high stakes testing.

I think of employees working long hours and in fear of losing their jobs.

I think of commuters stuck in traffic for long hours.

Stress may be a normal condition of our life, but that doesn't mean we have to accept it. Stress is not healthy. It puts us in a constant state of fight or flight and pumps adrenaline into our system. The result? Depression, irritability, intolerance, road rage, overeating, lowered immunity, illness, heart attack. I could go on, but hopefully you get my point.

This does not mean that I don't recognize the benefits of stress. I've done some amazing work under the pressure of deadlines. I'm sure there are plenty of people in competitive sports who live for that adrenaline rush. What concerns me is the constant stress we seem to be put under and the seemingly constant message we get that that's how it is, so we should get over it.

I remember clearly the days before my worst asthma attack. I hadn't been sleeping well because I was dealing with a cranky, teething 18 month old. I was working teaching gymnastics at the time and when I opened up about my recent stresses, I almost burst into tears. But the response I received was less than sympathetic. I was berated for my practice of family bed and extended breastfeeding. Obviously any stress in my life was my own fault. If I would just put her in another room and let her cry it out, everything would be fine. By reaching out, I exposed myself to criticism, so I closed into myself again. Days later I would pass out in the ER driveway, gasping for breath.

We all have choices to make in life. Some choices are expected of us, like getting good grades, going to college, or doing well in your chosen profession. Sometimes our choices don't follow the well worn path. But whether the choice is acceptable or not, we should listen when someone says they are stressed. It doesn't mean we have support their choices. I don't expect people outside my homeschooling community to understand my stress and fear of judgment while filling in quarterly reports. I don't judge the mother who is trying to make ends meet while singlehandedly raising a child. Making an unpopular choice should not mean we have relinquished our right to community support. Knowing that stress is normal does not mean that an individual should suffer silently.

My dear readers, next time someone tells you they are overworked and stressing out, listen to them. That simple act of listening is one of the greatest methods of support we can offer.


christinethecurious said...

Right on.

Amanda, the Head Nut said...

You are right about it now being "normal." Some people will try and one-up to show how they are much more stressed than you.

If you ever listen to Dave Ramsey, he talks about being broke and in debt as being "normal," but why would anyone WANT to live that way if there was another choice?

I choose abnormal! :)

Inner Elder said...

Excellent analysis, Tina. And I agree with your advice - Listen! What a gift! Love, (Stressed Out) Mom

Anonymous said...

You're right about stress and the benefits of someone listening without judging. The best benefit of retiring is eliminating most of the stress in my life - from driving to work in a snow storm to deadlines at work set by someone else to trying to do yard work before it rains/snows/gets too dark to see. Now if I have any stress in my life, it's minimal and of my own creation, generally because I'm doing something which I really want to do! Hang in there. Love, Linda

Anonymous said...

I see your point. I read frequently that stress is the root of all dis-ease. Sometimes wwe do things with a sense of urgency, which is energizing. when you keep the energy up and the stress down, you are fine. Since those episodes you discribe, you have come a long way. I'm proud and excited about your present state of mind and your maturity. Keep it up. I love you,

Kathleen said...

Good timing and good reading, thank you!

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