The image is a screenshot of suggestions from Google on how to complete "School makes me..." 

I was listening to Radio 2 on way to supermarket today. The presenter and a doctor were talking about stress. They discussed how people are increasingly having problems with stress, how stress-related illness is hugely on the rise, etc.

The focus of the bit of the programme I heard was entirely on what you, as an individual, can do to manage your stress levels better.

Fuck that.

We should be actively combating the main causes of this huge and increasing problem.

The treatment of pupils, teachers, and workers is increasingly Dickensian. We're put on treadmills, given endless targets, exam after exam, test after test. We are forced to cope with increasing insecurity at work and at home, with more and more pressure to make do with less and less.

My understanding is that what stresses people most is being put in a situation in which they are over-stretched and in which they have little or no control.

Stress can be fun, and entirely manageable, when you are making the decisions, when you can react and change how things unfold. Playing competitive sport or managing a company is like that.

Stress is no fun at all when you are trapped in an increasingly difficult situation - e.g. made to jump through smaller and smaller hoops - with your freedom to control what's happening also increasingly restricted. Because, say, you're being ever more closely micro-managed (teachers, nurses, etc.). Or because your wages have stood still for a decade while food, rent, kids' birthdays, etc. get more and more expensive.

That now seems to be what life is like for very many working people, from cradle to grave. The problem is not their inability to handle stress better - they're often superhumanly competent at doing that.

The 'stress' problem is not a result of their shortcomings; it's a result of a system in which they hopelessly trapped.


AIGBusted said…
Just eight weeks ago I was working two jobs and living in a crummy neighborhood. Now I work one job and live in a great neighborhood. I gave up my car and bike everywhere, and have a few other cheap but easy to do habits. I could not be happier!!
Chris said…
That system is capitalism....
Paul P. Mealing said…
Some years ago I heard an interview with a doctor in Oz (on ABC radio) who talked about the worse situation being where it's impossible to get on top of a workload. I've worked under managers who do this as a deliberate strategy and, in one case, I ended up in hospital from a stress-related or stress-triggered illness (I believe), pollymyalgia rheumatica, because the manager was also a bully and I felt like I was back at school, even though I was in my 60s and not easily intimidated (I thought).

I now work part-time, even though I'm retirement age, and I find I can manage my time and my work without compromising its quality. In fact, I believe I'm valued even though I work on different projects under different managers.
Unknown said…
I like this article and am in complete agreement. In fact, a few weeks back I printed off a copy and showed it to a career counselor with whom I was working.

I thought about it again today, after a conversation with a therapist. She was talking once more about coping skills, as have countless others before her. And I thought about it afterwards and realized that, despite all the talk of coping skills, nobody ever defines what coping means or how you would know if you are coping. It occurred to me that nobody asks if you are coping unless there is some reason why you might not be, so the implication is that you are coping if you are achieving something despite some difficulty. But what, or how much, you should achieve so that one might consider you are coping is never clear. At least, not to me.

I reread your article and realised that you don’t really say what you mean by “manage” or “handle” stress. Does handling stress mean that you actually reduce the stress? Experience fewer symptoms despite the stress? Or achieve what needs to be achieved despite the stress?

Am I being pedantic?