Examining Stress: And the Progress of Life

Monday, August 15, 2011

 "Stress" amazingly enough, as a term, was invented in relatively recent history. People before the 1920's did not say they were under a great deal of "stress."  Does that mean they didn't have any? That stress is a thoroughly modern disease?  Well, the answer to those questions is no and yes—in that order.  Sure, humankind has always had problems, with many being quite stressful.  But the current condition of stress is so universal it could be called a plague. It differs both in quantity and quality from the experience of our ancestors, and lies near the heart of our troubles with physical, emotional and even financial health.  

The reasons for all this stress are many, and more than this short column can elaborate on, but some of the biggees are:

  1. Exponential Change—things are changing faster now than any one human being can keep up with.

  2. Universal Indebtedness.  So many are living lives paycheck to paycheck, or even handout to handout.

  3. Hurry and noise.

  4. Complexity and Overload.  Technological advances being what they are, we are often frustrated over the fact that we don't know how to operate our watch, VCR, microwave, computer, can-opener, etc.  And overload is everywhere.  Like too much activity, choices, expectations, fatigue, information, TV and media exposure, pollution, traffic, and just possessions to take care of.

  5. Both Parents Working. The stresses of life necessitate it we believe, yet when both parents work it puts more stress on them, the family unit, and the children.  Children are generally forced to grow up too soon.

Measuring Progress
Make no mistake; it is our addiction to the notion of progress as more money, better transportation, better housing, better and more fun communications technology, and more education that has put the pressure on us.  And this idea of progress seems to be almost at the heart of the culture of the United States.  I mean, who in their right mind wants to regress?  But herein lies the problem...If the progress we boast of is only in the areas of our material (wealth, health, technology) and cognitive (education, information) environments than we DO risk regressing in our social, emotional, and spiritual lives.

Think of it.  Where do you feel most of the pain in your stress filled life? Isn't it in the emotional area (your feelings and attitudes) and the social and spiritual (the time you have or DON'T have with family, friends, neighbors, church and God) area?

I like what medical doctor Richard Swenson said, whose book Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives provides a real prescription to these problems:  

Where do you think God would have us search for answers regarding drugs, crime, divorce, suicide, depression, teenage pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases, and litigation? In the material and cognitive realms, or in the relational ones?
Our society tries in vain to remedy these problems using the popular notions of progress—appropriating more money (material/ physical answers) and setting up more classes (cognitive/ educational answers).  But insufficient funds and lack of education are not the problems.  The problem is lack of love.

The Right Emphasis
If you really want to reduce and properly manage the stress in your life you must begin with a right emphasis.  English statesman William Wilberforce suggests to “Measure your progress in life by your experience of the love of God and its exercise before men.”   Measure it not by the growth of your finances only, but also by the growth of your virtue; not by your growing education only but by your growing humility with it.  It may not be the measure everyone around you is using, but it will give you more hope of a stress managed, healthy and joy filled life!  And if enough people get this idea, it may even help turn some of our society’s bigger problems around.

Submitted by Tom Morrison, Fitness Coordinator / Working Well Supervisor, BWC