I woke up feeling stressed today. Just something that has been niggling me for a long time, and it grew strong enough to actually wake me up. We talk about stress all the time, in this modern world. We say things like “Stress is a killer”, or “I feel stressed out”. Lots of things can magnify feelings of stress. Job interviews, job losses, examinations, moving house, getting divorced, or even being stuck in traffic.
Stress means different things to different people. One person’s stress is another’s challenge. Many thrive on the adrenaline of stress, whilst others have their lives destroyed by it. But how much of it is natural, and how much learned? Are we born with the capacity to feel stress, or is it thrust upon us by the experiences of others? Was it designed into our very being to help us deal with the basics of life, or has it grown since the age when we started to question satisfaction, and our place in the scheme of things?
I have no doubt that stress can make you feel ill, physically as well as mentally. Stress-free days are so rare that they feel special, like a holiday, or childhood treat. In western society, we seem to have been taught what we should feel stressed about. It’s as easy as telling a child not to worry about something that they weren’t worried about to begin with. “Don’t worry about the exam, it will be fine”. So you worry. “Don’t worry about the new school, you will fit in”. So you worry. “Don’t worry about your first day at work even if it feels strange”. So you worry, and it feels strange.
Often in life, we choose to place ourselves in stressful situations. For most of my life, I worked in jobs that could be extremely stressful. Not just because of what I encountered, but also because they carried an above-average sense of responsibility, and accountability too. Added to that stress was more of the same, found in my private life. Failed marriages, trying to be kind and fair to everyone, hoping to set a good example. Instead of just getting on with it, I always felt stressed about it. From an early age, I was taught that stress makes you sharper, gets things done, and leaves you with a sense of achievement that then cancels out the stress. But that didn’t happen.
Was stress something to bear because of youth, puberty, and development issues? I had to be seen to be popular, have a girlfriend, a decent job, and live a worthwhile life. Once that was all behind me, surely stress would play little or no part in my life? But it did, and it still does.
I woke up this morning wondering if it will ever stop.