Stress as a Status Symbol, Part 1

Over the course of the last few weeks I have heard the following comments:

“I have had so many evening meetings lately, I haven’t eaten dinner with my family in 6 weeks.”

“When she asked me to go to coffee with her, I just laughed. I don’t have time for that kind of thing anymore.”

“I have gotten only 12 hours of sleep in the last 3 days.”

“I spent 35 hours working on my son’s science fair project last week.”

Listening to these and similar comments makes me wonder: Has talking about our stress become a new type of status symbol?  Just as driving a Lexus or belonging to a country club has supposedly equaled success in the past, is being “stressed out” now the same thing?



APA’s 2009 Stress in America survey tells us that stress is affecting more of us in negative and powerful ways.  And we know that long term stress can contribute to disease and chronic conditions.  So why do we play the “I’m more stressed than you are” game?

  • Everyone else is playing the game so we feel we have to, too.  For some reason, our American culture is now telling us (through tv, blogs, movies) that it is cool to be ultra-busy and stressed.  It has become the way we communicate with one another – trading stories about our crazy, harried days.  As a result, it can be difficult to find ways to relate to others without engaging in the game.
  • It makes us feel accomplished.  Given that “relaxation” and “downtime” have become synonymous with “lazy” in some circles, many of us feel that we have to be productive at every moment.  What better way to prove our worth (to ourselves and others) than to be able to produce a list of accomplishments for each day?  And even better if we had to stay up all night to do it.
  • Stress gives us meaning.  I often hear clients wonder what their place is in the world.  While being stressed might not be an official job title, I think for some us it provides reassurance that we are contributing to the world, our families, and our communities – and that we have a place in them as well.

So how do we stop?  How do we find a balance between our responsibilities and the relaxation that we all know we need?  How do we put an end to the battle to be the most stressed?

Stay tuned to my next post for some thoughts…

Photo by thornypup

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5 Responses to “Stress as a Status Symbol, Part 1”

  1. Dr Stephanie Smith   April 9, 2010 at 1:45 pm

    Thanks for your comments. I think you are right about stressful victories/accomplishments – for some of us they do seem to have more meaning.

    Look forward to hearing your comments on Part 2!

  2. Cait   April 6, 2010 at 11:53 am

    Interesting topic. I will definitely be back to see your follow-up reflections. I think saying no to the “social game” of stress one-upmanship is a lot easier than taking on our own attitudes towards what “productive” means, and I’m particularly interested to see your suggestions on that internal struggle.

    I think your last point, about stress giving us meaning, is particularly insightful. I wonder how many people (I know I sometimes fall into this category) if offered the choice of getting X amount of work done stress-free versus getting X (that same amount of work!) done stressfully, would choose the 2nd, simply because the added stress somehow adds to our sense of pride in our ability to accomplish X? There’s something in there, too, about an “easy” victory not counting for much in our society, but that’s a little more vague, and not directly related to the stress question.