Why Do We Romanticize Stress?

  • Copy by: Daryl Lindsey
  • Feature Image By: Alice Gao

“Stressed” is now a status symbol and I can’t be sure exactly when it happened. Stress is widely understood to be a negative emotion, one synonymous with (or at least similar to) anxiety and unhappiness. In spite of this, I think it’s safe to assume that most of us have humble-bragged, however indirectly, about how “stressed” or “busy” we are.

I fully admit to being guilty of this. I work full-time, write part-time, and am still chipping away at two bachelors degrees. (See? Humble-bragging.) Stress is my middle name. Stress is my best friend. Stress and I go way back and meet up regularly for cocktails.

I know I’m not alone, either.

Stress and I go way back and meet up regularly for cocktails.

Everywhere I look, people around me are substituting coffee for entire food groups and adding task after task to their to-do lists. They’re putting in extra hours at the office and signing up for more university credits than they should. They do this because they believe, as I did, that surviving the tortuous schedule they’ve built for themselves will make them more successful and, by extension, happier.

We have fallen victim to the societal, culturally constructed concept that our input (the effort and energy we expend) is more vital to our success than our output (the actual value we produce).

There’s research to support this: According to a Harvard study, Americans work 50% more than Europeans. The study suggests Americans do this because of the cultural notion that hard work equals more success.

That’s why the employee who works late every night or shows up early every morning is probably more likely to get a promotion, even though a coworker who clocks out at 5:00 p.m. every day might be getting just as much work done.

Our society values input more than output.

In reality, however, the study’s data shows that Americans are not significantly more economically successful than our European counterparts, who work less and value leisure time more.

Our society values input more than output. We put all-nighters, over-exertion and inner-turmoil on pedestals. We think it’s OK, admirable even, to run on nothing but fumes and caffeine as we throw ourselves into our work.

Is that what we really want to aspire to?

Yes, there is value in hard work, but there is also value in learning how to listen to our minds and bodies and understand when we need to pull back. There is value in taking the time to care for ourselves and give our bodies what they need.

Let’s shift our focus towards building a balanced, healthy work-ethic instead:

1. Remind yourself that happiness is not an achievement. 
It’s easy to fall into the mindset that you’ll have time to be happy and enjoy yourself after you accomplish x, y, and z. However, human nature (and plenty of academic research) suggests that after each major achievement, our brain adapts and then sets its sights on a new goal. The cliché that “happiness is a journey, not a destination” holds true here. Insert activities you enjoy, self-love, self-care and relaxation into your daily pursuit of success.

2. Just go to sleep already. 

The concept that we need sleep to be successful is not new or groundbreaking, but it’s easy to disregard what we already know to be true: We will be healthier, happier, and more productive if we regularly get a full night’s rest. Make sleep a priority and take the necessary steps to make it happen, even if that means setting a regular bedtime or kicking yourself off of electronics after a certain time.

3. Work smart, not hard.

This may be the most important takeaway: Shift your point of focus to your output, not your input. Remembering that the quality of the end-product is what matters (whether that be a research paper or a work presentation) can help you streamline the process of getting there. We all know social media can be a time-suck, so install a website blocker to keep yourself off of distracting sites, roll up your sleeves, and get your work done more quickly and more productively.

Don’t romanticize stress. Don’t conflate being busy with being successful.

Your body and mind will thank you. I promise.

  • Pang

    Word!

  • Nicole Petrone

    Spot on. Its depressing to hear how much more Americans work than Europeans. This is a trend that truly needs to change and I feel like it is up to our generation to do so.

  • Nicole Petrone

    Spot on. Its depressing to hear how much more Americans work than Europeans. This is a trend that truly needs to change and I feel like it is up to our generation to do so.

  • I tried to have a conversation with my boyfriend about THIS EXACT topic. Thank you for articulating everything I wanted to say. And thank you for linking to the Harvard study. I can now have a much more factually supported debate with him. I’m not originally from here and have family and friends that live in various parts of the world so I think about these differences often. THANK YOU again 🙂

  • This is so true!

  • I LOVE THIS POST!!! This is extremely true. I think that the only time it is acceptable to really spend ludicrous amounts of time on anything is to really perfect your craft, but at the same time it has to be done in the right manner. Like you said, work smart, not hard. There is no use in trying to chop down a tree with a hammer when you can do it with a chainsaw.

    Thanks for the post!
    xoxo
    THE MODERN ALICE

    http://www.themodernalice.com

  • jodie.keith

    Great post! Working hard is one thing, working yourself into the ground is another.

    Jodie @ Jodetopia x

  • Irisgeist

    As a latin american, I used to have this mindset of working long hours as a path to promotion and professional success. Then I moved to Europe, and it was a dramatic change in terms of work culture. If you stay late every day for a long period of time, people start thinking there must be something wrong with you, because you are not able to complete your job in the expected time. It’s all a matter of efficiency! also a male that does not take any paternal leave when his wife has a baby is frown upon.

  • Heather Thompson

    Great article Daryl! We need to re think our priorities. No one ever wishes at the end of their life that they spent more time at the office, but most of wish we loved a little more and lived a little more. Follow up article! My friend sent this to me. Most of us feel pressure from our work to stay longer as a show of increased commitment. How can you leave at 5 o clock guilt free?:https://www.resourcefulmanager.com/kevin-kruse-time-management/

  • I like the “just go to sleep already…” Like, right!? Why do we stay up late. I need to do this… !!


    Amber
    All the Cute
    Today’s Post: Ivory Plaid & Black Moto

  • I love this post! My whole year has been focused on reducing my stress, and eliminating things from my life that cause unnecessary stress and anxiety. It’s definitely become a glorified ‘status’ and I don’t think it’s helping anyone in the long run.
    xx
    Lauren Jade
    Lauren Jade Lately
    ‘Simplifying Life, Maximizing Happiness’

  • Anna

    loved this <3

    https://aspoonfulofnature.wordpress.com/

  • Amen! I work in an office where working through your lunch break is standard practice and people brag about not having time to stop for lunch. It is so important to be strong in that culture and swim against the current. It is possible to succeed by working smart and being flexible with time and I believe and hope that in a few years we will be seeing a shift.

    Inma x
    sunshineandglow.blogspot.com

  • I don’t think I’ve ever glorified stress that much, but I’m even better at minimizing it now. So true that working smarter beats working harder. I’m a happier person today I think 🙂

    Thanks for sharing!
    Check out my YouTube Channel.

    Alexis Rose
    https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCh6d7hmUkX_D5QGAx0bF_6g

  • I don’t think I’ve ever glorified stress that much, but I’m even better at minimizing it now. So true that working smarter beats working harder. I’m a happier person today I think 🙂

    Thanks for sharing!
    Check out my YouTube Channel.

    Alexis Rose
    https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCh6d7hmUkX_D5QGAx0bF_6g

  • Maggie Burch

    This is perfect! We need to be healthy. I’ve admired the Italian lifestyle of long lunches.

  • Love this post – very good point that hard work does not necessarily equate success. I’ve noticed that people will sometimes take humble-bragging to the next level and start competing on who is more busy, stressed, etc. It’s silly!

    Nicole | explosivebagel.blogspot.com

  • This is so true! My family and I were just discussing something along the same lines earlier today – my parents were arguing the idea that Americans are extremely hardworking (not untrue) in comparison to some European nations that have “too much vacation time” while my brother and I argued in favour of quality work rather than simply quantity – I should send them this post, hahaha

  • Kate Theobald

    I absolutely loved your perspective on this topic. The three takeaways are very valuable & certainly words I needed to hear (and share with others).

  • This is the depressing reality of American Capitalism – work ’em so hard they don’t have time to think about how much they’re all being screwed over and chewed up by the system.

    I mean, think about it, we’re encouraged to work hard, work more, throw ourselves head first into the deep end of a major project, wear ourselves out and why is that – do you think? Probably so we don’t have time to question all the decisions being made by people in power. So we don’t have the time or energy to protest unfairness or to fight for anything we’ve convinced ourselves we believe it.

    “Keep ’em busy and they can’t make any changes to our precious little scum kingdom.”

    https://on-th3-cusp.blogspot.com/