Managing stress is easier said than done when it becomes just another thing on your to-do list. Maybe it would be easier to give up the struggle.
Stress is a problem in a lot of people’s lives. Despite an army of stress advisers, self-help books and courses, and sound advice from the medical profession, we are still no closer to finding the way out of the stress conundrum.
The essential problem is this: We live in a wealthy technological age where we have all we need at our disposal. One of the costs of this is a steadily rising tide of demands and pressures which produce stresses in us. There’s a lot to do and have, and it’s tempting to try and have it all!
For many people, this means that they are so busy so much of the time that they no longer have the space, nor the ability to focus on managing the stress that goes with their lifestyle.
In fact, if you want to follow the wellbeing gurus’ advice, it just produces another list of things to fit into your busy schedule.
For example, on top of holding down a demanding job, managing the kids and quite possibly older dependents as well, finding time for your partner (or finding the perfect partner if you don’t have one yet), updating your Facebook profile, and trying to be well rested enough to face each new day with vigour and vitality, we are told we should also take exercise, do mindfulness, yoga or relaxation, plan regular weekend breaks, drink less, eat a healthy diet and get at least eight hours sleep a night, etc. Every day the media bring us new articles and advice on how to do it, but the grail of a stress-free life seems further away than ever.
It gets stressful just looking at lists like this. The advice conflicts with the day-to-day demands, and the double whammy is that, as well as being stressed, you can start to feel guilty about not managing the stress.
This got me thinking. I wondered; what if we’ve got it wrong? What if, instead of constantly trying to avoid stress, we should simply give in to it. Accept it in the same way that we accept other life circumstances we feel we can’t control. Climate change for example, or social inequality and injustice.
A (possible) way forward
What about, instead of struggling to reduce the stress in our lives, we simply give up and accept it? That might be a real relief. Maybe it would mean a reduced quality of life, even a shorter one eventually, with long hours at work, the associated worry and tension, and the feeling of not being good enough, but that’s what you’ve got already.
The well-known risks of stress – mental and other health problems, poor sleep and being prone to accidents for example – might be a fair trade if it meant freeing ourselves from the efforts of supposed stress management. Efforts which, if you look around you, you’ll notice, nobody seems very successful at.
Instead of chasing after an illusion and failing at managing stress, accepting that “life is nasty, brutish and short”, as Hobbs put it, might actually be a simpler and less stressful way of conducting ourselves.
All the advice we need
We all know how to reduce the stress in our lives, and how to make life easier for others, but we don’t do either. It would be so much easier then to stop complaining about managing stress, to accept things are as they are and that we are not prepared to change them, and to mindlessly follow the herd. The beauty of this approach is, there’s nothing to do except continue as we are.