I can’t tell you how many times I hear “Oh my God, I’m so stressed!” in my personal and professional life. I hear it from the stay-at-home mom, the student, the doctor, and the artist. I’m 99% certain my dog told me she was stressed yesterday. Stress is so hot right now.
We are literally obsessed with talking about how stressed we are. So obsessed, that these conversations have become almost competitive in nature. It goes something like this:
“Oh my god I’m so stressed at work. You have no idea.”
Your friend, not even remotely impressed, looks at you with some serious side eye and says, “You don’t even know what stress is. I slept two hours, worked a 36 hour day, and then saved 100 kittens from a tree.”
This cycle continues, while each member of your crew shares an increasingly more stressful lineup of commitments because, well, misery loves company.
When did it become cool to be stressed? When did ever increasing stress levels become a measure of our success?
In the age of social media, millennials know all too well how easy it is to constantly compare themselves to others. Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook have provided us with platforms to show just how well we are doing. There is a constant feed of competition; from sandwich building to sunset photos, we are all trying to one up one another. This, coupled with our constant stress talk, creates such an interesting dichotomy: we want people to know how great we’re doing, but we don’t want them to think for a second we didn’t work hard to get there.
At the surface level, this competitive dialogue may seem both counterproductive and negative. But, it may also have something to do with our desire to feel closer to our peers. New research from Queen’s University has found evidence of “emotional load sharing between partners in a close relationship.“ The results of this study suggest that we are more equipped to handle stressful situations when others are close to us – both emotionally and physically. When we are feeling stressed or overworked, it is only natural that we crave closeness. We are so used to being able to connect with others, validate our experiences, and compare ourselves to our peers through social media based on our successes; yet, we lack a space to do this for our failures. Stress talk among our friends provides us with this outlet. A place where we can compete, validate our experiences, and connect with others around us. Because, if your job isn’t stressing you out, are you really even working?
But how healthy is this space we’ve created? When stress is literally killing us, we must recognize the role we are playing in perpetuating our own negativity. So, next time your friend starts bitching about their workload, don’t compete. Move in closer and give them a hug, it’ll make you both feel better.