If you took the time to click through to read this, the word “stressed” was more than likely what caught your attention. Stress has been around forever but it feels like now more than ever the word stress is defining how an entire generation of people feel. What exactly is stress and why does it seem to be bogging everyone down so much? How does the hyper competitive nature of today’s world make it worse? What future problems will the next generation face when it comes to stress? What can we do to handle stress in a better way?
The official definition of stress is “a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances”. There are all kinds of different stressors that can cause this mental or emotional strain. I have found it comforting to view my stress levels in different areas simply as the space that exists between where you actually are and where you want to be. It’s easy to take this thought and apply it to all forms of stress. Your kids aren’t listening and you want them to listen. Stress exists in that space between the screaming animals at the dinner table and your vision for a calm and peaceful dinner. Stress also seems to bog us down because it often exists in the past or in the future and the energy we put towards focusing on the past or the future is taken away from the present. It is very easy for us to get caught up in the stress cycle. Knowing that stress is bad for us actually makes it worse because then we begin to stress about stressing!
We live in a hyper competitive time. Social media allows us to keep a score of how we are “doing” compared to our peers. I put “doing” in quotes because it’s pretty easy to manipulate your life on social media to appear happy and stress free. A lot of the time we don’t even know who we are competing with or what we actually “win” at the end. The thing is, within this hyper competitive life, it is very difficult to find something to win that brings long term satisfaction and relief of the stress from competing. I will delve deeper into that thought when I get to some of the stress solutions in future blogs. There is another form of stressful competition that I have personally found to be exhausting: self-competition. If you are a hyper competitive person who is constantly trying to compete with yourself it is so incredibly hard to truly win because you always end up wanting and expecting more. It is a good problem to have in one sense, as it drives people to be able to produce remarkable results but it can drive some of those same people mad because it never feels good enough. This is heightened even more today as the amount of opportunities available make it difficult to just be content and sit still. There is always more work to do or someone out there trying to outperform you.
I think the stress problems the next generation will face will continue to evolve. As is the case for most generations, our kids are growing up in a much different world than we lived in. I feel like there has been a shift from the “participation trophy era” where everyone was patted on the back and told they did a good job to an era where our kids are taught to be hyper competitive, fully involved workhorses being carted from one activity to another and burning them out. It’s a tough thing for a parent to juggle as you don’t want to deny your child the opportunity to try a bunch of activities but you also don’t want to stress yourself or your child in the process. As our children get older, they will inevitably face stresses that we didn’t have to consider. It is my opinion that a lot of the jobs of the future will be more entrepreneurial or individualistic which will create an even more hyper competitive environment with increased stress levels. Social media will continue to grow and serve as a distraction from the present and other platforms that we never even considered will be introduced.
So what is it that we can do to handle stress in a better way moving forward? If you have read any of my content, it won’t surprise you that my first answer is to find a way to be present like I wrote about in my last blog. Another step is to create a process to constantly recognize when you are feeling stressed, why you are feeling that way and what things are in your control to change. This requires the ability to constantly increase your emotional intelligence, the ability to honestly evaluate your decision making processes and the ability to look inside your mind with an unbiased eye. Many of my blog entries going forward will be focused on how we can better do these things. Whenever I am feeling particularly stressed or down, I go back to a commencement speech given by David Foster Wallace in 2005 called “This is Water” which I will post below. I encourage everyone to listen to it and think about the things he talks about. My plan is to break the speech down into segments over the coming weeks over the course of a bunch of entries with a focus on using his thoughts to figure out how we can better handle stress going forward and gain some insight on how to increase our quality of life.