Have we have created a "stress industry?"
Stress has become ‘the next big thing.’ If we type the word ‘stress’ into the Google search engine there are 18,000,000 pages, each with 178,000,000 articles and websites offering advice, stress tests, statistics and potentially ‘the answer.’ There are stress counsellors, self-help books, DVDs, etc - it is almost as though ‘stress’ has become an industry in itself.
Stress is now a self-diagnosing condition
Stress has also become a self-diagnosing condition where we find individuals visiting their GPs and saying ‘I have stress,’ (rather than ‘these are my symptoms, what do you think it might be doctor?’) We have created a stress culture and so most of us can recite the usual symptoms and suddenly everyone is a stress expert.
Stress has become the new ‘bad back!’
So familiar are these symptoms, (hyper-alertness, dry mouth, sweating, difficulty sleeping or calming down, etc), that the mystique about the illness is therefore now not in the diagnosis but in the provability! It turns modern medicine on its head where individuals can say ‘I have stress and the onus is on the medial profession, or employers to try to disprove it.' In that sense stress has become the new ‘bad back;’ prevalent, (we all know someone suffering from stress), crippling for industry (and for some individuals), but very difficult to ‘prove’ or ‘disprove!’
We have created a label called ‘stress’ which can be applied to a multitude of conditions
This is not to suggest that some individuals do not suffer from the effects of stress, for example death of a spouse, death of a child, etc - these are major issues in an individual’s life and can cause terrible trauma. However we have now created a label called ‘stress,’ that we can place on any non-descript feelings, any situation and any person - a common parlance, a currency of language has been created.
Why does the stress audit always find stress?
If we go looking for stress why is it we always find it? Is it because there is so much more stress around or is it that if we go looking for something we’re kind of bound to find it? Conducting a stress audit not only means asking folks about stress - it means highlighting the word ‘stress’ and of course this could well mean encouraging people to think about stress. Yet the stress label can be used to cover a multitude of issues and it is almost like the old ‘personality clash,’ in that as soon as we hear it we back off and accept the situation as it appears too complex to confront.
Indeed in some organisations the stress card is used as a ‘break point’ for some people who can say ‘if it gets too much I can always take some time off with stress.’ We have developed an attitude to stress which is akin to a car alarm going off in the middle of the night - no-one believes for a minute the car is being stolen the cry is always ‘turn that alarm off!’
In that sense we accept that many, many people are signed off with stress but make the assumption that they may not really be ill in the first place but as we cannot prove it they have in a sense ‘got away with it,’ as people did in the 1960s and 1970s with the familiar ‘bad back.’ This must be very difficult for those who do indeed suffer from real stress or other sorts of illnesses and my fear is that it is those who genuinely are suffering who may be treated with scepticism as the question becomes not ‘is this person suffering from stress?’ but ‘who is the most stressed?’