Below is an excerpt from the introduction to Jessa Crispin’s interview (posted 19 March) with Dana Becker, author of One Nation Under Stress: The Trouble with Stress as an Idea (2013). Although the interview is more relevant to Americans than Canadians, it’s important for all women to read.
Are you stressed out? It would be difficult not to be, what with the constant economic despair, the precarious employment status we all live with, the overwork and the declining living conditions and the breaking down of community ties. Also maybe stressing you out is this thing we keep hearing about, that stress, if you don’t figure out a way to “manage” it, and cope with it, will give you cancer or heart disease or diabetes or a stroke or any number of other terrifying things. What are you going to do, though, when a hot bath and some scented candles won’t cut it?
Dana Becker points out the obvious in her new book One Nation Under Stress: The Trouble with Stress as an Idea, that if we are all dying internally from stress-related issues—and that is debatable, as stress as a health problem is a relatively new, and scientifically unsupported, idea—the thing that is going to save us is not yoga classes and mindfulness. It’s actual societal change. It’s re-stabilizing the middle class. It’s changing the economic system so that the wealthy few cannot destroy the lives of everyone else with a few reckless years. It’s building supportive communities that are not plagued with gun violence and systemic poverty. It’s creating environments where women are not saddled with raising their children without subsidized day care, or partners who leave them to do all of the housework, and where women do not have to choose between family and work. And yet when we talk about stress, we still talk about coping and adjusting and juggling things on a personal level.
Too many of our real societal problems, from obesity to poverty to epidemic depression rates to violence, are blamed on the individual. And all of that pressure to maintain some sort of homeostasis of health and wealth and fulfillment keeps the individual herself from seeing the unfair pressures put upon her. It also prevents real revolution or change, when you spend all of your time trying to manage the stress of living in a crazy-making society.
I spoke with Becker on the phone about why we focus on the individual rather than on society, and how women have shouldered an unfair share of the burden and the policing of their behaviors.
The thing I was most struck by when reading your book was just how much pressure there is on the individual in contemporary society. Whatever happens to you, it is your fault. It’s your fault if you can’t adapt to the absolute insanity around you. Sometimes it can be so difficult to notice that is going on because of the constant pressure, so when was the moment you stepped back and said No, wait, actually this is nonsense?