Tuesday, May 17, 2011


It's human to worry too much about what other people think, and being mostly human, I do this.

In spite of how happy my life makes me, I worry that others find my life disappointing or indulgent or lazy. I worry that my "To Do" list isn't long enough; I'm not suffering hard enough; I don't have three jobs and four kids; I don't do volunteer work; my house isn't even clean.

So, I search for justification every now and then, and stumbled across just that the other day when I watched a documentary about stress. It is called Stress: Portrait of a Killer.  (It's streaming on Netflix if you're interested)

Now for starters, I could have told you stress is no good for you. At least not the kind of stress lots of people are under in their jobs these days -- the kind of stress that sends you running to the bathroom before you break Cardinal Rule No. 1 of working in an office: Never (unless someone has died) cry. Or the kind of stress that gives you palpitations so bad that you see purple dots during meetings with the CEO.

And, of course, the documentary agrees with me. One expert explains: We (American society) value the person who's got five major things going on at the same time. The person who is accomplishing a hell of a lot, every day of the year. So much that it seems inhuman. We admire that. And it is admirable, yes? To be so productive. What's not to admire?

Well, for one thing, it could kill you. Which is not new news, really. Stress resulting from overworking yourself (burning the candle at both ends, my mother would say) causes high blood pressure, fat deposits, cardiovascular disease, etc.

The expert says We need to change our values to admire the person who leads a balanced and serene life. Serenity is a beautiful world, and a beautiful thing to have. I recognize it in my life, now.

It's easier said than done for many people, so what the experts suggest is that you find something in your life that you can control. You are the boss of that thing, and you manage it well. It could be as simple as a garden. It could be the office softball team. It could be quitting your job and writing a novel from home. Just a suggestion... 


  1. My profession rewards the insanity-driven, doing-847-things-at-once, sleeping-means-you're-not-working lifestyle. It's taxing. Very taxing. I recommend a book by Robert Sapolsky if you want to get a tiny bit more into the science and health-related underpinnings of stress. It's called, "Why Zebras Don't Have Ulcers." It's a good read!

  2. Thanks for the recommendation -- I just might! Sapolsky and his study of baboons is of course the main subject of that documentary so I'd be interested in hearing more of what he has to say.

  3. I work in a job where if you don't complain about the long hours then you aren't working hard enough. I think that's bullshit. I will never get a promotion. I'm fine with that.

  4. Libby - been there, done that! Journalism is a masochistic occupation. I'm over it.