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The stress of life: a modern complaint?

In The stress of life: a modern complaint? the Lancet takes a look at the implications of over work and over worry.

The report notes that

Late 19th-century doctors and their patients also believed that stress could generate or exacerbate physical illness. Clinicians sometimes explained the development of cancer, diabetes, and thyroid disease, or the appearance and severity of influenza, in terms of the debilitating effects of over-work and over-worry.

going on to say

The emotional stresses and strains of bereavement, domestic difficulties, financial problems, and the pace of life were all regarded as plausible triggers of pathology. In 1872, an article in The Times suggested that rising death rates from heart disease were the “unavoidable result of the great mental strain and hurried excitement” generated by steam and electricity, over-crowded communities, and the relentless and exhausting struggle for existence.

Contemporary belief in the capacity for stress to produce both mental and physical disease was so strong, according to the prominent Cambridge physician T Clifford Allbutt (1836—1925), that many people regarded the 19th century as “a century of stress”.

I’ve previously asked  the question Do we cause irreparable harm when we push ourselves too far? trying to do too much too soon and not pacing ourselves properly

In this article they make a similar point

In the 1970s, the left-wing American writer Alvin Toffler argued that post-war populations were suffering from “future shock”, a state caused by “the shattering stress and disorientation that we induce in individuals by subjecting them to too much change in too short a time”.

The final thought is quite balanced

past populations were no less stressed by warfare, epidemic disease, unemployment, and poverty than their modern counterparts are. Since at least the mid-19th century, narratives of distress have been bound together not only by mutual understandings and shared experiences of stress, but also by the apocalyptic fear that stress is the inevitable result of the psychological pressures generated by the unfettered growth of industrial and technological capitalism.

If I have sparked your interest then checkout The stress of life: a modern complaint?

90:10 The Single Most Important Thing You Can Do For Your Stress

For another angle checkout this video from DocMikeEvans which I include because it gives you a nice story. Stress has provided the pressure on which us humans have evolved so the answer is generally to find ways to manage it or even thrive on it. I think you will enjoy the way DocMike explains this paradox.


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