Modern society is a place where stress is in vogue. The frequency with which we drop hints about the trials of everyday life goes largely unnoticed, but it’s a quiet problem reaching epidemic proportions. It has become a reflex to fill the silence with grievances about chores we must do, engagements that we must attend, and responsibilities that we have assumed. And, at this point, the proportion of conversation dominated by complaint has reached unacceptable heights.
Why do we do it? What is it about external pressures that make us want to commiserate endlessly with others? A significant part of the allure lies in the desire to feel as though we’re not alone—as the saying goes, misery loves company. But something more lies under the surface. Our stress levels, in a sense, have assumed the role of a measurable form of importance, a meter-stick against which we can compare our contributions to those of our peers.
Our culture is one that glorifies being busy. We look at the 20-something on the elliptical at the gym and envy her ability to respond to emails, catch up with the latest episode of Orange Is the New Black, and apply for a prestigious internship simultaneously. We take certain unspoken pleasure in responding to dinner invitations with allegations of prior commitments. Ultimately, we have come to view the degree of our busy-ness as correlating directly to just how much we are needed. The busier we are, the more significant we feel.
However, this hunger for constant activity eventually begins to take a toll; we over-exert and the exhaustion inevitably translates into stress. The human propensity to overshare takes hold, and we unload on whoever is at hand. Subliminally, we’re all aware that lodging complaints at a willing ear accomplishes nothing—much of the time, those to whom we subject our grousing couldn’t care less about how many meetings we have to attend in the coming week. But we continue to engage in the eternal cycle of grumbling.
Stress talk, then, has attained a place in society as an accepted, even fashionable, model of justifying just how important we are to others and to ourselves. In its defense, discussing it in this respect is neither entirely conscious or out of malice. It is toxic, though, in that it simply sets the cycle spinning. Once one person exasperatedly lists their commitments, it is expected for the same to be done by those they are addressing, almost competitively.
Plainly speaking, stress talk needlessly perpetuates negativity in everyday conversation, and this is where we should draw the line. Instead of allowing stress to become the new black, we should engage in an effort to promote the positivity found in our situation. Enjoying your responsibilities doesn’t make you any less important—just happier.