Imagine a disease that caused headaches, difficulty breathing, stomach pain, high-blood pressure, jaw pain, nausea, depression, insomnia, weight-gain, fatigue and a rash.
If there was a disease that did all of these things, we would demand that it be wiped out.
We would donate money to stop it. There would be government grants, philanthropic bequests and oversized cheques.
Celebrities would speak out about it. We would wear tshirts and wristbands. There would be a public awareness campaign with bumper stickers and pens.
We’d prevent it, we’d treat it, we’d beat it. Right?
Actually, this disease does exist. We just don’t think that it’s important. There are no songs about it and no telethons. There are no heart-rending pictures of children and no big, sad animal eyes.
You see, stress is the disease that causes all of these symptoms. Stress: that oh-so-familiar feeling of being overwhelmed, tense and worried. Someone you know is dealing with it right now (one in four Australians are dealing with moderate to severe stress –read the facts here, and Lifeline has put it as high as 43% of people are suffering from ‘a lot’ or unhealthy levels of stress). It might be you. But it’s no big deal, right?
Wrong. Stress can affect every system in the body and it is hard to think of any disease or condition that isn’t made worse by it. Prolonged stress damages your brain and other internal organs and makes you more susceptible to disease. Stress can lay you out physically and mentally.
But we’re not trying to stamp it out. In fact, we seem to think it’s cool.
To be seen as someone who is “stressed out” in our culture is the mark of someone who is successful or a hard worker. Very busy, very important. If you’re not stressed, you’re not doing enough.
Unlike other diseases, we seem to like to talk about how stressed we are. We have stressful jobs, stressful lifestyles, stressful weeks. We even boast about it.
Stress feels revolting – the sleeplessness, the nausea, the headaches – but we tend not to do anything about it. We accept it as part of our work or our lives, even though a survey last year found that stress had a strong to very strong impact on the physical health of one in five Australians. Read it here.