The Glorification of Stress

In recent years, people are constantly glorifying being stressed and using it as a way of competition.


Chante Hardaway

Ninth grade students working hard on in class assignments and homework.

“[People will say] ‘Oh I’m stressed. I have tons of tests and only got 4 hours of sleep last night,’ or something like that and someone else will say ‘You’re stressed? Well I’m more stressed than you. I only got 3 hours of sleep,’” described Nora Franken, senior.

Many high school students would classify this as a common interaction among peers. Competing with friends and classmates about who has it worse.

Taya Zapf, sophomore, said she commonly experiences these conversations.

“[I experience this] all the time. Every week, my friends and I talk about our multiple tests coming up, our homework from the night before, and even the little amount of sleep we got due to school work.”

Many wonder when it became “cool” to be the most stressed person in the room? This phenomenon is often called the “glorification of stress” or “stress culture”. It is defined as the idea that higher levels of stress are the result of a better work ethic and, in turn, lower levels of stress are the result of a poor work ethic. However, high levels of stress are actually often a symptom of issues. Gabrielle Kouri, Social Studies, shared what shes heard from students about their stress levels.

“I’ve definitely heard students competing with each other over how much time they’ve put into something,” she said. “Sometimes, they’re almost bragging about [putting in] an amount of time [on an assignment] that I feel was really too much time for what the assignment was. So, sometimes as the teacher, when I hear that I think ‘Oh no. I don’t know if you understood the assignment well enough.”

A Stanford News article says, “‘busy-ness’ is glorified in our society… We wear our stress like a badge of honor, as if the busier we are, the more impressive we must be, and the more accomplished we must seem.”

Indeed, stress or “busyness” is often used to validate oneself. Kouri explains how stress has and continues to play a role in her life.

“Definitely, [work has caused an extreme amount of stress for me in the past]. I think I was trying to feel good about how hard I was working instead of looking at the challenge of the situation and maybe managing or planning in a {better way]. I’ve tried to change what I’m doing [so there] is not as much work for me,” she explained.

Franken has also experienced this but on the other side, as a student.
“People will feel more accomplished when they are stressed. After completing hours of school work, students may feel successful, and then realize that it took up their entire night.”

This issue is not isolated to Liberty. Many view it as a societal issue that will take a lot of work to address.

“[When I hear the term “glorification of stress” or “stress culture”] I think of the U.S.… I can only compare [the U.S.] to France, from the time that I spent there, but I think there is a better [work-life] balance from what I’ve observed in France… There’s the saying ‘do you work to live or live to work?’ Sometimes it feels that in the US we live to work and in France it’s more working to be able to live and do the things that you enjoy,” said Catherine Liddle, French teacher.

The glorification of stress may be an issue that is deeply rooted in culture, making it harder to work through. Despite that, Kouri and Liddle site pushback against this ideology.

“I’ve heard both the conversation of people talking about how much cramming they did or the all nighter they pulled and I’ve also heard students who seem concerned about that. So, I’m starting to hear a little push back on it,” said Kouri.

Liddle reflects on similar push back among her colleagues.

“Yeah, I have [heard these conversations]. I’ll also say I’ve experienced the opposite, where people talk about how they manage to organize it in a way that doesn’t lead them to overwork themselves. So, I think in our field we also talk about that like it’s a really good thing. I think we’ve been getting better at recognizing just how challenging it is, what we are trying to do here,” she explained.

I think that [mindset] is easy to fall into but I always encourage my students to not to compete with each other but to compete with themselves. Try to challenge yourself a little bit further, don’t worry about what other people are doing.

— Gabrielle Kouri

The mindset surrounding stress culture is very normalized and can be easy to fall into. However, for many it can lead to unhealthy mindsets and levels of stress. What if we focused on enjoying things we truly love instead of keeping ourselves busy to earn a form of “validation”.

Kouri recommends that students try to combat this often harmful mindset.
“Try to let go of perfectionism,” she stated. “I would also keep in mind that people have different amounts of time to do things. Several hours is not necessarily a badge of achievement. I think that [mindset] is easy to fall into but I always encourage my students to not to compete with each other but to compete with themselves. Try to challenge yourself a little bit further, don’t worry about what other people are doing.”Stress is put on a pedestal for students. They are told that if they are not stressed, then they aren’t doing enough. Stress has always been a tough thing to deal with for people of all ages but it is being treated like it should be celebrated. There are many ways to deal with and eliminate stress in life and once it is, it feels like a weight has been lifted off your shoulders.

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