System of Stress in Society

Society of the Stressed

In Society by Camilla

I believe that one of the absolute most powerful tools we have at hand as human beings in a modern world is words. I’ve talked about this before but it can’t be repeated enough: The way we talk about and approach things is a significant factor in our experience and understanding of ourselves and the world we live in. This is among the reasons why it was so important to me to try and find a new way to talk about stress since the way we’re talking about it in society today doesn’t at all seem constructive.

This other way has led me to the places of the society in an attempt to go back to the earliest understandings and discoveries of stress. When the industrialized society was still a slow growing movement the first signs of what today is known as stress started to appear. And to doctors and scientist back then the connection was clear: the weariness that appeared in a growing number of working people was a reaction to modern society with new technologies and ways of communication such as the rail road and telephone.

But it seems we have forgotten this original link; forgotten that stress was something external to our bodies that affected us in a certain way dependent on where we were and the way we were living.

Today, the development is looking a lot like the first changes in the early industrialization are happening. We no longer measure distance in meters, we measure the time we will need to get there. New York is not several thousand kilometers away from our home in Copenhagen, it’s just six hours. Alongside, modern technology has fulfilled our utopia: the possibility of actually being in two places at once.

And these are just two characteristics of the modern capitalist society. But they show how it’s worth going back to the initial perception that stress is our reaction to something unnatural, something foreign to us that our body and mind find difficult to resolve.

The sociologist Hartmut Rosa is trying to restore this linkage. His starting point is an interesting one, namely that modern people are not living what could be called a good life. We are exposed to social acceleration that, among other things, takes its form in the two above mentioned factors, and will in its present totalitarian form lead to serious form of social alienation that is to be seen as the biggest obstacle in achieving the good life.

When each of us are trying to prevent feeling stressed, we are told to look within ourselves. But maybe, just maybe, it was time to look the other way. Look at society and identify a system that is basically harming us. As long as stress is perceived an individual condition, the system will stay the same. Nothing will change, everything will all likelihood keep accelerating and our stress symptoms will not only be getting more frequent but maybe also worse.

Source: Hartmut Rosa: Social Acceleration: A New Theory of Modernity, 2013