Last year, for National Stress Awareness Month, I published a series of articles here about how stress can be contagious. And I asked readers to vow not to pass their stress on to others for one day.
This year, for National Stress Awareness Day, I want to raise the stakes.
I want you to take that vow formally and publicly. I want you to invite your family and friends and coworkers to take the vow, too. I want to see if we can create one day in the world that is noticeably less stressful … by taking responsibility for our stress and vowing not to pass it on.(See the end of this article for details.) It’s really very simple.
When you are suffering from long-term, chronic stress, or just the repeated hassles and incivilities of modern life, you are more likely to make a mistake, drop the ball, kick the dog, blow a fuse. You are also more likely to be sleep-deprived, which makes the other effects of stress, already bad, much worse.
You are also more likely to be hypersensitive, quick to anger, abrupt with your children, or rude to some innocent stranger on the street who just happens to get in your way.
In other words, once you get stressed, if you don’t release that stress quickly and effectively, you are very likely to contribute to someone else’s stress. This is what I call “stresscalation”– the way in which we pass our stress on to other people, often unwittingly.
The spiral of stresscalation starts when your bad day becomes someone else’s bad day. It continues when his bad day becomes someone else’s bad day. Eventually, there is so much stress flying around that the normal tone of the places in which we live—our homes , workplaces, roads, and media—is stressed and stress-inducing
Make no mistake: the people around you do suffer when you are stressed. (And they probably suffer from it more than you realize, because you’re too stressed to notice.)
They suffer, of course, when you make their day worse in obvious ways—when you bump into them, cut them off on the road, drop your coffee on them, or forget to do something important that you promised to do.
But they also suffer in more subtle ways. They feel it when you are jumpy and reactive. They recoil when you snap at them. They get stressed when you are not really listening, when you are not thinking clearly, when you are argumentative. They feel it when, because you are stressed, you are just not available for love and laughter.
Of course, when you are stressed, it is very tempting to think about who or what caused it. But no matter what the cause of your stress, as soon as you become stressed, it’s your responsibility. And what you do with it is up to you. You can carry it around with you, infecting everyone else. Or you can choose to stop the stresscalation.
So I invite you to join me, for one day, in saying, “the stress stops here.”
This is, in my view, an ethical vow, because it relies on taking responsibility for your own actions. It is a compassionate vow, because it makes you more considerate of the people around you. It is also a vow of service, because you will be making the world just a bit more peaceful.
It is also a self-serving vow, because it will have a direct, positive effect on your own health and happiness. In your efforts to honor this vow, you will become more conscious of how stress affects you and you will be more careful not to pick it up. And if you do happen to pick up some stress, you will find a healthy way to put it down quickly.
To take the vow formally: