For National Stress Awareness Month, I wrote two articles here about how we pick up stress from others and pass it on--what I called "stresscalation." I argued that we have an ethical obligation to stop our own role in this stresscalation.

But could we also play a role in stopping the stresscalation that we find around us?

While pondering this, I remembered a much-loved picture book from my childhood, A Fly Went By, by Mike McClintock. This simple story not only illustrates how stress can be contagious--it also shows us a state of mind that can help us stop the stresscalation.  

A Fly Went By begins on a sunny, summer morning. A young boy relaxes in a rowboat, at the edge of a lake. Without a care in his mind, he remarks:

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When we pass stress on to others, we create a more stressful world.

It doesn't matter how we got stressed in the first place, or whose fault it was originally. As soon as we're stressed, it is our responsibility, and what we do with it is up to us.  

When we bring our stress forward, into the next thing we do, it has an effect. We make costly mistakes. We fail to notice novel solutions. We give other people a difficult day. And then they are liable to do the same to others. In other words, we become agents of stresscalation.