STRESS: A SOCIAL DIS-EASE
It's 3:45 p.m. You've been xeroxing and collating materials to stuff into 800 envelopes since yesterday afternoon. It simply has to be out in today's mail. Only about half of the envelopes are full, and there's still the sealing and stamping to do in the next 75 minutes.
Suddenly the boss bursts in and says "Hey, how did this happen?!?'' He is pointing at the bottom margin on one of the inserts. The text ends less than a half-inch from the bottom!
"I'm sorry, but you'll have to do these over. Get them printed out and xeroxed all over. If you'd done it right from the start you wouldn't have this problem!'' He stomps out in a huff.
Anxious? Nerves frayed? Is it your fault? Is it just that you don't fit in? That you can't cope with the responsibilities you must grow up and learn to handle?
Take another example: You've been processing words on a VDT for the past six-and-a-half hours, with a half-hour lunch break for coffee tasting like hot water that's had a brown crayon soaking in it for a few hours. The stuffy windowless room in which "your'' workstation resides has only the persistent hum of computers and the clackety-clack of pounding keyboards to remind you that you are not completely without sensation (the blurry vision and lower backache you've developed also proves you can feel.)
One of the lawyers you work for rushes in with a pile of scribbled notes and a series of charts and says "Listen, this is really a rush job...gotta have it in an hour. It's for a really important case and we're meeting the judge in chambers in an hour and a half. I want you to drop everything and get this done!!''
Of course, it doesn't occur to him that no one could possible get something like that typed in less than three hours. He's screwed around so long, and missed his own deadlines so badly that no one and nothing can save him now. Nevertheless, it took you two months to land this job and you've seen a couple of people get the ax for stepping out of line, so you have to try to do it, or lose your job.
Stomach hurt? Headaches? Nervous twitches appearing in odd places? Regular nightmares about work? You've caught it! STRESS!! The effects of stress can be quite far-reaching. Among the more fearsome results are heart disease, nervous system disorders, assorted inexplicable physical malfunctions, sometimes even dramatic pain.
Office workers, especially VDT operators, are statistically prone to much higher levels of stress than many other occupations. Some studies claim that VDT operators suffer higher levels of stress than air traffic controllers. The causes for these statistics are undoubtedly to be found in the work performed: highly detailed, but intrinsically useless data shuffling, under intense pressure for speed and accuracy. And the actual work environment, cut off from fresh air and sunshine, has plenty to do with it too.
Lately more and more attention is being paid to this pervasive fact of modern life. Popular psychology has spawned a large, detailed analysis of stress and its effects. Amidst all the publicity on stress there flourishes a sub-industry of psychologists, employee relations specialists, time management consultants, etc., all of whom proclaim their ability to help the stress-stricken individual learn to cope with the myriad causes of stress.
Unfortunately the "human service'' provided by these apparent do-gooder professionals is one of the most cynical or self-deluded approaches to the present-day human malaise. the "stress-managers'' are bound by their own economic needs to present stress as something curable when individuals buy the service they are selling, namely ""stress therapy.'' It's not enough that work, survival, life itself are making you feel tense; there has to be someone there to make money from that too!
When you "get'' stress, have you caught something? Or is it more accurate to say that we are all caught by situations which force us to put up with ridiculous and humiliating demands, as often as not simply to fulfill the arbitrary whim of some jerk manager?
Stress is not a result of individual failings. It is the result of an irrational and inhumane society. The solution to stress will not be found in any special seminar, or in any special meditation or exercise techniques (though it is true that some such techniques help some people temporarily cope with some results of stress). Stress is such a fundamental part of contemporary society that it will take a deliberate restrucuring of the social order to reduce it in any real sense.
In the meantime, what can we do to alleviate the more overwhelming aspects of stress? On the job, nothing helps puncture the tension like resistance to the hurried "necessity'' of imposed work demands. As long as one needs to hold a job, a certain amount of self-sacrifice and misery is unavoidable. But the source of stress can be confronted by keeping the pressing, yet trivial, demands of work in perspective. If a spirit of humorous disrespect and ridicule for the compelling time demands of the job prevails among the workforce, stress can be reduced to a level where it becomes more boredom than tension. Another source of temporary relief can be found in unofficial use of workplace resources (e.g., making personal phone calls, appropriating postage and office supplies, etc.).
Fighting the tyranny of work routines can be stress-inducing in itself. Going it alone can easily result in being fired. So, solidarity is vital in the fight for a less coercive work environment.
Stress is a social disease; and it has a social cure: changing the way people treat each other by changing the society in which they interact. We ""average folks'' are the only ones who can solve the problem of stress. We can begin by rejecting the idea of stress as a product of individual failure, with individual solutions, and by continuing to pursue alternatives to the authoritarian institutions which impose stress as a way of life.
-- Nasty Secretaries Liberation Front
|STRESS is a social disease and it has a social cure.|