Stress vs. Humans: Spoiler Alert – We Lose.


We wear stress and exhaustion like merit badges in this country. If you’re not stressed, tired, or busy every second of the day it’s assumed that you’re lazy or not working hard enough. People can actually die from stress (ex: heart attacks). It also does us no favors for quality of life. The top ten “hit list” of illnesses that stress causes are as follows:

  1. Heart disease
  2. Asthma
  3. Obesity
  4. Diabetes
  5. Headaches
  6. Depression and anxiety
  7. Gastrointestinal problems
  8. Alzheimer’s disease
  9. Accelerated aging
  10. Premature death

You know what the sad part is? All of that is easily preventable – if making our personal health was an actual priority and not just something that companies and governments pay lip service to. I know plenty of parents who would have benefitted from actual proper parental leave after the birth of a child. I know firsthand that my mother would have been much better served if she could have taken time off to care for my father when he was dying. This was back before the family leave laws, weak as they are, were even a thing. Her day was something like this:

  • 5:00am – wake up & get dressed (assuming she wasn’t so exhausted that she slept in her clothes)
  • 5:30am – head out to work (still dark no matter what time of year)
  • 6:30am – arrive at work and hit the ground running
  • 12:00pm – arrive at hospital to take care of dad & have lunch
  • 1:30pm – back to work
  • 4:30pm – back to the hospital to take care of dad
  • 9:30pm – on a good day, arrive at home
  • 11:00pm – 12am – on a bad day arrive at home
  • 12am – 5:00am – sleep, maybe

Notice how I didn’t mention me or my brother? That’s because there was no time for us. We had to take care of ourselves when my aunt and cousins, who thankfully lived directly above and below us, respectively, were not on the clock. I never resented her for this even at that young of an age because I knew it had to be done. What I resented was the conditions that our culture created that made this the norm. To a very large extent, even with family leave laws that we have today, it’s still like this for many families who have to take care of a sick or injured family member. Dad was lucky enough to have someone looking out for him. The antics with the hospital and health ‘insurance’( that was cut off anyway because he got cancer) were unreal and even for someone who was well and smart enough to throw down with these vultures it was a terrible battle each time a bill came in. For example: one of the doctors at the hospital sent in a bill for an exam performed on my father. Here’s the catch. It was a gynecologist.

Before I see comments that say things like “that couldn’t have happened” or “that’s not how —- works”, here are a few parameters to keep in mind:

  • This happened in the 90’s when healthcare and insurance were even more of a joke than they are today
  • In the 90’s, insurance companies could drop you for anything they wanted
    • Ex: pregnancy was considered a preexisting condition, even if the woman or girl was never pregnant
    • So were yeast infections, even if you only had one ever
  • I saw all of this unfold first hand
    • Mom is not subtle or quiet
  • There were no laws that would protect or help us with this kind of thing, and still aren’t unless you’re rich
  • Poor people and middle income people still have to deal with this kind of nonsense

She aged 10 years in 8 months trying to keep up.

I don’t need to look back in my history to see how stress affects people when I can just look around my office and see it. Some of my closest work friends will put in for vacation time and end up working during it anyway, or come home early from a trip. It’s not like we’re hurting for back up either. They are conditioned, like most of us that have to work for a living, to feel that if they leave their post someone else will replace them and they will have to look for work all over again. Looking for work is completely demoralizing, especially if you are a woman or a person of color. God help you if you a woman of color. That pay gap is real and it gets worse the farther you go down the privilege ladder. Talk about stressful. Managers don’t seem to care much since the work gets done, but the expense is the people who work for them. They suffer from burn out at a much faster rate or they get fed up because they’re not actually living.

Yes, working fewer hours in a week would do wonders. They put in anywhere from 60 – 70 in reality even if the data entered is 40 – 45. If they actually only worked 40 -45 hours a week they would be more rested, more efficient, and honestly more pleasant to be around, because when you’re stressed and tired, you’re a jerk. You could be the nicest person in the world, but that will turn you into a negative, pessimistic jerk.

In 900 words (or so) I’ve covered work culture and government health ‘care’. Something else that stress is greatly responsible for is weight gain. I realize that our culture likes to place the onus of weigh management on the shoulders of the individual, but honestly we do that out of fear that anyone can ‘get fat’. Guess what? Anyone can get fat; even that skinny blonde who runs every morning and measures out every meal. I’ll show you how stress does it more than food an exercise.

stress wheel

It’s a horrible cycle and each time someone rides the wheel it gets harder to do anything to change their life for the better. No one can get healthy when they are fed a steady stream of stress, hate, exclusion and depravation. They can’t get healthy because the things surrounding them are not healthy – from the bullying to the advice given, welcome or not. The good news is that this cycle can be broken easily. Take this piece for example:

slice

To stop the cycle, these items need to be addressed.

  • Fat Shaming
    • For the average person they have a choice when they see someone they feel is overweight
      1. Be a horrible person and shame them
      2. Say nothing

It doesn’t matter if you know the person or not. It is so easy to say nothing. It’s so easy to mind your own business and turn your attention to your iPhone and finish that level of Angry Birds or Candy Crush that you’ve been stuck on for days because you refuse to give money to a game about farm animals and sugar.

How to fix it: Keep your mouth shut. No one is inviting you to comment on their appearance. Saying nothing includes not posting passive aggressive memes on your Facebook as well.

And doctors? Guess what. If you only see the fat you’re going to screw up your diagnosis of the whole person. One of your ilk almost killed my aunt because of that. You just saw a fat woman but you didn’t bother to question why she only had 1/4th of her blood left in her body. You had a baseline, since she went to you almost every month for a checkup and a blood draw to keep her diabetes in check. You also missed the fact that she has hyperthyroid issues. It wasn’t like this happened in the 90’s or other past decade we look at as the dark ages. This was 2009. But you know best right? You also said dad had the flu when it was really cancer. Go back to school and try it again, genius. You’re not the gods of intellect you think you are.

How to fix it: Look past the body weight and take all of the information you get from a physical work up into account. Also, take some sensitivity training. The way some doctors talk to people is downright insulting. I get your time is valuable. So is mine and since I waited 45 minutes for an appointment I made a month ago the least you can do is be courteous.

  • Media messages
    • Diet commercials sell big promises at big prices and don’t deliver
    • Every TV show has painfully thin women on them, mostly white, most likely with destructive food issues
    • Food commercials of thin women eating enormous amounts of food as if it was their normal eating habits
    • Lastly – my favorite – The thin woman binging on nachos wearing a football jersey and downing a beer

It’s like Photoshop for film. None of this is real! You don’t see the spit takes at the end of the shoot or the hours on the treadmill that the actors strap themselves to in order to burn off all the bites they had to take. I think the worst part of it is the fiction of the “cool girl” who is glamorous, sexy, into all of the things guys are (supposed to be) into, but she’s super low maintenance and will still get you a beer. This is a woman cosplaying. Women will only be able to be this fiction for a finite amount of time before they finally crack and decide that they would rather skip the beauty routine in favor of some alone time or extra sleep. This bullet point is not only stress inducing but sexist as well. Expecting someone to be something they’re not is also a major source of stress and can result in depression, weight issues, and self-harm.

How to fix it: We can’t change TV and marketing fast enough, but we can sign up for streaming services where commercials aren’t a problem. The more industrious of us can also share ad blocker software suggestions or even create a few new ones! On a smaller scale – flip the script. If someone is expecting you to be something you’re not, ask yourself why it’s ok for them to expect you to conform to their ideals without your permission. (Spoiler alert: It isn’t. Ever.)

  • Size cap in clothing stores
    • Forces those above a size 12 to look online for clothing that fits
      • Sales people frequently direct customers looking for items over size 12 to look online
    • Too many smaller sizes and too few larger sizes even though the larger sizes sell out faster
      • H&M rarely if ever has anything above a size 10 in any of the women’s sections
      • Uniqlo and American Apparel don’t make clothing past a size 12
      • Victoria Secret’s does not carry sizes above large, 12, 36D and those are still hard to find in store

All it takes is 15 minutes on my favorite clothing site, Modcloth, and I’m already annoyed. Not from the site itself which has been plus size inclusive to a degree not commonly seen, but more at the number of designers that stop making clothing past a 34 inch waistline. Many times I’ve had money in my hand to give for these wonderful clothes just to find that they won’t fit my 38 inch waist. I’ve also been chased out of a few stores, even at a size 10 (32” waist) and size 12 (34”waist) because, and I quote, “We don’t have your size.” I’m looking at you, Victoria Secret’s and Bloomingdale’s. Wonder why I don’t shop with you anymore? Your staff is not helpful. I don’t live in a rural area. I can literally step outside my office and get anything. In a three block radius there are 5 drug stores, countless restaurants, a comic book shop, fast food joints, jewelry stores, wine shops and if I want a massage at lunch time it’s two blocks from here.  So don’t tell me of the 8 locations of your store, which Google turned up in a search, none of them have the pink lacey bra with the sparkly bits in a 38D. Soma.com, as well as their brick and mortar stores, has always been very good to me – but this is another rant.

How to fix it: Carry more of the sizes that sell out the fastest. Keep a more extensive stock instead of stopping at 10 or 12. It is not ok to expect people of certain sizes to order online, wait for shipping, find out it doesn’t look right, ship it back and try it again. Also, don’t alienate women of larger sizes. They have money they want to spend. That’s just bad business.

Stress doesn’t necessarily need to be a part of our lives. We should be able to save the stress moments for things we can’t control, like an emergency vet trip or a burst water pipe in the apartment. These moments need the fight or flight response because they are acute and in immediate need of attention. Prolonged stress makes us less willing to take care of ourselves, which only adds to the physical effects that stress and depression are putting on the body. We don’t want to go out, too tired for exercise, feeling unattractive and avoiding intimate contact, comforting ourselves with food or retail therapy. All that strain on our bodies leave us open to getting sick more often, but for some reason our culture sees this as a virtue and not something destructive.

You can buy all the lavender-scented candles you want but the reality is that culture change starts with the individual that says “I’m not doing this. I have a better way.” and then does it. For my part, I’ve left the body shaming of others and myself behind, I question my doctors because they are just mortals like me, and I don’t give my money to stores or designers that complain that making big clothes is too hard. Don’t whine, it’s unbecoming.

Netflix, you with your streaming cartoons and lack of ads, please don’t ever change. I love you.

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