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Is Being Stressed Out the New Status Symbol?

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Stressed? Super busy? Join the club. Earlier this month the American Psychological Association (APA) released its annual Stress in America report and, as a nation, we’re pretty frazzled. In the past year alone, 35 percent of Americans said their stress levels have gone up.

The survey shows that women in particular have higher stress levels than men, and that Millenials (ages 18-33) win the title of “most stressed out generation.” Taken together, these findings mean that young women are the hardest hit demographic.

So, what’s driving our culture of stress and busyness?

Stress is a status symbol.

While the belief that “hard-work-equals-reward” has always been firmly lodged in the American psyche, we’ve now reached a point where being stressed has become synonymous with being successful. Working stressed is not the same as working smart, yet we assume that the more hours we put in, the more accomplished we are. This creates an environment where being busy makes us feel important and a long to-do list is a valuable assurance that we are contributing to our families, offices, communities… As a result, we wear our busyness like a badge of honor and measure daily accomplishments by how much got checked off The List. To some extent, taking downtime is considered lazy. It seems that stress has become America’s newest status symbol.

Everyone else is doing it.

When we’re not busy being stressed, we’re busy talking about how stressed we are. As women, we often bond by swapping stories about how unbelievably hectic our lives are. TV, movies, and Facebook bragging further amplify discussions of stress, generally reinforcing the cultural norm that all the cool kids are doing it. Trading tales of crazy schedules has become so normal that it’s easy to engage without noticing, but these types of conversations can be more competitive than cathartic. No matter how much we did in a day, it can still feel like we’re not keeping up with other superwomen.

How do we stop?

So, how to we slow down and de-stress before we crash? Psychologist Stephanie Smith recommends the following:

  1. Minimize the use of unhealthy coping strategies. Whether it’s smoking cigarettes or mindlessly munching potato chips and gummy bears, unhealthy coping strategies don’t do anything to decrease stress over the long-term. And they may very leave you with some bad habits to overcome. Identify whether you have unhealthy coping mechanisms and put in the work to minimize or eliminate them.
  2. Find something that works for you. Give yourself a healthy coping mechanism to de-stress. Leave your desk for a 15 minute walk, do yoga, run or set up a weekly call with a girlfriend—whatever works for you.
  3. Contact your health provider. The APA report shows that while “32 percent of Americans say it is very/extremely important to talk with their health care providers about stress management, only 17 percent report that these conversations are happening often or always.” Talk to your primary care physician before you hit a wall.

Do have any successful coping strategies for de-stressing? Share them with us in the comments!


#Mental Health #Career Health #Measuring Success #Stress Management Lifestyle
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I agree that this is becoming a status symbol - and it starts as early as high school (maybe earlier). It is easy to be competitive with others about "how busy I am!" These tips will definitely help everyone take it down a notch and learn to take a break.

Elana Gross
Elana Gross

Great article! We shouldn't think of stress as a status symbol. It is so important to take some time to de-stress - even if it is just a quick walk around the block after lunch. I think you will be more productive overall if you take a few minutes to de-stress, refocus, and get back to work!

Great tips! My coping strategy for stress these days involves carving out one or two days a month to just relax - it helps me refocus on what's important and like Elana said it definitely helps with production in the long-term!

This is SO true. So many people use stress a badge of honor...kind of the way lack of sleep is used. I think the more we talk about stress, the less we implement *action* in trying to finding coping mechanisms that work. Love the 4 tips on how to de-stress!

Being stressed is a really great indicator of not being able to say no. Clear priorities and realizing the day has only 24hours is the way to go.

When you work you work, when you have time off you take time off. Once you start mixing these things the guilt kicks in... things get done last minute and so one... vicious circle.

Hi Jessica! Definitely agree re: the busy competition beginning in high school. If as adults we can remodel our behavior to send a healthier message that should trickle down to teens.

Thanks Elana! Totally agree - going slow to go fast can be a big productivity booster.

Thanks Whitley! It's always good to hear examples of healthy balance.

Definitely agree - talking about stress/being busy perpetuates the problem and blocks actively finding solutions.

And Vico - excellent point re: not being able to say no. It has taken me a LONG time to learn to say no, recognize that my time is valuable & set up boundaries to protect it. It's tough but so important to do.

Carly Heitlinger
Carly Heitlinger

I do this on a personal level though. If I'm not stressed out, I feel like I'm not taking on enough projects or working hard enough. This is so NOT the way I should think and I'm working on finding more balance and incorporating the word "No" into my vocabulary more.

I do think stress is seen as a status symbol, but it shouldn't be. You should be discussing the exciting and fulfilling things you work on, not how stressed you are from them.
That being said, we all get stressed and it's so important to figure out what works for you in terms of de-stressing. I didn't figure out how much less stressed I feel after a workout until a few years ago. It would have saved me so much anxiety in high school and college.

This is important to catch early. I started smoking cigarettes my freshman year of college to help "take the edge off stress," and now I'm stuck working on a quitting program. I will definitely teach my children coping mechanisms before sending them away to college! We're never going to completely end stress -in fact, some stress is healthy. However, there are ways to cope that don't involve harming yourself in the long run, and that is important for young women (and men!) to realize.

Being busy is not the same as being stressed. If I make time to go to yoga and cook myself a nice meal at the end of the day, that means I'm busy, but not necessarily stressed. What does stress me out is feeling like yoga, cooking, and taking "me time" are things I'm SUPPOSED to do--it's the pressure to do things that I might not normally do, whether it's working more or "relaxing" more, that gets to me, not the busyness.

Anna Brennan
Anna Brennan

Totally agree with all of the above, these type of attitudes are really prevalent in uni too. I found Laura Vanderkam's advice in her book "168 hours" helpful: stop thinking in terms of not having enough time, and start thinking in terms of priorities. It is much easier to say "I don't have time to exercise/call my parents/sleep/look after myself" than "It isn't a priority for me to XYZ". This always makes me re-evaluate where I spend my time!

Sarah Murawski
Sarah Murawski

Best stress-coping strategy I've learned: At the beginning of the day write down 3 things to accomplish-->prioritize. Then, at the end of the day, write down 3 things you're thankful for. It's incredible how a little perspective and sense of accomplishment can de-stress your life!

Renee Luk
Renee Luk

I love the saying "we all have the same 24 hours in a day". I agree that working stressed is not the same as working smart. Stress isn't a badge of honour, it's a signal that you're not being smart with your same 24 hours.


Kristen, thanks for putting this epidemic into words! I love all the advice about priorities. Personally, I try to make sure that I only have five out of seven nights booked for friends and volunteering each week, and that I commit the other two to "treats" like doing sport or reading. It's working quite well for me!

Sarah, this is an amazing idea. I'm going to start doing this, starting tonight!

Carly Heitlinger
Carly Heitlinger

This is SUCH a great point! I'm storing that in my back pocket for later ;-)

Great comments. I completely agree with this tendency of our generation to feel more important if we have a stressed out life. This all comes back once again to the definition of success that has to be redefined. One very simple way of avoiding to be stressed out for nothing is not to use the word "stress". Try to ban it completely from your vocabulary for a week and see the result. I have tested this various times, it really helps!

Such an important article - it is possible we perpetuate the cycle of stress by talking up our own stress. Perhaps it would be useful to turn the conversations to how we manage stress or collaborate to become both more efficient and more effective.

I am trying to be more conscious of not talking about how busy or stressed I am, because it does become more of a dump session as opposed to finding a constructive solution to my problem, or a way to de-stress! Taking a moment to think before I start talking about my stress gives me some time to put the issue or day in perspective as well.

I see this all the time in college, especially around exams. People try to one up each other with hours spent studying or not sleeping. It's not healthy or efficient. Especially if most of the time is actually spent not working..

Great article! Something that is really hard for me is falling asleep when I am stressed (almost every day). No matter how much I accomplish, I'm constantly thinking about what I didn't get done, or what I have to add to my already busy schedule tomorrow. I have started keeping a bedside journal, and every night before I go to bed, I write down every single positive thing I accomplished that day. It allows me to remind myself that I was productive, and can start on a positive fresh note the next morning.

So true! My usual response to "how are you?" used to be "good! busy!" but I've stopped saying that. The truth is that we can make time for the things we WANT to do, and we should! If we really are "busy" doing things we love, the answer should be "great! I am luck to be able to fill my days with productive, positive things."

Amber Adams
Amber Adams

Stress is the new black...or rather complaining about it is? I totally think that view stress as some kind of validation.

The four tips are a great way to become less stressed. Yoga is a part of my life, but I never thought that even just calling a friend for a few minutes a week could help - definitely going to try that out!


Great point, Kirsten! And great article!

I am going to echo Jenna's comment and say this is amazing. I'm a huge fan of trying to map out my day with manageable "chunks" but I always seem to forget to be thankful for the good in my life.

This has allowed me to see that the time I carve out in my week to e-mail friends across the country is valuable because it allows me to de-stress by venting and lauding my accomplishments.

I've also started to see that I may need to take even more time out of my life to understand what is healthy: being busy is, but being stressed and/or overwhelmed is not.

Rachel, your comment definitely resonated with me. Kicking a bad coping mechanism is so tough - my college stress coping mechanism was an eating disorder. I did kick it, I'm healthier now than I've ever been and in my case found that the hardest part was admitting I needed to change my bad habits. Props to you for working things through!

TRUTH. I'll have to check out this book, thanks Anna!

That's a good distinction - I actually never think of myself as busy when I'm doing things I enjoy. I tend to reserve busy for the types of pressure situations you mention.

It works for me!

Lily Herman
Lily Herman

I completely agree, Jessica. No matter where you go people feel the need to compare the 100 things they are juggling at one time. It's making children think that "normal" is being overwhelmed.

One of my goals is to "work smarter, not harder", and it's so tempting to fall into the battle to see who is busier among friends. I have to remember that people respect happiness & balance more than they respect someone who is burnt out.

I completely agree! It's become fashionable to be exhausted.

Good point Caroline. I like being busy too but being stressed is a whole ballgame altogether.

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