The Culture of Stress

October 9th, 2017



Middle class people worry a lot about money. They worry a lot about job security and they do a lot of nine-to-five stuff.” 

– Irvine Welsh



This week, we look at the affects of stress on health from a different angle: our socio-cultural and economic conditioning…



In my time as a therapist in different countries around the world, the biggest single factor affecting health – more than diet and exercise (although it influences those choices) – is stress. What constitutes stress of course varies from person to person as does conditioning from the value system within their culture.



As my experience has predominantly been with the socio-economic middle class within these countries I will look at how its conditioning values affect health.



The bourgeoisie blues


Bourgeoise is a French term referring to the rise of urban populations (literally: “living in the borough”) that became merchants and craftsmen and the like – as opposed to rural workers which previously drove the economic motor of society. This have evolved over the years to become what we know today as the middle classes.


In Marxist philosophy, the bourgeois/middle classes were driven by the need for “the twin illusions” of material comfort and social respectablity. The upper classes (those from established, multi-generational wealth or nobility) sneeringly referred to them as the ‘aspirational classes’.




While obviously disparaging, it is also informative. The middle class is perhaps the only socio-economic group that appears to view life as a game of snakes and ladders. From their view in the middle, a desire to ‘get ahead’ (climb the ladder of economic and social status) is only matched by their fear of ‘falling behind’ (sliding down into poverty or at least, a lowered status among their peers).


The most middle of the middle class can become paralysed into inaction by this fear and crave the comfort of the predicatable, bland and unchanging:


“If I don’t stand out, just keep my head down and don’t do anything wrong, I will be safe.” or:
“One knows what one has but not what one may get (so don’t risk anything).”


– are prevailing attitudes from this collective mindset. From a health perspective, it is the opposite of growth and evolution and represents a kind of spiritual death.


It also shows an enormous fear of the snake and the pitfall into disgrace it represents. I trust at this point that the symbolism of this will not be lost on you. It is no surprise then that this class has also come to represent the dubiously named ‘moral majority’ that attempt (with not inconsiderable success) to push their tastes for sexual repression and wealth conservation (the protected materialism of private ownership) into law.


All is not well however in this ivory tower (well, alright, brick and mortar house with a finely edged lawn) of the mind. The pesky thing about materialism is that it is bound to the laws of the material world, which just happen to include, well, us…



Going, going, gone!



Here’s the thing. The material world is based upon three main principles. Material things (including us):


Arise (or are born)

Maintain for a time and then:

Disintegrate (die) and disappear – from physical existence at least.


If one could look down upon the earth through a very high speed time lapse camera, things would appear to be exploding forth from and disappearing back into the earth over and over again.


Applied to us this means that, sooner or later – whether by death or misfortune – we will be separated from all our material gains (money, houses, cars, investments, our ‘stuff’, our friends, family, lovers and fellow human beings. This is not a philosophical idea but a guaranteed outcome of our material existence.


As David Bowie once sang: “I wish I had a future. Anywhere.” As we look into the setting sun of our life, the defiantly materialistic manifesto of “He who dies with the most toys, wins!” isn’t very comforting.




Releiving material stress

A big part of client stress centres around material loss and gain. It creates a stressful poverty consciousness that never allows us to feel enough and leads to constant, unsatisfied cravings for things we think will somehow complete us and make us happy:



“If I just had ‘x’ amount of money.”
“If I could just land that job or career.”
“If I just had that house, car, ‘toy’, ‘dream kitchen’
“If just had a life partner.”
“If I could just have children.”

– all of these take us out of ourselves and the present moment and into the constant craving of inadequacy – that we are never quite enough as we are.



It also means one is constantly putting off the experiences, insights and enjoyments we could be having right now. It is no coincidence that the phrase “He/she bought the farm.” (ie., finally acheived some peace through a long desired material accquisition) is a euphemism for death.


Strategies for remaining present in the present

One could choose to become anxious or depressed about this or we could see it as an opportunity to reprioritize our life. We could ask different questions about what we might do with the time we have in physical existence. Some of these might be:

What do I want to experience? (As opposed to having/owning)

What do I want to create?

What do I want to heal?

What do I want to transform?

These questions reposition our anxiety about the future or regrets about the past by bringing us back to the present.


Being separated from the present is the root of our dis-ease and many of our diseases.


It binds us in the sticky, two-sided flypaper of attachment: What we desire to possess and what we fear losing. It is the proverbial crack in the door that allows in those who would manipulate and magnify these attachments in us. We become bullied and stressed by forces within and without. It is no coincidence that this culture has also been called ‘the consumer society’.


Valuing experiences over things


Rather than be a cause of stress, the understanding of the entropic dissolution of physical existence can help us to prioritize what is most important and lasting: our experiences and what we become from them.


All experience is the proverbial grist for the mill of becoming our authentic Self, free of the craving to be something or someone else.
Life is not a report card that we must produce at our death to some authority for approval. “At least I didn’t screw up!” will not provide much comfort. The acceptance of who we are, here and now, just might.



Till another Monday that neither gives nor takes but leaves us better for the experience…



© Jeremy Halpin all rights reserved. All images are the author’s own unless otherwise indicated or if the original source is unknown at the time of writing. You can subscribe to this blog by clicking the button in the bottom right hand corner of the page – or share it on the social media of your choice. If you have any wishes or questions regarding subjects to be discussed on this blog use the contact information below. Jeremy is also available for seminars, lectures and personal consultation:

Related Posts

Leave a Reply