Moving from stress bragging to happy chatting

Written by B.J Woodstein, PhD

“How are you doing?” you might ask a colleague as you meet by the kettle when it’s time for your mid-morning coffee. Your intention is to be friendly, maybe superficial, and to just have a quick chat while you wait for the water to boil. Your colleague sighs. “I’m SO BUSY!” they tell you. “I have a presentation to give tomorrow, plus that big report is due next week, and you know we have that meeting coming up with the possible new client that we have to prepare for. Also, my daughter’s in a play at school and obviously I have to go see her perform, and my kids have so many activities every week that I feel like a taxi, not a parent. Plus my mum has increasing needs. And then there’s…”

They go on and on, and you wish you hadn’t asked. It’s not that you don’t care, exactly, it’s just that you don’t see the point of complaining non-stop about how busy you are. It adds to your stress levels and you’d rather try to stay positive. Or could it be that you’re the colleague who rants about your workload? Are you the one people back away from at the water cooler, because you’re always showing off about your jam-packed calendar and your repetitive stress injury from all the typing you do?

Welcome to the world of stress-bragging. Stress bragging is just as it sounds like: it’s when people brag about how stressed out they are. Sometimes, as in the example above, it’s when they list all the things they have on their plate. At other times, it’s when folks say something along the lines of, “Sorry, can’t talk, I’m sooooo overworked and busy!” However they do it, they’re signalling that they’re so very important, because they have all these tasks to do.

Why do people stress brag? Well, we live in a workaholic culture, where people are expected to contribute constantly. In Western culture today, rest is looked down upon, as something the lazy do. But of course rest is essential. We need to take care of our bodies and minds, and we in fact work more efficiently and effectively if we take breaks. But this isn’t something often discussed; instead, it’s all about making lots of money, contributing to society and buying more things. When that’s what’s prioritised, it’s no wonder people stress brag; we want the world to know that we’re achieving the goals set by our society. Also, we obviously feel like we have to prove that our employers were right to hire us over other people, so we feel we need to offer constant evidence of our competence. It’s as if our stress levels become our brand, or are themselves proof of our right to be alive.


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