The other day I wrote about how we can deal with our stress. However we can’t just rely on making ourselves less stressed. Now doing self-care is important, but it won’t change the stuff that affects our mental health the most.
The whole world is stressed right now, but the world stresses us out too, and that stress is not evenly distributed. What can can do at the moment is to use Covid-19 as a way of understanding stress in a bigger picture.
We’re all stressed rn
I’m writing this in Covid-19 and it’s something which is affecting the whole world. This will be the first time that you are experiencing anything like the weird stress that we have with this pandemic. I guess there was the credit crunch and bank bailouts about 12 years ago (watch the film ‘The Big Short’ about this). Although this is a global event which is stressing everyone the F out, you might have been through something at a more local level. Bushfires, floods, illegal occupations, persecutions, war, I could go on but I don’t want to depress you too much.
There’s a huge amount of uncertainty about what is happening, or what will happen. We worry about getting ill and people we love getting ill. It’s also affecting our wellbeing because we can’t do the kinds of things that we are used to doing in our day to day lives. Not being able to do what we usually do in normal life is affecting us.
Coronavirus is affecting all of us. It’s affecting some of us worse than others of course, but we all feel stressed about it to some degree. Think about this and learn from it. Every time you see someone out of your window, or in the street, they are affected by this. At some point during today they will be stressed about the news, or worry about their health, or someone they love, or just be frustrated they can’t live their lives.
So when you’re feeling stressed know that it’s okay, be stressed. I’m feeling fed up and bummed out. Your teachers are feeling anxious. Parents are even more stressed than usual. Your pals are feeling the same as you. It’s okay and understandable to be stressed, so feel it.
It’s the world that is stressing us out
I think we can all agree that the world has not exactly done very well at dealing with the coronavirus pandemic (and some, ahem, have done worse than others). Well done world, have a slow and sarcastic handclap. But the world stresses us out all the time even when there isn’t a pandemic.
Think of all the things that make you feel good or bad on a day to day basis. I bet that many of them are not just stresses that only you have. You and everyone around you are going to be affected by some of the same stresses, either directly or indirectly.
Have a look at this worksheet (as part of the BISH activity book, available here for sex educators). What makes you feel good or bad about yourself on a day to day basis. How many of these are caused by things outside of you? Which of these are ultimately caused by what’s in the outer circle?
Do you have things like: ‘doing well at school’ or ‘being popular’ or ‘how to deal with my bullying boss’, or ‘where am I going to live’, ‘do I have enough money’, ‘being attractive’, or ‘getting a good job?’ These are all stresses that come from governments, media, culture, and society generally. We are made to think that we as individuals responsible for these things, but some / a lot / most / all of the time (*delete depending on your political view) it’s actually capitalism’s fault, not ours.
So when you look out of the window after the virus ends (or as it eases) remember the feeling that you have now about how everyone is stressed. The stress they are feeling probably has something to do with the stress you are feeling because most of us are living under the same system that causes the same stresses. Try to feel a sense of connection with them and feel like we do now with coronavirus. We all face stress but it’s okay, because (unless you’re a billionaire in a New Zealand bunker) we’re all feeling it.
Stress is unequal
Although anyone can catch coronavirus, it’s more likely to infect people who have to go out to work (or who are being infected by people who have no choice but to go to work). Many of those people are not well paid and are not given very much status during normal times. Also people who are not well paid don’t live in big houses with big gardens, so they are the people who are feeling the mental effects of the lockdown more than anyone. They may also have to live with lots of other people.
So society makes us all stressed but it’s more stressful for poor people. Income and wealth inequality makes people more stressed, because if you don’t have money it’s harder to live. Also long hours and poor conditions makes people more stressed. You’re also more likely to be made poor if you are BAME (black, asian, and minority ethnic), and/or disabled.
This inequality creates more stress and people’s experiences of prejudice and discrimination also affects people’s mental health as you can see in this report Tackling social inequalities to reduce mental health problems. It’s clear that discrimination of people based on their class, disability, race, gender, and sexuality does affect their mental health. Traumatic experiences, abuse, neglect, or experiences of violence, and many other things can also affect our mental health. The stigmatisation of mental health makes this even worse.
Whatever your political views are the reality is that the society we live in stresses us all out and that these stresses are unfairly distributed. The poorest and most marginalised groups in society face the most stress. So as well as looking after ourselves and the people around us, I also think we need to think about inequality and justice. I personally don’t think it’s right that a nurse gets paid a fraction of what a banker gets paid.
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So what can we do?
I’m not saying that you should not be stressed because other people have more stress, or are more likely to have more stress. It’s okay to be stressed and it’s definitely okay to be stressed about a scary virus. But once you’ve done your self-care, that’s when it’s time to think about the stress that other people are experiencing. Can you do your bit to speak up for other people who are stressed, bummed out, fed up, poorly paid, poorly treated, or not valued enough? You shouldn’t just hoard your capacity to look after yourself – what can we all do to change how the world stresses us out?
Get involved with a charity or with activism, here’s a great list of organisations and projects that you can help (and can help you).
Also if there’s a political party that you think might help, join it. Maybe also make sure you’re registered to vote.
© Justin Hancock, 2022
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Justin Hancock has been a trained sex and relationships educator since 1999. In that time he’s taught and given advice about sex and relationships with thousands of young people in person and millions online. He’s a member of the World Association for Sexual Health. Find out more about Justin here