One Nation Under Stress: The Trouble with Stress as an Idea

Overview

Stress. Everyone is talking about it, suffering from it, trying desperately to manage it-now more than ever. From 1970 to 1980, 2,326 academic articles appeared with the word "stress" in the title. In the decade between 2000 and 2010 that number jumped to 21,750. Has life become ten times more stressful, or is it the stress concept itself that has grown exponentially over the past 40 years?

In One Nation Under Stress, Dana Becker argues that our national infatuation with the ...

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Overview

Stress. Everyone is talking about it, suffering from it, trying desperately to manage it-now more than ever. From 1970 to 1980, 2,326 academic articles appeared with the word "stress" in the title. In the decade between 2000 and 2010 that number jumped to 21,750. Has life become ten times more stressful, or is it the stress concept itself that has grown exponentially over the past 40 years?

In One Nation Under Stress, Dana Becker argues that our national infatuation with the therapeutic culture has created a middle-class moral imperative to manage the tensions of daily life by turning inward, ignoring the social and political realities that underlie those tensions. Becker shows that although stress is often associated with conditions over which people have little control-workplace policies unfavorable to family life, increasing economic inequality, war in the age of terrorism-the stress concept focuses most of our attention on how individuals react to stress. A proliferation of self-help books and dire medical warnings about the negative effects of stress on our physical and emotional health all place the responsibility for alleviating stress-though yoga, deep breathing, better diet, etc.-squarely on the individual. The stress concept has come of age in a period of tectonic social and political shifts. Nevertheless, we persist in the all-American belief that we can meet these changes by re-engineering ourselves rather than tackling the root causes of stress.

Examining both research and popular representations of stress in cultural terms, Becker traces the evolution of the social uses of the stress concept as it has been transformed into an all-purpose vehicle for defining, expressing, and containing middle-class anxieties about upheavals in American society.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The media regularly wax hysterical over what is seen as dangerously unhealthy stress levels suffered by women struggling to balance work and home life. In this powerful book, Becker, an associate professor of social work at Bryn Mawr College, argues that there’s a bigger, more basic problem. Balancing a career and the demands of the domestic sphere is not just a “woman’s problem,” she contends. It’s a societal problem. The media, therapeutic professions, and government, she insists, must stop declaring that women can “do it all” if they just cut down on stress. The fact is, they can’t do it all, and they shouldn’t be expected to: the idea of stress “papers over our collective failure to act on the idea that care is both men’s and women’s work.” And it is untenable, Becker (Through the Looking Glass: Women and Borderline Personality Disorder) argues, that most women work while also doing 80% of the nation’s unpaid caregiving, a task that “rivals in size the largest industries of the visible economy.” Her solution: men must shoulder a more equal burden, women must let them, and business and government must accommodate the resulting demands. An important book for psychologists, gender studies students, anthropologists, business leaders, and policy makers alike. (Mar.)
From the Publisher
"In One Nation Under Stress, Dana Becker exposes the ideological work accomplished by the concept of stress. With dry wit and stylish prose, Becker enables us to finally see what is right before our eyes."
—Jeanne Marecek, former Wm. Kenan Professor Emerita of Psychology, Senior Research Professor

"A compelling exposé of what Becker calls 'stressism' - the pervasive idea that the tensions of everyday living are due almost entirely to our individual lifestyle choices and deficiencies, to be fixed by managing stress. Not only does this siphon all our efforts into individualized, and often futile solutions, but it obscures the social and economic conditions that perpetuate injustice, inequality, and 'stress.' Forget about poverty, sexism, racism, and working for political change; soak in a scented bath and light some nice candles instead. This is an important and timely book."
—Nicola Gavey, Associate Professor, DipClinPsych, PhD, University of Auckland

"In this powerful book, Becker, an associate professor of social work at Bryn Mawr College, argues that there's a bigger, more basic problem. Balancing a career and the demands of the domestic sphere is not just a "woman's problem," she contends. It's a societal problem... An important book for psychologists, gender studies students, anthropologists, business leaders, and policy makers alike." — Publisher's Weekly

"Stressed out? Tell me about it! The Stress concept makes itself real, looping back to become a mantra that we enact. In the process, it does questionable emotional and political labor, often obscuring other sources for our problems, be they physical or psychological illness, cognitive deficits or even social problems. Dana Becker's eloquent and insightful analysis of stress-talk highlights the need to resist the atrophying of consciousness that comes when stress becomes a cliché."
—Sanford F. Schram, co-author of Disciplining the Poor: Neoliberal Paternalism and the Persistent Power of Race (Chicago 2011).

"One Nation Under Stress yanks back the cover-up that has millions of people thinking the intolerable pressures under which they live and the hurdles they have to try to jump are their own, personal problems, those of "stress" rather than the myriad forms of oppression, violence, and poverty. What Dana Becker does in this book is revolutionary, upending the powerful and hugely profitable portions of the mental health system that want everyone to believe that all their problems are individual, intrapsychic ones. Dr. Becker shows that the word "stress" is used to keep people's thinking so vague and general that they do not notice where the real causes of suffering lie. That the writing is crystal-clear and compelling is an added bonus." —Paula J. Caplan, Ph.D., is an Associate at Harvard University's DuBois Institute

"Becker rather nimbly translates her obviously thorough academic research into readable prose...Becker is plenty worked up throughout this book, and refreshingly so-intelligent anger is essentially extinct in today's public sphere." —The New Republic

"Is stress a 'lifestyle problem', or the inevitable result of larger social and political inequities, imbalances and shifts? Sociologist Dana Becker argues that in the United States, the diffuse concept of stress now covers all kinds of tensions - effectively masking their triggers, from dual-career marriages to the frenetic, technology-driven pace of daily life. As a result, real social change in areas such as health care stalls. Becker's analysis tracks the evolution of 'stressism' from its origins as the 'price of progress', through medicalization, gender politics and conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder." — Nature

"In One Nation Under Stress: The Trouble With Stress as an Idea, Dana Becker , a psychologist and professor of social work at Bryn Mawr College, turns a critical eye on stress, asking where the concept came from and what its assumptions have done to us. Becker believes modern Americans are in thrall to 'stressism', which she defines as 'the current belief that the tensions of contemporary life are primarily individual lifestyle problems.' This stops us from seeing them as societal ills that 'need to be resolved primarily through social and political means.' Instead of wondering about how the world might be different, we are expected to adjust ourselves to it as best we can." — Tom Jacobs, Pacific Standard

"Useful in creating a fresh point of view for researchers and sociologically inclined readers." —Library Journal

Library Journal
Becker (social work, Bryn Mawr Coll.; Through the Looking Glass: Women and Borderline Personality Disorder; The Myth of Empowerment: Women and the Therapeutic Culture in America) discusses how our attempt to define and "fix" the impact of stress on Modern American life increases our ignorance of its societal causes and ultimately impedes progress and the ability to make crucial changes. The author compares therapeutic approaches to women's work-life conflicts with post-traumatic stress disorder within a range of populations to illustrate how stress isn't eliminated with a bubble bath or from taking a pill. One study that found poverty to be the most potent predictor of post-traumatic stress problems following the 9/11 attacks serves as a dramatic example of the need to focus on failing schools, violent neighborhoods, and hunger rather than an individual's methods for reducing stress by, say, practicing yoga or making a to-do list. VERDICT Useful in creating a fresh point of view for researchers and sociologically inclined readers.—Nadine Dalton Speidel, Cuyahoga Cty. P.L., Parma, OH
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780199742912
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 3/11/2013
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 384,099
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Dana Becker, PhD, is a Professor of Social Work at Bryn Mawr College. Her previous books include Through the Looking Glass: Women and Borderline Personality Disorder and The Myth of Empowerment: Women and the Therapeutic Culture in America.

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Table of Contents

Chapter One Stress: The New Black Death?
Chapter Two Getting and Spending: The Wear and Tear of Modern Life
Chapter Three Stress and the Biopolitics of American Society
Chapter Four Mars and Venus Stress Out, Naturally
Chapter Five The Other Mommy War: Stress and the Working Mother
Chapter Six Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and the War for Mental Health
Conclusion Vulnerability Reexamined

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