In the Pursuit of More Stress

by Patrick McNerthney

I really like Italy. Now before you go on and say something like, “Yeah, who doesn’t?” let me state that I have personally met people who visited Italy and hated it. One guy was flummoxed by the fact that Italy lacks 7-Eleven’s or other 24-hour convenience stores. A married couple was disappointed that Italian pizza tastes different from  Midwest pizza. And finally, a doctor on vacation was frustrated over the fact that pasta and red wine are staples of Italian cuisine. I’m not making any of this up – and frankly these folks are entitled to their opinions, although I find them absolutely astonishing and hilarious. 

(Looks pretty good to me.)

But back to the important part: me. 

Some of my favorite things about Italy are the Italians that inhabit it and the fact that they don’t have a word for “stress.” At least in 1997 they didn’t – I was attending school over there and during a conversation with one of my professors she used the phrase, “lo stress” when talking about work. When I asked what the Italian word for stress is, she said, “There is no such thing, so we borrowed the American word.”

Interesting, particularly given she didn’t say, “We borrowed the English word.” Nope they adopted the American word. 

Makes sense to me! I’m big on getting all stressed out and “pushing through the pain” and in general “soldiering on” to get whatever it is I’m working on accomplished. The mindset is, “Push through, keep going, bear the burden, get ‘er done.” This is the American way, and dammit we take care of business!. 

This is a good thing in many ways. However, the problem is that once we’ve pushed through and “got ‘er done”, we expect the stress to vanish. Which it does, but only for the short term – specifically for, say, oh about one evening. Then, the next morning we wake up and…(uh oh)…there’s another round of stress to “just push through” in the hopes of experiencing sweet relief by the end of the day once more.

(Dang! It’s ba-ak!)

It’s a self-made trap. Our doggedness and determination have made us all stress chasers. And oddly, the best way to reduce stress is to stop creating more stress. (Which is kind of like trying to lose weight by eating more.)  

So what are we supposed to do? Italians take the “riposos” where shops close and people take naps from roughly 12:30-2:00 (yes, every day), and basically everyone takes the the entire month of August off– a vacation they call “Ferragosto.” Can you imagine that happening here? No way! August is the middle of the third quarter, it’s back to school month, it’s half your families’ birthday month, it’s… But wait, there may just be a lesson here. 

We’re endlessly chasing “everything is going to be okay,” which could mean anything from making it through the day to simply completing the project and turning it in – or for those more competitive folks “winning,” and receiving the subsequent accolades. It all depends on how we define success; but ultimately we’re trying to predict the future, which is just not possible. 

The Italian riposo and Ferragosto customs show they’re  making conscious choices about what they do and how they do it and they’re making these choices now. There’s no quest for assurance or grasping for a future date where they will be happy, but rather there’s an immediate goal to live  each day the best way they can.

These are obviously two entirely different stories. I’m not saying we need to pretend like we’re all in Italy and take naps in the middle of the day (although I am also not saying that’s a bad idea!). I am suggesting that we stop telling ourselves the story of “I need to push through now so I know I’ll feel better later” because that’s stressing us out and creating a destructive, daily cycle, mostly because that pesky sense of relief is only temporary.

We’d all be better off to incorporate the Italian story of “I will take actions today that contribute to both my well-being and the well-being of others” into our lives. Which, ironically, just so happens to be the best way to build a secure future. 

Fine Art Miracles (FAM) does a similar thing. We champion creative expression as a gateway to the well-being of the elderly and other underserved populations (and by proxy their caregivers and loved ones!) How? Creative expression! The act of making is a way to take much needed action today that creates feelings of significance, relevance, self-worth, community, pride and achievement. All of which combat depression, anxiety, social isolation, and “lo stress.” 

Check out FAM’s Art Therapy, Music Therapy, Dance & Movement Therapy if you’d like to break the cycle of “pushing through”  and make real change for yourself and the vulnerable people you help every day. Plus it’s just plain fun – September’s ART2GO package is all about Georgia O’Keefe Floral Portraits, a perfect way to add color as summer winds down and we look forward to Autumn. Please reach out and drop us a note or give us a call if you have any questions! 

Well, I’m off to go grab a slice. Ever since I started thinking about Italy I just couldn’t get this one pizza joint near my house off my mind – they make more of a traditional Italian pizza than an American pie, which I don’t mind at all.