STRESS AND ITS MANAGEMENT: THE CULTURAL CONSTRUCTION OF AN ILLNESS AND ITS TREATMENT
Stress has become an important topic in health care in recent years, and the management of stress a major way of helping people cope with the stresses of their lives. Whatever stress is -- there is much uncertainty on this, despite the certainty with which it is discussed both in scientific and everyday settings -- it is as much a "social thing" as it is a "natural thing." 1 In this chapter I set out first of all to describe the social world in which stress feels natural. I then turn attention to stress management, which is a set of techniques to help people be at home in a stress-filled social world. I use a device not often used in this type of essay, namely an extended metaphor. 2 A metaphor asserts an identity between two terms that are otherwise dissimilar. The metaphor I elaborate compares the effects of stress management to the transformation of a human being into a vampire. I mean the metaphor seriously although not literally (the empirical evidence has not yet been collected). The importance of metaphors cannot be overestimated. They are not simply ornamentations; they convey meaning, and types of meaning, that can escape "plain talk." In part, the metaphor of the vampire intends to convey that what at first blush appears good in stress management does not promote well-being. Stress management does not "reduce" stress, it makes stress tolerable. To use a simile: it is like handing out gas masks during a smog alert and proclaiming that the problems of air pollution have been solved.
Stress is an existential condition characteristic of our times. It happens in a world that is constantly changing, and results chiefly from the pressures of technological change and the social dislocations that accompany it. In that