There was a tweet storm by someone on Twitter and it brought together a lot of stuff on stress and how it can get passed on across generations. There was also the matter of how violence is contagious. And about empathy, which also can trigger stress. To put it simply, it’s scary.
The default assumption is that our looks are programmed, and you really can’t do much about it, well most of it at least – your height is programmed, the way your head sits on your shoulders is programmed. Yeah, you can get a nose job or grow some hair even though the natural one deserted you a long time back. There are other things programmed too, like diseases. Heart disease, diabetes, even Cancer, you could be more predisposed to them than others if your genes are predisposed that way. You really can’t do much about them.
Now, what people are saying is that what you think, or how you respond to situations could also be programmed in you. If something stresses you out and you don’t know why, maybe it stressed out your parents, or theirs. Best you can do is add more stressors. If sitting in traffic is stressing you out and making you react in different ways, maybe you’ll pass that on to your children and grandchildren. In some ways maybe that’s good, and we might create a generation of human beings that are stressed out just thinking of traffic and will go out of their way trying not to be in traffic. Wonder if this is Nature’s way of balancing things out.
Maybe I shouldn’t be talking of traffic. Yeah, am getting stressed. Almost every time I get behind the wheel it’s dealing with some asshole or the other. Today it was trying to get into a few inches of good road left and seeing someone from the wrong side taking that space up. I made a few gestures, and they banged my window screen and it made me feel good. I have never been good at gestures and they don’t really mean much to me. Even in school there’d be kids saying “don’t hit the back of my head”. There was some very insulting meaning to being hit there, and they used to get really angry when that happened. I avoided hitting them on the back of the head, but I never could understand the context or the meaning. When they don’t mean much to you it becomes easier to produce a gesture when you need one, and elicit specific reactions from people. They become like cards you produce, and get reactions from people. This time I made something, and it really pissed that guy off. So my mission was accomplished. But again, also serves as a warning to use it carefully. Try it on someone traveling in the same direction as you, and you have a problem to deal with.
Coming back to the matter of stress being passed on, it only seems logical. How do you pass on the fear of predators to your offspring? A small deer doesn’t go checking out a tiger when it sees one for the first time. It just runs. Stress and panic reactions are inbuilt for anything that they’re not familiar with. Just that we’ve created a system where it triggers at all the wrong points. Wrong might be the wrong word to use. We do need those triggers when someone cuts across your lane so that you slow down. That degree of alertness might be lost. Maybe the trouble is that they get triggered way more often than we’re built to resist. There need to be times when we can relax and do nothing, just be zen. But more and more that time does not materialise. Even during free time, you’re expected to be doing something. If not, there is the fear that you need to be doing something. You spend weeks stressing yourself over exams, worrying what the next day would hold, preparing for it, and then one evening it’s all over. And you spend that evening with your brain still in some kind of stress mode, making you feel guilty about something that you’re putting off.
It’s been a busy few weeks. And I’ve gone without reading much over the past 2 weeks now. There was a book called “The Book of Other People” which was mostly assorted authors writing shorts on some character they created. It was for some charity and most writers happily wrote up pieces. And, it really does feel like they were really freed from worrying about selling those books, cos no one’s going to buy something to read about writers indulging themselves with writing that is obscure and only a few can understand.
Why am I writing about this book? Because, it’s stressing me out. I’ve gone 2 weeks without a book being finished. And although I don’t mind such times, I have a sneaking suspicion that it is because of this book and my brain is resisting picking it up by creating stress reactions. And another part is creating similar reactions asking me to get going on my reading and finish what I started. It’s supposed to be an activity you enjoy, not something that should stress you out! Not like I have an exam to write on all this! So I went to Blossom’s and bought 5 more books, strictly staying away from short story collections. Ok, 4 of them aren’t shorts. But the fifth is a Borges and I’ve been looking for Labyrinths for a while now. So now I have 5 more books sitting and staring at me from the bookshelf.
If at all I pass on my genes (odds, please?) , maybe this is the stress that I’ll pass on. But the deeper fear is that this stressing out might also be inherited. Well, not much you can do then, no? Might as well accept it and be Zen. Ah, the paradox of acceptance!
Or maybe not, as they also say: stress won’t kill you, but stressing about stress might. Go figure!