A Stanford scientist says we wear our work stress like a 'badge of honor' - but it's hurting our health and success


frustrated worker


We want to wear ourselves out because we get to brag about it.

In her new book "The Happiness Track," Emma Seppala debunks one of the biggest myths among Western workers: the idea that you have to be insanely stressed to be successful.

In fact, Seppala, the science director of Stanford's Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, points to a solid body of research that suggests just the opposite. Chronic stress can hurt professional performance by depleting the cognitive skills necessary to do great work.

This research isn't especially new or counterintuitive - so why do so many people continue to push themselves to their physical and psychological limits at work?


The problem, Seppala says, is that on some level, we want to wear ourselves out because we get to brag about it.

"The idea that stress and success are inevitably intertwined has become so ingrained in our culture and work habits that we take pride in our stress levels," she writes.

"We may not like to feel stressed, but we wear it like a badge of honor."


In an interview with Business Insider, Seppala said the race to seem the most stressed is contributing to high levels of burnout across professions - which in turn translates to decreased productivity.

Seppala's argument echoes the main findings of a recent study co-authored by a Harvard professor: Working long hours has become a status symbol, but much of the time that people spend working isn't very productive.

Of course, Seppala emphasizes that short-term stress can be beneficial for your performance at work, like when you're slightly nervous before giving a presentation. Over the long term, however, too much stress can hurt your chances of success and damage your health.


The idea that being stressed is a sign of success is unlikely to disappear from our culture anytime soon. So the key may lie in creating a psychological buffer between yourself and those around you who are logging 80-hour workweeks.

You can tell yourself that a) you might be more productive because you aren't staying at the office late just to seem hardworking, and b) in the long run, you'll probably be more successful because you're less likely to burn out.

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