What's the Environmental Impact of Stress?


Image credit: BLW Photography, used under Creative Commons license.

In the quest for sustainability, it's easy to focus on products and behaviors. But sometimes it's the more intangible elements in our lives that have the biggest impact. From the carbon footprint of love to the environmental impact of sleep, I've already mused on some of these intangibles. But lately I've been wondering about another ever present factor in modern life. What's the environmental impact of stress?
The Environmental Footprint of Stress
As the question suggests, I've had a busy week. But in the fast-paced digital world that we live in, I'm suspecting there are plenty of other people who find a lot of different pressures on their time and attention. While we already know that stress can have a profound impact on our health and our relationships (see Marla's post on Parentables about keeping perspective during times of extreme stress), it seems clear to me that stress and pressure will also have an impact on our environmental footprint too.

Pressure Creates Bad Choices
The fact is that when we are under stress—and by stress I don't just mean business, but rather a sense of mental pressure—we often do not take time to evaluate our choices as we normally would. Just as we might snap back at a partner when we don't have time to communicate properly, so too we may find ourselves tossing recycling in the trash, grabbing a cab when we can cycle, or just choosing the first thing off the supermarket shelf. (The best laid locavore plans can fall apart when a deadline looms.)

The Vicious Circle of Stress
Interestingly, this can become a vicious circle. We find ourselves stressing not just over the original cause of our stress, but over the way that stress is impacting our daily lives. Now we're not just driving ourselves crazy because or work/money/family pressures, but because we're not living up to our own sense of ethics. But what's the solution?

Stress as a Symptom of Unsustainability
Ultimately, stress is not just a cause of environmental damage, but a symptom. Often the very things that we causing us stress in the first place are over work, over consumption and hyper-mobility. By embracing the principles of slow business, slow money, and even living simply as an alternative American Dream, we not only free our time up to make wiser environmental choices in terms of consumption or behavior, but we fundamentally recalibrate what is important in our lives, and our environmental impact gets slashed in the process.

If time is our most precious resource, then stress is the nasty industrial byproduct of using it all up.

More on Sustainability, Stress and Work-Life Balance
Is Time Our Most Precious Resource?
Slow Business: A Manifesto
Living Simply: An Alternative American Dream (Video)

Tags: Economics | Living With Less | United States