drawing of a stressed businessman

Stress as a modern variant of shell-shock

People with severe stress are often the last to know, they just mechanically fight on, go to work and pretend they are still in some kind of control.  I wonder if people in the future will see it as if they were hit by a kind of business “shell shock” during the “big economical world war”

drawing of a stressed businessman

Stressed businessman

Shell shock is the name of a condition that hit soldiers under the first world War, where they was trapped in a mud filled life-threatening hell and under heavy fire in the trenches for many months.

Wikipedia describe shell-shock as:

Shell-shocked soldier World War 1

“a reaction to the intensity of the bombardment and fighting that produced a helplessness appearing variously as panic, or flight, an inability to reason, sleep, walk or talk.


Similarities between shell-shock and stress

I know it can seem a bit extreme to compare shell-shock to stress, but I wonder if there are some similarities to both the way the conditions paralyse people and to what cause them.

But more, I wonder if the way we treat people with stress-symptoms today, can have a very similar orientation to the treatment of the soldiers with shell-shock in the first world war: To get them back to the trenches and fight on, no matter the consequences for them, as fast as possible.

During the first world war, the treatment of shell-shock changed to avoid the soldiers to be diagnosed, instead, exactly like with stress today, it was advised that “a man who began shell-shock symptoms was best given a few days of” (Wikipedia)  –  Not much difference when the “caring” boss today say: “take a few days of Joe, and you be ready to jump right back in the trenches”

Is stress in the bigger picture also a reaction to something complete meaningless?

The life in the trenches back in 1916 has often been described as very close to absurd and meaningless. And I can’t stop to wonder if the way “business” is defined today, where stressed, overworked global armies of caffeine drugged tie and Suit warriors fight for every inch, against others fighting just as hard, to win the ever ongoing business-battles, demanding ever increasing resources, faster product cycles and growing revenues, while ripping our little planet of what-ever it will take to sell more stuff, to more people… Will some day be looked upon as just as absurd.

And how they, in the future, will show, not faded, but pixelated photos of worn out business people, staring blindly through what we describe as “stress”, and how they will be puzzled by how we today treat stress by giving people a “few days of” and how hard we hope for the same people to return to the same hell of a life they left, as we treat, threat and drag them back to the computer screens, as fast as possible… to fight on.

Text and drawing by Frits Ahlefeldt

About Frits Ahlefeldt

Painting watercolors, researching, writing & sketching up thoughts, understandings and ideas for a sustainable future, connecting thrive, trails, places and technology


illustrations, thrive


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