A cultural history of stress in twentieth-century Britain
Drawing on a wealth of sources including self-help books, Mass Observation
diaries and directives, oral history interviews, social science research and
popular culture, Feeling the strain examines why stress became the ubiquitous
explanation for a range of everyday ills by the end of the twentieth century in
Britain. It explores the popular, vernacular discourse of nerves and stress to
uncover how ordinary people understood, explained and coped with the pressures
and strains of daily life and illuminates not only how stress was known, but the
ways in which that knowledge was produced.
By focusing on contemporary popular understandings, it reveals continuity of ideas about work, mental health, status, gender and individual weakness, as well as the socio-economic contexts that enabled stress to become the accepted explanation for a wide range of daily experiences. It foregrounds continuities in managing stress and changes in ideas about causation, revealing a vocabulary of ‘nerves’ and ‘nervous disorders’ as precursors to stress but also illustrating the mutability of the stress concept and how its very imprecision gave it utility.
Feeling the strain provides first-hand accounts from sufferers, families and colleagues and offers insight into self-help literature, the meanings of work and changing dynamics of domestic life over the century, delivering a complementary perspective to medical histories of stress and making a significant contribution to histories of everyday life and emotion in Britain during the twentieth century.