Written by: Heidi Shepler | March 8th, 2022
Stronger by Stress (Andzei Matsukevits, 2022) 2 out of 4 stars.
The danger inherent in treating physical health and mental health as two completely separate issues has become increasingly prevalent in recent decades. Painful physical issues obviously increase anxiety and stress, while mental health issues can create or worsen physical illnesses. The documentary Stronger by Stress, from first-time director Andzei Matsukevits, attempts to walk the no-man’s land between the two specialties and discuss how stress can be managed and even harnessed for a more fulfilling life. While much of the film is fascinating and informative, an equal portion of the analysis strays into tone-deaf stereotypes and even pseudoscience.
The movie is broken down into several chapters. The descriptions of how stress affects the body, how chronic stress develops, and how much of the world is affected by chronic stress without even realizing it, are all very solid. Burnout, and how to manage it, is an incredibly relevant topic in an age of pandemic and constant political upheaval. The analysis of meditation and mindfulness is also refreshing, because the film focuses on the brain science of meditation, and how to effectively work with your nervous system, instead of against it.
Unfortunately, the film doesn’t do much to build on this solid, scientific foundation. The focus is on what we as individuals can do to decrease our stress, with only one dismissive nod to humanity’s biggest stress-related obstacle: societal factors outside our control. Air purifiers and noise-canceling headphones are objectively very beneficial, but how do we as individuals confront the stress brought on by injustice? Not only are we not given any answers, the film doesn’t even ask the question.
One possible reason for this disconnect is that most of the experts in the film are given credentials such as “serial entrepreneur” or “biohacker” or “professional speaker.” While many of the speakers are passionate about the topics they discuss, they’re not scientists. Several of the speakers, for example, argue confidently in favor of intermittent fasting, without acknowledging that extreme diets of all kinds, including fasting, are incredibly dangerous and often lead to eating disorders and other long-term health issues. In addition, some of the advice (eat more expensive fruits like berries instead of bananas, don’t live in the city, track your biometrics with various gadgets) feels applicable only to those with at least some privilege.
This is a shame, because there is a great deal of worthy information in the film. The value of taking breaks, the benefit of cultivating enjoyable hobbies instead of relying on harsh gym routines, the joy of building community, and the importance of finding balance between wellness and convenience are all discussed. The result is that Stronger by Stress will probably be most enjoyed by people who already have a good understanding of stress and how to handle it.