Sunday, 22 May 2011

House-training for stress-puppies

Society has always embraced ‘cure-all’ remedies. Leeches, herbs and general elections have all had their turn in the spotlight and have only rarely failed to disappoint. (Although overall, the leeches polled better than the politicians.)

If ‘one-size-fits-all’ doesn’t work for cures, why don’t we try it for diagnoses instead? ‘Stress’ is a diagnostic blanket that can be thrown over even the most relentless heartsink patient. It’s a relatively recent clinical diagnosis not because it didn’t previously exist, but because historically, factors that have caused stress tended themselves to be more terminal. Take this scenario;
Cavewoman to friend “Your husband Ug look terrible today. He still stressed about being bad hunter?”
Friend “No – his stress cured by sabre-toothed tiger that ate him.”

The cramped convict ships en route to Van Diemen’s Land didn’t have weepy sailors lining up to see the ship’s doctor about insomnia, because cholera, malnutrition and ten-metre waves can overcome night-terrors about weevils in the Weetabix. History is silent on how many members of Attila the Hun’s invading hordes were ever granted Stress Leave when their kitten died.

Kids living in sanitised environments get asthma because their immune systems have nothing more challenging to deal with. Similarly our nervous system will unleash adrenaline on the merest provocation because there are few physical perils left in life, if you discount riding in Sydney taxis.
Even air travel is so safe now that instead of screaming “arrgghhh’ as they plunge to their death in a fireball, people work themselves into a lather of stress over the tiniest invasions of personal space. Hitler may have taken over France with ease but would have been given no quarter today in a skirmish over a few square centimetres of luggage compartment. Wars break out over the breach of a no-fly zone in the airspace above a passenger’s knees when a chair-back is reclined into it. Maybe in space no-one can hear you scream, but at 30,000 feet the whining is deafening.

Because in recent years Australia hasn’t been at war with anyone except more capable cricket teams, TV magazine programs have been reduced to inciting fear over household objects; from bacteria on our chopping boards to bikies under our beds. There’s water in our meat and dead meat in our water. There’s no longer anything we can eat without fear and by going to bed hungry, we’re just a light supper for the bedbugs. Those that haven’t developed OCD yet are simply not paying enough attention.

The media is a major stress carrier. It would never have occurred to us to adopt the foetal position when faced with a domestic dishcloth before, but images of oozing petrie dishes and men with scientifically credible facial hair provide apparently overwhelming evidence and we learn to worry.

Doctors prescribing their patients a large tube of Harden Up and telling them to apply it liberally won’t win any awards for bedside manner. Perhaps though, agitated souls will be consoled by the knowledge that at least being stressed is a pretty good indicator that they aren’t yet dead.

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