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Kind of Tight, Are You?

September 01, 2003

Stress? WHAT STRESS? Better than shark attacks, but this August's affliction addiction to stress has been very stressful. It's everywhere, stress sleeper cells invisibly insinuating themselves into millions of lives, igniting headaches, indigestion, insomnia, irritability, depression and road, desk and phone rage. Overworked experts raise employer stress by estimating that stress annually costs businesses $300 billion in absenteeism, turnover, lost productivity, insurance. (You did mail the life insurance check, didn't you?)

Here we are with all these modern conveniences supposed to make life easier -- the cellphone, computer, speed dialer, crock pot, BlackBerry, microwave oven, programmable air-conditioning, electric toothbrush, keyless car lock, ready-to-eat meal, eyeglasses that automatically become sunglasses. And what they really do is free up more time to worry about things we can't control. Obviously, it's others stressing, not us.

Compared with old agrarian societies where the worry was weather, there's actually little to stress over today: just Iraq, terrorism, state deficits, blackouts, shoulder-fired antiaircraft rockets, recalls for cars and governors, rising interest rates on loans to buy gas, layoffs, UV rays, stumbling stocks, approaching asteroids, Al Sharpton's shiny suits, schools reopening, the "Friends" replacement show, that immense truck approaching in the rearview mirror. (You mailed the car insurance check, right?)

Ah, of course, traffic. Now, there's a stress reducer. Climb in your own car (surely you mailed that payment?), set the radio for the '70s and the climate control for Early Summer, and, voila, a half-million drivers jump in front of you to jam their brakes at the sight of every drifting plastic grocery bag. Traffic is always worsening. No one does anything except the tow trucks, and they can't get through because everyone is stuck waiting for tow trucks.

What to do? Obviously, co-workers are so stressed they turn very annoying. Experts (talk about annoying, acting as if they know everything?) link traffic-congestion stress to workplace trouble -- rudeness, arguments, absenteeism, bullying, poor productivity, even violence. As if those pointy-headed little researchers would know about stress, sitting in their air-conditioned towers and commuting by computer.

Then there's the grocery store where aisles are as congested as the 101 (we have a SigAlert at the cereal sale) and managers thoughtfully keep five of eight checkout lanes closed to prolong the shopping experience and give over-stressed teen clerks longer breaks. (The tuition check! Did you deposit enough to cover it?)

Here's the thought: All this talk and stress about stress only makes more. Maybe now that Labor Day is here, all this stress will vanish. Labor Day is the holiday dedicated to honor hard work by having no one do any. Except, of course, tow truck drivers.

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