All stressed out and nowhere to go

A hundred years ago, you could recognise trouble. It wore a black hat and rode in with guns blazing. There was something reassuring about knowing where you stood with the baddies.

These days it’s different: nobody seems sure of absolutes anymore. In the past, if the arrow was through your hat instead of your head, you’d done well. Now, you may think you’re a good father, or stepfather, or single father, only to discover that your kids are into gangs, online gambling, recreational drugs and boybands.

You think you’re doing your best at work, only to be ‘downsized’, because of some reason beyond your control – someone flew a plane into a building and imploded the economy. Who could have predicted that?

And because we know more about heredity than before, there are other factors at play, which can cause stress. In bygone days, there was a certain resignation that if the grim reaper didn’t like where you’d parked your donkey, you could die in any number of unexpected ways. Your ancestors thought malaria was caused by marsh gas (hence the name, for all you Trivial Pursuit types). It took some time to figure out that tiny, humming insects heralded death, and not water that smelled like a revolting peasant.

A lot of it was ascribed to The Fates, and all cultures have ways of explaining why grimly unfair and unexpected things happen. But the world seems less certain than ever. That – along with the behaviour of boy-racers on the N1 – makes for stressful times. Here are a few things you might find stressful, and some ways to combat them.

Too little time
There’s a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon where the wise, striped one remarks that all our time-saving devices have meant that we have less free time than ever. Hobbes concludes that if we wanted more leisure time, we should have gadgets that did things more slowly. It’s true to a point, although nobody is likely to trade their G4 PowerBook for a Remington typewriter. There are ways to deal with it.

Solve it by keeping a timetable and learning to say no. Monday nights are for moonlighting on Project A, Tuesdays for Project B, Wednesdays are for putt-putt with the kids, and so on. And be firm about overextending yourself: “Sorry, I’d have liked the extra cash, but I can’t work this weekend – I promised I’d take my kids to the aquarium. I’ve diarised it with them. Pencil you in for next Sunday?”

Women part one
Here’s a daunting statistic: most men will marry at least once. More than half of them end up being divorced. Here’s a conundrum: a happy marriage can vastly reduce the stress in your life, while an unhappy one cranks up the stress better than being stuck in a lift with Steve Hofmeyr for a year.

There’s a lingering stressor in many two-career marriages: while the woman works and the man has increased his involvement in doing stuff around that the house (Much of which your dad simply assumed was your stay-at-home mum’s job), most women still feel their partners aren’t pulling their weight. It irks them that men “help out” courteously, simply lending a hand in what’s really women’s work. And so it chafes, like a blister. The solution? Brutal honesty. Am I doing enough? If I’m not, I expect you to tell me. Try it. We live in hope.

Women part two
It really riles some men, though not all. They see - or perceive - the threat of sexual harassment lawsuits, of fast-tracking women past perfectly capable men, of the post-feminist ridicule of blokedom as Shrek without the sex appeal and bushcraft skills.

What to do: don’t generalise about the problems. Nothing labels you as a chauvinist as quickly as terms like “you people”. Be careful who you sound off at: you may have a finely honed sense or irony that will be interpreted as churlish, if not litigious. Be honest about your intentions: “Now that we’ve presented our proposal to Bill Gates, I would like us to meet again, not to analyse how well it went, but because I fancy you.”

Too much information
Look at your sources of data. Email, SMS, fax, open-plan offices with large TV screens showing MTV, Big Brother, the cricket, exchange rates and stock prices, and you have two calls holding and three calls missed. No wonder some folk have four browsers open on their PCs, going Alt + Tab between the two, just in case something new pops up. Ugh. Try doing all your emailing in the morning and at lunchtime. For the rest, try the old, reliable eight-second phone call, or – perish the thought - pop your head around the office partition. Diligently unsubscribe from emailed newsletters you don’t read. - (Susan Erasmus, Health24, February 2005)

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