Ducking the stress

We all know stress can be a killer, but too little research focuses on the minor stresses of everyday life.

Yes, life catastrophes are stressful and our sympathies go out to anyone facing serious medical problems or divorce or any of the other "biggies" in the world of stress. But scientists give all their attention to the health effects of these major stressors, while ignoring the seemingly minor irritations that accumulate like hairline cracks in a dam.

Car trouble or parenthood or even burnt toast first thing in the morning can set your whole day on its ear, and can produce enough stress to shave years off your life.

This insidious everyday stress builds to a cumulative effect that researchers call "being nibbled to death by ducks."

Allow me to illustrate from a typical evening hour at our house. The tranquil domestic scene: Dad's watching a basketball game on TV. Mom's busy at the computer. Two sons and the dog play the roles of the ducks.

Dad's schedule goes like this:

7 p.m. -- Stop watching game to let dog out. Return to sofa.

7:03 p.m. -- Jump up and answer phone. It's for son No. 1.

7:06 p.m. -- Let the dog back in.

7:09 p.m. -- Jump up to check out funny noise being produced by toilet.

7:12 p.m. -- Return to sofa with no solution to toilet issue.

7:14 p.m. -- Get up to answer other phone. It's for son No. 2. Dad searches house, finds son No. 2 jumping on bed. Stern lecture must wait; son is wanted on the phone.

7:18 p.m. -- Dog brings son's dirty sock to Dad, who extricates sock from alligator-like jaws and marches to laundry room.

7:19 p.m. -- Dad tosses sock at the laundry basket. His aim isn't what it used to be. Sock bounces off rim and falls into tight space behind the clothes dryer. Dad curses.

7:19 p.m. to 7:25 p.m. -- Dad fishes behind dryer with the handle of a fly swatter, trying to snag stray sock.

7:26 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. -- Dad searches house for a particular toy -- a long handle with a grabber claw on one end -- because it's the perfect tool for sock retrieval. Sons can't be bothered to help in hunt. They're both on the phone.

7:35 p.m. -- Dad finds grabber toy, lying in plain sight. Returns to laundry room, muttering about vision and old age.

7:37 p.m. -- Dusty sock is successfully retrieved. (Victory should be a stress reliever, but …)

7:38 p.m. -- Dad throws sock at laundry basket. Sock, apparently intent on suicide, plunges
behind the dryer again.

7:39 pm. to 7:42 p.m. -- Creative cursing.

7:43 p.m. -- Repeat earlier steps to save sock. Dad carefully places it in laundry basket.

7:46 p.m. -- Dad returns to game. Finds that it's halftime. Grrr.

7:48 p.m. -- Jump up to answer phone. It's for son No. 1 again.

7:49 p.m. -- Let dog out.

7:50 p.m. -- Check toilet. Still making funny noise. More cursing.

7:53 p.m. -- Let dog in.

7:56 p.m. -- Jump up to answer phone. It's for son No. 2. Dad carries phone the length of the house to find boys feeding socks to the dog.

7:57 p.m. -- Dad clutches chest and reels around room. Sons, in unison, quack: "Look out! He's gonna blow!"

7:59 p.m. -- Mom, drawn by noise, interrupts Dad's tirade to say: "What's wrong with you? I thought you were watching the game."

8 p.m. -- Dad melts into trembling pile of protoplasm. Rest of family confused. Why is Dad so stressed?

And why does he keep raving about ducks?

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