Just in time for the holidays I came across the story about researchers not only confirming stress ages you, but figuring out just how it works. I read the biological details...

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Just in time for the holidays I came across the story about researchers not only confirming stress ages you, but figuring out just how it works. I read the biological details, but what stuck with me was the image of my longevity clock ticking down with every stressful experience.

I started totaling up my stress, especially unnecessary stress. You have to have some stress if you’re alive, but whenever you let down your guard, it’s a good bet that unnecessary stress sneaks in. At least it works that way for me.

Some of that unnecessary stress is individual stuff, like talking to that one cousin or the annoying woman at the office. But a lot of unnecessary stress is more widespread.

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A test of resolve

Part of my daily routine, for instance, is clearing spam off my computer, which is stressful because it consumes time that I could use more productively.

It is also stressful because it is an unwelcome assault. One of my chores at home is shredding credit-card applications so identity thieves won’t make use of them. There’s no reason I should get a bunch of applications every day. Sometimes the same banks send out applications over and over again. Do they think my brain will turn to jelly and I’ll relent?

I suppose it is also stressful to have to worry about identity thieves. There seem to be way too many things to worry about lately — terrorists, keeping a job, Social Security, eating.

In America, eating, like child rearing, ceased to be a natural act long ago. Eating requires an education in nutrition — information from various books and articles to help you decide which combination of nutrients to consume and what toxic substances to avoid in order to live long enough to die by some other means.

Child rearing has its own steep education curve, with a constant stream of new ideas about education, discipline and so on, most of which are not possible to replicate in real life.

There is also the added tension of trying to force our children to achieve at levels that keep moving higher as they approach them. Why we are doing this, I don’t know. It has something to do with preparing them for increased competition, but for what, besides money and ulcers?

Parents today also have a full-time job combating the effects of television, video games and some segments of the music industry, not to mention drugs and good old-fashioned peer pressure.

It wasn’t at all surprising that watching TV by yourself ranked high in a recent study of 909 women who were asked to keep diaries of their daily activities. TV was one of their top pleasures. Sitting in front of the tube is a way to disconnect from a stressful world without necessarily injecting, imbibing, smoking or otherwise ingesting mind-altering substances.

Short vacations don’t help

Getting away on a vacation might seem to be an improvement over self-medicating on television, but that isn’t necessarily the case.

I’ve read that taking a vacation of less than a week causes more stress than it relieves. You have to prepare for the vacation, plan the trip itself and then get ahead at work beforehand.

Then comes is the stress of travel, which is greater than it has been for years. The stress of paying for the vacation, and the stress of getting caught up again at home and at work after you get back.

It takes a couple of days to unwind and begin to feel like you are on vacation and a couple of days to fret about the end of vacation, which doesn’t leave much time for pure enjoyment.

For most people, the holidays mean successive three-day periods of not necessarily restful time off preceded and followed by frantic activity at work and at home.

My family has been taking a laid-back approach to the holidays this year. I know a number of people who say they are doing less this year. Maybe we’ve reached a threshold, what with all the secondhand stress from the war, the elections, the economy.

Sometimes you have to turn down the stress spigot before you drown.

Jerry Large: 206-464-3346 or jlarge@seattletimes.com.

His column runs Thursdays and Sundays and is found at www.seattletimes.com/columnists.