Stress Ain't What It Used To Be

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Everybody knows life keeps getting harder, but how much harder?

Thanks to psychiatrist Richard Rahe of Salem, Ore., co-creator of the Life Changes Stress Test, we now have an exact figure. Life, Rahe said, gets about 1.5 percent more difficult each year.

Wow, that's even worse than I thought. Off the top of my head, I probably would have said no more than 1.2 percent, maybe 1.3.

Rahe cites various reasons, among them the stress of modern transportation. "If you look at travel today and compare it to the stress of traveling 30 years ago, can't you see it's increased?" he asked in USA Today.

This is an excellent point, and the situation becomes even clearer when you look back more than 100 years. Readers may find this hard to believe, but in the 1800s, when many Americans began heading West, they didn't have to be concerned about bad airline food; airport delays were unheard of, and nobody had to pass through security checkpoints.

During these blissful, carefree days, travelers didn't even have to worry about remembering if they had left a 1-inch penknife in their pocket.

In fact, many people carried rifles, the better to fend off Indian attacks.

Which, in turn, helped keep the kids occupied. Back then, parents didn't feel the need to make sure each child had his own separate video screen to watch -- True fact: Many covered wagons weren't equipped with even one video screen -- because the threat of Indian attacks helped pass the time.

("Now, children, if you look to your left you'll see some Indians setting there waiting to ambush us." "Yes, Mom, I already saw 'em. When are we going to get there?")

And while it's true that 19th-century pioneers on the early Interstate Highway System didn't have as many restaurants to choose from, they nevertheless enjoyed more interesting fare than today's bored and frustrated fast-food customers. (For more information on the settlers' menu choices, Google the key words "Donner party" and "today's special.")

Yup, travel in those days was stress-free, which got me to thinking about Excedrin, the great American stress reliever.

The company used to have a slogan that went, "Life got tougher, Excedrin got stronger." In light of the recent statistics, I wondered if Excedrin officials are making it 1.5 percent stronger each year.

If not, we're facing a pain-reliever deficit of enormous proportions. Excedrin's TV ads used to show a man with a little hammer pounding away inside his head. At the time, Excedrin was still strong enough to make the hammer go away.

That may no longer be true. An article in the New England Journal of Medicine recently reported that X-rays are showing an alarming and growing number of patients with hammers inside their head, ranging in size from a Q-tip to a full-sized carpenter's tool.

The article was written by TV's Dr. Gregory House, who, in a challenge to the medical establishment, prescribes Vicodin, and not Excedrin, as the best way to treat "interior cranial hammer disease."

House, who pops Vicodin like candy, may be right, especially if the makers of Excedrin aren't increasing the dosage each year.

I'm getting a headache just thinking about it.

Write to Don Flood in care of King Features Weekly Service, P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475, or send e-mails to dflood287@comcast.net.

(c) 2008 King Features Synd.

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