Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 20/2/2009 (3103 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
I'm a sucker for surveys. Personality quizzes, love matches, what my choice in breakfast cereal says about me... hand me a pencil and I'm off to the races.
So, when many of those close to me (and several random strangers) commented that my stress levels seemed a little high lately, I took another survey.
(And by "a little high" I don't think they meant "maybe something a warm bath would cure."
They meant "Take three Valium, crawl into bed with your teddy bear and a carton of ice cream and come out only when you can stop using your shrill voice.")
My stress survey of choice is a classic, developed in 1967 by two psychiatrists, Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe. They looked at the medical records of over 5,000 patients to see whether stress might be causing illness.
Remember, this was more than 40 years ago when stress, like cancer or mental illness, was never discussed.
Essentially, patients in the study were asked to look at a list of 43 ordinary life events and check off the ones that applied to them.
Each event was assigned a number. The death of a spouse was 100 points. Trouble with your in-laws got you 29 points. Spending Christmas alone was a mere 12 points.
The doctors determined there was a link between stress and illness, something that might seem obvious to us now but was groundbreaking at the time.
I remembered the test from a university psychology course and decided to take it again. You can play at home by Googling "Holmes-Rahe scale." or clicking here.
Here's the thing: Despite my highly competitive nature, I understand that this is one test you don't want a high score on. The lower the better, although if you scored less than 50 you'd have to be dead, which I assume is pretty stressful.
I answered honestly. When I tallied my results, flames shot out of my laptop and my head exploded.
OK, slight exaggeration.
My score was 552 points. Anything over 300, according to the scale, "indicates a major life crisis" and is 80 per cent predictive of a serious physical illness in the next two years.
Again, for those playing at home, I do not have a mortgage over $100,000 (31 points), have not been pregnant in the past two years (40 points), been in minor trouble with the law (11 points) or been to jail (63 points).
I have had a few minor bumps along the way, apparently the sort that raise your score into the stratosphere.
But what struck me most was that the 1967 scale had no way of predicting the stresses we'd create for ourselves 40 years down the road.
There's no mention of the perils of overloading credit card balances or believing your kids are entitled to stuff you can't afford. You don't add points for being a guilty working mother or a guilty stay-at-home mom either.
The psychiatrists could not have anticipated a generation that has become slaves to tools of convenience, unable to leave home without Blackberries, cellphones, laptops and every other electronic leash imaginable.
How many points would they assign for the decision to take a winter holiday when the roof needs fixing? The burgeoning obesity epidemic bolstered by a fast-food, super-sized world? The choice to eschew places of worship?
The reality of being a member of the sandwich generation, caring for children and fretting about aging parents?
The survey didn't rate the stress of parents whose children are in Afghanistan or the anxiety of university students who fear they'll never find work.
Spending Christmas alone seems quaint by comparison, doesn't it?
I'm taking my high score a lot more seriously than I take the results of the average personality test or assessment of my suitability as a model, pilot or brain surgeon.
First, I'm putting down the pencil.
Next, I'm climbing into a warm bath.
Finally, the teddy bear and I are getting some quality time.
We'll come out when the score drops below 300 and not a moment sooner.