Please pass the stress

Posted: Friday, December 10, 2010

Every year about this time, the well-meaning media offer us helpful tips on how to reduce holiday stress. Well, I have news. We don't want tips. What we want is more stress.

I have this theory that we need stress. We crave stress. When our lives become too tranquil, we'll do whatever is necessary to create stress.

When we marry, when we have children, when we get a new pet, it's not because we want more serenity. We want more stress.

There are many ways to create stress, and more being thought up every day. When I was Outside recently, one of my 20-something grandsons brought his untrained, 5-month-old Labrador into his sister's house at dinnertime, knowing that a cat and a chihuahua were already in there. The result was predictable: utter chaos, one of the higher forms of stress.

My theory -- I have no end of these -- is that the desire for stress is a primal urge. Thousands of years ago, when we roamed the savannah in hungry packs, stress was a constant. We either adapted to it, or we perished. It's now part of us, probably in our DNA. Today our relatively safe and serene lives are at odds with our primal selves. We hunger for the thrill, the surge of adrenaline, dopamine or whatever chemical it is that makes us feel as we did when we crushed the skull of the cave lion that was distracted enough to surprise while it was dragging off one of our women, back in the day.

The cave lion has long been extinct, but we're still around. We aren't allowed to kill many dangerous carnivores nowadays, so instead we race BMX -- bicycle riding, motocross style. We parachute from skyscrapers, knowing cops will cuff us when we land. We SCUBA dive in flooded caves. We climb icefalls. We strap on bungee cords and jump from bridges. We put on wingsuits and fall off cliffs. We bring our Lab pup into our sister's house at dinnertime.

When I was a kid, the male inhabitants of Kid World spent a high percentage of their waking hours hatching plans to cave something in, knock something down or blow something up. Today, we strap kids in, fasten them down and fill them up with tips on staying safe. Then we wonder why they're so into violent movies and games.

Why do we deliberately add great jolts of stress to our lives?

The answer is obvious: Stress enhances our lives. Deep down inside, we know it's good, not harmful. There's nothing like a brush with death to make you feel more alive.

Les Palmer lives in Sterling.

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