I was sitting on the toilet when a pipe came loose from the sink, flooding the bathroom with hot water.
Thankfully, it was a different bathroom, upstairs, but I was nevertheless startled by the shouts of surprise and general commotion as my parents sought to staunch the flow and minimise the amount of damage, and I tried to decide whether or not it would be wise to flush.
As Saturday mornings go it was pretty stressful; having cut the house off from the main water supply and managed to isolate the responsible faucet, the next hour was spent mopping up water, phoning the insurance company and positioning buckets around the kitchen below.
I have always been fascinated by stress, and as psychological phenomena go it was one of the more interesting topics covered over the course of my A Level studies and subsequent degree. I wondered how localised flooding might rank on Holmes and Rahe’s Social Readjustment Rating Scale, or among DeLongi’s Daily Hassles, but couldn’t find it listed anywhere when I eventually had time to look.
There were a number of notable absences, and just as I could never look through the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual Of Mental Disorders without diagnosing myself (if memory serves, I suffered from everything), I found myself trying to relate these supposedly stressful life events — each awarded a number of “life-changing units” — to my own experiences. Having never lost a spouse or fallen pregnant, I found that in my hands the list would look significantly different.
|Life Events||Life Changing Units|
The big one for me recently has been unemployment. Take the stress of having no money, the embarrassment of being seen at your local Jobcentre Plus twice a month and the near-impossible task of finding thirty-two non-existent job vacancies every fortnight and you can begin to grasp the strain and anxiety that go hand-in-hand with signing on.
|First Day Of New Job||75|
I’ve had a number of jobs in my time — the exact details of which you can find here — and each one has involved a first day. Having most likely met your manager at the interview, you arrive for your first shift knowing little about the job, next to none of the people and nothing at all about the building’s layout. The first week, therefore, is spent getting everything wrong, eating lunch by yourself and getting lost on the way to the toilet.
|A Localised Flood||60|
A relatively recent addition to this list of personal stressors, localised flooding may pale into comparison next to the traditional force-of-nature variety that coats your life in sediment and sewage, but it’s still a total nightmare, and one that can affect anyone, regardless of their proximity to a susceptible water channel. It’s the feeling of helplessness really, as the ceiling changes colour and water drips irreversibly from the light sockets.
|Death Of A Mobile Phone||50|
The original list boasts such life-changing events as death of a spouse (100 life change units) and death of a close family member (63), both of which are just as stressful and life-changing in 2013 as they were in 1967. It’s not just people who die in the 21st Century, however, with every electrical device prone to “dying” when disconnected from its power source and even empty cups described casually as being “dead”. Losing your phone is the most devastating of all, causing you to monitor your battery life until the last percent, and then check a blank screen every five minutes while imagining your virtual life in ruins.
I’m not going to pretend that university was the most stressful thing that ever happened to me. For every night I spent hunched over a computer on campus dreading some deadline or other there were plenty of exceptions split between the cinema, the local nightclubs and my bed. That said, the exams and reports and endless statistical analysis definitely took a toll, and in addition to the lectures and tutorials university also involved my first experience of living away from home, working and cohabiting with girls.
Nothing takes the edge off of a stressful day like a few shots of sambuca, but drink too much and you’ll likely feel even worse in the morning. Most of the stressors so far have been social or environmental in nature, but the brunt of a hangover is usually physiological; you wake up with a headache, a dry mouth and a stomach that doesn’t know which way to direct the previous night’s chips and cheese. There is psychological stress too, with memory loss and confusion adding to the overall distress.
|A Spider In Your Room||35|
Add an extra ten points if the spider is no longer visible, and another twenty on top of that if it’s actually poisonous. By its definition, stress is the body’s reaction to a perceived threat to its natural equilibrium. Phobias, meanwhile, are irrationally perceived threats. I’m scared of spiders, and simply seeing one fills me with dread, taking up my full attention and causing the sort of reaction that is usually reserved for Great White Sharks or invading aliens.
There was a time when Facebook was easy and even helpful — a means to keep in touch with absent friends and provide a diversion from work or study. These days, however, Facebook is just another noise vying for your attention: notifications that you feel you need to respond to, friend requests that you’d rather not accept and system updates that you need to adapt to. Throw in overzealous parents, vigilant employers and the perhaps less than genuine motives of Facebook itself and you find yourself worrying that you’ve said something you perhaps shouldn’t have.
As more and more of modern life is digitised, you find yourself spending an increasing amount of time online, meeting yet more demands on your time, energy and attention. As such, when you go somewhere new you are forever on the lookout for food, shelter and internet access, and we’ve come to expect certain places to deliver. It is therefore frustrating to find yourself eating at McDonalds, drinking at Starbucks or travelling with Stagecoach and unable to access the advertised WiFi.
|Thinking Of A Pub Quiz Name||25|
So you’ve had a couple of drinks and you can physically feel yourself becoming less intelligent. You pay the entry fee, find a pen and collect your answer sheets, only to find the team name field staring you in the face, challenging you. Suddenly you need to think of something current, witty and fast, at once demonstrating your uselessness under pressure and severe lack of creativity.
|Forgetting Your Password||25|
As established, things were so much easier in the olden days. To begin with you just used the same password for everything, picking one relatively basic alphanumeric string of keys for your e-mail, Facebook and laptop log-in. These days, however, with the paranoia relating to hacking and identity theft growing by the day, you need an array of passwords, and every time you log into some little-used website (usually SASS) you can never remember what it actually is.
Weekends are just awful. Saturday and Sunday are exactly like every other day of the week except that you can’t do anything — and you wouldn’t want to even if you could because it would be inevitably spoiled in some way by everyone else. Everything that isn’t shut for the weekend is sold-out, overcrowded and ruined by children.
|Having A Bad Haircut||20|
One of the few things left in life that you can’t customise, edit or generally do yourself is your hair. Well, actually, you can, but cutting your own hair usually ends with equally stressful results, and always leads to the hairdressers in the end anyway. Paying a so-called professional means sitting in an uncomfortable chair, blinking piercing hairs out of your eyes and watching more and more scalp becomes visible through your fringe. You spend the next two weeks with a hat glued to your head and a hairstyle that makes you look a decade younger and at least five times as inbred.
The reason that packing hasn’t made this list is that it’s usually done quickly, on the morning of departure. Having returned from an exciting, adventurous and exotic trip to somewhere, anywhere else, you invariably find yourself living with a new, suitcase-shaped roommate. You know it has to be done, but it’s the sort of job that keeps getting bumped on your to-do list, while your toes are getting bumped in the real world.
|The Phrase “Smart-Casual”||20|
I’ve reached the sort of age where I attend events that have dress codes. “Smart” and “casual” are individually unambiguous, one meaning you have to dress like an adult and the other meaning you can dress like your own immature, stunted self. “Smart-casual”, however, is a whole other story; it means “dress your age”, use your own judgement and spend four hours fighting hypertension in a Primark changing room. If it’s a nightclub, you find yourself at the mercy of the company’s bouncer, unsure until you’re standing in front of him whether or not his definition of the term includes Converse.
|Forgetting Your ID||15|
In addition to sweating over shoes, you might also have to try to convince the bouncer that in addition to possessing a higher understanding of contemporary fashion you are also eighteen, or twenty-one, or thirty, or whatever the club’s ID policy happens to be. It’s not like you can even predict what does and does not require ID these days; shave that morning and you could find yourself going home for your passport in order to buy batteries, scissors or Slumdog Millionaire.
It turns out the human body can function perfectly well on biscuits, coffee and ready meals, but every so often you are called upon to produce something slightly less…produced. The results — an hour in the kitchen patching up knife wounds, substituting missing ingredients and bonding burnt potatoes to saucepans — are stressful in the extreme, requiring the sort of time-management and organisation skills that only exist on your CV.
|Speaking To Someone Who Can’t Understand You||10-20|
This one exists on something of a spectrum, depending on the disposition of the speaker and how many times you’ve asked them to repeat themselves. By the third repetition you are beginning to squirm, having to choose between feigning understanding or asking the question again. By the sixth repetition the fight or flight response kicks in, and you find yourself either gathering reinforcements or moving to Inverness, where they apparently speak the best English in the country.
|Someone Cutting The Queue||10|
This one is always stressful; even if you genuinely don’t care that you have to wait an extra minute and a half for your coffee, you find yourself getting annoyed at everyone else for tutting and being impatient. Either way you find yourself on edge, for however long it takes to get to the front.
|Making Conversation With A Taxi Driver||10|
Every mode of transport is stressful in its own way: on a plane you have to get through check-in and security, on a train you live in fear of the rightful owner of your seat coming to claim it, and on the bus you just know that you’re going to be late. In a taxi, however, you have to deal with an unknown cost, an uncertain arrival time and the sort of awkward silence that only exists between an old tattooed man and someone with the conversational abilities of, well, me.
Christmas ranks second from bottom on Holmes and Rahe’s list, supposedly costing you 12 life-changing units, making it more stressful in their opinion than a minor violation of the law but not quite as costly as a vacation. Birthdays, however, are always worse: you’re a year older and everyone wants to remind you of it, you are put under extra scrutiny as you become the centre of attention and you have to delude yourself into thinking that the real reason you have less cards than ever before is that everyone is congratulating you online.
|Choosing A Queue||5|
Even before you’ve joined the queue the stress has already begun. As soon as there’s a choice involved, you have to decide which queue is the least likely to be held up by a slow customer or, yes, invite jumpers. You find yourself scanning the self-service queue for confused-looking old people, and the others for people with unwieldy baskets and an expression that says they’re going to question every single thing on the receipt.