hassle thermometer

Hassles and the havoc they can create

Personal note

A full week for me, attending the “High Heels, Higher Heights” conference of Women’s Health Leadership TRUST with roughly 800 excited and capable women in the health care industry, then meeting the dedicated small business group at the Woman’s Club of Minneapolis.

In between, I coped with the documents for refinancing my house, starting with finding the packet (with a two-day deadline) under a door mat to a door I never use in my house, to reading arcane documents and then finally recklessly signing them because I hadn’t a dim prayer of understanding being able to see all the fine print, never mind understanding the language in which they were written (Ancient Troglodyte?).

So I took a deep breath and reminded myself that hassles can be more deadly than a major shock.  I thought I’d share this information with you.

Hassles and the havoc they can create

In the movies, we have often seen a character receive a shock, clutch his heart, and fall to the ground in a heart attack.

No one thinks life’s daily hassles are dramatic, but in fact they can be just as deadly as a major shock.

Real crises, such as having your house burn down, activate the stress response. So do hassles, those little everyday life events that temporarily frustrate.  They also narrow our thinking so that we believe we are in a crisis when, in fact, we are not.

They are much more frequent than real crises, and their effects seem to snowball.

Being stuck at a railroad crossing while a long train goes by, waiting on hold on a telephone only to be cut off, spotting a parking place only to find someone closer has pulled into it, rushing to your desk to do something important only to discover that the computer screen is frozen…the list of hassles is endless.

Dr. Richard Lazarus of the University of California at Berkeley argued in 1984 that such hassles typically cause more human suffering than major life events. They can even create real major life events.  For example, whether the stress is “real” or not is irrelevant; our bodies go through the same stress response: heightened blood pressure, increased heart rate, muscular tension, and more.  A little more damage accumulates, and our lives get a little shorter.

What can we do to handle hassles?  Remember that only 10% of our stress is due to what happens; 90% is due to how we think about what happens.

Yes, hassles do just “happen”; like the hot night I came home late from a trip, the cab driver refused to get out of the cab to lift my luggage from the trunk, my bedraggled cat met me in my house where the air conditioning had clearly gone off earlier in the day, and the mail yielded a second notice for a parking ticket that I hadn’t received in the first place.

Annoying, yes.  Life threatening, no.

One of the ways to protect yourself against “hassle havoc” is to set up systems in advance that work well and efficiently, even when life doesn’t. Good systems can save you time, and help you to keep life running smoothly.

For example, set up a map for all your routine errands: the post office, the drug store, the dry cleaner, the office supply store, etc.  Use this route regularly. It will help you to remember all the little things you need to do to live well.

Put all the things you need to do something about – jacket to be cleaned, shoes to be repaired, sink stopper to be replaced – in a box near the door or in your car.  Keep a small list with you of such things as the numbers for the toner cartridges you use and the odd-shaped bulbs for your odd-shaped light fixture.  Even when you dash out in a panic to do one errand, forgetting about your other needs, you can still use your time efficiently.

Prepare more food than you need for a given meal; freeze small portions for those “oh, my gosh” moments.

My routines are what saved me when I returned from my trip filled with all the things I needed to do, only to find I would instead spend part of the day talking to a repairman for the air conditioner and then a city clerk about the ticket.

When your “hassle thermometer” rises, take a deep breath and say “Stop it” to yourself.

Then consider these questions:

Is this frustration worth dying for? (A real possibility for those with a tendency to cardiac disease, but something for everyone to think about.)

And in the long run, what really matters?

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