Stress equals news, Martha

Survey: A California company commissioned a poll to determine what Americans consider nerve-racking. Some of the results were surprising.

August 29, 1999|By Kay Harvey

THE NEWS of the day is really stressful, Americans say. But flip the television channel to Martha Stewart making cupcakes in the shape of presidents, and you're ready to go over the edge.

In the stressed-out 1990s, finding serenity is the new American dream. But it's elusive. Big-time stress pops up in places you might least suspect, according to a nationwide survey.

Television news triggers stress for 27 percent of respondents. But it's a warm fuzzy compared to "Martha Stewart Living," said 51 percent.

Watching their kids' Little League game is as agonizing as a trip to the dentist, some respondents said. And monthly financial woes aren't half as nerve-racking as a visit from the in-laws.

Illuminations, a California company that makes and markets candles -- claiming their products have stress-relieving qualities -- commissioned the survey to find out what gets under people's skin. Company officials found the results surprising.

400 are polled

The survey conducted in June polled 400 Americans, some by telephone and others in person.

It unveiled these attitudes about what gets folks biting their nails:

Watchers of television news consider sports the most stressful segment. Crime is next, followed by medical news. Viewers who watch the morning news showed up twice as stressed as radio listeners who tune in to Howard Stern.

In the occupational realm, housewives reported being most stressed out, followed by stock market traders, doctors and computer programmers. Guys in suits were less likely to report being stressed than workers wearing casual clothes. Folks who have pagers rated themselves as stressed more so than people without pagers. Men rated body odor most stressful in the hygiene department. Women said they fret most about wearing yesterday's underwear.

As for conversation, men were most rattled by talking to their kids, which was rated more stressful than chatting with the boss. Most stressful for women: a talk with their child's schoolteacher.

Nonsmokers reported more stress than smokers did.

And is sex stressful? Three times as many men as women said it is for them.

The most stressful hour

The most stressful time of day emerged as 8 p.m. to 9 p.m., picked by 43 percent of respondents. And just as in their nostalgic school days, 61 percent ranked Sunday night as the most stressful time of the week. Because of its spot in the wake of Monday-morning shock, Monday afternoon took honors as least stressful.

Respondents were most likely to be on edge for these annual occasions: Thanksgiving in first place, followed by Mother's Day, wife's birthday, a wedding anniversary and April 15 (the day taxes are due).

The top three most stressful issues of the past 12 months emerged as learning to use the Internet; gun violence among kids; and the wait to see "Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace." China's stealing of U.S. military secrets came in fourth. No. 5 was the JonBenet Ramsey murder case, and No. 6 was Michael Jordan's retirement. The airing of NBC's final episode of "Seinfeld" was seventh, followed by Hillary Rodham Clinton's potential U.S. Senate candidacy, Y2K concerns and plane crashes in the news.

Places can be stressful, too, such as malls, where most of Illuminations' three dozen stores are located across the country, says Bonnie Dahan, the company's vice president of marketing.

"We notice people tend to linger in our stores, where candles flicker in a dimmed environment," she says. "Candlelight has a softening effect. It takes the hard edges off."

Kay Harvey wrote this piece for the St. Paul Pioneer and Press. It was distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

Pub Date: 08/29/99

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