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Sunday, January 29, 2012


In mid career I lived in the big city of Toronto where my husband had a prominent position and I was teaching science in a Collegiate Institute. We were fairly often invited to attend functions and, to make my hair look stylish in a hurry, I had a hairpiece made of my own hair I used to wear. It was held in place on the top of my head by a special comb and gave me a bouffant look.

After a few years in the city, we had a good opportunity to go back to our relatively quiet home province and we did so happily. My hairpiece remained in a box among my hats that were not worn for years as I became a graduate student in our local university and totally immersed myself studying and doing research in chemistry. It was a church funeral that required I wear a hat to attend that sent me back to scrummage in my hatbox. When I pulled out the hairpiece I was astonished to find that it was almost white! With the quiet life I had been living, many of my grey hairs had disappeared and when I stuck the hairpiece on the top of my head again, it looked distinctly out of place. For the first time I realized that living and working in the city must have put me under quite a bit of stress without my really being aware of it.

Hans Selye, a scientist working in Montreal was the first to demonstrate scientifically the effects of making lab animals tense and anxious and he is attributed with first using the term stress in that context. That was in 1935 and actually his work was not accepted by scientists until as late as the 1970’s. Now we hear about the effects of stress almost daily.

One example I read about some time ago now, had to do with medical students and how the stress of worrying about the final exams caused 80% of them to come down with a cold or other illness before or during the process of writing them.

Actually worrying as you study or write exams is counter productive because it just takes away from your ability to learn and recall. As well, Hans Selye has said ‘Every stress leaves an indelible scar, and the organism pays for its survival after a stressful situation by becoming a little older’.

As with my experience in the big city, you can’t do anything about some stress but you do know rationally that worrying does not do anything to improve a situation. So my advice is to do your best to push your stressful concerns out of your mind and - as the song says - ‘In every life we have some trouble, When you worry you make it double, Don't worry. Be happy!!’ ...and you’ll live longer. Rie