Stress : An Increasing Threat Essay, Research Paper
Stress is an increasing concern since it is more prevalent in our lives today than it has been
in the past due to many of our traditional avenues of dealing with stress being no longer readily
available to us as well as the many new stresses caused by modern life. These include the
increasing crowding of today s cities, the fact that the stresses in today s life are largely implied
and that there is no physical way to take them out as well as anticipation often being more stressful
than the event itself.
In today s increasingly urbanized world one can see that people are becoming more
crowded together, and so stimuli such as noise are amplified by the close proximity to one another.
People in the city tend to be overstimulated however, and this causes them to try to block out
whatever excess they can, such as ignoring people who they see walking down the street. The
overcrowding in today s gargantuan cities has amplified the problems of substance abuse,
alcoholism, crime and mental illness in comparison with areas that have the population density of
rural areas and villages. This was shown although to quite an extreme in a study performed by
John Calhoun at the United States National Institute Of Mental Health in which he let loose a half
dozen pregnant female rats into a quarter acre pen sufficient for supporting 5000 rats. Though
even after 3 years, the population had never risen over 150, this was due to some of the first
generation males staking out large claims to the territory, and forcing the remainder, aside from
their mates to live in a huddled mass. In this huddled mass chaos ensued, with groups forming to
beat others at random, some becoming cannibalistic or showing homosexual behaviour and some
becoming completely passive and withdrawn. After Calhoun had terminated the experiment he
came up with a term for the huddled mass, which he called a behavioural sink (Ogden
Tanner,46), he defined this as any behavioural process which collects animals together in
unusually great numbers . The negative effects of overcrowding have also been shown by a study
performed at London s Bedford College, on a group of 220 South London women. The area from
which these women came had a population density double that of the Greater London Area, and
they found that more than 1/3rd of the women needed psychiatric care, a little over triple England s
national rate of psychological disorder, though none of the women had been interviewed about
mental illnesses before. Similar statistics we re found in a study performed in New York during the
late 1960’s performed by students at the Cornell Medical School. This study also revealed that
people in the area of higher population density had triple the alcoholism of the city as a whole.
Stress in modern daily life is more pronounced than it has been in the past, for example in
the past when one was running low on food, they would go harvest more either by hunting or
foraging, but in today s society when one is out of money or a rent payment is due, they simply
cannot go and take more money in an acceptable fashion. This creates stress because the
prerequisites of survival are now much more ambiguous than they have been in the past. This is
amplified by how the human stress response has not changed despite our societies changing
dramatically over the past 2 or 3 millennia. As Constance Mungall said it does an accountant with
an unbalanced budget, no good to have increased blood flow or more acute hearing (78). This
should be obvious, by all the negative titles given to different stress reactions today such as
Road/Air/Work Rage. The lack of control one feels over their surroundings amplifies the tension in
a given situation. This was shown by Professor Jonathan Freedman of Columbia University who
noted that people do not even become aware of density or a felling of being crowded until it
restricts their options (Tanner,51). This is what enables people to balk at the thought of living with
one other person, and yet for New Year s they go out and publicly party with several thousands of
Anticipation of an event is often more stressful than the event itself because one s
perceptions of what is going to occur is often be more threatening or euphoric than the event
actually itself and thus cause them to experience a greater level of stress before the event occurs
than while it is actually occurring. This was shown by a study on two groups of skydivers, one
experienced and one of novices, performed by Dr. Epstein, in which he found that the veterans
suffered their highest levels of anxiety hours before the jump, while the beginners fear became
significant only at the airport. After the jump however veterans again worried more. (Tanner, 26)
This was also proven in a study at the United States Air Force where students were told that they
were about to be given an injection, and wether or not they received one the students all
experienced their stress reactions as if they had actually received the injection. This sort of thing
can be seen at nearly any vaccination clinic, where children and even some adults break down and
show visible signs of stress even though they have not received their inoculation yet.
One can easily see that stress permeates every aspect of our lives. This becomes harmful
when it exceeds our ability to control the stresses which are acting upon us. The signs of stress
negatively affecting people are all around us, even at school where it is especially apparent among
the university bound. With many traditional methods of relieving stress such as alcohol, drugs and
tobacco facing decreasing social acceptance, people are feeling the effects of stress more than at
any time in history, and at no other time in history was the human stress response so ill suited to
dealing with the stressors at hand. Clearly this points to an increase in negative stress among the
population as a whole.
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