S/SW blog philosophy -

I credit favorite writers and public opinion makers.

A lifelong Democrat, my comments on Congress, the judiciary and the presidency are regular features.

My observations and commentary are on people and events in politics that affect the USA or the rest of the world, and stand for the interests of peace, security and justice.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Stress and conflict in the news

Those of us who are in conflict over something can be stressed by being in that state. Something as innocuous as a conflict-ridden thread of comments on a blog could cause an increase in blood pressure. Keeping up with current events could come at a psychological price. The amount of stress we actually experience depends on the meaning we make of the event news item, and this can affect your health.
To illustrate this, I have appended two possible meanings a reader could make of the entire linked story, the first negative (pessimistic) and the second positive (optimistic). Of course, each of you will certainly make your own meanings that may be completely different than the ones I concocted.

Here is a small random sampling of items in today's news gathered by my Bloglines aggregator:

High school students from Houston and New Orleans have been in conflict with each other; and some differences with each other have cropped up again. This must be very stressful for all the students. According to the Houston Chronicle,

A brawl that began in the Westbury High School cafeteria Wednesday and spilled outdoors capped weeks of growing tension between Houston students and Hurricane Katrina evacuees and resulted in the arrest of 27 students. The fight was one of about a dozen such on-campus clashes that have roiled Houston and surrounding areas since thousands of students from New Orleans began attending local schools in September.

  1. Negative: "These students will never be able to get along. The original residents are in danger of being overtaken by the new kids. All those kids need to go back to where they came from."
  2. Positive: "The passage of time will allow these girls to eventually get over their mistrust of each other. It takes a year to adjust to a change; most will make that adjustment if the adults do not make too much of it."
Hurricane Katrina evacuees of all ages face considerable stress and can be in conflict with governmental entities supposed to help them. There have been a number of town hall meetings for them around the nation. They want to know how and when they can come home. To quote this CNN story:

The evacuees face several challenges in the next few weeks. A FEMA deadline is looming - December 15 in some states and January 7 in others - for evacuees living in motels and hotels to find long-term housing options. Meanwhile, evacuees who left behind homes in New Orleans will soon start facing mortgage payments. A 90-day moratorium put in place by some mortgage companies after Katrina hit is about to come to an end, further complicating evacuees' efforts
to return and rebuild.

  1. Negative: "This whole thing is an absolute failure. New Orleans can never be a decent place to live again. Those people just need to get a job and get over it."
  2. Positive: "Congressional oversight will force the changes at FEMA that will free up necessary funds to take care of the immediate emergency. Communities will see the need and provide local help so that their new residents can get over this temporary housing emergency."
The 9/11 Commission final report faults the airline prescreening program because they have not yet consolidated the various watchlists. This must be very stressful for frequent fliers. CNET News reports on difficulties with airline terrorist watchlists, putting passengers into repeated conflict with airport security personnel. Quote:

About 30,000 airline passengers have discovered since last November that their names were mistakenly matched with those appearing on federal watch lists, a transportation security official said Tuesday.
. . . On average, he said, it takes officials 45 to 60 days to . . . make any necessary changes. Travelers have been instructed to file the forms only after experiencing "repeated" travel delays.

  1. Negative: "There will be some passenger get so upset at TSA's stupidity that they will get shot like the poor man in Miami. Or so many people will stop flying that several more airlines will go bankrupt."
  2. Positive: "The 9/11 Commission final report will put enough pressure on TSA to get off dead center and finally consolidate and clean up those faulty watch lists. Passengers have to fly; they will learn ways to beat the system and get their names cleared out.

Conflict is so stressful that it actually can hinders the physical process of healing. According to a BBC article,

"The stress caused by a 30-minute row with a spouse is enough to slow wound healing by a day, US researchers say."

  1. Negative: "This means that I had better never have another argument, because I would not survive surgery. It would be his/her fault that I died."
  2. Positive: "This is an important piece of information that I needed for the protection of my health. We need to get some help to learn to settle our differences in a better way. Neither one of us realized the cost of this behavior."

Check our your automatic response, the kind of meanings of events to which you most often gravitate. If you identify more with my negative responses, know that those beliefs come at a psychological cost to your body. If you are able to see a more positive meaning, know that you are giving yourself a healthy gift. It all depends on how you look at things, as the old song goes.

My ideas are not original. You can find out more about these concepts by reading Martin Seligman's book, Learned Optimism. It might improve your health.


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