Column: Staying stress-free in a stressful environment

• Originally published in the Kane County Chronicle on July 13, 2009

I’ve just started reading Malcolm Gladwell’s new book “Outliers,” and the introduction has got me thinking.

Gladwell, whose previous books include “Blink” and “The Tipping Point,” begins his latest with the story of Roseto, Pa., the little town where heart disease feared to stray. Just about everybody died of old age rather than a medical condition.

So, of course, a few doctors went to go check it out.

Was it what the residents were eating?

Nope. Not unless lard suddenly became a health food without anyone knowing about it. Delightful, but unlikely.

Was the entire town on some sort of exercise plan?

Again, not so much. Many in the town were struggling with obesity. These were not weekend warriors.

What was different was the character of the town. Everybody in Roseto had come from the same village in Italy and settled in this one place in America. Everybody spoke the same dialect of Italian. Community members constantly were around each other, and multiple generations lived in the same house. Roseto essentially was the Pennsylvanian equivalent of Cheers. Thankfully, without Woody Harrelson or Ted Danson.

What the doctors eventually decided was that all those who lived in the town were – for lack of better terminology – happy and stress-free. No stress – no heart disease.

A healthy community made for heart-healthy people.

Now, despite this study, I certainly am not going to start eating fried Twinkies for every meal, washed down with a double-chocolate milk shake, while hoping that by reducing my stress levels I can counteract the Twinkiefication of my arteries.

But it has got me thinking about how I can reduce stress in my life. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is the leading cause of death in America. In 2006, 631,636 people died of heart disease. Any little bit can help.

But how to actually reduce stress in another question. I don’t have a particularly good job for stress reduction. Working for a newspaper oftentimes is included in top 10 lists of most stressful jobs. And while I love the job, there certainly have been days when I’ve left the office wondering who planted rocks in my lower neck area while I wasn’t looking.

I have two main forms of stress relief – playing basketball and writing – neither of which I do nearly enough.

I haven’t picked up a basketball in a couple of months – and while I work for a company that thrives on the written word, it can be hard for me to find the time to sit down and actually contribute some writing of my own.

It seems the key factor, though, isn’t stress relief but how not to get so stressed in the first place. This, as we all well know, is much easier said than done.

Many of us are in jobs that demand perfection, or at least a close facsimile of it. It’s hard to just let things go, when not letting go of those things is part of your job requirements. So, we must try to seek perfection while not knotting ourselves up if we’re not quite there, yet.

Yeah, I don’t know how to do this either. I hope the rest of Malcolm Gladwell’s book tells me. And if not, maybe I’ll move to Roseto. Anybody know where I can learn to speak Italian?

Joe Grace is the editor of The Chronicle. You can write to him at jgrace@kcchronicle.com or call him at 630-845-5368.

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