“Modern life is so stressful it can make you sick!” says private health firm

How worried are you at the moment? Well, if you read the print editions of the Daily Express or the Daily Mail, the answer is: Very. That might not seem like the most astounding piece of media criticism you’ve ever read, but at least this time we have it direct from the mouths of these peculiarly paranoid media horses:

How we waste five years of our lives worrying about issues such as money and relationships

If something is worrying you, don’t fret too much… you’re far from being the only one.

Stressed-out Britons are spending the equivalent of five years of their life worrying, according to a survey.

The typical adult is losing around two hours a day fretting over issues such as personal finances, health, getting old, job security and relationships.

Source: Daily Mail, 27 January 2013

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Apparently we’re all so stressed out about modern life, we’re losing a whopping TWO HOURS from each day simply worrying. If this is true, I’ve certainly never noticed those periods where I pause, at length, and engage in some hard-core, concentrated, focused worrying. Two hours a day of fretting – you’d think I’d notice. Perhaps my memory is going. That worries me – even as I’m typing this, I fear my memory might be failing me.

Does this time count towards my two hours of worrying? Or is there a separate 120 minutes of worry-time I still have to try and cram in? With all this worrying to get around to, it’s a wonder anyone gets anything done. Which presumably exacerbates the situation, creating a kind of furrowed-brow feedback-loop.

Or – just maybe – this story is absolute nonsense, the idea that people worry for as much as two hours per day isn’t actually measurable in any meaningful way, and there’s unequivocally no evidence to support the implied conclusion that time spent worrying isn’t spent doing other things too, thus allowing us to identify specific worrying time and come to the ludicrous-but-headline-friendly figure of ‘five years of fretting’.

For instance, if I were to take leave of my senses and sign myself up for skydive (which I wouldn’t do), at the moment that I jumped out of the plane (which I never will) I imagine I’d be somewhat worried that my parachute wouldn’t open, or that a cable would break, or that I would have a momentarily lapse of sanity and unbuckle myself from the harness and plummet to my death. Throughout the course of the whole skydive, I’d be worrying about all of these things, and more. I’d also, however, be hurtling to the ground at a speed approaching terminal velocity, so at the very least I’d be multitasking – meaning I couldn’t count this whole worrying experience as part of my Fretting-RDA of two hours.

So, it’s fair to say, the premise of this whole article is nonsense. Which is little surprise, given that almost every word of the copy came from a press release by the private healthcare firm Benenden:

The research, which was commissioned by leading health and wellbeing mutual Benenden Health, found the average person endures 14 hours each week weighed down with worry.

Around 45 per cent of those studied admitted stress and worry had directly affected their health.

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It’s good of Benenden, of course, to commission a poll to find out just how our health is affected by the worrying time which was self-reported by users of the online polling company OnePoll, who are each paid around 10p for every often-lengthy survey they complete, with their only access to the money coming when they’ve accrued a whopping £40, giving this user base little-to-no incentive to actually think about their answers and all-the-incentive-in-the-world to spend as little time as possible in their low-paid box-ticking hobby.

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If only, in the wake of these findings, there was someone like Paul Keenan from Benenden Health on hand, to explain to us how health issues can be caused by stress and anxiety:

‘It is a sad reality that stress is dominating our lives and having a severe impact on our work life, our quality of sleep and our personal relationships.

‘The crunch comes when it begins to have a detrimental impact on our health – and 45 per cent admit stress is already doing this.

‘Thirty-two per cent of people have even gone to the doctors because of worry or stress.’

If only, after reading this story by the private healthcare company Benenden Health about how stress and worry can cause us to need to see a healthcare professional, there was some kind of private healthcare company a worried reader could call, to put their addled mind at ease.

The irony here being, of course, that seeing a press release based on unreliable data from a biased source appear near-verbatim in the most-read online newspaper is actually the most worrying thing about this whole article.