Response by Angela Patmore to review dated 3 February 2006

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The Independent Culture

The Truth About Stress was meticulously researched and written. It contains 440 pages of evidence on ‘stress management’: how it originated, how it is practised and the flaws in the scientific evidence on which it is based. Forty pages of footnotes ensured that anyone could go away and check my facts. I am a former Fulbright Scholar and UEA research fellow and the book was shortlisted for the MIND Book of the Year Award. To claim that it is not an “inquiry” but rather a “crusade” is unjustified.

The review suggests that I am uncaring and unsympathetic to emotional suffering. On the contrary, I wrote the book precisely because I have great compassion for emotional pain and wanted to empower those affected by it. I believe the stress ideology harms everyone, but the most vulnerable most of all.



Stress phobia is not “fear of a non-existent force”, but anxiety about normal arousal and negative emotions. This has been deliberately engendered by an unregulated industry which markets ‘stress’ expertise. The health angst inspired by the industry’s medicalising of normal emotions and physiological reactions sends victims in search of ‘stress management’ and sedation. The book does not disparage those who believe they are suffering from ‘stress’, or dismiss them as hypochondriacs. It argues that they have been made profoundly fearful about their bodily sensations and their ability to cope with work or problems.



I do not pay “little attention to current research”. My book has six main sections on the ‘stress’ science, from provenance to current PNI research, but there are other chapters on recent studies throughout the book, including cutting edge complexity science and neurological research.



Rather than being “impressed” by the stoical ancient Romans and their “embrace of bloodbaths”, the book compares the fashionable ‘stress management’ idea of protection from negative emotions, with a more traditional theory, found in other ages and cultures, in which emotional maturity is achieved by exposure to negative emotions. Evidence for the latter outweighs evidence for the former.



To claim that, for me, “stress is the essence of life” ignores all the evidence presented, which shows that the term ‘stress’ is bogus and that there are over 650 different and opposite definitions. The same word is used to mean both cause and effect, stimulus and response, interaction and transaction, invalidating any research that relies upon it as a control term.



I am accused of “rhapsodising” over the “cerebral climaxes achieved by skydivers and extreme sportspeople”. Apparently by this stage I have “left science far behind, and [am] on to a Russian psychic”. The entire discussion on what I call cerebral climaxes is backed by scientific studies. Cerebral climaxes are found in all major leisure pursuits, not just skydiving, and they are of great cultural significance.



The allegation that I am “fundamentally uninterested not just in science, but also in society” I regard as defamatory. Quite apart from the detailed chapters and references throughout on the science, were I not interested in society and the welfare of those who have been harmed by the stress management ideology I should not have bothered to write the book.

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