The American College of Physicians’ ‘Complete Home Medical Guide’ contains a chart which categorises stress levels. This chart and the accompanying 2 page article are relevant to Fiji’s beleaguered pensioners. 

LOW:

  • Change in work conditions
  • Change in schools
  • Small mortgage or loan
  • Change in eating habits
  • Christmas or other holidays

MEDIUM:

  • Big mortgage
  • Legal action over debt
  • Trouble with in-laws
  • Spouse begins or stops work
  • Trouble with boss

HIGH:

  • Retirement
  • Serious illness of family member
  • Pregnancy
  • Change of job
  • Death of close friend

VERY HIGH:

  • Death of a spouse
  • Divorce or marital separation
  • Personal illness or injury
  • Loss of job
  • Moving house

Contrary to general assumption, retirees & pensioners are not rolling in dough. Simply because they live in an area where the ‘rich’ are thought to live does not mean that they are rich. Many, for various reasons, still have mortgages. And the fact is that most did not put away any savings because they were repeatedly assured that their pensions were safe!  The bottom line for any pensioner is that the older they get the harder it becomes to meet their expenses – the cost of living inevitably spirals away from them.

The above list rates as high retirement as a causal stress factor, for a start. We can add to that the high probability of the serious illness of a family member and the death of a close friend. The death of a spouse is a 50/50 inevitability unless you both fall of your perches at the same time – that’s a sure cure for stress. Personal injury or illness is almost inevitable.

Legal action over debt is placed at the medium level – probably because such legal action is generally kind, and a repayment plan acceptable to both parties. But here we have a legal action that threatens to drastically cut pensions – how stressful is that? We could place it in the very high category.

Stress is the physical and/or mental demand that forces us to react to challenges and escape danger. Stress kicks in the adrenalin which puts us into high alert, which in turn causes a reduction of the cortosol that slows those parts of the brain not required to avert danger. Chronic stress lessens our ability to think clearly, interferes with our memories, and affects our immune system.

The onset of stress can be sudden, such as having to avoid an oncoming vehicle – or long-term, such as work pressures or relationship problems. Some level of stress is necessary, for example it can improve sports and theatrical performance. But excessive stress can be harmful to our health and our ability to cope with daily life.

Stress can also be accumulative. A very high stress problem will be compounded by lesser stress factors and eventually even small daily irritations up the ante. Stress gets worse exponentially. But often, we do not recognise we are stressed until the stress is removed. If you are experiencing several of the symptoms below, you are most probably stressed, and will need to take action to reduce your stress level. There are a number of ways to do this, but not all suit everybody. Meditation – breathing exercises – relaxation exercises, physical exercise, and prescription drugs are examples. And there is always good old Google!

Our personalities have a lot to do with our stress levels. Perfectionists have higher levels than those who are more laid-back. Although a normal response to crises stress should not cause concern. But if it is causing unmanageable symptoms, then it has become a crisis itself. Talk about it with family and friends and seek help from your doctor to treat the symptoms.

Our responses to stress are both physical, such as and psychological, such as

Physically stress might be the underlying factor of tension headaches – sweating – an increase in heart rate – fatigue – mouth ulcers – muscle pain. It will aggravate disorders such high blood pressure – peptic ulcers – eczema – irritable bowel syndrome – hormonal problems – and make us unusually susceptible to minor infections such as colds.

Psychological problems will include intense concentration on the source of the stress. Anxiety and butterflies in the stomach, tearfulness and irritation. Tiny problems will provoke a reaction quite out of proportion to its cause. We can become unable to make decisions and lack concentration. Sleeps patterns are disrupted. We may either eat a great deal more or very much less, and energy flags. Eventually our relationships suffer as we become impatient or over-anxious when dealing with people.

No doubt all of Fiji’s FNPF pensioners, both present and future, will be suffering from some form of stress at this time. The very fact that there is a legal action concerning pension cuts, and that this web-site has been created, is indicative of that stress.

As a final blow, we must all reflect upon the fact that stress fans the flames of cancer, and can also be a cause. Those who do not have medical insurance, because the insurance companies also arbitrarily decide the use-by dates of their clients, must consider their health options in the event that they are unable to pay for treatment available only in countries such as India, NZ and Australia.

It seems that the FNPF Board is serious in it intent to negate Fiji pensioners’ ability to pay for health services both here and overseas.

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