She upped her cigarette intake from two to three packs. She snapped at colleagues for micro-offenses. Her food allergies worsened.
Kathleen, a divorced real estate manager and appraiser, felt beat, licked and pummeled -- stressed out to the max.
Yet she did nothing about it until two guys at work -- a superior and a colleague -- took her to lunch. "They told me I was being too aggressive," recalls the 41-year-old Yonkers, N.Y., resident. "They could have had a point. My sarcasm was (at an all-time high)."
Kathleen visited Manhattan psychologist Allen Elkin, director of the Stress Management and Counseling Center, who helped her pinpoint the sources of her anxiety -- a high-pressure job and a troubled relationship.
"The relationship had been very unhealthy for three years," observes Kathleen. "I was very needy, very dependent."
Like a growing number of Americans, Kathleen was dangling on the precipice, her nerves skewered by a confluence of personal and professional woes.
"There's no question that Americans are experiencing more stress than ever," says Dr. Paul Rosch, president of the American Institute of Stress, an educational clearinghouse in Yonkers.
One problem is technostress, he says. "A variety of technological enhancements have put a premium on quantity instead of quality. We live in a sped-up society. With fax machines, it's now possible to contact almost anyone in the world at anytime. We suffer from information overload."
Consider that the only certainty in corporate America is uncertainty. Research shows stress increases among people who experience a loss of control. Downsizing, bankruptcy, mergers and acquisitions are pervasive.
Seven in 10 American workers say job stress is causing frequent health problems, according to a 1991 study by the Northwestern National Life Insurance Co.
Thirty-four percent of the 600 people who participated in the study thought seriously of quitting their job in 1990 because of workplace stress. Forty-six percent said their job is highly stressful, more than double the finding of a 1985 survey.
Such stress, says Dr. Rosch, costs American industry in excess of $200 billion in absenteeism, diminshed productivity, health insurance and workers' compensation expenditures.
"That's 10 times all the strikes combined and more than the net profits of all the Fortune 500 companies put together," Dr. Rosch asserts.