James Werrell

Survey finds high tension in the South

A week or so ago, as the dogwoods were coming into full bloom in South Carolina, much of the Northeast was hit by a freak storm that deposited several inches of wet snow on the winter-weary residents there.

People all over Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New York could be heard begging for an answer to the inexplicable. “What the ... ?!” they shouted in unison.

In truth, though, this late snow dump was not that unusual. People up North always are getting smacked by surprise storms just as they are hoping against hope that spring is just around the corner.

Instead, they are about to encounter another season. They have a name for it: the mud season.

One would think that all that miserable weather would put people on edge. One might also think that the balmy breezes, days filled with sunshine and short, uneventful winters in the South would have a calming effect on residents.

One would be wrong, at least according to a recent WalletHub survey to determine the most stress-filled states in the nation. Turns out Dixie is the heart of jagged-nerved, bleary-eyed, acid-stomached, stressed-out America.

Alabama ranked as the No. 1 most-stressed state in the nation. It was followed by Louisiana, Mississippi, West Virginia, Kentucky, New Mexico, Nevada, Georgia, Tennessee and Arkansas.

South Carolina, as you might note, did not make the top 10. It was No. 11.

(North Carolina was No. 16.)

This is is highly contrary to my notion that people living south of the Mason-Dixon line should be less stressed than their northern counterparts. But what put a stake in the heart of my theory was the list of 10 least-stressed states.

Coming in at No. 51 was Minnesota, land of 10,000 lakes, all of them iced over for most of the year. Next, at 50, was North Dakota, followed by Iowa, South Dakota, Utah, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Vermont, Colorado and Wisconsin.

All of these are cold states. Both North and South Dakota are near the top on the blissfulness list, for crying out loud!

Apparently there’s more than weather to consider. WalletHub researchers note that they compared the states and the District of Columbia across four key dimensions: work-related stress, money-related stress, family-related stress, and health and safety-related stress.

Alabama, for example, had the dubious distinction of having the highest percentage of adults with poor health, the lowest average hours of sleep per night and the fewest mental health facilities per capita.

The survey also measured the average hours worked per week, percent of the population living below the poverty line and divorce rates for all the states. It makes sense that these things would factor in the stress quotient.

Over the past decade, when stress was going down nationally, Americans complained about money, work and the economy as their biggest sources of worry. But in an uptick in stress levels this year, they cite the election outcome, current political climate, uncertainty of our nation's future and fear of violence as stress inducers.

No surprise there, either.

But the stark differences between the high-anxiety South and the contented North are disconcerting. You might even call them nerve-wracking.

OK, I have another theory. Southerners need to pay more attention to the factors that stress us out.

By and large, throughout the South, our state governments operate on the premise that the high taxes induces more anxiety among their constituents than anything else. High corporate taxes also are the main reason many companies don’t want to move here, they say.

Well, maybe companies don’t want to set up shop in the South because the work force is a collective bundle of nerves, flustered folks who don’t get enough sleep or make enough money, and can’t find a shrink when they need one.

Think about that. But don’t think about it too long or hard. It will just stress you out more.

Things might become so serious that you decide to move to North Dakota.

James Werrell is opinion page editor of The Herald.

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