BOO! Ha ha ha ha ha. Not to worry, it's only me. But your reaction just goes to show that those inbuilt fight or flight impulses are still as strong now as they were back when our ancestors were swinging from tree to primordial tree, dropping coconuts on monkey's heads. Of course, anyone who has the unenviable misfortune to accidentally step into my waiting room could lay testament to the fact that mankind has not really progressed at all. Where my patients are concerned, the ability to swing from anything remains a distant ambition, as they must first contend with evolving the opposable digits to make such acrobatic antics possible.

Good evening, my name is most certainly Doctor Adolphous Bongo, an epithet which I usually find commands respect in most quarters. The advantage of having a reputation that precedes one is that - providing it is robust enough - it can wear people down to such a degree that by the time I actually turn up in person I seldom need to slap anyone. Oh, I just love being me.

You see, stress is such an integral part of modern life and as my opening sentence adequately demonstrated, stress is caused by fear. Fear and tigers. Although, it's a point of contention whether tigers are a direct cause of stress, or whether the fear of tigers is at work here. I suppose it depends how you feel about tigers. Anyway, I didn't come here to talk about tigers - been there, done that.

The point is, stress is caused by fear, and fear is something that is hardwired into our 'brains', as we medical people like to call them. For instance, the same instinct that once made nervous types shin up trees to avoid sabre toothed crocodiles now prompts them cross the street to avoid me, even though the days when mortal danger had pointy teeth and lurked around every boulder are long gone. Mankind's daily fight for survival now takes the form of occasional trips to the supermarket, irritating arguments with your neighbour about his overhanging leylandii, and ensuring that a report is on your manager's desk by Thursday lunchtime. The only time it is ever likely to get more interesting is if a dispute erupts over a parking space, but even then it rarely gets visceral.

But although it may no longer provide any useful purpose, fear is still with us. Well, it's still with you, anyway - I'm above such things. That's why you're quaking in your cheap plastic shoes as you stand outside your boss's office, waiting nervously for the command to enter - you firmly believe that it will take just one wrong word for you to end up hanging from a tree, the skin flayed from your body and the Henderson account just a distant memory.

You notice that I appear to be surprisingly au fait with the details here - freely mentioning things like 'bosses' and 'offices' and 'Henderson accounts' as if I have some personal experience of these dreary places. I don't, of course, but I understand that that sort of thing goes on. I am also aware that not all workplaces are about business suits, open plan offices and people wearing telephone headsets. The place where I take my car, for example - that's filthy. It's all tyres and bits of exhaust and whatnot, and I've noticed that the staff are covered in oil and don't wear ties.

But what connects all these places is that they are sources of fear, which is where I come in, because I have to deal with the fallout in the shape of the constant stream of losers who flood my surgery, complaining of 'stress' and 'anxiety' as if these are properly recognised medical conditions. There are two ways that a doctor can deal with this - they can listen carefully and sympathetically and try to empathise with the individual. Or they can do what I do and tell people to stop being so wet, pull themselves together and get out of my surgery straight away, before I tear them a new set of holes.

And at the end of the day, my approach turns out to be far more efficacious because it's all a question of what you're afraid of most. Whenever one of my more spineless patients drifts into my consulting rooms and starts whinging about stress and anxiety, and casually hinting at sick notes and the kind of medication that could seriously inconvenience a horse, I make sure that I give them something to really worry about. It's surprising how rapidly they can overcome their condition once you've put the fear of god into them.

Return to Doctor Bongo's Casebook

Copyright © Paul Farnsworth 2014

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