According to LIVESTRONG the top ten stressors in life are; childhood trauma, death of a loved one, divorce, finances, job, health, personal relationships, a chronically ill child, pregnancy, and danger. Other sources list the more traditional top five; Death, divorce, moving, major illness, and job loss. What does stress do to you and how can you manage it?
HOLMES-RAHE STRESS INVENTORY
The American Institute of Stress uses the Holmes-Rahe Stress Inventory that was developed in 1967 to test the hypothesis that stress leads to increased illness. Holmes and Rahe created a points system for 43 questions or “life change units” to measure stress level over a 12 month period. The results positively correlated stress and increased illness.
The Holmes-Rahe Stress Inventory is now standard for diagnosing stress. You are asked to mark any stressors that have occurred in your life over the past year. A final score estimates your risk for illness; 300+ at risk, 150-299 moderate risk (30% less than at risk), and <150 low risk.
Links to the test are referenced below so you can evaluate where you are on the stress scale..
STRESS AND STRESSORS
According to Stanford Health short term stress is good for you. An event will stimulate the fight or flight response, which is an automatic response to a perceived threat. You will have an adrenaline boost and display laser focus in preparation to fight or flee. This response can last from a few minutes to a few hours.
On a daily basis you will experience moments that initiate the fight or flight response. This response can be triggered if you wake up late and have to rush to get ready, have a near miss on the freeway, are working to meet a deadline, if someone accidentally scares you, or just rushing around to get dinner done on time.
Many times throughout the day you are given a biological boost that energizes you. These short-term stress events are rarely harmful because your body usually has an extended amount of time between episodes to return to a normal cadence.
A lot of you will find that normal stress helps you meet deadlines or keeps you motivated to accomplish tasks. The extra boost helps you to remain clear headed and able to focus on your goal.
The significant difference with good stress is that the body has plenty of time to recover from its heightened state.
WHAT BAD STRESS DOES TO YOU
Bad stress is caused when you are exposed to prolonged a period of heightened senses. The body remains in a high alert state and builds on the stress you are already coping with.
Bad stress causes a lot of health problems. Stanford Health warns that “Chronic stress has been associated with increased biological aging, suppression or abnormal regulation of immune function, impairment of brain structure and function, increased susceptibility to some types of infection and worsening of conditions like depression, heart disease and some types of cancer.”
You will continue to function under massive loads of chronic stress until you simply can’t cope any more.
Chronic stress will negatively impact your life. It will interfere with every aspect of your day-to-day living, or prevent you from living normally.
You will find your heartrate is increased, blood pressure increases, and you will cycle between energized and completely wiped out.
You may lose your appetite, have trouble breathing, have trouble swallowing, suffer from sleep disturbance, be dizzy, forgetful, clumsy, and you may experience panic attacks and social anxiety.
Irrational anger, restlessness, inability to concentrate, social anxiety and feelings of impending doom can build to a crescendo.
You may have more headaches, general aches and pains, inflammation, digestive problems, and immune system issues. You will find yourself getting sick more often.
Chronic stress will contribute to other conditions that require medical or psychological intervention.
Death of a loved one or someone close to you completely alters your reality. You can never be prepared for sudden loss or the impact after protracted illness and subsequent passing.
The stages of grief can take months or years. Some people simply don’t recover from the death of a loved one. The stages of grief don’t always occur in order, and you can bounce between them as you process your loss.
Depression is a common reaction to death and is part of the grieving process. If you suffer from depression over a prolonged period you will be unable to function day-to-day.
Compounding the grief cycle us the loss of a spouse. There is an abrupt change in financial and parenting responsibilities.
All of a sudden the weight of the world has landed on your shoulders. All of the family, financial, parenting, and household decisions now lie with you. It is easy to feel completely overwhelmed.
There is no right or wrong way to process the loss of a loved one. Your world and level of responsibility has had a sudden jolt.
DIVORCE / BREAK UPS
As with death, loss of a marriage or partnership is not unlike the death of a loved one. There is a grieving process to go through.
Unfortunately, when relationships crumble there is often prolonged hostility and drama. This can continue long after the relationship ends if there are children involved.
If the breakup came out of the blue, you will feel like you’ve been hit by a ton of bricks.
Escaping an abusive relationship has additional stressors that can include PTSD, depression, constant fear, and shattered self-esteem.
You may be unable to make any sense of it at all. Your entire foundation has just crumbled and you are left to try and pull a semblance of life back together.
If you are faced with starting over the sheer responsibility may be overwhelming.
Like death, the end of a relationship is an abrupt change to financial, housing and parenting responsibilities.
Depending on the circumstances moving is one of the highest stressors.
Moving for work, military post, or personal reasons suddenly changes your normal routine. Becoming an empty nester, or adult children moving back home is also stressful and upsets your normal routine.
Foreclosure, eviction, economic hardship, natural disasters and loss of relationships are some of the top reasons for moving in the current economic climate.
There is an urgency to get finances secured, a new roof over your head, new jobs, utilities, transportation, schools, packing, moving, unpacking and settling into new routines.
You have to become acclimatized to your new surroundings and figure out where your new favorite haunts are.
Moving adds a lot of additional things to worry about. Once you arrive at your new residence there is the reverse process of unpacking your life and creating your new one.
Moving creates a period of turmoil, loss of routine, chaos, creation of new routines and settling in time.
Major illness, injury, or disability stops you in your tracks. This is a situation you cannot anticipate. It is just suddenly a reality.
Loss of income, mobility, pain, treatment regimes, and mounting healthcare costs are just the beginning.
Applying and being accepted for SSD is a long drawn out process that is denied more often than not the first time you try.
Not being able to interact with loved ones, family, children and friends the way you used to puts additional stress and strain on the family.
Chronic illness will often lead to depression and isolation. Relationships may suffer because your frustration, and anger gets projected onto those closest to you.
Your routine and abilities are curtailed as you adjust to new ways of doing things.
Unexpected loss of employment is usually unforeseen. Even if there is some form of notice, being let go is a traumatizing event.
If your self-esteem and personal identity is tied to your job the impact will be greater.
All of a sudden your source of income is gone. All of your bills and debt are still there.
You have to scramble to file unemployment or update your resume and start applying for other jobs.
You are in danger of losing a roof over your head, putting food on the table or maintaining a vehicle. Your lifestyle is immediately curtailed.
You now have to worry where every little cent is going. Sacrifices have to be made to try and keep up with the basics.
If your job hunt is prolonged you may slip into depression and be unable to function.
Any situation or event that is unexpected and prolonged is detrimental to your physical and psychological wellbeing.
Anything that disrupts your daily routine is a stressor.
Any form of childhood trauma, domestic violence, crime against you or your property, arrests and jail, family members who need care, vehicles breaking down or unexpected repairs to the house are all major stressors.
Underachieving spouses or children, or unstable living arrangements will cause chronic stress and associated symptoms. Constant vigilance will wear you down.
Stress is cumulative. You may be able to get through one major stressor, but add two or three and you are going to get sick.
There is only so much a body and mind can take. Stress is bad for you. Stress will make you sick. Stress can kill you.
STRESS RELATED ILLNESS
On top of increased incidence of cancer, prolonged chronic stress can cause high blood pressure, heart attacks, gastrointestinal disorders, and respiratory ailments.
Prolonged chronic stress and anxiety can lead to other related psychological disorders, these include; Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), Panic disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Social Phobia and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder can stem from any sudden or prolonged traumatic event. This stress can be from childhood trauma or events experienced as an adult. If you are reliving traumatic events over and over at inappropriate times and it is preventing you from moving forward, you may not be able to heal without help.
Seek help if you have constantly racing thoughts, unrealistic fear, worry that won’t go away, or sudden onset of increased fight or flight symptoms. A panic attack will feel like you are completely out of control. You may be paralyzed by fear.
When you are stressed out to the point where you are isolating from the world and going out in public is causing further stress, anxiety and panic attacks and phobia like symptoms, you could be developing social phobias.
If you find yourself focusing on behaviors that you repeat over and over, repetitively for no other reason than you are trying to find relief from your thoughts, you may have developed Obsessive Compulsive disorder (OCD).
WHAT NOT TO DO
Reaching for a drink or a drug is not the way you want to cope with stress. Your judgment will be seriously compromised and your thoughts even more jumbled
Engaging in other risky behaviors in order to avoid dealing with your situation is also a short term fix that will cause further damage to your psyche.
Any of these behaviors will only relieve the stress for a short time. Then you have shame and guilt on top of major stress. Not a good combination.
Any food or drinks that contain excessive amounts of caffeine should be avoided. Or any other natural herbal stimulant pick me up. Ramping your already stressed body up another notch to cope is going to cause you to crash.
Any other form of behavioral addiction or repetitive pattern such as self-harm, gambling, sex, food, or shopping will not make the stress any better. You may get immediate gratification, but the high feeling is short lived.
Any behavior that is out of character for you should be avoided. You do not need to add any more stress to your life.
HOW TO COPE WITH STRESS
There will come a point where you just crash. Chronic prolonged stress will eventually shut you down.
Basic techniques such as deep breathing exercises and meditation can greatly enhance your ability to cope. Giving your body a rest from being highly stressed, even for a little while helps.
Exercise is a healthy way to work off some of the stress. Exercise will release tension, ease aches and pains and release endorphins that make you feel better. This also helps promote a better night’s sleep.
If you are tossing and turning, keep a journal by your bed. Jot down any thoughts that are making your brain race. In general, you cannot fix any problems during the night, so get your thoughts and worries down on paper and let them go for the night.
Write a to-do list so you have a plan for the next day. When you wake up your daily goals are already in front of you, ready to be crossed off.
Engage in your favorite hobbies. Or take up a new one. Join a social group, or spend more time with your friends. Surround yourself with supportive people and stay away from negative people.
If you need help, there is no shame in asking for it. Your friends and family have most likely been waiting in the wings for you to ask. People who love and care about you do not like to see you struggle.
A doctor may put you on anti-depressants or other medications short-term to help you through the crisis and relieve some of the current symptoms of chronic stress.
Healthcare providers often have free classes available to their members that address stress management, grief, mental health, and yoga. Just ask.
Your community will have resources for you. There are many groups that meet regularly to discuss difficulties and work on solutions.
Focus on your own health and wellness. You cannot help anyone else if you are too stressed to function on a daily basis.
Make sure to eat healthy meals, exercise regularly, and practice relaxation exercises. Make time for yourself to practice self-care and indulge in a good book, or have a Netflix marathon.
Don’t lose hope or faith. Most major stressors are fleeting. Focus on one thing at a time and you will soon begin to feel better.
How did you do on the stressor scale? What did you find surprising? Let me now in the comments below.
Find out how to recognize and correct negative self-talk.
Learn how to set goals using the SMART system and build a life you want.
Is your life unmanageable? Take a look at some areas of your life to see what changes you can make.
To download a pdf of this article, click here.
- Stanford Medicine newsletter: http://stanfordmedicine.org/communitynews/2012fall/stress.html
- Top 10 causes of stress: https://www.livestrong.com/article/132015-top-10-causes-stress/
- Top 5 stressful situations: https://www.healthstatus.com/health_blog/depression-stress-anxiety/top-5-stressful-situations/
- Good vs bad stress: https://return2health.com.au/articles/good-bad-stress
- Coping with stress: https://psychcentral.com/lib/20-tips-to-tame-your-stress/
- Holmes Rahe stress inventory: https://www.stress.org/holmes-rahe-stress-inventory/
- Kublar-Ross Model – 5 stages of grief: https://grief.com/the-five-stages-of-grief/
- Harvard Medical center, anxiety and physical illness: https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying healthy/anxiety_and_physical_illness