Causes of Stress – Life Events

The notion that major events in life can set us up for stress was assessed by Holmes and Raheback in 1967, and their  Stress Scale is still the most often quoted. You can use this to get an indication of what might be behind any signs of stress that you might be experiencing, or to warn you to take steps to reduce stress.

1Holmes, T & Rahe, R (1967). The social readjustment rating scale, Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 11:2 pp 213-218

Events and ‘typical’ stress rating

highest risk:
# Death of husband or wife  # Divorce or marital separation  # Jail term  # Death of close family member  # Personal injury or illness  # Marriage  # Loss of job  #Moving house

high risk:
# Marital reconciliation  # Retirement  # Serious illness of family member  # Pregnancy  #Sex difficulties  # New child  # Change of job  # Money problems  # Death of close friend

moderate risk:
# More family arguments  # Big mortgage  # Legal action over debt  # Change in responsibilities at work  # Son or daughter leaving home  # Trouble with in-laws  # Outstanding personal achievement  # Wife begins or stops work  # Begin or end of school  # Change in living conditions  # Revision of personal habits  # Trouble with boss

low risk:
# Change in work hours / conditions  # Change in schools  # Change in recreation  # Change in church activities  # Change in social activities  # Small mortgage or loan  # Change in sleeping habits  # Change in contact with family  # Change in eating habits   # Holidays  # Christmas/annual family gathering  # Minor law-breaking

Do take into account that life events and social changes tend to be particularly stressful when they are:

  • Unpredictable
  • Unfamiliar
  • Major
  • Intense
  • Unavoidable
  • Inevitable

Don’t take the table too literally. It is common for people who feel stressed to search to look for some events to “blame”, but these may be the result, rather than the cause, of the stress. A feeling of not being able to cope with new duties or responsibilities, for example, may be the result of some other possibly unrecognised stress.

You can put a score to each of these events to evaluate your vulnerability to stress. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holmes_and_Rahe_stress_scale 

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To help discover the source of your stress, begin by sitting down and asking yourself whether there are any social, physical or emotional factors that are affecting you:

  • How much are you smoking?
  • How much alcohol are you drinking?
  • How little exercise are you taking ?
  • Could you be ill?
  • Is there some new element in your life?
  • Has there been any change in your general circumstances?
  • Have long-standing problems recently become worse?
  • Is someone close to you facing difficulties that affect you?
  • Do you have disagreements about someone or something?
  • Is some situation leaving you feeling that you’re not good enough or at fault?
  • Are you taking or being made to take a new role, or perhaps carrying or being asked to carry too much responsibility?
  • Do you have unspoken fears or frustrations?
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