“Am I Stressed?” Four Stress Tests

How stressed are you?

It’s not always easy to know if you are indeed stressed. It doesn’t have to mean “stressing out” at people. It can go “inside” where it can do far more harm. Here are four kinds of stress test for you to use.

1. This 30 second test has been created with the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy for National Stress Awareness Day. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-24756311

2. This Simple ten-question test to assess how stressed you are is on my site.

3. This one helps you detect and track your stress symptoms over time:  Track Stress Symptoms

4. This one is the classis Stress vulnerability test for the impact of Life Events

Want to know what is stress really? It’s not what you might have thought. I explain it clearly in my article http://abetterlife-uk.com/what-are-the-facts-about-stress-how-can-you-reduce-stress/

 

Detecting & Coping with Stress

In an earlier article I explored the question of what is stress really. This gave insights on how to avoid stress. Here we will look at detecting and coping with stress. This is the approach that I use in my stress workshops at a local NHS hospital trust.

Stress can creep up on you, and to catch it early you will need a method to detect it, so that you are aware of it. That’s the first step in my ABC approach to detecting and avoiding stress.

Awareness is about paying attention to emotional and physical changes, asking others who know you, maybe completing a questionnaire, and possibly seeing the doctor if you are seriously concerned.

There are various self-analysis questionnaires you can do, ranging from the quick and simple to the more formal. I have listed some with links at the end of this article.

A good idea is to track the symptoms that you are experiencing month to month. Use the two tables of physical and emotional symptoms that I gave in my previous article, simply circle those which apply to you, then repeat in a month’s time. Are there more of fewer circles?

Balance prompts you to get a wider perspective. Stress can often arise when we get too drawn into an issue, and we lose sight of other aspects in life which, on balance, you may realize is not really so bad. Mentally “step out” and imagine looking at yourself from above any situation which is bothering you. How does it look from there? What can be learnt? Also, look at other aspects of your life, and other activities that you take part in. Let yourself recall past good times, or upcoming events that you are looking forward to.

Choice is about willingness to taking back some power.  Usually we know what we don’t like in life, but we are less good at actually thinking through what we really would like our own life to be like, in any useful practical detail. So after you have stepped back and calmed down, begin to imagine and note down what you would actually like to have your life look like, in detail.

 Even more importantly, ask yourself what did you do bring it about and to keep it? It’s no good waiting for someone else to deliver you a happy stress-free life; other people have their own worries and concerns to deal with. A good starting reframe is the so-called serenity prayer:

Further Analysis

If you really want to get serious and resolve the root of your stress, then these are the kinds of questions I would initially ask you:

  • What precisely is the problem that you are experiencing? What actual factual evidence do you have or what are the symptoms?
  •  What situations trigger it off or makes it worse, and what makes it better? When did it start? What was happening then in your life around that time? What feelings and emotions were associated with those situations? What is the relationship of that to your present situation?
  • If you tracked these feelings way back in your life, what were you earliest memories of having even the faintest of feelings like these?
  • Ask you inner, subconscious mind: What do I need to know or become of aware of in order to resolve this? What do I need to change in my life?  What aspects of my life would I refuse to change?
  • What are my greatest fears or concerns in life? (These concerns may even be the source of your greatest motivations in life.)

Resources

These are examples of tests  to detect and measure stress:

Simple ten-question test to assess how stressed you are

Track Stress Symptoms

Stress vulnerability test for the impact of Life Events

 

 

Quick Stress Test

How Stressful Is Your Life?

This self?evaluation quiz indicates physical and emotional symptoms that show how you relate to the daily stresses in your life. First, think about how you feel this month.

 Then score yourself on each of the following statements. Mark 10 points for answering “most of the time”; count 5 points for “some of the time”; put zero for answering “almost never”. You can mark ‘in between’ scores if you wish.

____      1.    I often feel tense or pressured.

____      2.    I frequently feel sad, hopeless, or depressed.

____      3.    I often feel guilty or inadequate to meet the demands of my life.

____      4.    I have difficulty falling asleep (without medication) and I don’t feel refreshed when I wake.

____      5.    I’m unable to sit still, so I move around constantly or toy with some object.

____      6.    I get so upset that I’m afraid I’m losing control of myself.

____      7.    I’m trying to work through a serious personal problem, and I worry about it almost constantly.

____      8.    I don’t feel like I can totally enjoy much of anything.

____      9.    I feel like I’m in an impossible situation I’m powerless to improve.

____      10. I don’t have enough energy to accomplish all the tasks that I should.

____      TOTAL SCORE

 

A total of 50 or more points indicates a need to take action to improve your coping techniques and reduce the stress level in your life.

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 

———

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?

Symptoms of Stress

These are typical of the type and range of reactions you might experience under stress. Remember, everyone of us is unique – we don’t all behave or react the same way! You can use this list to note any symptoms which apply to you (i) right now; (ii)  at times in the past when things have been better, and (iii) to check again say in a couple of weeks from now. This way you can keep track of changes; watch for things getting better (good!) or getting worse (a sign that something in your life might need attention).

Emotional Symptoms of Stress1

Physical Symptoms of Stress1

 (1) Source: Prof Greg Wilkinson, Understanding Stress. Family Doctor Series. The BMA & Family Doctor Publications.

 

Facts About Stress & Reducing It

Stress – it seems that it lurks in almost every aspect of life these days. But what do we really mean by stress? Is it always a bad thing? What makes it bad? What are the facts about stress?

This is the approach that I use in my stress workshops at a local NHS hospital trust. Let’s begin with an over-arching definition: stress is the pressure that you expose yourself to. Actually, we are often more concerned with how we each respond to stress; your physical and emotional reactions, or stress responses. In physics we speak of the strain on the system when it is stressed. So you could argue that we should talk about the strain we experience when under stress.

Consequently, when we talk of “stress levels”, we should take care whether we mean the person’s stress responses, or the levels of pressure they are facing.
Of course, a little bit of pressure can be productive, can’t it? It can give you motivation, and help you to perform better at something. However, too much pressure or prolonged pressure can lead to stress, which is unhealthy for the mind and body.

Everyone reacts differently to stress, don’t they? And some have a higher threshold than others; they can bear more strain before they experience some stress response. This idea that individuals have unique biological, psychological and social sensitivities is the core of the “stress vulnerability model” proposed by Zubin and Spring (1977). When it gets too intense, or too prolonged, the resulting stress response can be physical, mental and emotional symptoms.

The variety of possible symptoms is wider than you might have imagined (see the table below), both physical and emotional. Over time, these culminate in the majority of cases of anxiety and depression, the most common mental health problems in the UK(and mental health problems are the most common health problems in the UK). Research by mental health charities suggests that a quarter of the population will have a mental health problem at some point in their lives.

How does stress happen? A model of stress
When faced with a situation that makes you stressed, your body releases chemicals, including cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline. These invoke the ‘fight or flight’ feelings that help us to deal with the situation. However, when you’re in a situation that prevents you from fighting or escaping, such as being on an overcrowded train, the chemicals are not used and their effects are felt by the body.
The stress vulnerability model tells us that everyone is different, and we each perceive situations differently (sensitivity) and have our own physical and emotional reactions (personal responses) to a situation.

A build-up of adrenaline and noradrenaline increases blood pressure, heart rate, and the amount that you sweat. Cortisol prevents your immune system from functioning properly, as well as releasing fat and sugar into your blood stream. The real trouble starts if you keep finding (putting?) yourself back in such stressful situations over and over, or if they get more intense.

That’s when mental, behavioural and physical symptoms can develop.

Symptoms of Stress
Emotional Symptoms of stress*
 
Physical Symptoms of Stress*

*Source: Prof Greg Wilkinson, Understanding Stress. Family Doctor Series. The BMA & Family Doctor Publications.

How to beat stress?
Well, notice the stress has three contributors: the situation, your responses (physical and emotional) and your sensitivities to the situation.

Reduce any one of these, and you impact on your stress response. Most of us want to change the situation in some way; such as how certain people treat us, or trying circumstances such as the bad traffic everyday on the way to work, or difficult clients or customers. Such external factors are hard to influence (short of direct avoidance).

The second factor is about your individual emotional and physical responses. See the table below, for examples. You might learn to reduce these by any of a number of methods, such as taking a break, going for a short walk, getting more exercise, learning to meditate, eating more healthily, learning time management or project management etc. There is plenty of this kind of advice around (the little Understanding Stress book I mentioned above is quite good, actually).

However, the third factor is usually overlooked, and is about your sensitivities to situations. For example, if you get upset if people shout, or you can’t easily say no, or don’t like (and therefore avoid) conflict, or have a need to please others (including the boss), then you are primed for more stress. This is because the world will be the way it is, whether you like it or not, and you will suffer if you can’t assertively make your way through it and get what you want and let things go that are really about other people’s issues.

Here’s the really interesting thing; most people don’t realise that you can modify these sensitivities and bring them back into balance. Do that, and what must happen to your stress response? That’s right, it drops away dramatically. And that’s the kind of mind work that a good brief therapist can achieve in a matter of a few hours work with you.