Stress – Fact File

We are all bound to experience some form of stress at some point in our lives. Stress can occur in various situations, both negative and positive ones. However, it is how we deal with that stress that is important. 

Stress can affect how we feel emotionally, mentally and physically. It can also affect the way in which we behave. Below I have listed some of the various symptoms related to stress:

 

Emotionally:

  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Being irritable or feeling ‘wound up’
  • Feeling anxious and/or fearful
  • Lacking in self-esteem
  • Feeling depressed
  • Feeling as though you are a burden
  • Being unable to enjoy yourself
  • Being uninterested in life
  • Feeling a sense of dread
  • Feeling as though you’ve lost your sense of humour

Mentally:

  • Experiencing racing thoughts
  • Constantly worrying
  • Having difficulty concentrating
  • Finding it hard to make decisions
  • Experiencing memory problems
  • Having poor judgement
  • Seeing only the negative side of things

Physically:

  • Experiencing muscle tension or pain
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Sleeping problems
  • Feeling tired all of the time
  • Eating more or less than you would usually
  • Diahorrea and/or nausea
  • Chest pain and/or increased heart rate
  • Loss of sex drive
  • Frequent colds/flu

Behavioural:

  • Drinking or smoking more than usual
  • Snapping at people
  • Avoiding things and/or people that are causing you problems
  • Neglecting responsibilities
  • Nervous habits – nail biting, pacing back and forth, fiddling with things, not being able to sit still
  • Being more withdrawn than usual

We are all unique individuals and therefore our tolerance to stressful situations will be different. Some of us may work well under high levels of pressure, but others may find it stressful to get out of the house on time in the morning. Just because others cope ‘better’ than you when faced with the same or similar challenges does not mean that you are ‘weaker’ than they are. Some of us can overcome stressful situations on our own, whereas others may need a helping hand and that is perfectly okay.

Stress does not only occur in negative situations, in fact, there are many positive situations that can cause stress. For example, planning a wedding, having a baby or being promoted in your line of work can all be very stressful too.

Stress may be caused by one large stressor or multiple little ones. Again we are all different and our tolerance will not be the same.
Holmes and Rahe (1967), developed a questionnaire known as The Social Readjustment Rating Scale (SRRS). This is a way of identifying major life stressors. The questionnaire consists of 43 stressful life events that have each been given a ‘Life Change Unit’ based on how traumatic people reported such situations to be. The individual will go through the events on the list and tick all of the ones that they have experienced within the last year. Once they reach the end of the list, their life change units will be added together to give them a result:

  • 150 points or less – A relatively low amount of stress, and low susceptibility of experiencing a stress-induced breakdown.
  • 150 – 300 points – Implies about 50% chance of experiencing a major health breakdown within the next two years.
  • 300 points or more – Implies 80% chance of a major health breakdown.

You can take a look at the questionnaire below (the number next to each event is the Life Change Unit assigned to it):

  1. Death of a spouse – 100
  2. Divorce – 73
  3. Marital separation from mate – 65
  4. Detention in jail or other institution – 63
  5. Death of close family member – 63
  6. Major personal injury or illness – 53
  7. Marriage – 50
  8. Being fired from work – 47
  9. Marital reconciliation with mate -45
  10. Retirement from work – 45
  11. A major change in the health or behaviour of a close family member – 44
  12. Pregnancy – 40
  13. Sexual difficulties -39
  14. Gaining a new family member (birth, adoption, older adult moving in etc) – 39
  15. Major business readjustment -39
  16. A major change in financial state (a lot better off or worse off than previously) -38
  17. Death of a close friend – 37
  18. Changing to a different line of work – 36
  19. A change in the number of arguments with spouse (more or less than usual) – 35
  20. Taking on a mortgage – 31
  21. Foreclosure of mortgage or loan – 30
  22. A major change in the responsibilities you have at work (promotion or demotion) – 29
  23. Son or daughter leaving home – 29
  24. In-law troubles – 29
  25. Outstanding personal achievement – 28
  26. Spouse beginning or ceasing work outside of the home – 26
  27. Beginning or ceasing formal schooling – 26
  28. A major change in living conditions (remodelling, deterioration of neighbourhood etc) – 25
  29. Revision of personal habits – 24
  30. Troubles with your boss – 23
  31. Major changes in working hours or conditions -20
  32. Changes in residence – 20
  33. Changing to a new school – 20
  34. A major change in type and/or amount of recreation – 19
  35. A major change in church activity (more or less than usual) – 19
  36. A major change in social activities (more or less than usual) – 18
  37. Taking on a loan – 17
  38. A major change in sleeping patterns – 16
  39. A major change in the number of family get-togethers – 15
  40. A major change in eating habits (eating more or less than usual) – 14
  41. Vacation – 13
  42. Major holidays – 12
  43. Minor violations of the law (eg. parking tickets, speeding tickets, disturbing peace etc) – 11

At the time this post was written my personal score was: 195 (50% chance of a major health breakdown within the next 2 years)

I personally do not see how this scale can accurately apply to everyone as we all find various things more challenging than others. But this scale is still somewhat used by medical professionals when assessing stress.

Long-term chronic stress can have a negative effect on our health. The nervous system is not very good at distinguishing between emotional and physical threats, therefore if you are experiencing an emotional stressor (such as arguing with your spouse), your body may react as though you are in a real life or death situation. The more our emergency stress system is activated, the easier it will be to trigger in the future and the harder it will be to shut off. Therefore, if you experience stress frequently, your body may be in a heightened state of stress the majority of the time and in turn, can lead to serious health problems.

Chronic stress can suppress the immune system as well as upsetting the digestive system and reproductive system.

Experiencing long term stress can lead to an increased risk of heart attacks and/or strokes as well as speeding up the ageing process and leaving you more vulnerable to other mental health conditions. Other health risks include:

  • Depression and anxiety
  • pain of any kind
  • sleeping problems
  • autoimmune diseases
  • digestive issues
  • skin conditions
  • heart disease
  • weight problems
  • reproductive issues
  • thinking and memory issues

Coping With Stress:

It is important for us to try and identify the signs of stress as quickly as possible. It is also important for us to sit down and try to pinpoint the source of stress, whether this be multiple smaller issues or one large issue. Once the source has been determined, we can then try to work out the best plan for moving forward.

If you think you are experiencing signs of stress, physical or emotional, it is important not to ignore them. Try to organise your stressors into categories:

  • Those that you have no control over.
  • Those that are likely to get better over time.
  • Those that have a practical solution.

Sometimes problems can seem much bigger than they are, so it is important to take a step back and assess the issue. What is the worst case scenario and how would you deal with that if it was to occur? What is the best scenario and how would you tackle that? What outcome is it that you are hoping to achieve? Are there various strategies that you can try when it comes to dealing with this stressor? Can you ask other people for help and support?

There will always be someone there to help and support you, no matter what the situation you are in may be. There is absolutely no shame in seeking such help. No one is expected to deal with everything on their own.

We all deserve a break from time to time, so do not feel guilty for taking a day to just look after yourself. Self-care is so important and should not be pushed aside. Whenever you feel you are getting stressed, try to lower your workload, spend some time relaxing and caring for yourself (body and mind), reach out to others, tackle the issue head-on if you can and remember that you are only human.

Sources:

NHS – How to cope with stress

MentalHealth.org – Dealing with Stress

Mind Charity and Stress

HelpGuide – Stress symptoms, signs and causes

SimplyPsychology – Stress and Life Events

SimplyPsychology – The body’s response to stress

 

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