‘I’m so stressed !‘ How familiar does this statement feel to you? We all have times where we feel the pressure of work, or life events, are pushing us to a point where our emotional, mental and physical responses are heightened; and where it can tip us over into a state where we cannot focus on anything other than an issue which sits front and centre in our consciousness.

And yet, some stress may be good for us. Research from Berkeley University, California [Kirby 2013] concluded that brief significant but stressful events caused stem cells to grow,  improving mental performance a few weeks later. So some level of acute stress may indeed help us to improve how we perform. Stepping out of our comfort zone and into a new stretch zone may indeed help us to strengthen and adapt our cognitive muscles!

But where is the point at which an acute stress episode tips over into long term, chronic stress? Longer term, chronic stress can lead to an increased risk of issues such as obesity, heart disease and depression, so how do we recognize when we might be at that increased risk?

The original Life stressors index was formulated by Holmes and Rahe, two psychologists in 1967. Their research was based on monitoring the health interventions for a group of individuals who had been through the following life events, and assigning each event a ‘ Life change Unit’ score   :

  1. Death of spouse or child (100)
  2. Divorce (73)
  3. Marriage / relationship separation (65)
  4. Imprisonment (63)
  5. Death of close family member (63)
  6. Injury or illness (53)
  7. Marriage (50)
  8. Job loss (47)
  9. Marriage reconciliation (45)
  10. Retirement (45)

Interestingly, moving house, which so many of us quote as one of the most stressful events we can experience does not actually appear in their listing!

But this is a list which was compiled over fifty years ago – how relevant is it for us now?

There’s no official update to the Holmes and Rahe indez, the closest and most recent update is a listing compiled by Web MD in early 2022. 

  1. Death of a loved one
  2. Divorce
  3. Loss of a job
  4. Increase in financial obligations 
  5. Getting married
  6. Moving to a new home 
  7. Chronic illness or injury
  8. Emotional problems
  9. Taking care of an elderly or sick family member
  10. A traumatic event 

Comparing the two lists – and moving house is now included –  as are financial worries, hugely relevant as we focus on the cost of living at present. And so is ‘taking care of an elderly or sick family member ‘, something which many of us can relate to as successive generations live longer.

So – be aware of your own levels of stress, and think about what might be causing it. And if you are feeling the impact of longer term, chronic stress then please do make sure you seek out some help for yourself – the team here at Healthy You can help!!

Sue Noyes