Rating Life’s Stressful Events

We are a people that are obsessed with lists. We have lists for everything! Let me list some stuff out for you!

Are you interested in buying or checking out a book? Go to the New York Times “best sellers” list before you decide. Do you want to see a movie this weekend? Look in the theatre section of your local paper and see which ten films were the top grossing movies the previous weekend. One of the most effective marketing tools that the “David Letterman Show” ever devised is it’s own skewed version of top ten lists. There is even a book entitled “The Book of Lists”. Put it on your list of things to buy.

It should come as no surprise then, that there is also a list associated with the subject of stress. In 1967, researches T.H. Holmes and R. H. Rahe created an inventory of events that occur to most people during their lives. They gave each event a number representing the level of stress and then put them in order with the most stressful event at the top (death of a spouse rated 100 pts) and the least stressful event at the bottom (minor violations of the law received only 11 points).

Their study may be dated, but the idea is still relevant. I do not know what process they used to determine the numeric value of the stressful events they consider. If a hundred people were given the stressful events used on Holmes’ and Rahes’ list and asked to put them in order of priority, you can be sure that none of the lists would come back exactly the same. In fact, make up your own list and give each stressful event a value based on how much it affects you personally.

If I reorganized their list, minor violations of the law would not be at the bottom. Instead, I would put vacation as the least stressful event. At least that is the idea behind vacations, isn’t it? On the other hand, for reasons known only to them, vacations may be quite stressful for some people. If you are short on money and don’t get along with your spouse, a vacation might feel like a trip to hell.

Getting back to violations of the law. An individual of less than stellar character who already had two felony strikes against him might have a panic attack if he saw a traffic ticket on his car window. But this assumes he has a heart and a degree of conscience. If the person in question were a sociopath, he might steal that same car and the occupants in it, drop them off in the desert, and keep going. Actually, stress is probably not part of a sociopath’s vocabulary.

For most people though, stress is a real issue. It is a frequent companion, an ever-present threat, and a powerful enemy. We normally have little difficulty recognizing the sense of stress associated with certain events. The small stressors might cause your stomach to flutter. A medium sized stressful event might put your nerves on edge and cause you to lose your concentration. A major stressor can affect you mentally and physically to such a degree that you may need to be hospitalized.

Perhaps you don’t want to go to the trouble of making your own list of stressful events. Maybe you are so out of touch with your feelings that you would not know where to begin. The following is an abbreviated version taken from Holmes and Rahe’s more extensive list:

Points
Death of a spouse 100
Divorce 75
Personal injury or illness 53
Fired from work 47
Sex difficulties 39
Foreclosure of mortgage or loan 30
Trouble with in-laws 29
Outstanding personal achievement 28
Revision of personal habits 24
Change in residence 20
Change in church activities 18
New sleeping habits 15
Christmas Season 12
Minor violation of the law 11

Isn’t it interesting that according to the researchers “outstanding personal achievement” rates 28 points? These gentlemen might prefer blending into the background rather than basking in the limelight. Being recognized for outstanding personal achievement would not be on my stress list but I have a different perspective on living than they do, in the same way that you have a frame of reference towards life that varies from mine.

The point is that we need to become aware of what stresses us out individually, and to what degree. If you are alert to the stressful events that you encounter as you move through life, you will notice when your plate is too full.

If you deny the stress in your life, you may overload your plate unknowingly, leading not to a full stomach, but a full-scale nervous breakdown.

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