Quantifying Stress and How We Can Manage It
What comes to mind when you hear the word “stress”? Perhaps an imagery of you worrying about meeting certain deadlines, finding means to pay off that housing rent, or cramming knowledge to do well in the upcoming exam?
As with everything else, stress can be beneficial as long as it’s present in moderation. While a certain level of stress may be necessary to provide motivation and encourage positive growth, excessive and unhealthy levels of stress may cause undesirable mental and physical health consequences. Stressors may be long-term, such as the routine stress related to the pressures of school, work, family, and other daily responsibilities, or short-term occurrences brought on by sudden changes, such as losing a job, illness, or facing dangerous situations. With that said, how can we quantify this feeling of emotion or physical tension? How do we know if the level of stress we are facing exceeds the healthy range?
Holmes-Rahe Stress Inventory
In 1967, Psychiatrists Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe created the Social Readjustment
Rating Scale (SRRS), now commonly known as the Holmes-Rahe Stress Inventory, a scale which aims to measure the likelihood of a stress-induced health breakdown. The inventory consists of a list of 43 life events, with each called a Life Change Unit (LCU). The events are ranked according to a “mean value”, which correlates to a weightage reflecting the severity of the life event. For instance, the death of a spouse would be worth 100 points, while minor violations of the law would be worth 11 points. The inventory takes a comprehensive approach to measuring stress, and does not solely include negative life experiences. Other processes of change can also contribute to stress, some of which may not necessarily be adversarial. The scale takes into account other events such as pregnancy, revision of personal habits, or changes in residence or a new school.
Take the stress inventory!
Once you have gotten through the list of life events, tally your score for the respective Life Change Units that apply to you. According to the Holmes-Rahe statistical prediction model, a total score of 150 or less would suggest a relatively low amount of life change, and a low susceptibility to stress-induced health breakdown. A score between 150 to 300 would indicate a 50% chance of health breakdown in the next 2 years, and a score of 300 or more would indicate an 80% chance of health breakdown in the next 2 years.
Navigating life stressors is of great importance – it prevents one from suffering from the far-reaching impact of a burnout, which can manifest in terms of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion. Stress that comes with change is inevitable, but you can always adopt new, healthy approaches to navigating tumultuous times.
- Maintain the pillars of healthy living. When you find yourself feeling overwhelmed by new day-to-day adjustments, it is easy to neglect your basic needs. This includes eating well, sleeping (at regular hours), exercising and having social time. While we understand that trade-offs may be necessary, strive to maintain normalcy and avoid compromising on them as much as possible. Try sticking to your usual bedtime routine, eating balanced meals, staying hydrated, and sticking to your exercise routine. At the same time, avoid turning to unhealthy coping strategies such as increasing alcohol consumption. There is a strong correlation between your physical and mental health – by taking care of your body, finding comfort and relief amidst adversity will come with greater ease.
- Rely on your social support system. Talking to your friends, family or any trusted person about your worries can take a load off your mind. At times, speaking to them can also give you some insight and advice from a 3rd person’s point of view, which may aid you in navigating through difficulties. Of course, seeking help from a mental health professional is also an option. Therapists can help you work through and process any negative emotions, and guide you through particularly stressful situations with problem-solving strategies.
- Take time for self care. Self care is a practice that is often overlooked. While some people associate self care with treating themselves to luxurious meals or having a staycation, self care can be as simple as taking time to read your favourite book, or engaging in a hobby. It does not have to be long periods of time, but even a short 30 minute rest can be very helpful in relieving stress. Doing so will also help increase productivity, since you can return with a fresher state of mind.
- Revise your thought patterns. When the going gets tough, it is natural that we may assume the worst, or have a bleak outlook. However, that can feed into the vicious cycle, heightening stress levels. Take time to assess your thought patterns. Practising mindfulness or other relaxation techniques can help you think more clearly, and to regain control over your spiralling thoughts. In addition, try generating positive thoughts, and affirm yourself that things will improve. Remind yourself of how you have successfully navigated past challenges, and focus on your strengths. This way, you’ll feel more empowered.
Stress is part and parcel of life, and a natural way that our minds and bodies respond to major life changes. However, we can always improve on the way we handle stress, and in a manner that is to our benefit. If you or a loved one is struggling to cope with stress or any major life events, feel free to contact us and seek help.
https://www.stress.org/holmes-rahe-stress-inventory (Accessed 19/04/2022)
Photo by Luis Villasmil on Unsplash