We have known for some time that stress can exacerbate any physical or mental illness. Some weeks ago I did an interview with Dr. Nitin Sethi, a New York neurologist who sees the effects of stress on patients who come to see him for neurological disorders such as Multiple Sclerosis or migraines. We also know that stress is also associated with an increased risk for such mental and physical illnesses such as:
• Breast Cancer
This list is just a fraction of many medical and mental conditions which are affected by stress.
They say that stress depends upon our subjective interpretation and perception of events in our life. But are there some life events which most people consistently consider to be highly stressful? The answer is yes.
Back in 1967 Psychiatrists Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe looked at the medical records of more than 5,000 patients to see if there was a link between stressful events and illness. The patients were asked to look at a list of 43 life events and check them off if they had experienced any of the stressful life events within the past two years. Each stressful event was weighted with a score. The total scores were then calculated and the higher the score, the more likely it was found that that patient would become ill. This survey is called The Holmes-Rahe Life Stress Inventory or The Social Readjustment Rating Scale and you can take the test yourself by following the link to the stress inventory.
The top ten stressful events listed on the original Holmes-Rahe Life Stress Inventory included:
1. Death of a spouse
3. Marriage separation
4. Jail term
5. Death of a close relative
6. Injury or illness
8. Fired from job
9. Marriage reconciliation
In more recent years the Holmes-Rahe Life Stress Inventory was tested for validity in 2001 by researchers and their results were published in Occupational Medicine. This more recent study found that the original list of Holmes and Rahe to be relevant today for the most part but there were some noted differences. Here is the top ten list of life stressors as found by researcher Anne Spurgeon and colleagues:
1. Death of a spouse
2. Jail sentence
3. Death of immediate family member
4. Immediate family member commits suicide
5. Getting into debt beyond means of repayment
6. Period of homelessness
7. Immediate family member seriously ill
8. Unemployment (of head of household)
10. Break up of family
It seems that the death of a spouse is still considered the number one life stressor after all the years since the original 1960’s study. Jail, divorce, loss of job, and death of a family member are also considered to be extremely stressful events. In this more recent study it appears that financial difficulties or the results of job loss are high on people’s list of stressors including unemployment, going into debt, and homelessness. Another top stressor on this list is suicide of a family member. This makes sense since suicide rates have been steadily climbing and especially in recent years.