Stress and Life Events

Major life events that occur in an individual’s lifetime such as death of a loved one, pregnancy, divorce or redundancy all cause stress. Stress, if left unresolved, could lead to serious health problems.

No two people will respond to a crisis in the same way. Equally, different crises will not envoke the same reaction. A Major life event can subsequently impact each individuals’ life in a unique way. However, there are some life events that can cause more stress than others. Recognising such events makes it possible to anticipate and even prepare for them. Therefore, it could be possible to potentially limit the amount of stress the body is subjected to.

The Social Readjustment Rating Scale (SRRS) was created by Dr. Thomas H. Holmes and Dr. Richard H. Rahe. Based on their well known study in 1967 into the effects of life events and the subsequent follow-up studies, the two doctors came up with a chart that lists a total of 43 events that can cause stress. Each of the events are ranked in order of their LCU (Life Change Unit), starting with the most high risk changes down to the lower risk ones.

Although there are many other factors in life that can lead to stress, Holmes and Rahe decided to concentrate on just these common key events.

While this approach is obviously a simplification of complex situations, using the SRRS can provide a useful start in recognising and adjusting to life-changing events.

To complete the test, an individual must add up the LCU points of the events that have occured in the last 12 months making a total LCU score.

  • An LCU score less than 150 = a 35% chance of developing an illness within the next two years.
  • An LCU score between 150-300 = a 51% chance.
  • An LCU score over 300 = 80% chance of illness developing, which could become a very serious health risk.

The Social Readjustment Rating Scale

Life Event LCU
Death of spouse 100
Divorce 73
Marital Separation 65
Prison Term 63
Death of a close family member 63
Personal injury or illness 53
Marriage 50
Being Fired from work 47
Reconciliation with spouse 45
Retirement 45
Change in health of family member 44
Pregnancy 40
Sexual difficulties 39
Addition of family member 39
Major business readjustment 39
Major changes in financial state 38
Death of a close friend 37
Changing to a different line of work 36
Changes in frequency of arguments with spouse 35
Mortgage or loan over £10,000 31
Foreclosure on a mortgage or loan 30
Major change in responsibilities at work 29
Children leaving home 29
Trouble with in-laws 29
Outstanding personal achievement 28
Spouse begins or stops work 26
Starting or ending school 26
Changes in living condition 25
Revision of personal habits (dress, manners, associations) 24
Trouble with boss 23
Change in work hours, conditions 20
Change in residence 20
Changes in school 20
Changes in recreational activities 19
Changes in church activities 19
Changes in social activities 18
Mortgage or loan under £10,000 17
Changes in sleeping habits 16
Changes in number of family gatherings 15
Changes in eating habits 15
Going on holiday 13
Christmas 12
Minor violation of the law 11

Holmes and Rahe conducted subsequent research which was complemented by epidemiological studies that investigated the direct relationship between illness and stress. They found strong links between the experience of a stressful life event and subsequent illness including sudden cardiac death, diabetes, pregnancy and birth complications, autoimmune diseases, coronary heart disease, gastrointestinal disorders, and chronic pain. Additionally, the stress generated by a stressful life event has been found to account, at least in part, for psychological disorders including anxiety and depression.

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