By Rod Moser, PA, PhD
In 1967, when I was just a lad in high school, there was a landmark publication called the Holmes-Rahe Social Readjustment Rating Scale. It would assign a number to the 100 greatest stressors in your life, with 100 being the highest and about 10 being the lowest. That scale is still used today.
Here are the top ten stressors in 1967:
1. Death of a spouse
3. Marital Separation
4. Jail term
5. Death of a close family member
6. Personal injury/illness
8. Fired from a job
9. Marital reconciliation
As I read the list, I cannot dispute that the death of a spouse would be at the top, though I’m surprised death of a child isn’t a top concern. I guess they thought that #5: the death of a close family member may have referred to this. Of the top ten stressors, four were related somehow to marriage. Granted, marriage can be stressful, but modern studies have proven that married people tend to live longer (maybe it just seems that way).
To be fair, I went to the bottom of the stressor list to find the lowest stressors in 1967. They included:
1. Minor traffic violations
4. Change in eating habits
5. Change in the number of family gatherings
6. Change in sleeping habits
7. A mortgage of $10,000 or less
8. Change in social activities
9. Change in church activities
10. Change in recreation habits
As a 16-year old in 1967, I think my list would have probably read (not necessarily in this order):
1. Vietnam draft
2. Pimples / acne
3. Algebra II
4. Girlfriend issues
5. Finding a summer job
6. Planning for college
7. Getting a driver’s license
8. Being obsessed with sex
9. Clothes / Hair
I worried about gasoline prices back then, too, since it took nearly three dollars to fill up my Volkswagen bug at 31 cents a gallon. I was a bit concerned about the growing problem with hippies, but I hadn’t met any yet.
Stressors are truly age related, cultural, geographic, highly individualized, and, of course, very contemporary. Some of the things stressed people out in 1967 may seem trivial in 2012. I think that list may include the following:
1. Untimely death of anyone close, especially your child
2. The economy
3. Lack of health insurance
4. Loss of a job or fear of losing a job
5. Loss of a home
6. Moving and downsizing
8. Serious illnesses / cancer
9. Uncontrolled debts
People alive today have survived some serious economic depressions, stock market crashes, downsized economies, several major and minor (if there is such a thing) wars, terrorist attacks, political scandals, fuel prices, toilet paper shortages, killer bees, segregation/racial tension, Johnny Carson leaving, serial murderers, earthquakes, tornadoes, floods/droughts, fires, hurricanes, Spanish flu, Asian flu, Swine flu, Bird Flu, Hillbilly flu (I made that up),the breakup of the Beatles, Elvis’s demise, the heartbreak of psoriasis, poisoned Tylenol, the Unibomber, HMOs, rising movie/popcorn prices, undocumented aliens, identity theft, and Internet viruses…an endless, changing list of stressors.
Stress is a killer. It contributes to strokes, high blood pressure, and heart attacks. Stress can make virtually any medical condition or disease worse. But, more than that, stress is a killer of dreams and a thief that robs people of the simple pleasures of life.
There will always be life stressors, and we will always have the task of coping in the ways that we choose. We can choose to meditate or medicate, to procrastinate or capitulate. We can drink a glass of wine or down a fifth of scotch. We can curl up in a ball and give in, or re-organize our lives and come out fighting for survival.
Someone very close to you (or perhaps it is you) is fighting for their life right now. They are frightened, worried, and desperate. They may not ask for help and may be drowning in front of you. You know who they are.
Reach out as a friend, or even as an anonymous stranger. Lend that all-important helping-hand.
Not only will you help reduce their stress; you will most certainly reduce yours.