Too Much Stress?

The economy. Health care. Global warming. War. Mortgage payments. Weekly food bills. Gas. Car payment. Tuition. How are my parents doing? How are the kids doing? How is my marriage doing? Time for friends. Time for exercise. Time for healthy eating. Time for vacation. Am I living the life I was meant to live? Am I happy?

Yes, we live in very stressful times. The current economic and social climate, along with many other events or circumstances, can create anxiety and stress—the feeling of being unable to get out from under it all.

Since the early 1900s, practitioners in the fields of biological science and psychology have had great interest in understanding and managing stress. In 1914, Walter Cannon, a Harvard physiologist, described the theory of the flight-or-fight response, an innate physiological survival mechanism in which the body prepares to fight or run when confronted with a perceived threat.

Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe, researchers at the University of Washington School of Medicine, created the "Social Readjustment Rating Scale"1 to find if they could quantify an individual's level of stress and correlate this to physical illness. This scale has been used worldwide, and the results have held steady across culture and gender.

While the Social Readjustment Rating Scale quantifies major life events, the stress of everyday hassles—running out of cat food, waking up late for work, spilling coffee on your shirt—can accumulate and be just as damaging to our health in the long run as major stressors.

In the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale, each life event is assigned a number that reflects the relative amount of stress the particular event can cause. In order to estimate the cumulative stress, add up the numbers corresponding to the events that have occurred over the past year. Studies show a modest correlation between the number of stressful events experienced in the previous year with illness in the present year: heart attacks, broken bones, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, tuberculosis, complications of pregnancy and birth, and so on.2

Statistically, a total of 150 or less indicates a low level of stress and a low probability of developing a stress-related disorder. A total of 300 or more indicates an almost 80 percent chance of becoming ill in the near future. If the score is 150 to 299, the chances are about 50 percent of becoming ill; less than 150 and the chances drop to about 30 percent.

It is important to keep in mind that an individual's ability to cope with stress—stress management—has a tremendous impact on the ability to cope with or bypass the adverse health consequences that stress can cause.

Managing Stress

Recognizing stress in life can be the major turning point in learning to better manage stress and ultimately  making critical lifestyle changes to create a more healthy and happy existence.

Stress—Critical Issues in Management and Prevention (HW 410) is one of the fundamental courses in the health and wellness program at Kaplan University. You are taught the scientific bases of stress and its consequences, a wide range of stress prevention and management techniques, and practical real-world approaches to creating healthier and less stressful lifestyles.

There are numerous approaches to stress management and prevention—here are a few:

  • Take control of your environment
    • Exercise regularly
    • Get enough sleep
    • Eat a healthy diet
    • Reduce alcohol, caffeine, and sugar consumption
  • Create time for relaxation and fun
    • Spend time in nature
    • Connect with a friend
    • Exercise your sense of humor
    • Work in the garden
  • Learn and practice a relaxation technique
    • Meditation
    • Yoga
    • Tai Chi
    • Centering-prayer
    • Deep breathing exercises
Signs and Symptoms of Stress
Although everyone has their own unique ways of experiencing stress, some ubiquitous signs and symptoms include:
  • Aches and pains
  • Constant worry
  • Dizziness, nausea
  • Eating too much or too little
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Finding it hard to concentrate
  • Finding it hard to relax
  • Frequent colds
  • Hard to find the positive in life
  • Heart palpitations
  • Loneliness and isolation
  • Missing deadlines—finding difficulty in completing projects
  • Moodiness
  • Racing thoughts
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Using alcohol, tobacco, and/or other drugs to relax

1 Reprinted from Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 11, Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe, "The Social Readjustment Rating Scale," 213-18 (1967), with permission from Elsevier.
2 Brian L. Seaward, Managing Stress, 6th Ed. (Boston: Jones and Bartlet, 2009).

Kaplan Higher Education Corporation is a division of Kaplan, Inc., a subsidiary of The Washington Post Company.

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