Stress Management – Lesson 1

1.1. Defining Stress and how it affects us

Can we define what we mean by stress? Stress is our mental, physical, and behavioural response to anxiety-producing events. Too much stress can result in serious physical, psychological, interpersonal, or performance problems. The amount of stress that we experience depends on how much stress we have, how long we have it, and how we are able to manage it.

  • According to Peter Hansen, best-selling author of several books about stress, work and the workplace causes most of our stress.
  • According to the Holmes-Rahe stress scale, the greatest single stressors come from our personal lives.


Holmes-Rahe Stress Rating

Life Event(During Past 24Months) Life Change Units
Begin or end school 26
Business read justment 39
Change in church activities 19
Change in eating habits 15
Change in financial state 38
Change in health of family member 44
Change in living conditions 25
Change in number of arguments with spouse 35
Change in number of family get-togethers 15
Change in recreation 19
Change in residence 20
Change in responsibilities at work 29
Change in schools 20
Change in sleeping habits 17
Change in social activities 19
Change in work hours or conditions 20
Change to a different line of work 36
Christmas 12
Death of a close friend 37
Death of close family member 63
Death of spouse 100
Divorce 73
Fired at work 47
Foreclosure of mortgage or loan 30
Gain of a new family member 39
Incarceration 63
Marital reconciliation 45
Marital separation 65
Marriage 50
Minor violation of the law 11
Mortgage or loan more than$50,000 18
Outstanding personal achievement 28
Partner begins or stops work 26
Personal injury or illness 53
Pregnancy 40
Retirement 45
Revision of personal habits 24
Sexual difficulties 39
Son or daughter leaving home 29
Trouble with boss 23
Trouble within-laws 29
Vacation 13

What Does It Mean?

The more changes you have, the more likely you are to get sick. Of those people with over 300 Life Change Units, almost 90% get sick in the near future; with 150 to 299 Life Change Units, about 50% get sick in the near future; and with less than 150 Life Change Units, only about 30% get sick in the near future.

(Holmes &Rahe, 1967, Journal of Psychosomatic Research, Vol. 1)

1.2. Other Factors to Consider

Stress and Gender

Research tells us that men and women react differently to stress and that differing situations create their stress. For example, one study done at the University of Alberta found that women wake in the morning with their lowest stress levels. These levels climb as they rush around the house getting everyone ready for work and school. Their stress levels rise until they get to work, when they begin to drop back a bit. Their stress levels slowly rise again during the day and continue to rise as they come home and look after kids, dinner, and household chores. Their stress levels usually don’t drop again until they are ready for bed.

Men on the other hand rise with lower stress levels—usually lower than their mate’s stress levels if he is married. Their stress levels don’t rise significantly until the drive to work. Then levels begin a slow climb that continues throughout their day. However, as they leave work their stress levels begin to drop and continue dropping after they arrive home. Generally they go to bed with low stress levels.

This is a generalised version of what happens to stress levels with each gender. Of course, there are many variations of this scenario: women without children and high pressure jobs, and men whose stress levels begin to rise the minute their feet hit the floor in the morning and who are in demand until the end of the day.

Stress and Your Health

Stress is the number one health problem in the world today! Problems stress can cause include:

  • Heart attacks or strokes
  • Drug abuse
  • Ulcers
  • Physical illness
  • Hypertension
  • Migraines
  • High cholesterol
  • Insomnia
  • Depression

Stress is about attitude. Stress alone does not cause illness. Stress is neutral until it lands on us. What we choose to do about it determines how it will affect us.

1.3. What is Stress About?

  • Stress is about changing lifestyles.
  • Stress is about power.
    How? We are more stressed when we feel powerless to change the way things are. Stress is an equal opportunity opponent. Stress affects people of every age and every culture, regardless of whether you are male or female.
  • Stress is about self-esteem.
    When our self-esteem is high, we feel more powerful and therefore less stressed. When our self-esteem is low, we feel like we have no power to make any changes and that can cause us more stress.
  • Stress is about change.
    Change itself is stressful. Even if we don’t like the situation we find ourselves in, if we are familiar with being in that situation, or if we feel that at least we know what will happen when we are in this situation, we find it less stressful than we think it might be making changes and stepping into the unknown.


How can we keep ourselves flexible, which will make change easier?In life, one can expect less stability, and anticipate change. To survive and thrive, we will need to be flexible. The best way to fight off rigidity is by continually stretching yourself by taking on new challenges. Learn how to overcome irrational fears of change, boost your self-confidence, become proactive and involved during change processes and set new goals.


Don’t forget that stress isn’t all bad. In 1974, Richard Lazarus coined the term “eustress” to define types of stress that are healthy. E.g. planning a wedding, having a baby, buying your first home.

Positive stress motivates, increases energy levels, and can drive people forward to embrace the work before them.

What about having no stress at all? An absence of stress can actually lead to boredom or frustration. When people who enjoy a variety of activities as a part of their day suddenly find themselves caught up, they can actually become bored and experience feelings of fatigue. A balance of positive stress is ideal, although the human component of that is that each person responds as an individual. Therefore, what is good stress for one person can be negative for another.