Major Life Events

What are some common stressors, events that are likely to evoke stress in most persons? Holmes and Rahe (1967) studied various major life events, those events that require people to make major adjustments in their lives. In their research, Holmes and Rahe wanted to estimate the potential stress value of a wide variety of life events. They started with a long list of events such as the death of a family member , loss of a job, or being put in jail. They then had a lar ge number of subjects rate each of the events for how much stress each was likely to provoke. Each event was then associated with so many stress "points" and, by counting up the events a person had experienced, and adding up the stress points for all of those events, a good estimate of the amount of stress experienced by that person could be obtained.

In Table 18.1 we present a student version of the stressful event schedule based on the original Holmes and Rahe research. It has been modified for teaching purpose to apply to college-age adults and should be considered a rough indication of stress levels and health consequences. In this scale, the number following the event refers to the stress "points" associated with that event. You can see that death of a close family member, death of a friend, and divorce of parents are the events likely to evoke the most stress. Interestingly, getting married is also likely to be stressful, as are other "positive" events, such as starting college or making some major achievement. This highlights the fact that stress is the subjective response to an event and that, even though an event is positive, it may have the three characteristics associated with stressors: intensity, conflict, and uncontrollabilit .

If you take the Student Stress Test in Table 18.1 and turn out to have high levels of stress, there are several things you can do. First, monitor for early signs of stress, such as recurring stomachaches or headaches. Avoid negative thinking, pessimism, or catastrophizing. Arm your body against stress by eating nutritiously and getting enough sleep and exercise. Practice a relaxation technique regularly . Turn to friends and relatives for support when you need it.

In their initial research, Holmes and Rahe tallied up the stress points that each of the research participants had accumulated in the prior year . They found that the persons with the most stress points were also the most likely to have a serious illness during that year . This research was among the first systematic demonstration that elevated stress—a psychological phenomenon— was associated with elevated risk for a number of illnesses. These findings persuaded medical researchers t take seriously the notion that factors other than microbes and organ malfunctions contribute to illness.

Other researchers have taken a more experimental approach to see if stress is related to susceptibility to disease. For example, Cohen, Tyrrell, and

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A macrophage white blood cell engulfing a cluster of Neisseria gonorrhoeae, the bacteria which cause the sexually transmitted disease gonorrhoea. The large white macrophages typically surround and destroy the bacteria, fulfilling their defensive role in the human immune system.
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