By Joyce Alexander, RNP (retired)
One of the things I studied in school was the findings of researchers on the effects of stress in our lives. Two researchers who have become the “gold standard” with their attempts to quantify stress and some of the effects on our lives (sickness and accidents) are Holmes and Rahe, who developed the Holmes and Rahe stress scale. According to Wikipedia:
In 1967, psychiatrists Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe examined the medical records of over 5,000 medical patients as a way to determine whether stressful events might cause illnesses. Patients were asked to tally a list of 43 life events based on a relative score. A positive correlation of 0.118 was found between their life events and their illnesses.
Their results were published as the Social Readjustment Rating Scale (SRRS), known more commonly as the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale. Subsequent validation has supported the links between stress and illness.
Rahe carried out a study in 1970 testing the reliability of the stress scale as a predictor of illness. The scale was given to 2,500 US sailors and they were asked to rate scores of “life events” over the previous six months. Over the next six months, detailed records were kept of the sailors’ health. There was a +0.118 correlation between stress scale scores and illness, which was sufficient to support the hypothesis of a link between life events and illness.
The stress scale correlated with visits to medical dispensaries, and the H&R stress scale’s scores also correlated independently with individuals dropping out of stressful underwater demolitions training due to medical problems.
Click on the wiki link to get the stress scale that was developed by these two researchers and rate yourself. A score of 300 or more puts you at risk of illness.
Fight or flight
One of the things that makes stress hormones detrimental to our bodies and immune systems is that the “fight or flight” hormone, adrenaline, redirects the blood supplies away from our digestive system into our muscles. This is beneficial if you are running away from a tiger or fighting a sword-wielding soldier, but in the long term, it deprives your body from needed nutrients and deprives your immune system of needed substances as well.
One of the experiments that Holmes and Rahe did was to put mice into cages with one group “stressed” by being electrically shocked at random times so that they never knew when they would get “hit” with a jolt. Then they injected both sets of mice with various bacteria and viruses, and guess what the results were? The “stressed” mice got sicker than the non-stressed mice did and they got sick more frequently and died. The non-stressed mice had healthy immune systems that fought off the bacteria injected into them.
Change and stress
We can’t always control what happens in our lives that are stressful to us, but what we can do is control some of the things in our lives that add stress.
Change of any kind, even “good change,” was discovered to be “stressful” to our minds and bodies. So one of the things we can do if we are stressed is to decrease the amount of voluntary change in our lives. Decreasing the number of voluntary changes may not sound like it would be a “big deal,” but sometimes it can be, if we have been dealing with a psychopathic abuser in our lives or someone who produces a great deal of drama.
One of the reasons that “no contact” with the psychopath is helpful is that it decreases the number of “injuries” and “upsets” that the psychopath is able to deliver to our minds. If we don’t read the email they send, we aren’t upset by it. Leveling out our emotions is one of the best ways to help us decrease stress, and not allowing the psychopath to introduce new drama into our lives is a great way to do this. Of course, just deleting the psychopath from our lives is a stress in itself, but at the same time, it will decrease the number of upsets in the net result.
New relationships in our lives are stressful, and sometimes it seems to us that if we have broken up in a bad relationship the best way to “get over” that bad relationship is to find a better one. Our friends may tell us after a few months that we need to “get back into the dating game,” it will help us heal. Actually, new relationships are very stressful to our systems, even new ones that appear to be with good people. So, waiting before seeking a new person in your life is most likely a good idea.
All of these stresses are painful and cumulative … they add up quickly toward reaching that number of 300 “points” on the Stress Inventory at which point you become more prone to accident and illness. After my first divorce, I had more than 1,500 points in a 1-year period. In the three years leading up to and after my late husband’s death, I accumulated another 1,200 points, including an 8-month-long relationship with a psychopathic suitor, as well as four life-threatening infections requiring hospitalizations and surgeries.
Sometimes in our chaotic lives in dealing with the psychopath, we don’t really see what is important and what we can do without. Our judgment is clouded. I noticed that I allowed things to upset me almost daily because I reverted to not enforcing boundaries with people close to me, and when they violated those boundaries, I became upset with myself, rather than placing the blame for what they did where it belonged, on their shoulders, not mine. When I finally became somewhat stronger, I learned that enforcing boundaries without feeling guilty was not only possible, but it decreased my own stress response to these things. As I grew stronger, I started hitting the “delete” button on some of these stressful relationships altogether, and the stress in my life automatically decreased.
Taking care of me
Spending time with myself, in quiet and reflection, also strengthened my peace and decreased my stress. I also was able to examine myself, and the things that I did, that were counterproductive to better health and stress reduction. One of those things was to get a complete physical medical check up, as well as therapy for the PTSD caused by the plane crash that killed my husband and exacerbated by the stress from dealing with the psychopaths and their dupes in my family and my life.
I also realized that I needed to alter some of the bad health habits I had. One was smoking cigarettes, and I worked on this and accomplished it. I didn’t allow myself to use “excuses” about why I needed to continue to smoke until I had less stress or any other “reason.” I made up my mind to quit and I did QUIT. I also realized that I had slowly gained weight even prior to the stopping smoking, so I had to deal with the consequences of that—the high blood pressure and high blood sugar, as well as other side effects. So, just as I had made a decision to quit the cigarettes, I made a positive decision about my diet and exercise and started working on that aspect of becoming more healthy.
Once I had decreased my stress levels, and increased my peace and tranquility levels, I was able to make some positive changes in my lifestyle, which then of course made me not only be more healthy but feel more healthy.
Coping with stress
From time to time I will still get “hit out of the blue” with something that triggers stress in my life. But now that I am not continually stressed, I am able to respond to the intermittent stressful situation in a more proactive and healthy way, and not have that situation “knock me for a loop” that lasts for weeks or months.
A year ago in January, my 30-year-long relationship with my “best friend” came to an end unexpectedly, and while I am sad about that, it wasn’t the end of my world. I was able to process the grief over the loss of that important relationship and to move on.
The January prior to that one, my relationship with my oldest son came to a big twist in the road when he lied to me, and I realized that though he is not a psychopath, that I can’t trust him. That was a very painful event for me, but because I was not under additional stresses, I was able to focus on that very hurtful event, to grieve it in a normal and healthy way and move on with my life.
Keeping our stress levels that we can control as low as possible is important, and allows us to process those stresses we can’t control in a healthy way, without overloading our entire system psychically, emotionally, and mentally.