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The consequences of stress

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.

1,500 points

Sometimes in the breakup of a long-standing relationship with a psychopath, such as a divorce, there are also other things that are involuntary changes we are required to make. Some of these big changes can be moving house, decreased financial stability, changing jobs, kids changing schools, new neighbors, new friends, loss of old friends, new church, and loss of or moving away from support groups.

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.



16 Comments on "The consequences of stress"

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  1. panther says:

    Oxy, I just went to a doctor here in Germany with a list. I went down my thorough list, because, once and for all, I am going to knock out my health problems. I have painful scoliosis, vision problems that started in 2008 (when the sociopath first entered my life…hmmm), symptoms of possible type 2 diabetes, a fungal overgrowth on my thumb, and possibly parasites (again). I went down the list with her (after informing her that I was there for MANY reasons). Then at the end I told her I need to see a specialist for victims of sociopaths. It was a little funny, because when she said, “Why are you here?” I told her to be patient please because I had about 5 years of neglected medical issues that I was going to start solving all at this moment.

    Would you believe that I walked out of there within 30 minutes with 2 medicine prescriptions and 3 recommendations to see specialists?

    I love this post of yours. As stress creates health issues, health issues create more stress. I’m trying very hard to overcome my PTSD from the spath by starting with my neglected body. Finally. (Gotta love Germany’s social health system btw).

    And….you are right….I am in a new relationship. Whoops. He’s a great guy, but my PTSD is going apeshit with this. He’s reading “The Sociopath Next Door” and then he will read “Women Who Love Psychopaths” because he wants to stop “triggering” me. At least if he reads up on some things, he may eventually understand that everything from the color of his hair to his gender can upset the delicate balance. It’s like being an autistic that is overly sensitive to sound, then playing a song for them and asking which instrument is causing them pain. Well…..hmmm……how about all of them? He has helped me in many ways because he does repeatedly re-wire the brainwashed brain my ex left me with. I expect a “spath” response and when I don’t get that, I am relieved to find that the whole world isn’t like that….which eases my PTSD. So, there’s two sides to this.



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  2. darwinsmom says:

    I just counted all the scores of the coalition of the several events culminating this summer : knee operation, break-up with the spath, losing the school, principal decimating me in an unfair review, the tourleading stress along with having a tourist along intimidating me and making me feel watched for mistakes every minute of the day and night, paying off the loan and financial resources, and then unemployment… Most of that in 3 months time…. adds up to a whopping 246 points on the stress scale, and that leaves out the post traumatic stress, which isn’t mentioned in the scale.

    Those routines and making them my foremost priority has helped the most. But I was only able to do that after the peace and quiet of being at home for 2 months.

    Elizabeth… it’s true… pets reduce stress levels… the furrier, the softer, the easier to cuddle… the more they help ease stress. … Sigh… Darwin come here so I can cuddle you!



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  3. Ox Drover says:

    Darwin, the recommendation is that in order to decrease your stress level, you decrease the amount of changes (even positive changes if you can) in your life….and over a THREE YEAR period your score should go below 150 (that is as high as you want it to possibly be.) Then keep it below 150.

    Panther, new relationships are stressful, which is one reason that I recommend that people delay starting new relationships for from 18 to 36 months (minimum) after a break up or a death of a spouse as the grieving for the past relationship needs to be pretty far along before a new relationship gets started. If the stress level is pretty high with other things as well as the break up, even more time might be necessary than 36 months.l I think at this point 7 + years after my husband’s death I am at a point where I could be logical enough and calm enough that if the right guy came along I might be ready for a relationship. I had 5 years of unremitting stress though, as well as the loss of my husband. So timing is very individual. Many times when people jump into a relationship too soon, it ends up being a poor choice for a relationship, just adding more stress. But each of us must make up our own mind about when we are ready for another relationship.



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  4. darwinsmom says:

    There are two major changes in my life ahead: moving to a new apartment and my studies… But I have until summer to plan and prepare for the move. And for my studies this semester I only have to do 1 exam and 1 project. In general it feels as if I’m chosing my responsibilities more carefully at the moment. My biggest responsibility and priority is towards myself at the moment: budget, building routines, the studies. And now that I work as an interim teacher, I’m starting to see that as a benefit. It does not make for the best stabiity, but the pressure is off my performance. Not that I don’t want to do my job well, but the whole statuary games don’t apply to me, no performance evaluation, no watchdog, etc… And it liberates me to be more myself in class, and I notice I’m starting to remedy automatically some issues I used to have now. It helps me to let me go of my perfectionism bor out of fear, which only came true last year anyway.

    To me routines and less commitments seem to do the trick to stop any increase of stress than what I had, and I can feel how it is slowly decreasing.



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  5. Stargazer says:

    Panther,

    I just read your post about your health issues. I had a few thoughts, for what they’re worth.

    Scoliosis: Did you happen to have braces on your teeth when you were younger? I heard from a very well-respected massage mentor that dentists could put on braces while some of the jaw muscles are extended and the others are flexed, leaving an imbalance. This can translate down the spine, and over time, cause scoliosis. If you happen to have this, craniosacral therapy can help.

    Parasites and Type 2 Diabetes: These are curable through diet. There is an anti-parasite diet that you do for 5 days that cleanses your system. It involves no sugar, starches, or processed foods – it is very strict. The only fruits you can have are grapefruit and lemon. I cannot remember the name of the book, but if you’re interested, I’ll try to find out. Not surprisingly, cutting out starches, processed foods, refined sugar, etc. and sticking to a mostly paleo diet can also help insulin levels normalize. The book I read that got me started was “Breaking the Viscious Cycle” by Elaine Gotschall. It is mostly about intestinal health. She gives a diet (with good recipes) for preventing and curing colitis, celiac disease, diverticulitis, Krohn’s Syndrome, and other intestinal ills. This diet can also be given to autistic patients because there has been shown to be a direct corrolation between autism and poor diet. I have been on this diet for nearly a year, and physically, I feel great.

    Fungus: Candida is a common affliction and many people have it unknowingly. It can be caused by molds in foods or just a high intake of sugar and refined foods. There is a special candida-free diet that involves avoiding all foods with mold (peanuts in shells, for instance). It is also a very strict diet.

    I also have herbal recipes for kidney cleanse and liver cleanse. Anyone who is prone to kidney stones would benefit from the kidney cleanse. They say that if you do the kidney cleanse, you can actually pee out the preformed kidney stones before they can hurt you. The liver cleanse is good for anyone who has been on ongoing medications such as antidepressants that can affect the liver. Both cleanses can be found in the book, “A Cure For All Diseases” by Dr. Hulda Clark. I have not personally done either of these cleanses but I plan to next year.

    Sorry for the long post and all the information – just wanted to share what I’ve learned about all of the health issues you mentioned.

    I totally applaud you for taking your health back, Panther! What a great way to rebuild your life. And kudos on the new healthy relationship. Sounds like a great guy who is willing to read those books and help you with your PTSD.

    PTSD: Cellular Release Therapy (which I have received) is VERY effective for PTSD, by the way. 🙂



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  6. blossom4th says:

    I thought as always,Oxy wrote an excellent and timeless article;one that many of us here have not yet had the chance to read.We’ve often heard that “stress can kill”…literally!

    I haven’t added up my points on the stress scale,but having lived YEARS under stress so ‘thick’,it felt like you could cut it with a knife!It’s no wonder that I have fibromyalgia….and it’s actually a wonder that I’m still walking!After learning alot about why spaths do the things they do,I’m sure he was deliberately increasing the stressload to see how long it would take for me to “drop”.It was a game to him all along!And when this ‘birdie’ didn’t drop like she was supposed to,he got real depressed!



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  7. serenity12 says:

    Oxy, having a background in biology I have been doing a lot of research regarding stress, its affects, as well as neuroplasticity(permanently altering and re-wiring thought patterns in your brain) I just got back from vacation and was telling a group of friends the affects that stress had on me in SUCH a short time(I was only with him for 3.5 years) I gained about 20 pounds, stop working out entirely, started drinking at LEAST a bottle of wine a day, and slept terribly. I felt AWEFUL!! Being about 3 months out of the relationship(still had had some contact which I regret) but I am finally making changes. Cut my drinking WAY down because I used to swing by the wine store ANY and EVERY time we had a fight…which became everyday. I have started to go to bed early and I am ALMOST sleeping through the night(I’m also getting old so that may be a factor lol)

    Your point about how NC being hard but allows there to be WAY LESS blowout rush of negativity is really true….I am beginning to handle the fewer and fewer pains of the NC and I’m often distracted from that rather then if he were to “slime” me with something if we had contact.

    Thanks for the post!



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