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Evaluating stress: A guest blog from The Physiological Society
Posted by Jonathan Robinson
18th Apr 2017

by Henry Lovett, Policy and Public Affairs Officer at The Physiological Society

Stress is everywhere – nobody can get away without experiencing some form of stress.

A heavy burden of stress is a major contributor to mental health difficulties, and also affects physical health. It is therefore important to understand what causes people to feel stress and how they are likely to be affected.

In 1967 two scientists in America created a table, ordering the severity of stress from a large number of life events, positive and negative. 

Fifty years later, The Physiological Society has carried out a similar study to update the results for the modern day, using a YouGov survey of more than 2,000 British adults.

Participants were asked to score 18 different life events out of ten for how stressful they find them, or imagined they would find them. The average scores then created an order of stressful events:

1 Death of spouse/relative/friend 9.43
2 Imprisonment 9.15
3 Flood/fire damaging your home 8.89
4 Being seriously ill 8.52
5 Being fired 8.47
6 Separation/divorce 8.47
7 Identity theft 8.16
8 Unexpected money problems 7.39
9 Starting a new job 6.54
10 Planning a wedding 6.51
11 Arrival of first child 6.06
12 Commute delays 5.94
13 Terrorist threats 5.84
14 Losing smartphone 5.79
15 Moving to bigger house 5.77
16 Brexit 4.23
17 Going on holiday 3.99
18 Promotion/success at work 3.78

The data gave some interesting results when examined in more detail.

- For every single event, the reported stress experienced by men was lower than that by women. The average difference was 0.56 points. The biggest difference was in the stress caused by the threat of terrorism, which was 1.25 points higher for women. The smallest difference was for the arrival of a first child.

- Regional differences were small, with the average stress level across Great Britain varying only by 0.28 points. The most stressed area was Scotland, while the least stressed was the South East of England.

- The results for some events point towards stress levels increasing with age, most strongly for long-term problems such as illness or imprisonment. Exceptions to this trend were the loss of a smartphone, which fits with the added difficulties this would cause to highly-connected younger generations, and the arrival of a first child.

The Physiological Society has released a report exploring this research in more detail and looking at the consequences on the human body of various stress situations.

For more information, email policy@physoc.org.

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