Life Stressors That Cause Illness | Natural Health Blog

Date: 10/13/2018    Written by: Hiyaguha Cohen

The Life Stressors Most Likely to Kill

Life Stressors That Cause Illness | Natural Health Blog

It’s certainly no surprise that stress can contribute to illness, but it turns out that certain types of stress are far more likely to get you sick than others. In fact, back in 1967, psychiatrists Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe examined the health records of 5000 medical patients and asked them if they had experienced any of 43 various life events in the previous several years.1 Based on their findings, they devised a scale weighting each of the 43 events for its likelihood to trigger disease, assigning each event a point value, and correlating the point values to health outcomes. Holmes and Rahe repeated the research a few years later with another 2500 patients to validate their findings and derived the exact same results.

According to the resulting Holmes-Rahe Stress Scale (also known as the Social Readjustment Rating Scale, or SRRS), the most stressful of all events, by far, is the death of a spouse or child, which is assigned 100 points. The higher the point value of an event, the greater the likelihood that you’ll get sick after experiencing that event. Also, points are cumulative within a several year window, so every time you endure any stress on the scale, your score climbs. Because of the cumulative nature of the stress scale, even if you don’t undergo one of the most significant stressful events, you can still accrue a high score that puts you at added risk for disease if you endure many lesser stressful situations.

The top 10 stressors, with point values, are:

  1. Death of a spouse or child   100 points
  2. Divorce   73 points
  3. Marital Separation   65
  4. Imprisonment   63
  5. Death of a close family member   63
  6. Personal illness or injury   53
  7. Marriage   50
  8. Dismissal from work   47
  9. Marital reconciliation   45
  10. Retirement   45

It’s interesting to note that some so-called positive events—marriage, marital reconciliation, retirement— rank among the most stressful. Other positive events lower on the scale also cause significant stress. For example, outstanding personal achievement confers 28 stress points, placing it at number 25 on the stress list, while vacation adds 13 and a major holiday adds 12.

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This is probably because change, in general, always adds stress. Career change contributes 36 stress points, change in frequency of arguments (either fewer or more) adds 35, moving to a new residence adds 20, change in church or recreational activities counts for 19. Some of the stress scores are bewildering: taking out a mortgage of $150,000 or more confers 32 stress points, while foreclosing on a mortgage only adds 30. Any change in financial circumstances, even if for the better, confers 38 points.

According to the research, health risk becomes significant when you experience 150 or more cumulative stress points within a two-year period. If you have fewer than 150 points, your risk of getting sick is only 30 percent.2 But if you accumulate between 150 to 299 stress points, your risk of getting sick shoots up to 50 percent.  Once you exceed 300 points, your risk of becoming ill is profound, at 80 percent. To determine your score, you can take the stress inventory here.

Holmes and Rahe reasoned that major change and stress could also make kids sick, and so they developed a separate scale for teenagers and children. The top 10 stresses on that scale are:

  1. Death of a parent: 100
  2. Unplanned pregnancy/abortion: 100
  3. Getting married: 95
  4. Divorce of parents: 90
  5. Acquiring a visible deformity: 80
  6. Fathering a child: 70
  7. Jail sentence of a parent for over one year: 70
  8. Marital separation of parents: 69
  9. Death of a sibling:  68
  10. Change in acceptance by peers:  67


Note that the stressor that ranks number 10 on the youth scale confers 67 stress points, while the stressor ranked number 10 on the adult scale only confers 45. In fact, numbers 7-10 on the adult scale all confer fewer than 50 points. Experts attribute this difference to the fact that children and teenagers are less able to cope with stress than adults, a clear indicator that young people need extra help to deal with change and life difficulties.

The evidence shows that the straight line between added stress and illness most likely will end in either chronic pain, diabetes, depression, anxiety, gastrointestinal disorders, Alzheimer’s disease, hypertension, heart disease, mental illness, or some combination of these disorders. But as other research has made clear, stress also contributes to cancer, immune disorders, and virtually every other disease. A recent study found that each of the top stressful events contributes the equivalent of four years of cognitive aging to the brain.3

What can you do if you’ve had a year during which your spouse died and then your father died; then you lost your job because you took too much time off work to care for your loved ones; then you had to move, buy a new home, and take out a new mortgage? Are you doomed to illness? (And if you’re thinking nobody ever has such a year, ask around. It’s surprisingly common for people to endure times when a multitude of difficult things rain down all at once. Just ask Job.)  

While the odds of becoming ill during such stressful times are high, you won’t necessarily succumb if you take steps to protect yourself and you’re extra careful with your health. Tempting as it may be to eat comforting junk foods when things are in flux and you’re dealing with grief--and yes, many people take refuge in comfort food during times of stress--this is the very time when it’s most important to eat well. And difficult as it might be to motivate yourself to exercise, this is exactly when you need to step up your exercise program as well. And this is also when you need to make a special effort to build your immune system by taking immune-enhancing products, doing a full-body detox, and pampering yourself with meditation, time with friends, plenty of rest, and massages. There’s an old saying that although you can’t control the things that happen to you in life, you can control how you deal with them.

  • 1. “Top 10 Most Stressful Life Events: The Holmes and Rahe Scale.” Pain Doctor. 30 September 2018.
  • 2. “The Holmes-Rahe Stress Inventory.” AIS. 3 October 2018.
  • 3. “Stressful experiences can age brain by years, Alzheimer’s experts hear.” 16 July 2017. The Guardian. 5 October 2018.

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    Submitted by Bruce Stewart on
    October 25, 2018 - 8:05am

    Do you see a link between stress and inflammation? And thanks, Job is a great example.

    Submitted by Peter Weldon - a.k.a. Facilitator Peter W® on
    October 25, 2018 - 9:40am
    Nanaimo ,

    Being born is a challenge with potential,

    You are born WITHOUT RIGHTS, however our Creator provided an immune system, choices, logic etc.

    Our Creator cannot act with prejudice, otherwise the Laws of the Universe could not exist.

    Only Man can and may act with prejudice, beliving without Logic is an Act of Evil. Beliving in EXCEPTIONALSIM is an act of Evil.

    Some of the above are only available upon your ability to provide for yourself.

    Life is always a challenge. It is your duty to protect yourself from those who would do you harm without just cause.

    Never forgive or forget but remember and struggle to understand.

    All Men are not created equal, this is no excuse for not accepting responsibility.

    May you choose good Karma.

    Submitted by Sue Cordes on
    October 25, 2018 - 2:06pm

    Personally I think another top five one would be taking care of a parent or person with dementia. Ask anyone who does, or who has, it is a horrible stressful thing to do, even if you love the person very much, most of the time you feel like screaming, while pulling out your hair! You REALLY shouldn't of left that one out!

    Submitted by Stephanie Shan Russell on
    December 28, 2018 - 7:56am
    Ottawa Ontario Canada ,

    I have found a crime called "Elder Fraud and Abuse" by far the most stressful thing in my life, and it has caused most definitely a great deal of damage to my mind as well as my body.
    Having a trusted family member knowingly and on purpose try to make a person so sick they can not live by themselves anymore, and a National Bank's lawyers not caring what was the truth as extremely stressful.
    The penalties need to be be a lot stronger for this crime for the fraudsters as well as especially for the Banks. The Banks could prevent this crime in most cases if they did their "due diligence" . And I think that less people would take the risk of getting sent to jail if the penalties were stronger for those who did this crime. . and the police did not often just treat this as a "family matter" instead of the crime it is .

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