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Stress, a Blessing and a Curse
By Barrington H. Brennen

PART 1    PART 2    PART 3    PART 4

Barrington H. Brennen

Barrington H. Brennen

Question: Dear Sir: Every where I turn, I hear people talking about stress. "Iím stressed out," they say. Even school children are complaining about stress these days. What is so bad about stress? What can we do about it?

Answer: Whatís so bad about stress? It can kill you. What is so good about stress? It can save your life. Bahamians need to loosen up a bit and learn how to "laugh at wesef." More and more Bahamians are becoming sick from stress-related illnesses which can be avoided.

What is stress? The Webster Dictionary describes stress as "force, pressure, strain; . . . force producing change in shape of body." Walter Cannon, a physiologist at Harvard Medical School, in the early part of this century first described the bodyís reactions to stress. "When a person is confronted with a sudden frightening situation, and his heart begins to pound, he feels breathless, his muscles tense, the body is prepared to confront the threat, or to run away." Dr. Cannon was the researcher who first identified this stress reaction as the "fight or flight response."

Stress may have different meanings for different individuals. Here are a few of them: 1) Stress is the bodyís physical, mental and chemical reactions to circumstances that frighten, excite, confuse, endanger, irritate. 2) Stress is what prepares you to handle things you are unfamiliar with, or things that appear to threaten you. 3) Stress is essentially the rate of all the wear and tear caused by life. 4) Stress is the effect upon the person of broken or damaged relationships between the person and God, the person and others, and the person and himself/herself, resulting in actual physical changes within a being. 5) Stress is a word referring to the effect the mind exerts on the body, occurs when combined tensions of life becomes greater than a personís ability to handle them. Dr. Selye, a noted endocrinologist of years ago states that when we are born each one of us inherits a certain amount of ability to adapt, to change, to cope and handle stress stimulus, whether positive or negative. How each one of us reacts to the stressor or stimulus varies. Some people like a lot of stimulation and challenges. Others, with the same amount of stimulation, feel threatened and inundated. Dr. Styles tells the story of a woman in Australia who appeared on a television quiz show. When told by the emcee that she had just won $100,000, she had a heart attack and died. The TV show was never aired, but the sponsors offered a videotape of the show to the womanís family so they could see how happy she was when she died. This illustrates that even a happy event can be overwhelming for some people.

In many instances we choose whether stress will be a blessing or a curse. Thus, we have the term "stress management." Dr. Archibald D. Hart in his book "Adrenalin and Stress" states that: "No one can live without experiencing some degree of stress. You may think that only serious diseases or intensive physical or mental injury can cause stress. This is false. Crossing a busy intersection, Exposure to draft, or even a sheer joy are enough to activate the bodyís stress mechanism to some extent. Stress is not even necessarily bad for you; it is the spice of life, for any emotion, any activity, causes stress."

In the early nineteen sixties two physiologists (Holmes and Rahe) studied stress and its effects on the body. Their research also led them to discover that any activity, positive or negative, creates a stressful reaction or physical changes on the body. They found a way of rating certain human experiences or activities by developing "The Social Readjustment Rating Scale." Each experience or activity mentioned on this scale is given points to measure the level of effect on the body. For example: They discovered that the most stressful event in a human life is the death of a spouse. Thus, they rated that experience with 100 points. Here are a few more examples on the "Social Readjustment Rating Scale." Notice how many points are given to each activity or experience. Notice the positive and negative activities.

Activity/Experience Points  

Life Events


Death of spouse




Marital separation from mate


Detention in jail, other institution


Death of a close family member


Major personal injury or illness




Fired from work


Marital reconciliation




Major change in the health or behavior of a family member




Sexual difficulties


Gaining a new family member (e.g., through birth, adoption, oldster moving, etc.)


Major business re-adjustment (e.g., merger, reorganization, bankruptcy)


Major change in financial status


Death of close friend


Change to different line of work


Major change in the number of arguments with spouse


Taking out a mortgage or loan for a major purchase


Foreclosure on a mortgage or loan


Major change in responsibilities at work


Son or daughter leaving home (e.g., marriage, attending college)


Trouble with In-laws


Outstanding personal achievement


Spouse beginning or ceasing to work outside the home


Beginning or ceasing formal schooling


Major change in living conditions


Revision of personal habits (dress, manners, associations, etc.)


Trouble with boss


Major change in working hours or conditions


Change in residence


Change to a new school


Major change in usual type and/or amount of recreation


Major change in church activities (a lot more or less than usual)


Major change in social activities (clubs, dancing, movies, visiting)


Taking out a mortgage or loan for a lesser purchase (e.g., for a car, TV, freezer, etc.)


Major change in sleeping habits


Major change in the number of family get-togethers


Major change in eating habits




Christmas season


Minor violations of the law (e.g., traffic tickets, etc. )




Drs. Holmes and Rahe discovered that individuals who accumulated less that 150 points in one year have a 30% chance of having stress related illness. Those who have accumulated 150 to 299 points in one year have a 50% change of getting an illness. These who accumulated 300 points and above during a year has an 80% chance of becoming ill.

Several years ago, a dear friend of mine lost his father in an accident. That same year, he went through a painful divorce immediately after the birth of his first child. To make things worse, his closest friend died of lung cancer a few months later. Also, he took on a new job and was transferred to a new territory. To add to the stressful activities, he began a doctoral program that same year and developed a new romantic relationship. At the end of that year, he became seriously ill and was rushed into the emergency room with bleeding ulcers. He was not able to manage the effect of these activities on his body and mind. Let us total the points he accumulated:

He got a divorce 73
His father died 63
Birth of his first child 39
Death of his close friend 37
Transferred to a new territory 29
Change in residence 20
Beginning School 20


Notice that my friend accumulated more than 281 points, making a fifty-fifty percent chance that he would get sick and he did develop ulcers. He was unable to properly manage his stress. Thus, it affected his body and his mind. Now, I do not want to frighten you into thinking that you will also get sick if all of these things should happen to you. I am just trying to illustrate that all we do does produce wear and tear on the human body, and we must take deliberate steps to manage our stress by living well-adjusted, positive lifestyles.  Go to Stress Part Two  


Send your comments or questions to Barrington H. Brennen, P.O. Box CB-13019, Nassau, The Bahamas; or call 1-242 327 1980  or email  question@soencouragement.org  Also join us on FACEBOOK



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April 26, 2000, TAGnet/NetAserve / Network Solutions

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