Outline and explain the research into life changes as a source of stress Stress is the response that occurs when we think the demands being placed on us are greater than our ability to cope. Stress, if left unresolved, could lead to serious health problems. People believe that life changes are linked to stress and illness. Life changes are major events that occur in an individual’s lifetime such as death of a loved one, pregnancy, divorce or redundancy. In addition to events that happen in a person’s life, stress can also be a result of something that doesn’t happen.
For example, not being promoted or not getting into university are extremely stressful life ‘not-changes’ for several people. Psychological research has provided evidence to support the view that stress can be caused by life changes. Medical doctors, Holmes and Rahe (1967) observed that many of their patients who were suffering from physical illness had recently experienced a range of major live events. These were both positive and negative events, that both involved change. Holmes and Rahe suggested that this affected health.
In order to test the idea that life changes are related to physical illness. Holmes and Rahe developed a questionnaire called the Social Readjustment Rating Scale (SRRS) to identify major stressful life events. They analyzed over 5000 patient records and came up with a chart that lists a total of 43 events that can cause stress. In order to establish how stressful each event was they asked 400 participants to score each event in terms of how much readjustment would be needed to overcome the event.
From the average scores the life events were awarded a Life Change Unit depending on how traumatic it was felt to be by a large sample of participants. Each of the events were ranked in order of their LCU (Life Change Unit), starting with the most high risk changes down to the lower risk ones. Rahe et al (1970 used the SRRS to test Holmes and Rahe’s hypothesis that the number of live events a person experienced would be positively correlated with illness.
He aimed in particular to study a ‘normal’ population as distinct from the population as distinct from the populations previously studied of individuals who were already in hospital. A military version of the SRRS was given to all the men on board three American cruisers just before they set sail. During their seven months tour of duty the sailors kept health records. A positive correlation of +0. 118 was found between LCUs and ill-health. This is relatively low; however, because of the size of the sample (2700) it is tatistically significant. Rahe et al came to the conclusion that it is change rather than the negativity if change that is important. Furthermore, it is the overall amount of psychic energy required to deal with a life event that causes stress. Despite the apparent success of this approach, there are several drawbacks to this research. Holmes and Rahe assumed that any event could result in stress if it was a major enough change in a person’s life, it doesn’t distinguish positive events from negative events.
For example, a change in financial state can be positive or negative for individuals; the life events in the list will have different meaning and cause different amounts of disruption to different people. Furthermore, the research is correlational and cannot prove that life events are the cause of ill health; they do not present a possible causal relationship between life changes and illness. It is possible that an observed relationship may result from a third variable. To conclude, there are several studies that have been conducted to investigate the idea that life changes are linked to stress and illness.
However, there are many drawbacks and limitations in each study. For example, it assumes that each stressor affects people in the same way. Studies are also shown to focus on one particular group so you are not able to generalize results. Overall research shows a relationship between life changes and stress and the SRRS can provide a useful start in recognising and adjusting to life-changing events, however if the research was more reliable and took into account the problems with the life changes approach it would further consolidate this.