The Tipping Point of Stress: Know Your Score!

TMI Info OverloadEveryone has a tipping point – when it all becomes too much. I had one the other day. After waking up too early with a new baby, followed by a multitude of regular waves and daily hassles, I had to manage a medical emergency with a family member.

I got home late in the evening and tripped over the kid’s toys and snapped! Luckily no-one was watching as I kicked the toys to one side and let out a couple of expletives before collapsing in a heap – exhausted and feeling like I couldn’t cope.

Later on, after de-briefing with my wife about the day – it seemed so silly for me to lose my temper tripping on the kids toys – clearly an over-reaction! Yet when I added up all the events of the previous 24 hours, tripping on the kids toys combined with the medical emergency, daily hassles and sleep deprivation, my stress reaction seemed to make more sense.

Looking back now, had I have kept track of the rapidly increasing score of stressful life events I may have been able to recognize my own vulnerability and look after myself better as the challenges of the day increased and in turn ended the night without the unhelpful stress reaction and outburst.

Knowing Your Score

You know, it never ceases to amaze me how so many people cope with so much adversity in life until some relatively minor hassle creates a tipping point sending them over the edge into a stress wipeout. Why is it often the smaller issues that create the tipping point? The answer lies in understanding how stressful life events are measured.

Holmes and Rahe’s Stressful Life Events Research shows that whilst the Waves of Life come in different sizes, once the total score of life events exceeds threshold (regardless of whether it is one or two big life events or a lot of smaller events) we will have some sort of stress reaction and indeed be at risk of illness.

Let’s take a look together now… What you can see below are the 43 items in the Holmes and Rahe survey broken down into the 3 Waves of Life categories (Tsunamis, Big Waves & Regular Waves). Tick the number of events you have experienced in the last 12 months and then add up your score.

The Tsunamis of Life:

TSS Tsunamis









The Big Waves of Life:

TSS Big Waves














The Regular Waves of Life:

TSS Regular Waves












What’s Your Score – How Did You Go?

What was your total score? You know for most of us, in any given twelve month period we have some significant challenges in our lives – but hopefully not too many.

When I did this test during one of the more difficult years in my life I scored 510! An extremely high score and putting me in the ‘high risk’ category for stress related illnesses. But thankfully despite being ‘high risk’ I managed to get through the year without any major medical conditions by practicing what I preach.

Once you know your score and your risk category you can be much more aware of how close you are to your ‘tipping point’ for stress related illness and become much more proactive in Balancing the 4 Elements of Your Wellbeing (Mindsets, Emotions, Lifestyle & Purpose).

When you have a lower score with less risk of illness you can push yourself a bit harder in life but watch out for the risk of over-reacting to the small stuff. In this regard I like the quote by Richard Carlson: “Don’t sweat the small stuff.

When you have a higher score and high risk of stress related illness you need to stop and reassess the ‘important’ and the ‘urgent’ and say ‘no’ to things (even things you may desire) so you can create the space and time you need to recover and refresh to prevent stress wipeouts.

Remember, maintaining your mental health and wellbeing is the first and most urgent priority when you’re under pressure and just like the airline flight passenger safety announcement “you need to put your own oxygen mask on first – before you help others!

Ride the Waves of Life!

Dr Pete

The Stress Surfer

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