You Don't Need a Stress Test to Tell you if you are Stressed

March 24, 2019

Nowadays there is a test for everything to be found online. Simply choose a, b, c, or d for a dozen or so questions, enter your email or share on your Facebook page for results, and poof!! It is as if that little screen is a window into your soul! 

While some of these quizzes can be cute little time-killers (what little girl has never dreamed of what Disney princess she would be?!), not all of them are fun and games.


Most of us go through our school years dreading pop quizzes, but as adults we can't seem to get enough of them. All you have to do is scroll through your Facebook feed to see everything from who your friends should marry to what kind of sandwich they would be if they were a sandwich.

Another popular type of online quiz are those that claim they can tell you how much stress you are experiencing or if you have anxiety, depression, OCD, or other mental-health disorder. They are so popular, in fact, that 'stress test' is the number one query associated with the topic of 'stress' on Google right now (Google Trends, March 2019).  You answer some questions about life events then the test spits out a value that tells you how susceptible you are to stress or mental illness. Before getting to where these tests not only fall short but may end up causing you more harm than good, it is important to highlight what these tests do right.    


First, most include 'happy' events. Many people have a misconception that stress is always bad and is associated with negative things going on in one's life. In reality, stress is simply the inability to cope with too much pressure, and that pressure can come from anything in your life that is the focus of your time, energy, and emotions, whether positive or negative. Some of the most stressful things a person can do are get married, have a baby, change jobs, or buy a new house.


Second, these tests allow a person to track trends on their own and to see any progress they are making. Looking back and seeing how you answered the same questions 6 months ago compared to today can help you recognized small achievements that can often get lost in the big picture, but can also let you see if things are getting worse and alert you that it might be time to seek professional help. 


Third, they don't discount the small stuff and recognize that stress is cumulative. There are so many small things we deal with in our day-to-day lives that get brushed off as being insignificant, things so minor they sometimes don't seem worth stressing over; or worse, we are embarrassed because they don't seem that bad and we feel weak for allowing something so minor to upset us so we try to ignore it. The thing is, dealing with multiple small stressors can be just as stressful, if not more so, than dealing with one major stressor.   


Now, onto where these tests get a failing grade... 


Stress tests tend to give arbitrary point values to life stressors based on how stressful the majority of people would find said event. However, there is no one-size-fits-all with stress; depending on our individual circumstances, we all perceive stressful events to a different degree. People and situations are just too different to assign a fixed value to an event. Consider the following example of a couple getting married:


Couple A: have happily lived together for years but they decided to pop down to the courthouse to sign the paperwork just to make things official.


Couple B: took a year planning a huge wedding with everyone fighting over every little detail and seemingly endless problems throughout the whole process.  


Who likely has more wedding stress? According to a generic test, they both get the same number of stress points for ticking the box next to getting married recently. 

There is also too much emphasis on the total score as opposed to the parts that make up that score. For example, getting divorced is second only to death of a spouse in terms of stress points. However, if no other major changes go along with the divorce (i.e. you are going to be okay financially, you are keeping the house so you don't have to move homes or change jobs, your in-laws are still supportive of you, there are no kids involved), you will likely end up with a total score that indicates you have a low susceptibility to a stress-induced health break-down. However, having gone through a so-called "easy" divorce myself, especially since it was unexpected and not initiated by me, both my therapist and my family doctor can attest to the toll it took on my emotional and physical health. 


We can't ignore the most important fact - if you did not feel stressed in some way, you would not be looking up online stress tests in the first place. Maybe you have been having problems sleeping. Maybe you find yourself snapping at loved ones. Maybe you cry at the drop of a hat. Maybe your energy has been low or you have physical symptoms with no medical reason (headaches, upset stomach, body aches, chest pain). Whatever it is, you don't feel right and you are looking to feel better. Does it really matter what number you score on an online test? Is that going to change how you feel? 


If something is consuming too much of your time, money, effort, or soul, and as a result is causing unpleasant and unwanted thoughts, feelings, behaviour changes, or physical symptoms for a prolonged amount of time and you feel like you can't stop or control it, it is stressful to you whether some test assigns it 15 or 100 points. Listen to your mind and body and they will tell you more than any quiz ever will.


I am not knocking questionnaires. I, like many holistic health practitioners, use many quizzes and questionnaires in my practice. They give me a good baseline of my clients' overall mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual health, and allow me to track their progress and significant changes over time. However, I focus less on scores and trying to label my clients or define their issue on the basis of a score than I do on reviewing their answers to individual questions to determine their feelings, perceptions, and the impact any stressors are having in their life. They are people, not points, and that is how I treat them. 




Warning, if you do choose to use an online quiz, take the results with a grain of salt and do not use the test to self-diagnose as a substitute for seeking professional help. Do not attempt to "fix things" on your own with things like herbs, supplements, or homeopathy. While some may be helpful, there are many natural products purported to help with stress, depression, and anxiety that can be very dangerous, especially if combined with other supplements or medications. You need the advice of someone specially trained in these areas. It is also dangerous to ignore symptoms and chalk them up to stress if they haven't been evaluated by a medical doctor. Yes, that stomach ache or headache might be because of stress, but there may be a more serious medical condition involved. 



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