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The BBC news magazine today looked at “Is it a good idea to measure stress?” (

As psychologists with a strong interest in well-being, this debate is fascinating.

On the one hand, measuring stress with devices that look at blood pressure, pulse rates or hormones, might give validation to our feelings of stress.  Once we have that measure, it can be a starting point for doing something about it.

On the other hand, there is a risk of people becoming… well, stressed, by the over-attention to what is going on in their bodies (also known as hyper-vigilance).   Some argue that this is an unethical play on people’s fears for their health by businesses.

The problem with stress is that’s is very subjective.  By stress, we mean the response someone might have to adverse pressures – different from a stressor, which might be an external factor.  For example, having to meet a tight deadline is the stressor, whereas the feeling of not coping is the stress.  While it’s true that a measure might allow someone to recognise that they are stressed, an argument can be made that if you are feeling stressed, then that’s enough evidence to know to do something about it.

There is also a risk of feeding into hypochondria and worrying people unnecessarily.  For example, if someone feels stressed and they take a stress test such as one mentioned in the article, what would a positive or negative result actually do for them?  A positive (stressed) result might add to their worries, whereas a negative (not-stressed) result might make them worry they have some other more serious illness.

Our advice would be that if you are feeling stressed, ask yourself 2 questions:

  1. Why do I think I am feeling this way?
  2. What can I do about it?  (in a healthy way)

We believe in treating each client as an individual.  If someone feels stressed, we do not challenge this view, but rather we work with it – what does this mean for him or her?  How can we help?

A formal stress test is probably not necessary for individuals, as by and large, we are usually able to self-diagnose reasonably well.  We can also ask friends and family if they feel we have been under a lot of pressure and are showing signs of stress (e.g. not eating properly, drinking/smoking too much, being short-tempered or irritable, not sleeping well, etc.).

If you would like help with stress, contact us for an appointment on 0131 215 1066 or visit our websites for therapy or coaching.

At an organisational level, there is more that we can do.  The Health and Safety Executive has provided benchmarks for risk factors associated with stress, and this can be assessed by surveys and questionnaires.  For more information on this service, contact us on 0131 215 1066 or visit Stress Audits for Business.


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