The Error in Presuming Stress Levels Original published article found here.
The Problem - To begin with, I started thinking about this while I was making some rice on the stove. I accidentally spilled some rice over the counter, and knowing that the flu was going around decided to throw away the excess instead of putting it back into the cup. Then, I thought of that saying "Think of the starving kids in..." That's when I began to go crazy with thoughts. I have had a lot* of stress in one month, and I began to wonder how I could compare my stress to someone else's, specifically the starving kids in nowheres-ville. After a long discussion with myself I concluded that there is no way to accurately determine or compare one person's stress level to another person's.
1) Stress is like art. It is conceptual. There is no way to accurately measure stress because it is unique in each person's mind.
2) Stress is an authoritarian word, being created for the purpose of defining an abstract idea to the masses that, of course, agree to it's purpose and definition. The authority would be the collective majority of those in a higher position of power, ie. Drs + Therapists + Psychiatrists, etc.
3) Stress can be measured physically on relative terms, using meters and such to measure heart beat, blood pressure, sweating, etc.
4) Everybody's unique in that people have their own experiences and everybody is different, physically and psychologically. The two actually go hand in hand when it comes to stress because one can alter the other.
Based on the mass agreement of the definition of stress, I can guess that a lot of people feel fairly accurate when they are measuring their stress with someone else's. This is typical and an example would be when an Engineer from Purdue says he's had a lot of homework stress from labs and such and the Biology major he is talking with agrees with him/her. Note that even though they are in different majors, the concept of "labs" is so similar that they both can safely guess, and accurately compare their stresses to be relatively similar. This can also work the other way. When a HS student complains that he/she has had a lot of homework to a Grad Student at Purdue, the Grad student will probably not show any sympathy because he/she knows that their work is far more challenging than HS. This would be based on the common knowledge of the hierarchical school system and the notion that higher levels in the hierarchy require more physical and mental work and-or time. Again, the grad student is using relativity as the base measurement stemming from the mass agreement of the definition of stress. Going back to the rice I wasted by throwing it out - I can say that I had little stress or conflict with myself after throwing away what seemed to be perfectly good rice. But based on that saying, "think of the starving kids in...", I can guess that those starving kids would not feel the same. Therefore, I can presume that those starving kids have a lot less opportunities than I do, and therefore have a lot more stress.
Here is the error. Stress is only relative to the mass definition. But Actual Stress is conceptual and based on our own experiences, NOT someone else's. An ideological way of thinking about it would be to think about drinking alcohol. A lightweight and a heavyweight go into a bar (sounds like a joke). Just because they drink the same amount does not mean that they both have the same stress. And just because they drink different amounts of alcohol does not mean that their stresses will be different. Each drinker has stress that matches their own body, regardless of how much they drink compares to the other.
How does this apply to those kids? Those kids just very well may have a lot less opportunities than me. But stress-wise, we have very different ideas of what is most stressful and what is least stressful. Take an imaginary scale of 1-10: 1 the least amount of stress, 10 the highest. On that scale to me, a 10 might be relationship troubles. A 10 to a starving kid might be not finding food for the third day in a row. But logically speaking, they ARE BOTH 10s! This proves that the catalysts of stress may be drastically different for two different people, but the reactions/stress levels can be near equal.
Another example that I have commonly seen or heard people talk about is suicide threats. The person who feels they have superiority, ie. more stress but are able to handle it better (Person A) than the person who is making the suicide threats (Person B) may dismiss that knowledge in disgust or a jokingly manner. "They won't do it." or "...all because they dumped that person?" What Person A doesn't understand is, that although the stress seems like a 4 or 5, to Person B the threat is a 10. The only way to accurately measure the two peoples' stress is to get them both to the same point on the scale. That would be a 10. This would mean that Person A would have to become suicidal as well. Let's say Person A went bankrupt and lost their business, house caught on fire, and $1,000,000 Lamborghini was not insured after it got pummeled by a hailstorm. Proving my point, Both Person A and Person B are now at 10, but their experiences that drove them there are totally different.
Similarly, this idea can be applied with the HS student and the Grad Student. The grad student expects his work to be harder and more laborious, therefore more stressful based on the mass definition of stress, enforced by the authorities. But in ACTUAL STRESS, based on each person's own experiences, each person may or may not have a different number on the scale. On the stress scale, the HS might have a 10 with homework and the Grad might also have a 10. This means that there stress levels are equally matched, therefore they both have the same amount of psychological and physical trauma. But also, the high schooler may even have more actual stress than the Grad, ie. the high schooler's scale = 10 and the Grad's scale = 7 because the grad student has become so accustom to writing Papers it has become second nature. This proves once again that stress is based on experiences, not the quantitative amount of work performed or measured.
In conclusion, there is no EXACT way to measure stress. Stress is 'inner', it is like our thoughts and cannot be taken out of our bodies, although it does cause physical and psychological reactions, both interacting with each other. To measure one person's stress with another doesn't make sense because people have different, unique experiences that determine their own stress levels on the scale, regardless of whether they are or are not in the same scenarios. A true measure of stress may be finding similar if not unmatched reactions from two different people, but that measure would only show similarity in reactions and not overall differences in stress levels or the catalysts behind them. Therefore, the stress level from one person should not be presumed when solely basing it on tangible evidence.
* 'A lot' is a term used to describe a significant amount.