What Causes Stress?

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Here’s a chance to help scientists uncover the roots of stress. The Big Stress Experiment aims to be the largest-ever scientific investigation on the topic — and it’s recruiting help from the public. You take an online quiz about your feelings and your life experience. Then academic researchers take your data (anonymously) to determine how childhood trauma, current uncertainty, and genetic traits might make some people more prone to stress than others. When you’re done, you get personalized tips on how to relieve stress in your own life.

The experiment is hosted on the BBC website, and to participate you can click here. It’s pretty fun. Just don’t try to do it in your downtime at work. You’ll need a good half hour to get through it all. (To understand how genes may affect you, the test runs you through a series of games that assess mental flexibility. I’d explain more how this relates to stress, but it might change the way you play — and that would be bad science.)

At the end, you have the satisfaction of seeing your test results. I learned, for example, that my most commonly employed coping strategy is “problem solving.” The site suggests that this is a good way to deal with stressful situations, since it lets me adapt to them without wallowing in self-pity. I have it on good authority from friends and family, however, that this coping strategy is also extremely annoying for others — and that I should just let them mull things over before I chime in with well-intentioned advice.