Life brings change.
Everyday we move through our lives and the world shifts around us. This shifting may appear subtle, even nonexistent, especially if we have a daily routine that stays generally the same. We step through each day. We wake up, eat breakfast, go to work – etc, etc. Despite this routine, the world still changes.
If you think this swirl of change somehow can’t effect you, well good luck with that. Our regular pattern can change in an instant. We step out one day and discover when we arrive at work that we’ve been laid off. Someone smashes into your car and drives away, leaving you with a damaged car and a potentially big bill for the repairs. A loved one becomes ill and suddenly you become a caregiver on top of everything else you do.
These types of things happen every day. Our predictable routine shifts and we take on the stress of this new change. At first we might feel alright with the added stress. We go along, figuring the stress will soon subside as the source of that stressor calms down. Problem solved. Now I can go back to my life and leap once more into the groove of my habits.
In the last 17 years of working with people facing major change, rarely does this transition from stress happen so smoothly. In fact, I’ve found many people underestimate the impact stress places on their lives. Someone shares with me feelings of exhaustion, anxiety and depression that they can’t seem to shake. When I ask what is going on in their lives, I soon learn that they hold multiple stresses due to changes going on in their lives. They just moved. They just started a new job. A loved one died. All in the same 6 month period.
They wonder why they can’t track things as well, or why they feel like watching TV until 3am. They notice they drink more wine every night, or can’t help finishing off a pint of ice-cream several times a week. They feel strained, anxious and confused as to why things changed. It’s a common story, one I’ve told myself a few times as well.
Keep Moving! Nothing to See Here!
We live in a culture constantly moving forward. Always forward. To rest and reflect falls into a secondary activity. It requires stopping, taking a breath and looking honestly at how we are coping. We might need to acknowledge that stressor is impacting our health and wellness far more than we thought. We may feel we should be stronger, more able to manage these changes. So we “stiff upper lip” it and push ourselves to move through it.
The trouble with this approach is that change just keeps going. The world continues to shift, bringing on more change and adjustments. We assume we control this, but I hate to tell you we don’t. Not at all. I see people soldier on, not dealing with the current stresses, and then all it takes is one more thing and they collapse on the floor. Sometimes our bodies simply say “uncle.”
Respect that your emotional and physical body needs to process change. It needs to grieve. It needs rest. It needs expression. The more stressors on your plate, the more rest and care for yourself becomes paramount. Generally you are not an endless well of energy and resources. Your body requires support on all levels so that you can continue to stay balanced. When we do not respect this process, we end up placing ourselves and our health in harms way.
The Stress Scale
Over 40 years ago, psychiatrists Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe explored the role of stress on the health and wellbeing of an individual. From their research they developed a stress scale to help evaluate the level of stressors one might be holding at a given time. By taking such a test one could potentially understand and manage their stress in a different way.
Their test ranges through some of the more common life changes a person might experience, such as a death or loss of a relationship to the changing of a job. Each of these items affect us in different ways at different times in our lives. So the death of one person might not have as much impact as another in our lives, depending on our connection to that person or the circumstances of their death. The important thing here is to be open to the fact the change might have more influence on you than you expected.
(Given all the changes in the last 40 years, I would also say there are stressors not considered when they created the scale – for example the role of the internet and social media on our daily lives. So you might add points for that as well.)
To take the test, simply add up the numbers of all the stressors you might currently be working with. Their suggestion is to look at things that occurred in the last year. As I mentioned before, we tend to just move forward through things. However some change, like the loss of a loved one, does not resolve itself in 6 weeks. These changes can take months or even years to find resolution and healing. Yet we expect people to wrap up everything nice and quick so life can go back to “normal”.
This expectation creates more harm than anything else in the long run. People stuff their feelings, managing the pain with any number of things. In the end we suffer for it, surprised that our health can’t seem to recover. Many stressors draw our energy from us in subtle ways, so much so that the drain occurs unnoticed. The stress slowly eats away from the foundation of our wellness and only when it’s too late do we notice the walls crumbling around us. This is why respecting the of change on our lives is so important.
The Stress of Positive Change.
Something else you might notice in the scale are the number of “positive” stressors. We think of a promotion as a good thing, and it usually is. However a promotion also sometimes brings longer hours, more pressure and higher scrutiny of your work. Sure you like the better pay, but the stress of those other changes can play a negative role.
When I married my wife, it was a great day of celebration and joy. It also stressed the daylights out of us. We spent the first half of our honeymoon recovering, in a daze from how much energy the event took over an 9 month period. Since the stress was surrounded by a positive event, we did not pay close attention to it. Thankfully Hawaii helped us recover nicely.
Awareness Wins the Day
A key to prevention is awareness, and the Holmes-Rahe Life Stress Inventory goes a long way at providing a great tool to help us broaden our awareness of ourselves. The scale helps you form a simple map of the things impacting you.
As you work with it you might find a particular stressor missing. If so add it to the list and give it a point value. For example the list does not include being part of a legal trail. I know a few people who spent months as part of a civil trail who would place that high on their stressor list. See the tool as a springboard and make changes as needed.
(If you do end up adding something, assign it more points than you think. We tend to lowball the impact of things. A few extra points will help keep it in your radar.)
These types of tools help us form a basic structure of understanding. It is up to us to then take that understanding and use the information for our benefit. Let the tool help you be curious about what you carry each day. Let it guide your awareness so that you can place yourself in front of the stress, rather than being overwhelmed by it. If you do that then it can become a great resource.
Tell us what you discovered.
Your discoveries help give the rest of us courage to look at our own stuff. After all we do all of this wellness in the context of community. Isolation can become the biggest stressor of all. If you work with the scale, what did you realize about your stressors? Do you have a plan to work with them? Is that plan working?
Just add to the comments below, or add something to our Facebook page.
Until next time – To Your Health.
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