Stress is not just something we feel on the inside; stress is also something we experience on the outside. Whether we view them as being positive or negative, significant life events are challenging to handle and negotiate successfully. When we experience many such events in a relatively short period of time, it easy to feel overwhelmed and to suffer both physical and psychological illness. Although this Provision gives you a few glimpses into the work of self-compassion, it’s primary aim is to give you an accurate understanding of the stress you are under. Read on to take a 40-year-old assessment that still holds true today.
It seems like only yesterday that I was writing about a daunting computer problem that led to my purchase of a new machine. Yet here I am again, with another tale to tell. Only this time it was my laptop rather than my desktop. I’m coming to believe that computers really do have a life-expectancy of 4-5 years. If so, I may put myself on a scheduled upgrade plan rather than waiting for serious problems to emerge.
That would certainly spare me a lot of stress. Even though I have multiple systems of redundancy to protect against down time and data loss, it is stressful nonetheless to be in recovery mode. Especially when it happens on the road. In the past week, I was in Baltimore, Maryland with family and in Branson, Missouri attending a coaching conference. No sooner did I arrive at my hotel in Baltimore than my laptop died, for the second time, with irreparable problems. It was time, after about 4 years, for a new laptop.
Given my plans for the week, being without a laptop was not a good option. I would have made due, but I would have missed deadlines and I would not have been happy. That was the bad news. The good news was that my hotel in Baltimore was located within walking distance of an electronics store. Talk about a serendipity! So I walked over, purchased a new laptop, set it up, and recovered my data from the external hard drive that I always carry with me when travelling. Using the free software that came with the computer, I got through week without missing a beat and am now reconfiguring things to my liking.
In the grand scheme of things, this stressful event was hardly a blip. It does illustrate, however, the power of events to cause stress. And they often appear unexpectedly, in the twinkling of an eye. When I left home, the laptop was fine. When I turned it on again, just 8 hours later, it was dead, leaving me stranded, on the road, with limited options and functionality. If you don’t resonate with that one, or if you think it’s rather trivial, how about a few more stories:
- I have a friend who received a diagnosis of breast cancer. In an instant, life went from normal to stressful. Although she has recovered and is now in remission, that was not before she went through the whole routine of chemotherapy, nausea, hair loss, radiation, and pain. It was a year she would like to forget. In lieu of that, she has developed numerous self-care rituals that help her to stay positive, relaxed, and focused on her priorities.
- I have a client who lives in Santa Barbara, CA, where 13 square miles and 80 homes have been charred by a raging wildfire. In an instant, life went from normal to stressful. More than 30,000 people have been evacuated from the area and authorities have urged 23,000 more people to be ready to leave at a moment’s notice. What happens all depends upon the direction the wind is blowing. Natural disasters are like that: they put computer problems into perspective.
- I have another client on the east coast who lost his job thanks to the recession. In an instant, life went from normal to stressful. Now he is exploring options, ranging from consulting, to small business development, to a traditional job search. He may try all three before settling upon one. The challenge is to proceed with confidence rather than desperation. Although he’s lost his job, he figures now is not the time to lose his coach. We’re working on mental and practical strategies for moving forward.
In addition to precipitous events, we also experience stress from chronic conditions. It is stressful to lose your job; it is even more stressful to live in poverty from the day one is born. It is stressful to be diagnosed with cancer; it is even more stressful to be born with AIDS. It is stressful to have your house go up in flames; it is even more stressful to live continuously in polluted and toxic environments. Unfortunately, a majority of people on the planet experience stress from chronic conditions. And from what scientists are telling us about climate change, chronic toxic conditions may eventually come to touch us all.
How’s that for an uplifting Provision! The more we contemplate stressful events, the more we appreciate just how much stress people are dealing with on a day-to-day basis. I know that helps me to be more empathetic and understanding in my interactions with others. When people are behaving in unexpected or tragic ways, it usually has to do with stressful events. There’s no way of knowing, just from a surface-level interaction, what may be going on in a person’s life. I strive to always give people the benefit of the doubt.
How much stress are you under right now? For more than 40 years there has been a scale of stressful events in use by psychologists known as the “Social Readjustment Scale”. It was first developed in 1967 by Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe and it has been widely circulated in many forms and shapes ever since. Here is an adaptation based upon the work of Herbert Benson in his book, The Relaxation Response. Go through the table and copy the score in the last column for every event that you have experienced in the past 12 months. Total the scores in the last column to get your stress-event index number out of a possible 1,466.
|1. Death of Spouse / Partner||100|
|2. Divorce from Spouse / Partner||73|
|3. Separation from Spouse / Partner||65|
|4. Detention in Jail or Other Institution||63|
|5. Death of Close Family Member or Relative||63|
|6. Major Personal Injury or Illness||53|
|8. Being Fired from Work||47|
|9. Marital Reconciliation||45|
|10. Retirement from Work||45|
|11. Major Change in Health or Behavior of Family Member||44|
|13. Sexual Difficulties||39|
|14. Gaining a New Family Member (Child, Parent, Other)||39|
|15. Major Business Readjustment (Merger, Reorganization, Bankruptcy)||39|
|16. Major Change in Financial State (A Lot Worse or Better)||38|
|17. Death of Close Friend||37|
|18. Shift to Different Type of Work||36|
|19. Shift in Number of Arguments with Spouse / Partner (A Lot More or Less)||35|
|20. Taking on a Mortgage or Loan Greater Than $100,000 (Home or Business)||31|
|21. Foreclosure of Mortgage or Loan||30|
|22. Major Shift in Work Responsibilities (Promotion, Demotion, Transfer)||29|
|23. Son or Daughter Leaving Home (College, Marriage, etc.)||29|
|24. Trouble with In-Laws or Relatives||29|
|25. Outstanding Personal Achievement||28|
|26. Spouse / Partner Starts or Stops Working Outside the Home||26|
|27. Starting or Stopping School||26|
|28. Major Change in Living Conditions (Addition, Remodeling, Blight)||25|
|29. Change in Personal Habits (Dress, Manners, Associations, etc.)||24|
|30. Difficulty with Boss||23|
|31. Major Shift in Job Hours or Conditions||20|
|32. Change in Residence (New Home, Apartment, etc.)||20|
|33. Changing Schools||20|
|34. Major Change in Recreation||19|
|35. Major Change in Church Activities (A Lot More or Less)||19|
|36. Major Change in Social Activities (Clubs, Dancing, Movies, Visiting, etc.)||18|
|37. Taking on a Mortgage or Loan Less Than $100,000 (Home or Business)||17|
|38. Major Shift in Sleep Habits (A Lot More or Less)||16|
|39. Major Change in Number of Family Get-Togethers (A Lot More or Less)||15|
|40. Major Shift in Eating Habits (More or Less, Different Hours, Surroundings)||15|
|42. Christmas Holidays||12|
|43. Minor Legal Violations (Traffic Tickets, Jaywalking, Disturbing the Peace, etc.)||11|
So what number did you come up with? Don’t read on until you complete the assessment and total your points. Do you think your number (and your stress) is high, medium, or low? Here are the ranges identified by the researchers, including the health risks associated with each level:
- 0-150: Little or no significant life stress
- 150-199: Mild Life Crisis Level with a 35% chance of illness
- 200-299: Moderate Life Crisis Level with a 50% chance of illness
- 300-1466: Major Life Crisis Level with an 80% chance of illness
Obviously, no one ever scores 1,466 based on events in the past 12 months alone. You probably knew that. But you may not have realized that the highest stress range starts at only 300 points. I’m guessing many people tested at that level or higher, especially in the wake of the recession, natural disasters, wars, and other global events. If so, then it would be good to stay with this Provision series because by the end of it we’ll be offering some specific strategies for stress management, including environmental modification.
For now, however, I want you to get an accurate understanding of how much stress you are facing. If you’ve been sick a lot lately, then it may be stress-induced illness. And that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve had a lot of problems. You may have been surprised that many items on this list (e.g., Marriage, Gaining a New Family Member, Shift to Different Type of Work, Outstanding Personal Achievement, Changing Schools, and Vacation) can all be wonderful things. But that doesn’t mean they’re not stressful.
Remember our definition of stress from last week: stress is stimulation. 300 or more points of stress on the above index is over stimulation and that equals distress. Although the researchers don’t say so with their scoring ranges, it seems obvious that 0 points of stress on the above index is under stimulation which also equals distress. Given the ubiquitous nature of Christmas holidays, it also seems obvious that one would have to be dead to score an absolute 0. That’s appropriate since stress only goes away entirely once we are dead!
After you complete the list, you can do some self-coaching by noticing which events are under your control and which are outside of your control. The death of a spouse or partner is the most stressful event on the list, for example, but it is outside of your control. Changing how much you argue with that spouse or partner is, at least to some extent, within your control. So you may want to think about and get some help with the controllable items. It really does come down to changing the things you can change, accepting the things you cannot change, and knowing the difference between the two.
We’ll have a lot more to say about that before the end of this series. For now, however, just work on developing self-compassion for whatever level of stress you are experiencing. It doesn’t help to add insult to injury by beating yourself up for the stress you have experienced in the past 12 months. It does help to understand what that stress is doing to you and then to mourn and to celebrate the milestones you have passed. The trek of life is filled with losses and gains; how we respond to and handle them makes all the difference in the world.
Coaching Inquiries: How much stress have you been under lately? What would assist you to develop self-compassion rather than self-judgment? What things can you change and what things can you not change? Who could assist you to know the difference and to find the courage to take action?
To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form to arrange a complimentary conversation. To learn more about LifeTrek Coaching programs, Click Here.
Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob..
When I read the title of your last Provision, Stress Matters, I got so excited. That’s me! I can’t wait to read your mind on how to manage stress better.
Good timing with your Provision this morning. I have been so “stressed” with work, family, financial, artistic, landlording, health etc…. It’s really taking a toll. I’m looking forward to your series.
Good timing on the subject of stress. I have some of the same symptoms you listed: Increased susceptibility to the common cold, Weakened immune systems, and Slower wound healing. I didn’t realize that stress could have an impact on my immune system, since stress is a part of our daily life.
Your readers may enjoy watching the dance of a thousand hands: www.youtube.com/watch?v=xgHmSdpjEIk. All 21 of the dancers are complete deaf-mutes, relying only on signals from trainers at the four corners of the stage. This dance is so beautiful and amazing; it sure relieves my stress!
May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.
Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC
President, LifeTrek Coaching International, www.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformation, www.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coaching, www.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a Time, Online Retailers
Address: 121 Will Scarlet Lane, Williamsburg, VA 23185-5043
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