Changes in life are inevitable and, whether perceived as positive or negative, can be powerful stressors. In the modern world, changes seem to occur more frequently. We may have barely adjusted to one change before another comes along, leading to feelings of being overwhelmed and out of control.
In 1967, psychiatrists Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe developed a stress scale after researching the effects of life changes on stress levels and health. Subsequent research has supported the links between stress and illness, as well as the validity of the Homes and Rahe Stress Scale as a predictor of illness. A number is assigned to 43 significant changes that have occurred during the past year. To assess your stress, put a check by all the events you have experienced within the last 12 months, then add the numbers together.
Life event/Life change units
Death of a spouse - 100
Divorce - 73
Marital separation - 65
Imprisonment - 63
Death of a close family member - 63
Personal injury or illness - 53
Marriage - 50
Dismissal from work - 47
Marital reconciliation - 45
Retirement - 45
Change in health of a family member - 44
Pregnancy - 40
Sexual difficulties -39
Gain a new family member - 39
Business readjustment - 39
Change in financial state - 38
Death of a close friend - 37
Change to a different line of work - 36
Change in frequency of arguments - 35
Major mortgage - 32
Foreclosure of mortgage or loan - 30
Change in responsibility at work - 29
Child leaving home - 29
Trouble with in-laws - 29
Outstanding personal achievement - 28
Spouse starts or stops work - 26
Begin or end school - 26
Change in living conditions - 25
Revision of personal habits - 24
Trouble with boss - 23
Change in working hours or conditions - 20
Change in residence - 20
Change in schools - 20
Change in recreation - 19
Change in church activities - 19
Change in social activities - 18
Minor mortgage or loan - 17
Change in sleeping habits - 16
Change in number of family reunions - 15
Change in eating habits - 15
Vacation - 13
Christmas - 12
Minor violation of the law - 11
A score of 300 or more signifies a person definitely at risk for illness. A score of 150 to 299 indicates a moderate risk of illness (reduced by 30 percent from the risk assigned to someone with a score of 300 or more). A score of 150 or less indicates only a slight risk of illness.
So what is so stressful about change? The extent to which we resist, accept or welcome change is the critical part of how change affects us. Human development specialist Anne K. Soderman, Ph.D., says, "Life transitions, whether we choose them or not, call for giving up the familiar and moving toward the unknown. Sometimes we are frustrated because we understand that the change may allow us to take very little of our security with us. In short, we recognize that we need to move from here to there, but are unwilling to give up the 'here' to get to the 'there.'"
The following tips may be helpful when faced with the need to adapt to change:
Recognize that change is inevitable and though the outcome of change is unknown, the unknown is not necessarily worse than the known.
Transfer the energy it takes to resist inevitable change into focusing on potential positive benefits and new opportunities. As in most situations, the story you tell yourself about the change will affect you more powerfully than the change itself.
Cultivate a support network of family, friends and colleagues during significant life changes. Ask for guidance from those have displayed admirable courage when navigating similar life transitions.
Consider others who are affected by the change. Change rarely influences only you. Experiencing the change as a group can be supportive and unifying.
During times of change, focus on one change at a time. For example, if you are experiencing changes in your career, it may not be the best time to build a new house or embark on a home renovation project.
Take control. Resist feelings of powerlessness by facing the change head on. Make a list of what needs to done to implement the change and tackle the items one at a time. Be patient with yourself; do not expect to master all of the elements of the change overnight.
By realizing that we many not have control over life changes but we do have control over our responses to change, we are much better equipped to deal with the stresses associated with change.
Miriam Keith is consumer support coordinator of the Washington County Mental Health and Addiction Recovery Board.