The Stress of Transitions: Assess Your Potential for Illness

The past few months I’ve come down with one virus after another: a head cold in November, a chest cold in December, a stomach virus early January, then a family member got sick and my cat got sick, and I started to feel a drippy nose, again. Yikes.

It was pretty clear that my immune system wasn’t doing well and asking me for a generous dose of tender, loving care (TLC) and support. Getting lots of rest and drinking pots of ginger-honey-lemon tea to heal myself were important but as a holistic transitions and life coach, I wanted to get to the underlying cause(s). What was impacting my immune system?

Photo credit: Kelly Sikkema, unsplash

Photo credit: Kelly Sikkema, unsplash

I sat down to do an assessment tool called the Holmes-Rahe Stress Scale. In 1967, psychiatrists Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe published a study where they reviewed the medical records of over 5,000 patients to determine whether stressful events might contribute to illness. They discovered that “clustering of social or life events…accounts in part for the time of onset of disease.”

Holmes and Rahe created an assessment tool to measure the potential for life events to affect our health. You can view it here. Interestingly, these life events are transitions: in our relationship, family, work, health, lifestyle, finances, friendships and residence. Each one presents as a time of change - endings, the unknown, beginnings - when we might find ourselves experiencing uncertainty, vulnerability, chaos, overwhelm, anxiety, grief, and/or shock. Stressful times indeed.

Photo credit: Autumn Mott, unsplash

Photo credit: Autumn Mott, unsplash

To use this scale, check off the events that apply in the past year. (There is also a Stress Scale for children / youth that you can find here.) The life events have varying weights; the higher the number, the greater the stress. For example:
- Major personal injury or illness scores 53 points,
- Major change in the health or behaviour of a family member scores 44 points,
- Getting fired or “let go” from work is 47 points,
- Retirement scores 45 points, and
- Career transition scores 36 points.
Even seemingly small or insignificant life events are listed on this stress scale, such as Revision of Personal Habits (24 points) and Vacation (13 points).

The final score estimates the likelihood for the stressors to affect our health.
A score below 150 points indicates a slight risk of illness.*
A score between 150-300 points suggests a moderate risk of illness.
A score above 300 points predicts that the potential is high for illness to develop.
*Note: Often we think of illness as physical, however consider that the term can also refer to mental and/or emotional illness.

So what was my score, you ask? I scored over 200, which suggests a moderate risk of illness. No wonder my immune system was compromised! I wasn’t surprised to learn my score and found that doing the exercise was quite helpful and validating. Knowledge is power and opens the door to choice, personal leadership and empowerment.

Try the Holmes-Rahe stress scale out for yourself. How many life events have you experienced in the past year? Stay tuned for upcoming blog posts that will offer a holistic approach to staying well.

Actualization: The "final" stage in transitions

If you were asked, “What was the hardest, most challenging transition you’ve gone through in your life?” you’d probably know.

Maybe it was being seriously injured, going through a divorce, getting fired or restructured out of a job, the untimely death of a beloved, experiencing a traumatic event, hearing a shocking diagnosis, going through a divorce, declaring bankruptcy, becoming a parent, going through midlife, immigrating to a new country with a new language, changing careers, or something else that comes to mind.

And if I asked you, “What helped you get through it?” You could probably think of a couple of things that helped you.
What do you call that point, that stage, when you’ve completed a transition?
I’ve searched the English language for a term or phrase and have yet to discover it. Funny how each of us goes through transitions our entire lives yet there is no concept that captures this final phase, at least not in Western culture. In her book Finding Your Own North Star, life coach Martha Beck refers to this stage as “The Promised Land.” William Bridges, the educational consultant and thought leader who wrote Managing Transitions, offers a model with three stages: Endings, The Neutral Zone and Beginnings. What happens in between Beginnings and the next Ending?

So for now, I will call the stage when we reach our new fulfillment or the completion of a transition “Actualization”. The definition of actualization is: to make actual, to realize, to turn into action or fact.

Actualization applies to every kind of transition: career, home/residence, relationships, family, school/work, health, lifestyle, and money/finances. Arriving at actualization is cause for celebration and acknowledgment. We left our Old Fulfillment, sometimes not by choice or when we were not ready to leave. We moved through the stages of Death, The Unknown, and Rebirth, through the Visioning stage, and Stepping stage until we are here. Celebrate that you are here! Appreciate what you have done to get here!

photo credit: Greg Rakozy on unsplash

photo credit: Greg Rakozy on unsplash

Reaching Actualization is a personal growth accomplishment and teaches us (or reveals to us) a lot about ourselves. Here are some things we might learn in the process:

  • What we are ready to let go of — people, ideas, beliefs, habits, things, dreams — and not yet ready to let go of,
  • How we manage the negative self-talk and self-limiting beliefs of our inner Saboteur, and the external Saboteurs in our life,
  • The experience of a range of emotions, perhaps with an intensity we have not felt before,
  • How we grieve loss(es),
  • How we manage pain and discomfort, what are our go-to’s and what is most helpful,
  • How we deal with uncertainty and anxiety when faced with the Unknown,
  • What gives us meaning and purpose in this transition,
  • How we make decisions and choices,
  • What we prioritize to realize our dreams, goals, and actions,
  • How we experience being a Beginner again,
  • What we imagine for our new fulfillment in the Visioning stage,
  • What strategies help us to take uncomfortable actions, especially in the Stepping stage,
  • Our most effective strategies and tools to plan, organize and prepare taking (new) action,
  • How comfortable we are celebrating the steps we’ve taken and our personal growth during this transition, and
  • What helps us stay grounded and in good health during transitions, and what doesn’t.

Clearly, transitions are an opportunity to learn big life lessons. Even more than that though, as we do the personal growth work, the transition can be a transcendent peak experience. Our perspective shifts and we are not the same person as when we left our Old Fulfillment. Reaching the stage of Actualization grows our resilience, self-confidence and wisdom.

“I’ve learned that our background and circumstance may influence who we are, but we are responsible for who we become.”

actress Lupita Nyong’o 

Be patient. Getting to this final stage of Actualization usually takes longer than we like.
It usually takes years to go from Old Fulfillment to reach Actualization. We want it to go by fast and get “there” quickly, but it takes time and energy: to realize that we have to leave our Old Fulfillment, to grieve and let go, to re-birth and re-invent ourselves, to dream anew, to take steps out of our comfort zone, to understand our fears and (self-)limiting beliefs, to learn how get out of our own way. Giving ourselves permission to take the time, space and energy needed is important.

It’s not really the final stage. Actualization will eventually become Old Fulfillment.
It may be weeks, months, maybe years, and then one day we can find ourselves edging or careening towards Old Fulfillment. Like a perpetual helix, we engage with the next stage of the transition process. That is the nature of change, it is a constant. And this time, we have lived experience to guide us.

photo credit: Ross Findon on unsplash

photo credit: Ross Findon on unsplash

14 Tips for the Actualization stage:

1. Celebrate your personal growth, strength and courage.
2. Stay open to opportunities that will continue to grow you and your confidence.
3. Explore your relationship to change.
4. Reflect on your learning, success, and accomplishment of moving through this transition.
5. Practice abundance and generosity of self. Offer your attention and support. Donate time or money.
6. Lead, mentor and share your knowledge with others. Explore ways to impart your experience, people want it. Read about what makes mentorship work.
7. Update your vision list, vision story, or vision board. Or create a new one!
8. Review your dreams and goals, and set new ones that continue to inspire and challenge you.
9. Embody inner peace, every day.
10. Express gratitude, including to everyone who supported you during this transition.
11. Evaluate what worked, and what didn’t work, what you would do again, and what you would do differently for future transitions.
12. Explore your relationship(s) to Money, Work, Leisure, or whatever else feels out of balance for you.
13. Take time to process your experiences and thoughts about aging, death, dying, and grief. The Invitation: Rich and Raw Interviews about Aging, Death and Dying has a chapter with engaging questions and creative ideas.
14. Practice Core Values: Gratitude, Generosity, and Leadership.

The Stepping Stage of Transitions: When Dreams Become Real(ity)

Photo credit: Curtis Macnewton on Unsplash

Photo credit: Curtis Macnewton on Unsplash

The Stepping stage in transitions is when things become concrete, pragmatic and active. In other words, sh-t gets real. It’s the nuts-and-bolts of change. You set goals, create a plan, take steps to turn ideas into action, and learn what works and what doesn’t work. Stepping into action moves you towards accomplishing what you’ve dreamed of doing and being.  

There’s a catch -  no matter how much time you spend visioning, goal-setting and planning a course of action for your dreams, you cannot know what problems you’ll face when you finally step into action. This doesn’t mean that your dreams are misguided or that they won’t come true, simply that you will need to modify your plan, maybe many times.

The Stepping stage is when you might hear your inner Saboteur natter loudly in your ear:
“You’re fine where you were!”
“Stay safe and comfortable”
“Keep doing more research!”
“You’re too (fill in the blank) to do this”
“You can’t do this, why bother trying?”

Your Saboteur and its self-limiting beliefs will really show up to ease your anxiety when you actually take action for change. It has an important role: the Saboteur wants you to stay safe by keeping you in your comfort zone and maintaining your status quo. It functions to keep your body’s sympathetic nervous system - the fight-or-flight response - in homeostasis and in balance. Otherwise your adrenaline will rocket sky-high, your heart rate and blood pressure will increase which, over repeated exposure and time, can cause stress and possibly illness. This makes the purpose of the Saboteur critical in keeping you safe and well, but also offers a way for you to notice when change is stressing you out too much and stopping you from moving ahead.

 An important role of therapists and life coaches is to bring this negative self-talk with its accompanying emotions and behaviours into awareness and understand them, then explore strategies that disengage the Saboteur. Strengthening the parasympathetic nervous system - the rest-and-digest response - brings us into the state of Flow and Flourish. It quietens our inner Saboteur, relaxes our mind, body and spirit, and energizes us to stay inspired and motivated. Creating actions that are small and doable will also help lower anxiety, maintain homeostasis and quieten your Saboteur voice(s). Learning how to get out of your own way is quite a powerful process, even transformational.

“Adopting the right attitude can convert a negative stress into a positive one.”
Hans Selye

The Stepping stage is also when you are more vulnerable to external Saboteurs, the people, things, and systems that are obstacles or are not supportive of the change you want or have to make. There are people who may feel threatened when you step into action to make changes in your life and yourself, perhaps believing that as you change you will no longer be available to them as you once were. This is a great opportunity to strengthen relationships or get clearer about expectations. Unfortunately, some relationships can end when we go through a transition.

There are many things that can present as obstacles when you step into action; competing demands, responsibilities and roles, lack of resources (money, time, energy), technological issues, weather issues, transportation issues, bureaucracy, one’s own illness or of a family member, etc. All these things that get in the way of your dream are tests of your determination, patience, self-care, and stress management. Your Saboteur needs to know what you are prioritizing, that you are okay and safe, and that you are making this choice, not your Saboteur.

Photo credit: Glenn Carstens-Peters  , unsplash

Photo credit: Glenn Carstens-Peters, unsplash

There are also systemic barriers — racism, sexism, ableism, ageism, etc. — that surface when we challenge the status quo. These systemic obstacles can diminish hope and motivation, feeding the Saboteur’s self-limiting beliefs. But there are many programs and resources that provide support and assistance to achieve your goal and dream.

“In any given moment we have two options: to step forward into growth, or to step back into safety.”
Abraham Maslow

12 Suggestions for Stepping into Action:

  1. Set inspiring, motivating goals! It can “set” you up to be motivated or set you into the ditch of procrastination. S.M.A.R.T. goals offer a helpful guideline. Consider working with a coach or mentor to help you with this one.
  2. Brainstorm actions steps with various levels of difficulty, such as easy, not-so-easy, challenging and really challenging action steps. Then brainstorm one of the really challenging action steps. Give yourself permission to get a bit wild with it.
  3. Create an action plan using tool(s) that resonate for you - lists, mindmapping, wall map, colours, stickers/post-its, etc. Schedule reviews of your action plan in your calendar.
  4. Socialize, network, and connect with people who support your dream. You need a supportive community to take those steps.
  5. Keep the action steps small, even tiny. Realize the tiny steps you didn’t know you didn’t know.
  6. Research - information, people, places, events, resources, ideas, organizations, programs.
  7. Journal your stepping process: use your journal or notebook to brainstorm, organize, prioritize, track, evaluate your steps and review. It’s an invaluable tool for your self-awareness and for future transitions.
  8. “Complete one action a day” - write an email, journal, plan to attend an event, read a chapter from a how-to or inspirational book, research a new idea or resource, make a phone call.
  9. Reflect on how you deal with failure, learn from your failures. 5 Best Books About Learning From Failing.
  10. Strengthen your rest-and-digest response. Take care of your mind, body and spirit to minimize your anxiety and keep yourself well. Make time for relaxation, enjoyment, pleasure, health and wellness.
  11. Brainstorm rewards for taking those action steps. Celebrate your steps! Celebrate making the call, extending the invitation, having the meeting or conversation, reading the fine print, whatever it is that was getting in your way. Celebrate!!
  12. Practice core values: Patience, Persistence and Self-Care.

Book Inspiration #4: “How I Look, For My AGE”

As you read through “The Invitation: Rich and Raw Conversations about Aging, Death & Dying” you will discover many inspirational ideas. You’ll also notice themes that will make you reflect about your own aging, death and dying.

One theme that came up in several interviews is How I Look, For My AGE. Not surprisingly, it was mentioned primarily by female participants.

Emily said, “For the most part, I think I’ve aged well. I am 78, but people tell me I look younger. How should I know? I look at myself, and to me, that’s what 78 looks like.

Gabriele, at 67, “I don’t have a problem with saying my age, and — I’m being brutally honest here — it’s because people don’t believe me. So it’s sort of a compliment, but I’ll probably get to the point where I look as old as I am chronologically.”

I also experienced it, especially in my 40s, when I was age-shamed for having lines and grey hair. Listening to someone tell me what I could buy and use to conceal signs of aging, I thought to myself, why would I want to do that? It frustrated me enough that I wanted to do something to explore this societal further, so seven years ago I started the interview project called “Our Thoughts on Aging” which evolved into this book.

Photo credit: Thomas Hafeneth via Unsplash

Photo credit: Thomas Hafeneth via Unsplash

How we look, for our AGE is a negative, ageist message that costs us extraordinary amounts of money. How much money does it cost?

According to Zion market Research, in 2015 we spent US$140.3 BILLION globally on anti-aging products, devices and services intended to hide and deny our age. It estimates that the anti-aging market will surge to US$216.52 billion by 2021 globally.

It also costs us our connection with other women and our sense of community. We are encouraged to compare ourselves to other women, to each other, me and you. It costs us experiencing connection, inclusion and compassion for each other. Let’s dismantle this unrealistic attitude about ourselves and each other.

Do you know how much money you spend on anti-aging products, services and devices? This includes what you spend on skincare, makeup, hair colour, clothing, footwear, accessories, magazines, fitness and diet, entertainment and recreation, etc. intended to help you conceal your age. We are the bread and butter for many of these industries.

Who are we trying to look young(er) for: Our employer, our colleagues, for our career and work, for our spouse, for family, for our community, for our self-image? It’s time to discuss these negative messages that deny our bodies, our histories and our selves. It’s time to talk about our fears of being devalued, loneliness, abandonment, and ugliness and how we spend money on hair colour, skin serums, fillers and polishers, and makeup to stay relevant. It’s time to challenge the anti-aging messages that impact us every day of our adult lives.

One thing we can all do to not say “How I/you/they look, for my/your/their AGE.”

Ageism is not new. Age-related stigma and ageist messages can easily become internalized beliefs about ourselves. If you find that you are scared of looking old or fearful of aging, consider spending time and money on personal growth work. With a therapist, counsellor or life coach, you can grow to understand the internal and external gremlins that natter to you about how (old, ugly, unattractive, etc.) you look. As you become aware of your personal triggers and self-limiting beliefs, you'll be able to shield off judgments and criticism, and abusive comments won’t matter to you. Self-acceptance and self-compassion are tremendous powerhouses against trolls. So is a supportive community of allies and friends, of all ages.

We need to start having conversations about our fear of aging: at home, with our spouse, at work, with friends, with our hair colour technician, with skincare specialists. The Invitation has a chapter filled with reflective questions and ideas for conversation starters.

In her New York Times article, Working to Disarm Women’s Anti-Aging Demon, Ashton Applewhite writes:
“Join forces against ageism the way we mobilized against sexism in the 1960s and ‘70s. For movements to have power, their members have to embrace the thing that is stigmatized, whether it’s being black, loving someone of the same sex, or growing old. That means moving from denying aging to accepting it, and even to embracing it.”

Join my colleague and friend, Allyson Woodrooffe, and me for a conversation about these topics and much more at our free webinar on Tuesday, November 21, at 7:30 pm ET (Canada) through Zoom. It promises to be a great conversation. Register today, there are only a few spots left!