health

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.

Surprises: What are the surprises we have after we leave?

Read the previous posts on this journey: A Dream Is Born and Climbing New Mountains. I have had several surprises since leaving my adventure-filled vacation in Nepal. A few surprises happened immediately upon leaving, others took weeks and months.

Surprise 1. The sun knows best. I was surprised to find out how much I enjoy rising before the sun and setting not long after the sun. i sleep better and more soundly when I follow the sun’s lead (most days).

Surprise 2. How little I need. Shelter, food, water, clothing, heat and electricity — the basics. It makes me wonder about the messages trying to persuade me to buy or do something because I need it. Not really the truth though. Do I need more clothes? More accessories? More decorations, more tech, more pretty shiny things? Nope.

Surprise 3. I enjoy smelling natural and earthy. I liked trekking and not showering, not shaving, not washing my hair and not laundering my clothes. I felt powerful, primitive and rebellious. It was so contrary to the North American ideal of cleanliness using a gazillion hygiene products to not smell, to not smell each other. I like knowing how I actually smell.

Surprise 4.How much stuff I have AND how hard it is for me to part with *my* stuff. The trek leaders offered us the opportunity to donate clothing at the end and it was a struggle for me. I rationalized that I would need the items when I travelled on or would continue to wear them when I returned home. Which I did and do. And I could have given stuff away and been fine. I had an opportunity to let go, to share and be generous. I realize it is not easy to detach from “It’s mine” and “I still need this”.

DSCN0986
DSCN0986

Surprise 5. The power of sticking to a daily plan. The trek leaders kept our group on a firm schedule which kept me focused, striving and challenged. Without it I probably would have stayed an extra day to rest my sick, puking stomach and then got caught in the snowy mess ahead preventing me from climbing higher and reaching base camp. Sticking to a plan made the difference between getting “there” and not.

Surprise 6. The intensity of North American consumerism and consumption. It was a shocking surprise to return to North American culture and values and be met with December holiday commercialism, the superficiality of celebrity culture, retail culture, and fitness culture. I felt bombarded by the amount that was promoted, marketed and sold to me, especially with the focus on “you you you” and “me, me, me” rather than “we we we” or “us us us”.

Surprise 7. Feeling spiritually full. I noticed how it felt to shift from feeling spiritually full to empty. I experienced having my spirit feel sumptuously full and fulfilled that my body needed little food to energize itself. I felt energized by what I was experiencing, seeing and doing. In contrast, I noticed the spiritual emptiness to urban life as the days and weeks passed and I settled back into a more sedentary life that was rich with resources and opportunities but lacking in nature, movement, community and connection.

Surprise 8. How the Nepalese listen and Canadians talk. When I arrived in Nepal, I immediately noticed how the Nepalese listen deeply and with full presence. They are able to be in silence, be with silence and allow silence to hang. In contrast, North American culture is all about the talking. Arriving back to Toronto I was surprised by the amount of constant, loud talking. We talk at each each and talk to make our opinions known.

There were surprises where my core personal values came alive in fulfillment and resonance, or when I experienced an inner chafing, a personal struggle of conflicting values.

There were surprising moments where a few of my core personal values declared themselves and wanted me to honour them more.

There were surprising places where I experienced a struggle between my values and those of my culture and society.

Surprising insights and realizations can happen when we leave anywhere or anything: Leaving a vacation place. Leaving a workplace, a job, a career. Leaving a relationship or friendship. Leaving home. Leaving an experience. Leaving a habit. Leaving a lifestyle.

Being aware of the surprises we have after leaving can not only give us important insights into ourselves. It can also help us understand and honour our true self.

What have you left?What things have surprised you since leaving?

What is your body telling you about your work?

Waking up in the morning feeling unrested, pushing the snooze button a couple of times, wishing more than anything that it was Friday or better yet Saturday. Forcing yourself with all your might to get out of bed and start the washing and dressing rituals to get to work. Ugh. Work. You just know that something is out of whack here. We know how closely our bodies, health and work interconnect. We can tell after spending many hours working. And we can especially tell when we are not feeling good or even really bad about our careers or work.

Health doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It ebbs and flows with different life events, with positive and negative experiences. Certainly stressful work environments and relationships can wreak havoc on our physical, emotional and mental health.

There can be many moments during our work or career history when neither our body nor our health feel well and robust.

Sometimes it can happen because we feel bored and not challenged enough. For many of us, boredom is not conducive, maybe even harmful, to mental, physical and emotional well-being.

It might be because of our work hours. Working challenging shifts or long hours can be draining and taxing on our health.

It might be because of the physical environment where we work: no windows, no fresh air, poor lighting, tiny office spaces or little if any privacy.

It might be because of the social environment where we work: our boss or colleague is abrasive, maybe adversarial. Challenging work relationships can be stressful for our emotional, psychological and physical health.

It might be because of our work lifestyle. Not enough routine, not enough predictability, or too long a commute. Our work lifestyle can be wearying on body and well-being.

Some of us feel so stuck in our jobs, in our careers, in our lives that we are sick of it. We feel sick of it. And we sometimes become sick from it.

Our body might be telling us to make a change. Perhaps it is even yelling at us and forcing us to make a change — for our physical well-being, our mental health and sometimes for our very life.

When our work is stressful, unsatisfying or unfulfilling, our body lets us know pretty quickly. It usually speaks to us — through our sleep, our gut, our breathing, our emotions or a lack of vitality — only we do not pay attention or choose not to attend.

Sometimes it feels easier to stay with what is familiar and the status quo, stay silent and ignore, avoid or deny what your body is telling you.

The body is a powerful messenger. It has deep wisdom and knowledge that we can access at every moment. What change might your body be telling you, asking you, whispering to you, even screaming to you to consider. Are you listening?

What is your body telling you as you commute to work or get ready to start your work day? Maybe you feel anxious or uninspired about your workday. Perhaps your shoulders are hunched over, ready to protect you from the onslaught of abrasiveness, meetings, or deadlines.

What is your body telling you mid-day? Maybe that your legs and back are needing to move and stretch. Maybe that you feel tense or that your thoughts or emotions are in overdrive or overwhelm.

What is your body telling you as you leave your work or workplace? Maybe it feels tense or depleted, overstimulated or bored into super-comfort-zone.

Listen to the wisdom of your body. It knows. Its wisdom is true. It will guide you to take steps, to take care of yourself and your career.

The Smart Art of Friendship: 4 Tips To Help Your Friendship During Transitions

Co-written with Amy Greenleaf Brassert, Relationship Coach “Oh, the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person, having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but pouring them all out, just as they are, chaff and grain together, certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and with a breath of kindness blow the rest away.” ~ Dinah Craik

Friendships are great for our health, if those friendships themselves are healthy and growing.  For this reason, being at choice and intentional about your friendships, especially during life’s transitions, is important.

We need friends as we go through transitions: for support, for relaxation, to listen, to encourage, to ground and center, and to feel loved. And there are times in our lives when our friendships are more vulnerable; when we experience challenges, stressors and events that impact our friendships.

This is different from the natural stages of transition in any friendship which will be addressed in an upcoming post.

You may have already noticed or experienced how transitions can be challenging to your friendship(s).  Here are different types of transitions that are often stressors on friendship:

  • Career transitions - career advancement, job loss, career change, retirement
  • Money transitions  - different attitudes towards money, sudden changes in financial status, differences in spending habits/choices
  • Health transitions - health diagnosis, health lifestyle choices, mental health, addictions
  • Relationship transitions - becoming coupled, single, widowed, re-coupling
  • Family transitions - becoming pregnant, becoming (step)parent, being child-free
  • Residential transitions - relocating or moving, downsizing, upsizing, moving to assisted living
  • Spiritual transitions - changes in core personal values, interests, or pursuits

When navigating any transition, be mindful and respectful of how each friend deals with change, transition and opportunities. Each of us approaches change differently and has different needs and ways of being during transitions. It’s helpful to notice what a friend is asking for, for example, listening, problem-solving, support, helping do research, distraction or play.

There are subtle differences in what different friends can offer us during transitions e.g. encouragement, a sounding board, relaxation, care and affection, honesty and straight-shooting, or space to be ourselves. This makes it critical to know what skills, strengths and abilities we have and are willing to offer during a transition. And what we can’t offer.

Making a request for help or support takes courage. Equally, it takes courage to consider the request and be honest with ourselves about whether we can fulfill the request or not.

Four Tips for the Care and Growth of Your Friendships During Transitions: 

  1. Prepare yourself for the impact of transitions. Become aware of how transitions can be stressful on friendship. This is deeply personal so we need to pay attention to how we go through transitions and share that with your friends.
  2. Face the “it” in your friendship. Make a decision about whether and/or how to have a conversation about “it”. Consider the impact on you and your friendship of having/not having that conversation.
  3. Be clear about your needs and your boundaries. Know your deal-breakers, your must-have’s and where you draw the line.
  4. Respect your differences. We all have different ways of approaching change, opportunities, growth and challenges.

Here are some thoughts to ponder:  What’s your finest quality as a friend? What qualities are you most grateful for in your friends?  What do your friends value about you?   What’s one friendship quality or skill you would like to explore, strengthen or develop in yourself?  

For more posts about friendship and transitions, come on over to The Smart Art of Friendship blog.