life events

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.