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.

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.