Dr. Susan Mathison, Published March 29 2014
Positively beautiful: Navigating life’s top stressors
It may sound like something to do with refinancing your home ... and, in a roundabout way, it is.
It’s a scale that measures the “stressfulness” of various life events, such as buying or remodeling a home, getting engaged, having a fight, getting pregnant, or taking a big college exam. Just reading the word stress seems stressful.
In this context, when we’re talking about “stress,” we’re not just talking about a feeling of “anxiety” or “pressure,” like when you’re rushing to meet a tight deadline at work.
A stressful event is any experience that impairs your body’s ability to properly regulate itself. Anything that interrupts your metabolism, impairs your immune system, decreases your skin’s ability to replenish itself or your heart’s ability to circulate oxygen.
Stress is bad news and a major health threat. But most of us aren’t ever taught how to manage stress effectively. Sometimes we often don’t even recognize it when it’s happening.
That’s why the Holmes & Rahe Scale is so fascinating. It reminds us that even “happy” events – like getting married or having a child – can still place a great deal of stress on our bodies and minds.
Here are five of the most stressful life events, according to the scale – along with my tips on how to take care of yourself, through each one.
1. Losing a spouse or child.
These losses top the charts for major life stressors. Friends and family are there to lean on, but grief will be with you for a long time.
If you’re caught in a downward cycle and can’t break free, seek help through your doctor or pastor. Another resource is www.secondfirsts.com, a community for those who need guidance and hope, with trained grief counselors and peers who understand what you’re going through.
Try saying to yourself: “I deserve to feel alive and to cherish this life. That’s the best way to honor their memory.”
2. Getting divorced.
The loss of a significant relationship is traumatic and requires healing. Reach out for help.
This may be the perfect opportunity to begin a new “love affair” with yourself. Tune in to your likes, dislikes, fascinations and desires. Indulge in your favorite movies, books and music. Do it all your way.
Try saying to yourself: “Time on my own is a gift. I will savor it for as long as it lasts.”
3. Getting married.
Instead of worrying about all of the things you don’t know – if it will rain on the day of your wedding or whether or not you’ll still be madly in love 20 years from today – focus on what you do know.
Try saying to yourself: “We’re making a brave choice, and it feels like the right one. We’re in love. And every day we’ll we make a decision to love.”
4. Gaining a new family member.
I still remember those first few months after Grant came into our lives. I have three words for you: support, support, support.
Whether it means having your sister-in-law rock the baby for a while so you get a nap, getting your groceries delivered to save yourself a trip to the store or asking a friend to help with an errand – ask, ask, ask.
Most of us love to help, but we don’t always know how we can serve. The benefit is mutual.
Try saying to yourself: “The best gift I can give to my child is a well-rested, healthy version of me.”
5. Getting fired or laid off.
When your job comprises a huge part of your identity – not to mention your income – losing that position can be a sickening blow.
Focus on ways you can feel “helpful” and “valuable,” even when you’re not taking home a paycheck.
Try saying to yourself: “I’m a helpful, valuable human being – with or without job title.”
What’s the most stressful thing you’ve ever experienced? How did you care for yourself during that time?
Dr. Susan Mathison founded Catalyst Medical Center in Fargo and created PositivelyBeautiful.com. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.