The stress test

18 November, 2015 — 6 Comments

It’s been an interesting few months since my last blog post where I said I was getting married and my Dad was dying. I’ve had some of the biggest lows and highs I’ve ever experienced. On 16 July 2015 my father died, two days later Geraldine and I got married.

Stu-Corlett-Mike-Geraldine-570

There has been so much change in my life over the last few months. Dickens sums it up well: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” 1 Through it all I feel I have a better understanding of myself and of stress. In this post I introduce a test I have found helpful in the assessment of life and stress. (Soon I will write again about communication, church, and society.)

When people ask Geri how her wedding was, she says “not textbook”. After shifting back to New Zealand from London, on the Wednesday before the wedding day she arrived in Motueka (my home town). Dad wasn’t particularly conscious but lifted his arm off the hospital bed in recognition of her arrival. The next day she sat with my mother and sister and I around his dead body. The next day she attended the private family cremation. The next day was our wedding day; it rained the whole day. Two days later she’s staying with her new mother-in-law, the next day attending a celebration-of-life service for her father-in-law. And then during the remainder of our ‘honeymoon’ we spent time checking in on my mum, taking mum to a cat show(!), and attending gatherings with my Motueka family and friends.

Geraldine and her family compromised a lot in our attempt to plan a wedding day with my father present – I am grateful, and glad we tried.

“Not textbook” is a very gracious response.

Recovery

I now feel like I’m in recovery from the culmination of events over the last twelve months: redundancy, shifting (twice), living away from home for 4 months (in two different places), being with Dad over his three-month illness, starting a new job…

The stress test/scale

In the Stress Test (or the Life Change Index, or Social Readjustment Rating Scale), stress is measured by the amount of change that occurs in your life over a twelve month period, and the result of stress is defined as the likelihood of illness or being unwell. Change doesn’t need to be defined as either ‘good’ or ‘bad’, but simply difference to normal – lots of positive change in a person’s life can still cause stress.

Right now I have a fairly high stress score according to this test. Even though the events that caused the high score are over, the impacts of stress don’t abate just because those events finish. This could be the reason I’m finding I get tired sooner and I’m less motivated to do things I find difficult. I’ve been sicker in the last few months than I have been in the last decade – with pesky things such as a sinus infection, and a lingering cough and sore throat, and a couple of migraines – nothing major, but these have worn me down.

From Wikipedia:

The Holmes and Rahe stress scale is a list of 43 stressful life events that can contribute to illness.

In 1967, psychiatrists Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe examined the medical records of over 5,000 medical patients as a way to determine whether stressful events might cause illnesses. Patients were asked to tally a list of 43 life events based on a relative score…

Their results were published as the Social Readjustment Rating Scale (SRRS), known more commonly as the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale. Subsequent validation has supported the links between stress and illness.

To measure stress according to the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale, the number of “Life Change Units” that apply to events in the past year of an individual’s life are added and the final score will give a rough estimate of how stress may affect health.
For example:

Death of a close family member: 63 Life Change Units.
Marriage: 50 Life Change Units

Score of 300+:       At risk of illness.
Score of 150-299:  Risk of illness is moderate (30% less than the above risk).
Score <150:           Only have a slight risk of illness.

Being healthy is obviously the optimum state of being for the human body – being sick is the state of being we most want to avoid. Sudden changes in stimuli and the reordering of important routines can cause stress resulting in actual physical and mental un-health.

My assumption (from my brief investigation into the stress scale), is that someone living a normal ‘good’ life with no major change will be as stress-free and potentially as healthy as possible. In this ‘normal’ state, a change in residence (with a stress score of 20) wouldn’t effect life’s equilibrium too much. Changing residence 5 times within a year would add 100 Life Change Units to the final score, therefore contributing to potential stress reactions.

Currently my score on the stress scale is more than 300, and so is Geraldine’s. The score is calculated on the events of the past twelve months, which for both of us also includes “change in church activities” which is one of the life events on the scale, and this gives an indication of the age and origin of the original test – this wouldn’t feature on a revised 2015 test.

I’m looking forward to a twelve month period that results in a score of less than 150.

Take the test yourself

It’s a blunt tool, but one I have found helpful in quantifying my state of being at the moment: all of the changes I have experienced this year together have caused me stress, or in other words, have had an impact on my mental and physical well-being. Maybe this scale will be helpful to assess your own encounter with stress or that of other people you know. Click here to take the test (link goes to a wikipedia page that shows the scale).

Criticism

This test isn’t without criticism by the research community. The scale is deemed inaccurate because it includes events that might be sudden, negative and out of a person’s control (the death of a spouse), alongside events that might be positive and controllable (shifting into a new house) – the former being much more predictive of illness.

The scale also doesn’t account for different people’s interpretation of the same change event, for example, a change in school might be a very positive experience for one person, while being very sad and disappointing for another.

Nevertheless, it is still a tool found useful by researchers. I have found it a useful way to understand how I feel after a year of much change.

Summary

Lots of change in a person’s life within a short timeframe has an effect on their wellbeing. The Holmes and Rahe Stress Test is a way of quantifying some of the changes that may occur in someone’s life. Having this knowledge about yourself may be a way of understanding why you’re not feeling ‘normal’.

Having this knowledge about change and stress may also be helpful in aiding your recovery: I’m trying not to measure myself against the same expectations I had of myself a year ago – my productivity and capacity may be less for a while and that’s ok. I’m trying to schedule regular things into my life that I get energy from, and I’m generally being easy on myself.

Marriage

I have found marriage to be a massive lifestyle change – which I quite like!

I really liked being a single person, and I really like being married to Geraldine.

While our wedding day is memorable for some unhappy reasons, it is also memorable for some amazingly awesome reasons:

  • Geraldine and I shared vows making commitments to each other for the rest of our lives.
  • Some of our best friends were able to join us for the day.
  • We were reminded of how much we are loved by our family and friends.

Our relationship so far hasn’t been textbook, but that would be boring.

Image: Me & Geraldine, 18 July 2015 by Stu Corlett, Photographer, Wellington, New Zealand.

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Notes:

  1. A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens (1859).
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  • johnnyceedee

    Thanks Mike . . . the test as a great “general starting point tool” – it can aid one’s journey from a generalized-snapshot towards gaining understandings of one’s personal specifics — and the “journey beyond” . . . Blessings – JD :-)

  • Jeannie Cochrane

    Hi Mike thanks for posting this- I’ve been wondering how you are doing. Great to hear you are adjusting your expectations of yourself at this time- very wise! I remember that during my first year or so of marriage (38 years ago) I also got sick a lot. It didn’t make sense to me as I felt so happy, but my doctor pointed out to me the impact of a major life change. And you certainly have had a number of significant life changes! Many blessings on the journey ahead and the gradual transition into a lower stress score.

    • Hi Jeannie and thanks for your comment here – it’s nice to hear from you!

  • Marcus Kempf

    Hi Mike. Really glad your name came to mind and I checked your blog out. The update is helpful (for me at least) because it gives me an understanding of what happened around the time of your Dad’s death and your wedding, but also how things have progressed since. Have always loved the thoughtful analytical way you consider things. All the best to you both as the months roll on.

    • Hi Marcus! Thanks for dropping by and commenting. Hopefully our paths will cross again some day. Take care.