Don’t let stress ruin your life

The hard deadline for emailing my weekly column is 8 a.m. Monday morning. Any later, I’m liable to get a message from one of my editors asking for the column. So sometimes, I burn the midnight oil, not because of absence of ideas, but because I’m a hard-core procrastinator.
As for ideas to write about, that’s no problem. I have almost two file drawers of possible columns.
So when it’s time to write, I just begin writing on whatever is on my mind or pull out an interesting looking file folder. That’s what happened this week.
The file that caught my eye was a fat one titled “Stress.” I knew immediately it couldn’t be a happenstance that column caught my eye.
If anybody needed a lesson on coping with stress this week, it was me!
In the folder was an interesting article about the Holmes and Rahe stress scale.
This scale was designed by two psychiatrists, Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe in the late 1960s. The two first examined the medical records of more than 5,000 medical patients. And then, they asked the patients whether any of 43 stressful life events had happened to them in the past year.
The two psychiatrists found a positive correlation between the patient’s stressful life events and their illnesses. And further testing supported these findings.
Thus, the Holmes and Rahe stress scale was designed and has been in every psychology textbook since.
This time, I was struck by the idea that people are at risk of having very stressful life events as they age, so it is especially important that we cultivate good coping skills.
Each of the 43 stressful life events that can contribute to illness is given a value.
For instance, “death of a spouse” is at the top of the list and scores 100 points. “Christmas” and “vacation,” on the other hand, rate 12 and 13 respectively.
Thus, you can see that even happy events can be stressful.
But, mostly, it is sad life events that have the most points, like “personal illness”–53 points, “change in financial state”–38, and “change in residence”–20.
Sometimes, it depends on your perspective. I mentioned to my husband that “retirement” rates a 45.
“It wasn’t a 45 for me!” he exclaimed “It was a negative 20!”
As a retired college professor, he finally had time to write books and articles, wire motors for clay mixers which our son manufactures and raise chickens–for our own eggs.
This scale should be taken seriously. If your final score is 150 you have a risk of illness. Your risk of illness rises as your score rises.
If you are at risk of becoming ill because of stressful life events, you should do something to cope with your stress.
In their book, “How to Deal with Stress,” Steven Palmer and Gary Cooper suggest “stress moderators” in three categories.
1) Psychological. Don’t make mountains out of molehills. On the other hand, if your stressful event is a “mountain,” take care of yourself.
2) Behavioral. Make sure you have social support. See your friends and family often.
3) Physical. Exercise every day, eat well and relax.
And most important of all, make sure you cope successfully with the day’s stressors–small or large–and enjoy every day.
Copyright 2009 Marie Snider
Marie Snider is an award-winning healthcare writer and syndicated columnist. Write Marie Snider at or visit her website at

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