Why Stress Management is More Important Than Ever

I recently learned about the Holmes and Rahe stress scale, a psychological scale that predicts how likely you are to get sick based on certain life events.*

This scale, originally designed in the 1960’s, produced an aha! moment for me. Several years ago, I experienced a number of life changes in a single month: Losing my job, closing on a home, moving, starting a new business. After the storm settled, I found my health trashed, and couldn’t figure out why. Now that I’ve seen the scale below, I realize that I was edging on 300, practically a guarantee of illness:

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

I can only imagine how many people face tension motherlodes in the bad economy. Consider how many of the items on the list are correlated with a recession:

Fired from work — 47
Business readjustment — 39
Change in financial status — 38
Change to a different line of work — 36
Foreclosure of mortgage or loan — 30
Change in responsibilities at work — 29
Spouse starts or stops work — 26
Change in living conditions — 25
Revision of personal habits — 24
Trouble with boss — 23
Change in working hours or conditions — 20
Minor mortgage or loan — 17

(etc.)

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So if you’re laid off (47), then your new lack of income means a change in financial status (38). You find a new line of work (36), which means a change in work responsibilities (29). Around the same time, the bank forecloses on your home (30), leading to a change in living conditions (25) and change in residence (20).

As a result of all these events, you run a moderate risk of illness (225). If your spouse loses her job (26), you adjust your diet for cheaper food (15), and you end up arguing more (35), guess what? You’re at 301, meaning you will probably fall ill. If you don’t have decent health insurance…I won’t start.

Many media conversations and self-help books focus on workplace stress. This scale, on the other hand, shows that it may be better for your health to have a stressful workplace than to have no work at all. If the bad economy is stressing you out, manage that stress. Your health is the most important asset you can lose.

*I don’t think the scale is accurate for everyone. But it’s a good standard.