When I studied stress management way back in 2004 I was introduced to something called the Holmes-Rahe Scale.
If you are not familiar with it, the scale scores 43 potential life events that are most likely to lead to stress from 100 (death of a spouse) down to 11 ( a run in with the cops for a misdemeanor) with all stops in between.
Supposedly, if you add up your own score and it comes to more than 300 you probably need an ambulance and a bottle of Xanax, but if you score under 100 you’re more than likely good to go.
I’m not really keen on it as a tool because it presupposes every person handles similar situations in the same manner which is obviously not true.
It can also create stress when people look at it and think they should be more stressed about a situation they had been previously dealing adequately with
On top of that, it misses out hundreds of tiny stressors that whilst in and of themselves don’t pose a threat, can do in combination and over an extended period of time. Stress is cumulative, never forget that.
As an example of dealing with things differently, a change in living conditions is ranked at 25 points. I have just been through that, spending 3 weeks in temporary accommodation miles from anywhere with poor Internet and cell phone connectivity.
My wife was stressed senseless largely because she is working toward her masters and needed a reliable Internet. I on the other hand couldn’t have cared less (other than for Helen obviously).
I could give other examples where Helen dealt with things in her stride and I got all stressed and whiny. And that’s the whole point about stress, it’s highly contextual and individual.
Having said that, there are really only two things that stress you in your life. Every single time you have felt stressed you can trace the source back to one or the other or even both.
What Really Stresses You Out
When you look at the Holmes-Rahe Scale it’s not easy to spot the commonalities underpinning every single life event.
After all, what could the death of a spouse have to do with a change in social circumstances or the holidays or a dispute with your in-laws? Surely they’re all totally different?
Well of course they are, but underpinning all of them is either a lack of choice, a lack of autonomy or both.
Take the death of a spouse as an example. Unless you snapped after your husband hung yet another picture up crookedly in your new home and you stabbed him to death with his own screwdriver, you have no choice in when you lose your loved ones, it will happen when it happens.
Your Brain Loves Choice
When I talk to clients about the power of language I usually urge them to make some simple adjustments and wherever possible to change words and phrases like need, must, have to, got to and should into want to, love to, would like to etc
The reason I do this is because the former words remove choice and incrementally add to the stress they are feeling.
As a one-off they aren’t a problem, but as I said, stress is cumulative and they add up over time.
How Do You Use This Information To Lower Stress?
Well obviously the first stage is checking in with your language and shifting it where appropriate. It won’t make an overnight change, but in time it will help massively if you persist at it
Secondly, you can use reframing (if you’re not sure what that is, check out this post) which also explains about preframing and deframing.
The whole point of reframing is to change the way you look at things. In other words you’re choosing to decide how you view things and that is very empowering.
There is no cause and effect with stress, it’s cause – interpretation, – effect, so change the way you view or interpret things and the things you view will change and the stress can subside.
Note: Your brain loves choice, but not too much choice. At the opposite end of the spectrum it freaks out and gets overwhelmed trying to process too much choice, as anybody who has dined with me at The Cheesecake Factory will testify to as I spend hours mulling over the menu.
Your Brain Likes To Think It’s In Charge
A lack of choice is huge bummer as far as your brain is concerned, but not far behind is its closely related cousin, a lack of autonomy.
If you know anybody who is in a cubicle type job and they’re stressed by it, it will in all likelihood be because they have little or no autonomy.
They can’t pay themselves what they think they’re worth, they can’t decide to lie in till noon if they so wish, they can’t do the work they would like to do and so on and so forth.
A lack of autonomy can create a dopamine crash that is an evolutionary response to a perceived reduction in status.
Your brain likes status and removing autonomy makes it think you don’t have any and it gets all frustrated and fearful.
How Do You Use This Information To Lower Stress?
The simple fact of the matter is that you always have autonomy with the most important thing, and that is your thoughts.
Nobody can remove that option from you, but so many people either forget, or underestimate the phenomenal power of carefully and repeatedly choosing your own supportive thoughts.
External autonomy is nice, but it’s nothing compared to internal autonomy.
Reminding yourself that you can choose your thoughts at any moment and thus change your attitude toward your circumstances is incredibly powerful and liberating.
Sure you may want to justify your negative feelings and believe thinking anything else is just being plain unrealistic. However, the only thing that approach will serve to achieve is you feeling crap and developing a victim mindset.
Do you really want to cultivate that?
I suppose in essence what we are doing here is reframing again because we’re looking to think differently about our circumstances which is effectively what a reframe is.
I went through enough years enduring chronic stress to know it sucks. It can sap your energy, lower your immune system, screw with your sleep patterns, make you irritable and damage your health.
But far too many people think high stress is an acceptable part of modern life, even though they often know the detrimental effects it can have.
If you’re suffering from chronic stress try the methods I explained above. See the difference you can make when you let go of the belief that you need to change your outside circumstances.
Oh, and you could of course take up meditation which is proven to lower stress levels, but we both know that’s a no-brainer, right?
I’m curious to know if you’re feeling stressed at the moment? If you are, please leave a comment telling me what about and I’ll do my best to reframe it.
I’m also keen to hear other peoples stress coping strategies, so share the wealth!