Sometimes it seems as if life is a series of losses—the loss of a spouse, the loss of a job, the loss of a brother. You may realise that you need to take time to grieve all of these losses. But what you may not realise is that such losses can also lead to stress—a great deal of it. In order to remain emotionally healthy, you must learn to deal effectively with stress induced by traumatic life events.
Interestingly enough, stress can actually be quantified. The Holmes-Rahe Social Readjustment Scale assigns point values to the various stressors we can experience in life. For example, the most stressful event we can encounter is the death of a spouse, which ranks a 100 on the scale. That’s followed by divorce (73), marital separation (65), jail term (63), death of a close family member (63), and personal injury or illness (53). Even happy events, such as marriage, can rank high on the stress scale.
Most of us do not go through life measuring our stress level. However, referring to the scale can be quite instructive. For instance, after consulting the scale, you might decide to delay a major decision such as the purchase of a new home until you’ve successfully battled the stress from your divorce. Or you may decide to wait before taking a new job until you’ve dealt with the stress from your wedding. This self-awareness can enable you to reduce your stress level and to maintain your equilibrium amidst great life struggles.
Therefore, one of the healthiest things you can do is to draw up a list of stress-causing life events and post it in a place where your entire family can see it. That way, you’ll have a constant reminder of just what you’re up against. This can also serve to encourage your family at a time of great heartache. Family members will be able to see that the event is a normal part of life—one that many other families face. As a result, they’ll be able to put the event in perspective.
Another important thing to do is to verbalise your feelings about a stressful event. Talk to your mate, your parents, a friend, or your mentor. If you feel as if there’s simply no one to confide in, ask your family physician for a referral for a good therapist. Talking about your feelings is an important part of the healing process, and will enable you to deal with the stress much more efficiently. Another good option is to commit your feelings to writing. Keep a journal and use it to express your innermost thoughts. You might be surprised by how therapeutic this can be. Use the journal for some problem-solving. Think of ways that you can effectively deal with the stressor in your life. It may be as simple as taking a hot bath to calm your nerves, or as challenging as reorganising your personal files. Such problem-solving techniques can help you to realise that you can overcome the challenge in your life—that your life will not end, just because you’ve encountered a major setback.
Now that you’re aware of the stress scale, you might also consider taking a pro-active approach. For instance, if your marriage counselling doesn’t seem to be working, try to prepare yourself mentally for the day your marriage will end. Also, if your mother is in ill health, think of what you want to do for her before she passes from this life. In essence, what you are doing is engaging in disaster preparedness. While it can be troubling to think of such tragedies, it can also help you to better cope with the curve balls that life sends your way.
Another important strategy is to simply “take it slow.” Don’t hurry when making major life decisions, particularly when you are faced with a crisis. Recognise that most things in life do not require instantaneous decisions. You have the luxury of time, so use it to your full advantage. In the end, you’ll be happy that you’ve taken the time to think things through, rather than making rash decisions. If you’re in a “calm mode,” you’ll also be better able to handle the stress of difficult situations.