We all experience change on a daily basis, but some transitions prompt more stress than others. While having to get creamy tomato soup instead of chicken noodle for lunch feels inconvenient, other changes like relocating to a new city, having a baby, emptying the nest or starting at a new job may cause stress that can negatively impact our health.
In fact, there's even a test to determine how likely you are to become ill because of change-related stress. Known as the Holmes-Rahe Stress Inventory, this free, easy-to-use tool assigns weighted points to various types of life events, according to the American Institute of Stress. On the higher end, retirement gets 45 points. Major holidays are near the bottom of the inventory, accounting for only 12 points. You assign yourself the associated point value for each change you experienced within the past year, and any total exceeding 150 points indicates some risk of health problems due to stress. All the changes listed in the inventory make clear how even positive situations can create stress, and that some seemingly minor transitions can have an impact, especially when we account for how many we can face in a year.
"Change-related stress effects can be physiological and psychological."
It's important that we take steps to deal with change in healthy ways, and we can even look at how the associated stress can affect those around us.
Stress and Your Family
Change often affects a few people in a family. For instance, divorce and marital separation have the second- and third-highest values on the Stress Inventory. Both of these situations can impact parents and their children. Even positive changes create stress. For example, marriage is also high on the inventory's point values as this joyous occasion means a bit of planning and organization from several family members.
With these scenarios, it's important to keep in mind how stress affects different family members, particularly with regard to age. While adults may feel more attuned to their stress, children aren't always aware. What appears to be a simple tummy ache or childhood nightmares could be signs of a negative reaction to change.
Coping with Change
Luckily, you have a few options for managing change-related stress that can help the whole family. Here are a few ways to tackle life's expected and unexpected transitions:
- Take a break: It's OK to step back for a moment and catch your breath. Sometimes, the best way to minimize stress is to put space between yourself and your stressor. For example, you can address stress from work-related changes by taking a vacation. The goal is to unplug for a while so you can come back to a task refreshed. Meditation is one way to relax and quiet anxiety-producing thoughts.
- Get up and get active: Go for a run, walk, swim or bike ride to get your endorphins pumping. Exercise can also boost your confidence, giving you the push you need to tackle change head-on.
- Find a support system: Whether you turn to family, friends or a professional counsellor, find someone to help you manage change. You can also look to social gatherings tailored to others experiencing similar transitions. At a new job overseas, it may be dinner with fellow expatriates. Following a critical illness diagnosis, you might turn to online communities and professional organizations. With your kids, the solution can be frequent communication with them about current or upcoming changes.
Change is unavoidable, but you can make even the harder transitions in life a little easier. With these and other relaxation tips, you and your family can make stress less of a factor as you encounter change.