Based on the Holmes Rahe scale, I’m lucky I’m not dead yet. The Holmes Rahe stress scale is a list of 43 stressful life events that can contribute to illness. These stressors are not limited to negative events, but simply represent situations that typically cause change or a need for readjustment in a person’s life. They range from the relatively benign (experiencing a major holiday, for instance) to the more cataclysmic (such as the death of a spouse.) The scale assigns each event a weighted score and measures the combined score of all the identified life events a person experiences in a year. Psychiatrists Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe conducted a scientifically valid study that resulted in a correlation between life events, as measured by stress scale scores, and illness.
A score of over 300 indicates a significant risk of serious illness. Even before my mother’s stroke, my score was 344. In the year that included my retirement, the life events I’d experienced included but were not limited to: changing jobs twice, retiring, moving across country, changing my entire financial situation, and taking responsibility for my ailing mother’s care, along with a few other more garden variety stressful life events like Christmas and a vacation. And my elevated stress scale score doesn’t even include any events not included in the good doctors’ research… like selling a home, moving my mother 3000 miles across the country, or finding snakes in the garage.
Even with this empirical evidence to explain my feelings of stress, it still felt vaguely shameful to talk about that stress with family and friends. After all, I RETIRED. That should have been the end of my need for sympathy from them. Obviously, if I am no longer working, I must have nothing about which to feel stressed. It’s like I’ve lost my membership card to the Forever Frenzied Federation and am no longer entitled to vent about the frustrations and fears of my existence.
When I think back about what the pace of life was like before I retired, it does seem silly to even think about my post-retirement stressors, especially before my mother’s stroke. When I was working, I was constantly tossed and tousled by a hurricane at sea. I was always struggling against drowning. For some time after retirement, I waded at the edges of a still ocean. Sometimes, a wave lapped a little too high on my leg and my pants got wet. Certainly, not much comparison. Still, the events in the year after my retirement truly were significant in their own right. It would behoove me to pay attention to their impact, especially now that the cataclysm of my mother’s illness has caused a whole new type of storm in my world.
So, what do I do? Obviously, I can’t undo the life events and spread them out over a more reasonable time period. The damage is already done. But maybe it is time to stand still for a while. It is tempting, now, to invest any time and energy I can muster into pleasurable and fun activities. When I take a day off from visiting my mother in the nursing facility, I tend to want to go somewhere and do something to divert my attention. Running off in search of amusement whenever I have a spare moment may not be the healthiest strategy. I think the situation calls for a little boredom to quell my overactive nervous system and dilute the overabundance of stress hormones in my blood stream. Constant excitement, while entertaining, may not be all it is cracked up to be.
So let’s hear it for monotony! Sometimes it is better to lie down and yawn rather than to stand up and cheer.
Did any of you have a hard time responding to stress after you retired? Did it feel like you somehow weren’t “entitled” to feel stressed once you weren’t working? How did you cope with the situation? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have a reasonably stress-free day!
PS I hope I didn’t throw anyone off by this early posting for the week. I have a date with a dolphin tomorrow and must be on my way very early, so I thought I’d post tonight and save some time in the morning. More about the dolphin day soon, I promise! In the meantime, I’ll be back to posting on the regular day next Wednesday.