How Do You Score on the Stress-O-Meter?

It's probably time to assess how professional and life events are affecting you.

Earlier this year, I was talking with an executive coaching client about everything that was going on at once in his business life. The short and incomplete list included integrating an acquired company, moving his company’s headquarters to a new location, the annual planning process and addressing some significant new competitive threats. After hearing his list, I said to him that it reminded me of that list of stressful life events where you add up the scores of each event that is going on in your life to determine how much stress you’re dealing with.

That stressful life events list is called the Holmes-Rahe Stress Inventory. It was developed in 1967 by two psychiatrists (unsurprisingly named Holmes and Rahe) who analyzed the coincidence of stressful life events with the health outcomes of 5,000 of their patients. If you score more than 300 points on the inventory, the research shows you have about an 80 percent chance of a stress-induced health breakdown in the next two years.

When you read through their list of life events through the lens of 2018, you realize how much the world and society has changed since 1967. For instance, one of the factors they listed was a spouse beginning or ceasing work outside the home. Of course, two income families were a lot less common in 1967 than they are today. Another observation about their list is almost all of their stressful life events involve a change in circumstances. Since their inventory was developed in 1967, there’s nothing on the list about the chronic stress that’s generated from 24/7 connectivity through smartphones and other devices. (Someone way more qualified than me should update the Holmes-Rahe Inventory to reflect life in the early 21st century. Just putting it out there.)

Still, it’s an interesting list and got me thinking about what would a business-life stress inventory look like? So, I started with the following events from the Holmes-Rahe and tweaked them a little bit to reflect the way business is done in 2018. Check how many apply to you and add up your points:

So, what was your score? If you checked off every item, you’d be up to 297 points and likely headed for a stress-induced health breakdown. And, of course, since it’s 2018 and not 1967, there are probably a number of other high-point items that you could add that aren’t on the list. If you scored higher than you think is healthy, I have some short-term and long-term advice. First, for the long-term, start working on changing the circumstances you can influence. What is probably more important in the short-term (and the long-term, too, for that matter), is that you establish some simple routines to mitigate the physiological and psychological impact of working in a high-stress environment. Three routines you can start right now that are easy to do and will make a positive difference are breathing, stretching and walking. This post I wrote in 2013 explains why each of them are so effective and how to get started.