The Effect of Change

January 15, 2013

200310310-001As a Mediator, I work with people in high stress conflicts. Conflict affects all of us, causing some people to get “stuck” or interact with others in unhealthy ways. One of the major causes of stress and conflict is change. Whether change is easy and exciting, or negative and difficult, it can cause conflict and stress.

The reason is that when we experience change we also experience a loss and a loss is experienced emotionally as a kind of death. Change equals loss, which emotionally feels like a death, which I refer to as the “Change, Loss and Death Process”.

As an example, consider someone who buys a new home – a very exciting time for them! They have been saving for years and are now moving into the larger more beautiful home that they’ve been dreaming of. This is a big change for them and an exciting one.

However, they are losing something. The home that they’ve been living in is one that they will no longer live in again. There is some level of loss even though they are excited about the move. Maybe they raised their kids there. Maybe this was their first home when they started their marriage. They probably have great memories of Christmas, birthdays and other significant events celebrated there. Someone else will soon move into “their home” bringing in new people, new furniture, new decorations, new paint, new smells and new memories. This part of their lives they will never go back to; this chapter is closing and this feels in some ways like a death.

Now imagine that somebody is buying home for very different reasons. Imagine that their marriage has just broken down and they are separated from their spouse. Or imagine that they need to downsize because they lost their job. Or what if it is an older couple moving into a condo because their children have left home and are now “empty-nesters” or their health demands that they downsize after 40 years in a house. In these cases the change, loss and death scenario is even more dramatic.

What is the effect of this process? The effect is increased stress often leading to a reduction in health. In the late 60’s and early 70’s psychiatrists Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe devised a test to predict physical illness based on various life changes. These changes were given scores, and the total of all the stressors within a given year determines susceptibility to illness. Their research proved that compounded stress, even positive stress can do physical harm.

Things like death of a spouse, divorce, change in residence, personal injury or illness, mortgage or loan, marriage, job loss, retirement, pregnancy, new career, etc. all have associated levels of stress that take a toll on the human body. “Death of a spouse” was highest with a score of 100 and 43 spaces down at the end of the list was “Minor Violations of the law” with a score of 11.

If within one year a person had a total score of under 150, there was only a moderate chance of becoming ill in the near future. A score of 150-299 meant the person had a moderate to high chance that they would become ill soon. A person with a score of over 300 was at high or very high risk of illness in the near future.

I added up a reasonable checklist of how a person going through a difficult marriage separation would score. Within one year, they could easily have a score of over 450!

So for those of you who are in the midst of some life changes like buying a new home, whether because of an exciting step forward or under very difficult circumstances, I suggest a couple things. First, take some time to reflect on how this change, loss and death process is affecting you. Go for a walk, write in a journal, talk to a friend. Recognizing and accepting the emotions that you feel will allow them to run their course in a more natural, healthy way.

Second, surround yourself with the right kind of expertise that you need. Be strategic about seeking professionals to help you make the change. Using with the new-home example, get an experienced realtor who knows how to get you into your new home with the least amount of stress. Hire a quality moving company that understands the change, loss and death process. Use reliable home renovation professionals to do the work of making your new home ready for you and your family.

By being intentional and strategic about your change, you will reduce your stress and quite possibly feel healthier too!


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