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Monday, September 05, 2005

Got any spare change?

I am about to start publishing a bi-weekly column in a number of small newspapers. The column is called Live Write and the post below is a draft of the first submission. Comments and critique welcome... (Judy is the previous columnist).

Judy is now off on her well-deserved retirement path and I’m nervously submitting my first Live Write column. This an apt time for me to think about change. Is it my imagination or is the pace of change increasing? I don’t simply mean in terms of technology, politics or the types of toothpaste I can buy at the local market. I mean the pace of change in my life and in the lives of those I know. I am certain of one thing, how I adapt to and handle the stress of life’s transitions has a lot to do with my state of well-being.

Some years ago, while killing time in a dentist’s waiting room, I completed a Reader’s Digest Stress Test. I was feeling pretty good about life at that point, although there was certainly lots of change in the air. In the previous twelve months I had experienced a number of significant life events - including starting a new job, buying our first house (in a new city) and the birth of our first child. I found a pen, ticked off all the boxes that related to me, including those I just mentioned, then added my score up and turned to the interpretation page.

To my surprise, I was ranked high enough on the stress scale to be at risk for serious illness. How could that be? I looked over the list of scores and learned that whether a change is good or bad – it still increased the overall stress result. I expected divorce to be stressful, but marriage wasn’t many points behind. Of course the death of a loved one is a tremendous strain, but a newborn in the family racks up points too. I’d choose a major increase in income over a major loss, wouldn’t you? Once again, both bring stress.

I recently searched online and learned that Reader’s Digest offers an internet version of what is now Dr. Rahe’s Life Changes Stress Test. You can find it at: www.rd.com/content/openContent.do?contentId=10766 . If you don’t have internet, call me and leave your mailing address, for a paper version.

There are some things I can do to glide through life’s transitions with grace and health. The first is to accept that change is going to happen and that whether I perceive it to be positive or negative, it will have an impact on me. When changes are coming fast and furious, I can also deliberately not plan for more.

When I feel stress creeping up on me, it usually reveals itself through tension in my shoulders, disturbed sleep patterns and uncharacteristic crankiness. I’m tempted to address it with red wine, rich foods and staying up late watching movies or television. When I’m wise, I instead find time for more sleep, take long walks and put my date book on a diet – creating space in my life.

Dr. Rahe lists 37 tips for stress relief on the Reader’s Digest web site. These range from switching to decaf coffee to deep breathing to increasing your sexual activity (now I’ve got your attention…). Other advice is available from the bookstore or library, your physician, other health practitioners… and probably your mother.

I plan to enjoy writing this column and to take care not to let it create tension for me. Getting the writing done well ahead of the deadline is my strategy. When changes are weighing on you, whether positive or negative - do whatever works for you, but don’t ignore the effects on your overall well-being. Step back, take some deep breaths, understand what’s happening and be kind to yourself and those around you. It will help you live a long (and change-filled) life.

Sounds really good to me, Gary, no critiques this week!

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