The Inventory of Stress: Why You Should Know About The Holmes & Rahe Scale
I look fine in this photo, right? Vibrant lips, easy smile. Nothing to write home worried about.
I was absolutely broken.
I’d lost my Mom and Nana, my tethers to this human experience, suddenly and without warning. In addition to compounding grief, I was simultaneously going through an awful divorce, I was moving states, I was flat broke and I was starting a new job.
People would ask how I was doing, but it was so hard to quantify, or put true measurement to magnitude of my stress. The answer would lie somewhere between “not wanting to be alive” and “absolutely paralyzed with anxiety”. Sometimes I’d just smile and say “fine” because I knew some of my friends just couldn’t handle the load.
At the time, I had a friend who was a pilot and we were talking about all of these concurrent life upheavals and he told me about The Holmes and Rahe Stress Inventory test. It’s a tool created by psychiatrists to help put a scale to stress measuring life changes in units.
If you score too high as a pilot, you can’t fly.
If you score too high as a civilian, oh well, enjoy your day job.
Here’s how it works, you answer 43 questions on your current life events, and at the end you find out where on the scale you sit.
The scores are then interpreted and categorized into three levels:
When this picture was taken, I scored a 474.
Divorce alone is a 73, but you almost never experience life changes in a silo.
Divorce leads to clicking yes in other life changing events like change in a financial situation, change in living conditions, change in sleeping habits, change in the number of arguments with your spouse, which will rocket you up to 162.
Taking this made me feel like my stress was understood in a way I didn’t feel from the rest of society.
It put me somewhere drastic, which is exactly where I was - deep in the darkness. It made me feel ok about being so unraveled in my circumstances.
I’d go out with friends, but we’d usually gloss over the really heavy stuff. I’d smile and either try to pretend my pain away, or I’d feel their resistance to it and stop.
The worst thing that can happen to someone who is experiencing sweeping life changes is for nobody to show up. It’s hard to show up for someone who doesn’t have physical signs of pain, and won’t give you any indication that they are at the end of the line mentally.
I was running every day, and I was in shape. I looked healthy. I was smiling.
That’s the thing about stress, you don’t wear it like a pair of jeans. It’s the undergarment of emotions. Hidden, private.
For me, this test liberated me from feeling like I was overreacting in my stress. I felt weak for not being able to navigate the shit storm with grace and ease. I was too proud and stubborn to ask for help. Quite honestly, the only two people I would ever let fully into the darkest caverns of my soul were dead, pulling me deeper into the abyss.
Because of this simple test I got help. I saw a therapist, I did trauma healing work. It was an intense, and overwhelming journey, and I cannot imagine what my life would be had I not softened.
Over the next few years that smile, the one I tried to coax out with bright lipstick, became real. And today, I’m the first person to tell you I can’t handle it…if I can’t. A very big departure from 4 years ago.
Maybe this test can do you for what it did for me. Maybe you have a friend who is having a life changing event happen, and maybe they are stubborn. Maybe you can do the test for them to understand the impact of their current situations.
And then maybe you show up.
For yourself, or for them.
That’s my goal.
Because that’s Good, Wise and Wonderful.