All Articles

Managing Life Events and Scalable Stress

Life events are discussed in terms of stress, psychologists say. The more change going on in your life, the more potential stress you’re exposed to. Sometimes, you don’t even recognize it. But know that the more potential stress you are exposed to, the less time you take to look after yourself. A weakened immune system can no longer fight off the “invaders” that lead to poor health. And they’re out there.

My friend, Jack, and his family recently moved to Albany, N.Y. to take a new job. Now, their family life revolves around the job. On weekends, it’s boating, fishing, golfing or tennis, and company socials, picnics and community events galore with work friends. Is there any stress in this household? Oh yeah. For Jack, it all comes from his family, not his job. He’s happy and healthy … for now anyway.

Trailblazing with Holmes & Rahe

In 1967, psychiatrists Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe developed a questionnaire that is still in use today. The “Social Readjustment Rating Scale” (SRRS) identifies 43 major stressful life events and assigns Life Change Units or points to each. Jack and his family have faced at least six life change events as shown on the Holmes-Rahe statistical prediction model:

New job: 36: Change in responsibilities: 29; Major changes in hours or conditions: 20; Change in living conditions: 25; New mortgage: 31; New social activities: 18 = 159 pts.

  • 150 points or less – a low susceptibility (30%) to a stress-induced health breakdown
  • Between 150-300 – a 50% chance of a major health breakdown in the next two years
  • Over 300 – an 80% chance of developing a stress-related illness

Clearly, this guy loves to work and dreads the thought of retiring. However, in less than 10 years, when he could retire, what should be a joyous time could be more stressful that it ought to be. But we can’t single him out; Jack is one of many ­who feel they are what they do. When they can no longer do it, the stress might do them in.

Retirement is 45 points – that is, except for the other 284 points

The 10th most stressful life event has a singular value of 45 points. Depending on the situation, however, at least 10 events that pertain to retiring could add 284 points, based on activities before, during and after the event, totaling 329 points. As the British Columbia Institute of Technology reported, if you begin assuming your retirement will be wonderful, you’re already more than halfway to achieving that goal. My friend and others will be saddled with stress later on due to the removal of their previous work routines and daily activities, doing the same things with the same people, and camaraderie that was great while it lasted. Once you leave the job, you left the job. Each will likely suffer these typical anxieties:

  • The Loss of Identity – No longer a big fish in a small pond? You’ll need to soul-search to find your own level of satisfaction in retirement. One way is to create new goals and launch a plan to achieve them. Dare I suggest, work part time?
  • Boredom – Short-term planning projects, like taking a road trip, really works. Research it, route it, plan each day’s activities, take photos and videos and enjoy!
  • No Longer Feeling of Value – feeling guilty about being idle in retirement? Lots of people do. Try doing new things and tackling them with the same gusto as at work and set deadlines. Also, consider volunteering. Giving back to others is valued – and certainly needed and welcomed by all concerned.

Retirement can be the best part of your life – as it is for thousands of people. Most retirees these days live longer, healthier and more active lives. They have better social services, medical care and pensions. After years of making contributions, their financial security is superior to any previous generation.

Catastrophic illness = 247 pts.

Major illness is the 6th most stressful event (53 pts.), particularly when caring for a spouse or partner (44 pts.). Nearly one fifth of Medicare patients discharged from a hospital – approximately 2.6 million seniors – develop an acute medical problem within the subsequent 30 days that necessitates another hospitalization that had nothing to do with the initial diagnosis, according to the New England Journal of Medicine.

The Journal reported that acute illness disturbs physiological systems resulting in patients experiencing substantial stress caused by routine sleep deprivation (16 pts.); disruption of normal circadian rhythms; poor nutrition (15 pts.); pain and other discomfort; an unusually baffling array of mentally challenging situations; taking medications that can alter cognition and physical function, and becoming deconditioned by bed rest or inactivity (19 pts.).

Each of these distresses adversely affects health and contributes to substantial impairments, susceptibility to mental error and an inability to fend off disease, which could result in the devastating loss of a spouse (100 pts.) = 247 points.

Isn’t it ironic that catastrophic illness is considerably less stressful than retirement? And since diseases don’t necessarily follow a predetermined path, one could find oneself living for years depleting painstaking retirement savings on the high cost of medical care. You can’t let that happen. Talk with your Hefren-Tillotson advisor about the best ways to protect you and your loved ones against the unexpected.

DISCLAIMER: Past performance does not predict future results. This report is based on data obtained from sources we believe to be reliable. Hefren-Tillotson does not, nor any other party, guarantee the accuracy or completeness of this report or make any warranties regarding results obtained from its usage. All opinions and estimates included in this report constitute the firms judgment as of the date of this report and are subject to change without notice. This report is for informational purposes only and is not intended as an offer or solicitation to buy or sell the securities herein mentioned.

What can we help you find?