Remember those quizzes you used to do in the teeny-bopper magazines from high school?
“Your parents find a half-empty pack of cigarettes in your backpack and confront you about it. Do you:
a) ‘Fess up and endure a lecture from mom about healthy habits,
b) Lie and say you were holding them for a friend,
c) Yell at your parents that they don’t give you any privacy, or
d) Give thanks that they didn’t find the cocaine hidden under the bed!
Well awhile ago, I took a quiz about stress. More accurately, the quiz was designed to explore exactly how stressed out I was at that time. Without boring y’all with details, basically I’d just gone through a tough time in life. After what I considered an acceptable and common period of emotional difficulty, I jumped right back into my normal routine… but something wasn’t right. I just wasn’t coping with things, with life, the way I always had. Despite feeling extremely guilty about it, I took some time off work and figured I’d better pull myself together. Hence the exploration of stress.
The answers to the stress quiz actually surprised me, unlike the quizzes from the teen magazines (lets face it, it’s pretty obvious which answers to pick if you don’t want to find yourself categorized as a bitchy drug addicted psychopath).
The quiz asked a series of questions about life events that had happened to you in the past two years, and assigned points for each answer. As expected, there were questions about losing a job, getting a divorce or other such universally negative life events.
The surprising part was the series of questions about, well, pretty average and cheerful life events. I had to give myself points for every major holiday celebration I’d attended. I got points for getting married and buying a house. Points for starting a new job that I’d been vying for for quite some time (Spoiler: getting a high score on this quiz meant you were essentially a giant stress ball).
I’m just the right ‘A’ type personality to want to do “well” on any quiz, so this kind of irritated me. But then I read a bit further into the literature associated with the quiz and I realized the brilliance behind the questions.
Stress, like the endless snowfall that we’ve endured this year, is cumulative. This should be common sense: oversleep on Monday and you’re late for work; fight with the spouse on Tuesday; dog chews up your favourite pillow on Wednesday; boss yells at you for your dumb co-worker’s mistake on Thursday…. by Friday you need a pretty big glass of wine to deal with all the nonsense and stress of the week.
It was the positive – event stress that really threw me for a loop. I’m happy to have gotten married and bought a house and found a new job – why would this raise my stress level? Of course I’d loved hosting my very first Christmas dinner in my new home! Why was I getting stress-points for it?
But when you break it down, even these positive events test us. They change our routines and introduce something new and different into our lives. We generally adapt and embrace such change, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t do its part to wear us down and weaken our defenses bit by happy little bit. The energy we spend adapting to the positive changes is energy we won’t have to cope with life’s next big curveball. Or even the next holiday dinner.
Coming to this realization really helped me to accept why I was having trouble coping with a difficult situation. I had chalked up my struggle to weakness on my part. Everyone else goes through this, why are you having such a hard time? Like many of us, I try to be very understanding when others have problems but I sure wasn’t about to cut myself any slack. Until I took the stress quiz, I didn’t understand the impact that daily life can have on all of us.
So what to do with this revelation? I’m certainly no expert (although I pour a mean glass of Friday night wine). But I do try to remember the stress quiz when the average things in life start to get to me. I try to remember that it’s important to do things every day to cope with all that life throws at us. To stay healthy and happy both physically and psychologically. Don’t sweat the small stuff, because it absolutely is the small stuff that really adds up.