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The stress of change: working through life: change is good, they say, but our bodies sometimes tell us otherwise. This article explains how changes in our lives can introduce stressors and suggests what we can do about them.

Have you ever experienced the death of a spouse, separation from a significant partner, trouble with your boss, work responsibilities, or divorce? These are just a few of the life-changing events that cause stress. But whenever we are faced with a change in our environment, we must adapt to that change--or become stressed.

The changes in our lives can be quantified into levels of stress. In 1967 Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe (1) developed a checklist to determine which changes affect the individual the most. This test, which can be taken at html, associates the connection between change and stress.

Defining Stress

People change or are involved in change at some level every day throughout their life spans. How individuals identify, relate to, and adapt to change is important. The change or stress can be related to work, family, or social activities. Stress is defined as "... a physical, chemical, or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental tension and may be a factor in disease causation ... a state resulting from a stress; especially : one of bodily or mental tension resulting from factors that tend to alter an existent equilibrium." (2)

The application of stress is further defined by Robert A. Dato as ... a simple formula, Stress = Pressure - Adaptability, or S = P - A. Thus, the higher the pressure you are under, and the lower your adaptability, the higher your stress. The clear implication of this law is that stress is unadaptability." (3) Adaptation is dependent on the understanding of change. What type of change the individual is dealing with and on what level are excellent starting points to understand his or her stress.

Types of Stress

The stressor types identified by Gregory E Miller and Suzanne C Segerstrom (4) are as follows:

* Acute time-limited stressors: lab challenges such as public speaking or mental math

* Brief naturalistic stressors: real-world challenges such as academic tests

* Stressful event sequences: a focal event such as the loss of a spouse or experiencing a major natural disaster that gives rise to a series of related challenges that people know at some point will end

* Chronic stressors: pervasive demands that force people to restructure their identity or social roles, without any clear end point, such as injury resulting in permanent disability, caring for a spouse with severe dementia, or being a refugee forced from one's native country by war

* Distant stressors: traumatic experiences that occurred in the distant past yet can continue modifying the immune system because of their long-lasting emotional and cognitive consequences, such as child abuse, combat trauma, or having been a prisoner of war

To deal effectively with changes in life, one must determine whether the change is logical or emotional in nature. For example, a logical stressor would be a response to meeting a deadline for information on one's department budget cuts. An emotional stressor, for example, might deal with one's personal perception of the request. When stressed, the individual will exhibit certain behaviors.

Change occurring at work is manifested in several forms. For example, Dato states, "Common signs of work stress are turnover, absenteeism, lateness, aggressiveness, harassment, insubordination, breaking the rules, bending the rules, intimidating others, deceiving others, debating with others, undermining others, destroying information, withholding information, misinterpreting information, and misplacing information. The signs of work stress generally occur in distinct combinations, as do the symptoms of stress. The greater the frequency and pervasiveness of these signs, the greater the work stress." (3)

The majority of our stress stems from our personal interactions. Individuals internally create personal stress. Examples of personal stress are defined by Dato as "... believing that life is unfair, believing that you are entitled, feeling sorry for yourself, being too sensitive, always trying to control others, always trying to please others, being jealous, being envious, being socially overactive, socially withdrawing, being unable to maintain long-term relationships, engaging in risky behaviors, craving or abusing substances such as caffeine, alcohol, tobacco, or drugs, compulsively exercising or shopping, driving extremely fast or recklessly, and expressing road rage." (3)

Managing Stress

Adaptation is the action that individuals take to overcome stress and accept change. Taking action will reduce the feeling of being overwhelmed and promote a sense of control. It is important to take action to reduce stress. The following is a technique for managing stress: "... Strategic Stress Management [SSM]. This method was designed specifically for managing mild stress. The goal is to become completely aware of both your life pressures and your adaptive strategies." (3)

Here are the six steps (3) used to employ SSM:

1. Writedown and underline your ten highest life pressures on three-by-five cards.

2. Place these cards in a vertical column, with the highest life pressure at the top and the lowest life pressure at the bottom of the column. Now number each card.

3. Get together with your spouse or closest friend and jointly develop three adaptive strategies for each of these pressures. Write these strategies below the pressures on the cards, beginning each strategy with the words: "I will...."

4. Read your SSM Cards when you get up in the morning and before you go to bed.

5. Do this every day for one month. Then meet with your partner again to discuss your progress. At that time, you may want to revise your life pressures and adaptive strategies.

6. Continue these monthly meetings and revisions for six months. If you are pleased with your progress, continue to use this method. If your progress is minimal, discontinue this approach.

This technique is the application of the formula S = P - A, the Law of Stress.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, change is constant. The intensity and frequency varies; moreover, the ability to identify and adapt must coincide with the change in order to maintain balance. Individuals must constantly evaluate their ability to change against the formula Stress = Pressure - Adaptability. Identify what type of stress is occurring. Decide whether the stress is logical or emotional. Adapt to the change by taking action. Additional information and counseling are available from "... counselors, psychotherapists, psychoanalysts, physicians, and psychiatrists should you need to consult one or more of these specialists." (3)


(1) Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe, Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 1967, vol. II, p. 214, stress.html

(2) The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary is based on the print version of Merriam-Webster's Collegiate[R] Dictionary, Tenth Edition. The online dictionary includes the main A-Z listing of the Collegiate Dictionary, http:// ctionary&va=stress&x= 18&y=17

(3) Dato, R. (2002), "Strategic Stress Management," International Journal of Stress Management, Robert A. Dato, PhD, NCPsyA, Dato Leadership Institute,

(4) Miller & Segerstrom (2004), Psychological Stress and the Human Immune System: A Meta-Analytic Study of 30 Years of Inquiry, Suzanne C. Segerstrom, PhD, University of Kentucky, and Gregory E. Miller, PhD, University of British Columbia; Psychological Bulletin, vol. 130, no. 4, http://www.APA. org/journals/releases/bull304601.pdf

Donald G. Ferguson II is assigned to Naval Operational Logistic Support Center in Norfolk, Virginia, through the Financial Management Intern Program. He is a member of ASMC's Hampton Roads Chapter.
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Author:Ferguson, Donald G., II
Publication:Armed Forces Comptroller
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 22, 2006
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