There’s a famous study showing that when stressful life events pile up, illness is more likely. This is true whether the events are good are bad. Among the 43 life events studied, marriage and outstanding achievement take their place along with divorce and job loss.
I don’t even want to think about how I’d score on this test right now (though feel free to test yourself.) Over the next month, I start two new jobs – along with my new fulltime job at the Harvard School of Public Health, I’ll be teaching one night a week at UMass Amherst. I’m thrilled about both of these. But man, it is a lot. On top of that, I need to find a place to live in Boston, pack up my Northampton apartment, and move. My cat’s been sick. There have been family problems. Also: I’m exhausted.
The course I’ll be teaching is called “Living Strategically,” and it considers ways to thrive amidst the challenges that come our way. Talk about teaching what you need to learn! For obvious reasons, this is a topic that deeply interests me, and one that I never tire of exploring in this blog among other places. There. Are. Tools. This is the core insight.
These days, one idea is proving especially helpful, and I’m doing my best to remember it at every opportunity: Feelings and thoughts are not facts. They are simply thoughts and feelings. It helps to repeat this when I’m hit by overwhelm, when I can’t imagine how I’ll ever get through all that needs to get done. I think about my friend Molly, who made a similar transition last year. If she could do it, I can do it. I will do it.
I’m also doing my best to lean into the good. To remember that the stress – while intense right now – is far from the whole story. For one thing, I’m going back to work! This is a great thing. And while the changes under way feel overwhelming, they are not as extreme as they might be. I’m moving back to an area where I’ve lived before. I’ll even be working for the same institution, just at a different school. I’ll still be an easy day trip from the lovely place where I’ve been living and love. (Some brave souls even do a daily commute, though I find this hard to imagine.)
Also good: The eviction saga is over; housing court is behind me. I got what I needed – time to pack and move – and can focus on the future.
While chronic stressors often predict illness, it’s not inevitable, as shown by research exploring the topic of stress hardiness. There. Are. Tools. There are strategies. I doubt that I’ll ever remember these weeks with any special fondness. But in 60 days this will all be behind me. That is my new mantra.