On stress. And coping. Plus a housing court update.


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.

Copyright © Amy Gutman. All rights reserved.

12 thoughts on “On stress. And coping. Plus a housing court update.

  1. Exactly 14 years ago, we sold our house, left our jobs, started one new one, had a baby and moved half way across the country with said baby (3 weeks old when we left). Now it’s just a good story. Someday, all of this will just be a good story. I promise.

  2. Well, I envy your move back to Boston–not to mention the steady income. Congrats, though! I’m looking forward to blog updates and overflow from your Living Strategically course. Mazel tov!

  3. How perfectly well suited you are to be teaching a “Living Strategically” course, Amy! You’ll get through this period, no matter how you approach it. For what it’s worth, my strategy would be to reconceptualize the hash of things currently crowding your mental hot plate. You don’t begin work at HSPH until the end of this period, so set that aside completely. The LS course will require some preparation, but you’ve already got a lot of material that you developed for this blog and that will get you through the first month or so of classes. This transitional period is going to readily provide you with even more material – for both your course and your blog. These jobs complement each other completely so we can think of them as one ‘dish’, and the only prep it requires taking some notes during this transition period. So, in this re-arrangement, you’ve got to 1) finding a place to live, 2) moving your stuff from A to B, 3) taking good daily care of yourself and your kitty, and 4) noting any coping strategies that you’re employing. Now, because task 1 has to precede task 2, all you need to do – and the only things on your plate are 1) finding a place, and 2) caring for yourself and Clarence. And, of course, noting your strategies, and your blessings before you retire each night. Congratulations on all the well-deserved grace!

    • I LOVE THIS, Peggy. Thanks so much for breaking it down. Really helpful. There’s also the PACKING, of course–but honestly, if worst comes to worst, I can pay someone to help me. Definitely need to try to focus on finding the place + self-care (which has been getting short shrift, I’m afraid)

      • Glad you found it helpful, Amy. Now, a favor: Can you explain the term ‘housing court’ to me? Never heard it before . . .

  4. This breath. This moment. Love. Gratitude.
    -My friend’s mantra when his company nearly took down the government of India last year. He survived and has grown in amazing, beautiful ways. His faith and grace in unnamed spirit encourages me enormously.

  5. Thanks so much, Penny — all great advice that I will try to take. I know you’ve been there. Reminding myself that I have friends who have come through times very similar to this is really really helpful.

  6. Eat well. A wide variety of healthy foods you love in as close to their natural state as possible. Often. Five or six times a day, eat something.
    Sleep. Even if you can’t, lie in bed for 8 hours a night.
    Get outdoors. Exercise. A 20 minute walk.
    Don’t do drugs — even prescription. Lots of people recommend them. Choose instead to be your whole self.
    Sixty days? way to go! — I’ve coped with those times telling myself “A year from now . . .”
    Go get ’em, girl!

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