Changing Your Life, Changing Your Health

Someone recently told me that I must be a big fan of change. When asked for evidence towards that opinion, they mentioned the fact that I moved five times during my five semesters of grad school, and that I recently changed both my location and my relationship status. While this seems to support their argument, my subjective experience tells me that this change was hard but (mostly) necessary for me to get to the life I want to live.

And I’ve been doing this for a long time. For example, I quit a full-time job I really loved in order to go back to grad school and become a sex educator and therapist, because that’s what I saw myself doing long-term. I see this as a positive change that has brought me closer to living the life I want to live.

But, as it turns out, change isn’t always good for you. The Social Readjustment Rating Scale (SRRS) is a list of the different things that can cause someone stress, and how much the stress should affect your physical and emotional well-being on a 0-100 scale. For example, the death of a partner rates a full 100, whereas “change is social activities” only scores an 18. What I find the most interesting about this scale is that changes that are generally construed as positive are weighted on the same scale as ones that are generally viewed as negative, with “Marriage” being only 15 points below “Divorce.”

The other things that has always struck me about the scale is how many of them have to do with a change in an interpersonal relationship. This, to me, shows the importance of social support in living health lives.

What else can we glean from this? Well, first, don’t be like me. Try to change as few things as possible at a time. If your professional life is in flux, maybe it’s not the best time to get into a new relationship. Also, make sure that you pay attention to how changes in one part of your life can affect the others. If a new job takes you away from your social supports and loving community, that can be harder than a new job in a familiar area.

So why change at all?

As a clinical social worker and psychotherapist, I need to believe in the power of change. If people didn’t have within them the ability to make the changes they want to make in their life, my job would be meaningless and should just hang up my cardigan and DSM-IV and not even bother. So I need to believe in that power. And I’ve seen it happen. People get depressed, and then better. Anxious, and then calmer. The power of change is within each of us. If you believe in your ability to adapt and change, that can go a long way to making the change more bearable.

Go ahead, take the test, and remember this if you’re stressing out from a change: Like Brother Savage said, It gets better.

Photo thanks to Sean MacEntee on Flickr Creative Commons.

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About Craig VanKempen

Craig VanKempen

Craig VanKempen, LLMSW/MPH, is a sex educator and therapist practicing in the Detroit/Ann Arbor area. His professional interests include HIV, polyamory, compulsive sexual behavior, religion and sexuality, and GLBT issues.