How stressed are you?

I’m sitting at my kitchen table. It’s 11:35 PM.

In my current visual field there is a 12-page document I’m translating for tomorrow’s deadline at one job, a stack of three different currencies that needs to be organized for my second job, and an email inbox spilling over with urgent requests.

Everyone I know who lives in my hemisphere is sleeping. I, however, am chomping away on imported pretzels to keep my brain going and my fingers moving.

Did I forget to mention that my family moved into a new house this week? And that we’re headed on our first furlough very soon? Or that I’m trying to write a dissertation and start a new business?

Heavens to Betsy, we could even discuss how I stumbled through a custom order at a hardware store in a tonal language today. Or about how I cooked my first successful pot roast in a year and a half (that’s seriously a praise report).

One other thing: I have a two-year-old.

Guys, THERE ARE JUST SO MANY TIMES IN A DAY I CAN LET IT GO.

Anyone who knows me knows that my life is generally….hectic. I kind of thrive in chaotic environments. So for most of my adulthood, my schedule has been full and my husband has likened me to a wildfire that could use some extinguishing here or there.

We’re talking about stress, and I can tell you that at least when I was stressed and in the United States, I could run through a drive-thru for dinner or do most of my shopping in a single place.

Not the case in the developing world. I don’t need to tell this to any of you.

So we take our baseline stress levels to the overseas field, and we basically inject them with high-powered stress steroids. Notice I did not say performance-enhancing drugs.

Maybe that was a bad analogy. Just imagine stress bombs exploding all over the place. This is now our overseas life.

If you’re wondering how that’s working for all of us, let me introduce you to two men named Thomas (Holmes) and Richard (Rahe). In 1967, they wanted to find out if stressful events could cause illness. Brilliant! So they analyzed the medical records of five thousand people and created what we know today as the Rahe Stress Scale.

These men chose 43 life events and placed them on a scale with points assigned depending on how much effect the event had on a person’s life. The highest was the death of a spouse at 100 points, and a minor violation of the law the lowest at 11 points. Patients were asked to list the events they had experienced in the last year, and the score for each person was totaled. Holmes and Rahe discovered that a score of 150 indicated a slight risk of illness, 150-299 indicated a moderate risk, and 300+ indicated a definite health risk.

Jansohn (2013) believes that some people can endure scores of 400, but that people in our line of cross-cultural work often live at sustained levels of stress at around 600 on the scale.

Call it resilience. Call it a strong support network. Call it what you want.

But I’m choosing to call it a red flag and a time to examine our mental health and function on the field.

About two months ago, I was mortified as I Skyped into a meeting with our supporting fellowship in a full-on ugly cry. I was NOT okay. And with hesitancy, I choked through the explanation of my fatigue and borderline burnout. Thankfully, we have the most loving and caring sending body, who extended loads of grace that included a plane ticket home for the holidays this year.

I’m well aware that many of you don’t have the luxury of supporters who you feel have your back. Oh, how I wish I could send the M committee fairies down with holiday vacations to each and every one of you. You don’t need to ask me twice – TAKE THAT VACATION AND TAKE IT NOW!

But if at the very least you’re trying to sit and justify your *fine*-ness, take a look at your stress levels and finally justify your fatigue!

For the Homes and Rahe Stress Scale, I, Lauren Pinkston, join you at a 400+. You can simply use this list to add up your score and see where you land.

If you’d like a more interactive stress test, I LOVE the assessment tool at Cerny Smith. Not only can you spend time reflecting on what is really stressing you out, but this inventory was designed specifically for people doing Kingdom work abroad.

So, please use these two tools to your liking. We are a crazy, frazzled bunch! Check yourself, take breaks when you need them, and don’t feel ashamed to say, I’m stressed!

29 Comments

  1. Anonymous November 17, 2015

    I took the stress test about a year ago and scored close to 700. The good news is it’s down to under 600 this year 🙂 Pretty sure I’m a walking talking example of how stress can physically affect you after years of high levels and poor self care. But I’m learning! Velvet Ashes has been a huge help in seeing the need to do better in this area.

     

    So glad you have a loving and caring sending body! You’re right, not everyone has that. We were actually discouraged from using free miles to make a trip back this year because it might be seen by some as frivolous; we’d just been gifted a significant amount of money to cover medical expenses and it was thought those who gave would think we weren’t using our money well. Didn’t matter that it wasn’t going to cost any actual $$; it was the “appearance” of it. I had so looked forward to the trip and being able to see family, and we learned all this right around the holidays at the end of last year, which felt like a double-whammy. Holidays are hard enough far from loved ones, and then to find out you won’t get the chance to see them for a couple of years… Well, enough said.

    1. Em November 17, 2015

      Next time, you take that trip anyway. 😉 The most valuable resource out there is YOU. Money is a renewable resource. You are not. One of the best things I was ever told was that (in part) you shape what your supporters believe about ministry  – So you take that vacation, admitting that if you don’t you’ll implode, and help them see that you aren’t superhuman.

      Of course, easier said than done.

      1. Em November 17, 2015

        Oops. Didn’t realize I’d switched accounts. Not sure how that happened!

    2. Lauren Pinkston November 19, 2015

      I really like what Emily said here! Money is a renewable resource – you are not! It’s been a bit humbling to admit to our sending body that we really can’t do everything, but also quite freeing. I think I’ve written this here before, but we over communicate everything that’s going on with us abroad through a weekly update. I thought this would be too much, but we just send a couple of highlights from the week out each Saturday/Sunday. I think that’s given our pryr partners and financial supporters a good idea of the highs and lows that come throughout the year. Some weeks we have so many things to rejoice over! Some weeks we need a load of extra prayers. Anyways, this way we feel like we’re accurately bringing everyone into the reality of how stressful and ever-evolving the work is.

      Even in all of this, we still felt everything you’ve expressed here in fearing people would think we are being excessive. I bought my husband tickets to see his favorite football team for Christmas, but I’m scared to pieces for him to post pictures online still. And the trip home in general? I’m still wondering what people are thinking. Thankfully we haven’t met any nay-sayers yet, but the doubt is always in the back of my mind!

      So glad there’s been encouragement from VA to embrace the acknowledgement of stress and find ways to make it better. I hope in 2016 you’ll be able to pull that number down even more!

  2. Emily November 17, 2015

    Welp. I just did this and my score was 298…

    Welcome to Crazy Town: Population me. Over the past year we have –

    Become M’s
    Worked on raising our financial support
    Had conflict with in-laws
    Experienced the death of a close friend
    Had money problems

    And now we’re gearing up to move (right after Christmas and a conference we have to help run) and start our M work in another location.

    I *just* recently (before we found out we were moving abruptly) was settling into a place in the middle of all that other stress where I felt like my eyes were on the Lord and the other stuff didn’t cause me stress. I’ve been fighting tooth and nail to stay that way, even in the middle of all of this new kind of crazy. This was a good reminder.

    1. Lauren Pinkston November 19, 2015

      It’s SO HARD to build in reminders to minimize stress and focus on the Lord! I feel like my number one job in my home is to manage stress–mine and everyone else’s. But that’s not true at all. My number one job is to be a disciple. Thank YOU for that good reminder! 🙂

      And good luck with the next move!

  3. Sherri November 18, 2015

    I had to laugh out loud at the title of this post. I got back from a ministry trip to another country last Tuesday, then the busyness of getting caught up (laundry, grocery store, etc.), then I had one of our busiest weekends ever, which included (among other things), driving 10 hours to another country and cooking for 18 people. Not surprisingly, I am now sick. I do believe in the importance of rest and taking breaks; it’s just that often it’s not possible for me to do that when I need do. That’s the challenge for me: how to take care of my family and keep up with my responsibilities and take care of myself.

    1. Lauren Pinkston November 19, 2015

      Sherri,

      I feel your pain! How in the world do I build in rest with a two year old that wakes up at the crack of dawn and full time job and a list a mile long of things to do for my family? It seems impossible at times. Oh yes, and me time? I feel guilty asking for it!

      I don’t have solutions. I’m just sitting here commiserating with you. 🙂 Praise God for the glimpses of rest and sabbath, and may we continue to strive to find more ways to be rejuvenated and continue on our Faith walks.

  4. Brittany November 18, 2015

    So, my score wasn’t nearly as high as I expected… Maybe that means I’m just not handling the little bit of stress I have very well? (My score was 205, which I means it’s still high, but not like other Ms!) We have worked out some trips this next year to help with the stress.  We just took an overnight to our capital city and we didn’t do any sightseeing or anything.  We, with our three littles 4 and under, went to a hotel and did lots of playing and eating food we never get.  It was 24 hours of awesomeness!  We plan on sprinkling more of these throughout the year!

    1. Emily Smith November 18, 2015

      My theory on this. You are experiencing stress in areas that the test could never predict would happen.

      I was curious for myself. 6 months ago, I was under extreme stress  and close to complete and total breakdown. I added up the numbers and was barely above 100.

      Between a move, a new job, international travel, and a host of other factors, the number skyrocketed. My score now is 400+ and I feel like the stress is gone.

      The biggest reasons for my previous stress weren’t on the list. So, it might not be that you aren’t handling it well. It could just be that the test wasn’t normed to some of the craziness in your life. (That’s what I’m telling myself anyway 😉)

      But hurray for mini vacations! So necessary and helpful.

    2. Lauren Pinkston November 19, 2015

      I agree with Emily! The Rahe Stress Scale wasn’t normed for our population, so I think there are many stressors that should be added in! The Cerny Smith test is much more accurate to out line of work, but it doesn’t put out a fun number. I still found it really enlightening, though.

      Love that you went into the city to rest. When we have to cross the border for groceries, we also sometimes will stay the night just to be near a McDonalds and shopping mall. We don’t do anything exciting…and why in the world is McDonalds appealing? So funny!

  5. Lindsey Brewer November 18, 2015

    Yeah…..mine was 430. And I kind of felt like some points should be added under the “change of residence” section if it’s an international change!

    I am SO SO glad that your organization was so gracious to you guys and you are getting to head home soon for a quick break. You amaze me with all that is on your plate- I think that would send me over the edge in America and I have no idea how you’re handling all of it in Asia! Prayers for a sweet time of rest and family!

    1. Lauren Pinkston November 19, 2015

      Points should DEFINITELY be added. Like an immediate 75.

      We leave in just a few days – it’s starting to feel real! It’s Christmas in November! Lots going on in our lives, but I’m surrounded by lots of amazing people. And tons of encouragers like you! Love seeing the updates from your trip. 🙂

  6. Laurie November 18, 2015

    This was really interesting and I’m glad I read it today. I’d been thinking how exhausted I feel all the time lately. Now I think it’s related to stress. I looked at the last couple years as well as this coming year (moving back to US, buying house, buying car, reverse culture shock, etc.) It puts me in the 200s for the last few years. However, one thing I thought lacking for those overseas is a line item for the relationships that end because dear friends leave. I wonder if I should file that under “death of a close friend” because we are grieving a loss. And if several close friends leave, do you count it multiple times?

    1. Laurie November 18, 2015

      Also, what about stress from relatives fighting over the estate of your deceased parent, having to get lawyers involved, etc.? That’s been a big stressor for the past couple years.

    2. Lauren Pinkston November 19, 2015

      Wow, Laurie – you’ve really had a lot on your plate! Definitely more than could be depicted on this test. I love what you brought up about grieving friendships that are lost from international/organizational moves. Our friendships abroad are exceptionally bonding, at least for me anyways, because social networks are so limited and these people see me at my absolute worst (and somehow love me anyway!). Really great point!

      So sorry to hear about the loss of your parent and the stressor following with the estate issues. How sad! You have every right to feel fatigued. Hope you’re finding lots of ways to be kind to yourself!

  7. Laura C November 18, 2015

    I took this test a couple years ago and scored extremely high on it… and I was sick!  The Drs in the Dominican Republic and Stateside couldn’t figure it out then, and still can’t now, although I’ve learned to manage some of my symptoms.  I imagine my stress level played a huge role in my body shutting down.

    We’ve been back stateside for almost 8 months, and for 2 months now finally have “home” again in NYC.  Although I loved my life in the DR, and would go back in a heart beat should He provide a way to do so again, I had no idea how stressed I was!  I am now realizing the effect so many things had on me even though they didn’t feel stressful then… like paying attention to how much water we had to know if I could wash laundry or dishes.  The fact that I don’t have to worry about having running water, let alone water I can just drink(!), is such a weight off that I didn’t even realize I was carrying.  I re-took the test today and wasn’t at all surprised to find my score being so much lower at just under 150.  I feel it being lower, even though we are again living in a brand new, huge city, where we know no one.

    As I still try and process our repatriation, something we didn’t want or plan on, I often wonder if we just needed rest and He knew we wouldn’t make it a priority to do so on our own.  The first sermon series we heard at our new church was appropriately titled “Rest.”  It was stressed that “Rest is the effect of choosing to prioritize Jesus.”  Not my own agenda.  Rest doesn’t occur when everything on my list is checked off, the kids are in bed, and I’m sitting with some chocolate and tea in complete silence, although that is restful!  True rest happens when I prioritize Him, and usually that means I need to sit still, be quiet, and actually hear from Him what that looks like for me, today.  Because despite my circumstances, He has peace and rest for me, and enough of it for each and every day.

    So that, surprisingly, just turned into a lot of words 🙂  I hope it encourages someone!  And I’m thankful for a place where I can try and process these thoughts “out-loud” with others who may understand.  Praying for those of you this morning who are maxing out the charts.  It can be such a hard, lonely place, especially when you can’t make any changes to lower your levels, but I know He can meet you in those hard places!  I pray you would find rest in Him and His strength today as you face whatever you’re up against.

    1. T November 18, 2015

      I’m glad you wrote it, Laura!  🙂

    2. Monica F November 19, 2015

      Thanks so much for sharing!

       

    3. Lauren Pinkston November 19, 2015

      So encouraging! I love hearing these stories. Thank you SO MUCH for writing yours out here. And it led me to your blog, so I can keep reading! 🙂

  8. Ellie November 18, 2015

    359 here (and some things not on the list that I could have added or others I could have counted twice…. argh!) So, when I tell myself this morning that “I shouldn’t be so tired” and was thinking of my own words on this a while back that fatigue doesn’t come after one bad night’s sleep etc I am right in thinking that I still need to be kind to myself… (Just wrote “tired to myself” and corrected – haha, Freudian slips and all that!)

    This really is a crazy lifestyle and many of us are people who thrive on a lot more change and challenge than some who don’t move across the world, and we know it – but that doesn’t mean we’re “unbreakable” and sometimes it’s having other people to help us to see we’re reaching the ends of “normal for us” and into “beyond” and get some help. VA is good on that.

    Love you crazy ladies! Yes, Lauren “take breaks and don’t be afraid to say I’m stressed” – some really good things have happened this year when I’ve been clear with some key people that things are not okay with me.. Guess I need to keep on keeping on with that! Onwards into a more God-centred slower moving-and sabbath-protecting lifestyle.. Hugs.x

     

     

    1. Lauren Pinkston November 19, 2015

      Ellie, preach it girl! Can we be friends? I think you’re right that we are all a bit more crazy than the average stay-at-home humans. But we need to know when we’ve pushed ourselves too far.

      My husband makes me practice saying “No” on a regular basis for fun. Makes me laugh. 🙂 Still learning how to build margin into our lives.

  9. Monica F November 19, 2015

    I sooooooo hear you!  My husband likened me to a wildfire one time- ha!  But, he’s in the middle of a dissertation and working on a new business, so ‘there’:)  Anyway, thanks for your post- I so agree that:

    ” we take our baseline stress levels to the overseas field, and we basically inject them with high-powered stress steroids.”

    That’s what I did for 14 years straight.  And I’m finally recovering- but a forced sabbatical had to happen first.  Was just used to being utterly exhausted and spinning way too many plates.  I think the Cerny Smith is great.  My husband and I did that assessment in CM after several major crises, and boy, did the counselor have lots to say!  Thanks for sharing your late-night post.

    1. Lauren Pinkston November 19, 2015

      Thanks for commenting, Monica. You have so many rich experiences to share here. I often wish I could fit my counselor in my pocket and just carry her around with me to help my process my daily life. We learn so much from working through our experiences with someone! And is it possible to need a sabbatical after 1.5 years abroad? 😛

      Kidding.

      Sort of.

  10. Jenilee November 19, 2015

    yikes… 497. Lord help us to find ways to process the stress in healthy ways that lead to growth and dependence on Him!

  11. Patty Stallings November 21, 2015

    Hey all, Coaching Mission International has Cerny Smith trained coaches if you need someone to help you make sense of your Cerny Smith test. Go to cmiprograms.org and click on “Bridges” for more info about finding a coach.  You can also write to keisac@cmiprograms.com to ask specifically about a Cerny Smith trained coach.

    Disclaimer:  I do some training of  life and leadership coaches for CMI so I might be a little biased 🙂

    Lauren, I’m so glad you opened this conversation about stress!  Sustainability is often undervalued. I love that you champion it!

    1. Lauren Pinkston November 22, 2015

      Really fantastic, Patty! Thanks a ton for helping us out around here!

  12. Anna November 24, 2015

    A few years into living in Africa, I realized that stress was noticeably affecting my health.  I felt like that meant that I was doing something wrong (like I should be able to handle it.)  Fortunately, I had someone point out to me that we all have limits, and I’m not superwoman.

    We have a great support system.  For me, it’s a learning process of using the support system, setting boundaries, taking breaks, and trying to keep things in perspective.  Our family kind of lost sight of this for a little while, and we saw some negative results.  Long story, but we did learn to take our limits more seriously.

    One thing I’ve found is that I’ve built up some resiliency over time.  Part of it is going through stressful situations and learning to deal with it.  Some of the things that would have been major stressors 10 years ago don’t affect me as much now.  But after large amounts of stress, I start to loose that resiliency & something little can be super stressful.  I need the recovery time.

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