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Stress and Resilience: Sandra Bullock's Example

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All of us have some sort of stress is our lives. Stress can come from positive or negative experiences, in packages large or small, and over a long period of time or all at once. The Holmes-Rahe Social Readjustment Ratings Scale, developed in the 1960s, is one way for us to measure stress that may have accumulated during the past year. The idea is to look at the list of "life events," choose the ones that you have experienced in the last 12 months, and add up the corresponding scores to evaluate your possible stress load.

Let's take a look at Sandra Bullock's score to get an idea of how this works:

Divorce is second on the list to "Death of a spouse" and comes in at 73 points. She has filed for divorce, so I'm using that score rather than the one for "marital separation." Gaining a new family member, her son Louis, adds an additional 39. Given the circumstances surrounding the divorce, I'm guessing we could say "change in frequency of arguments" applies, for 35 points. There's no score for "winning a major award" but there is one for "Outstanding personal achievement, so we'll use that, at 28 points. Since she won several major awards, we could probably multiply that, but we'll just double it for a total of 56 to keep it simple. Change in residence is 20 points. I'm guessing she'll be keeping her home in Austin, but she did move out of the home she shared with Jesse. Having a new baby around means a change in social activities, so that's another 18 points. There's definitely a change of sleeping habits, too, for another 16 points. She's probably had a vacation in the last 12 months, which gives her another 13 points. And Christmas comes in for an additional 12 points. With that, Sandra has a total of 282 points.

There are other factors we don't know about that would add in more points. A major mortgage is worth 32 points. Change in health of a family member is 44 points. Trouble with in-laws is 29 points. Change in responsibilities at work is 29 points. Any one of these "events" would put Sandra's total over 300 points, which increases her risk of serious illness over the next two years by 80%. Now that's stress!

Many people would fall apart under these circumstances, let alone having the circumstances played out for public scrutiny in the tabloids. And yet, this woman who has gone through so much in such a short period of time looks no worse for wear. Here she is smiling at her sweet baby on the cover of People Magazine! What makes a person so resilient to handle all of this stress with such grace? In a word -- Closure.

Closure is understanding that there is a purpose to the events in our lives, and it is being able to move forward with a newfound wisdom from the experience. Sandra Bullock has been able to recognize this strength in others. Of the students at Warren Easton Charter High School in New Orleans, a school that she has supported after Hurricane Katrina, she says: "I fell in love with the kids at Warren Easton -- their spirit, their elegance, their soul, their profound ability to see the beauty in an experience that would have left most people hardened and angry."

Now, after weathering her own storm for the past couple of months, Sandra is modeling this same strength for her fans. Rather than playing the role of the victim, or lashing out at a betrayal, she instead has opted for a kind of "chop wood, carry water" attitude and has gone on with the business of her life. She is learning and growing from the experience, from the changes in her relationships, and she is grateful. In the People Magazine interview she says: "To say that I am changed is an understatement. But that might not be a bad thing. I have learned a lot about what I am and what I am not. But the most important thing to me was to protect and know the truth. And the truth is simple. The things I hold most dear are things that could not have happened without Jesse."

Life is complicated. Relationships change. But yes, the truth is simple. The truth is that all of it, the good and the bad, the fantastic and the painful, the sunshine and the rain -- no matter how we choose to judge it or categorize it -- all of it is here to serve the process of our growth. We can take these lessons and learn from them. We can look at examples given to us and follow them. When we are in gratitude, we are in the present moment. We're not dwelling on the past or worried about the future, we're simply in the here and now. And now is the only time there is.

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