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These scales also come with the assumption that a particular event will have a similar impact on you, regardless of the situation. Losing a job that you love is different from losing one you dislike. Likewise, moving house could be straightforward, or it could mean you’re fleeing a war zone and leaving your country forever. These are hardly comparable situations.  

Add to that the fact that no two people’s responses to a situation will be exactly the same. The idea that a particular type of event inevitably leads to stress was debunked many years ago by the pioneering psychologist Richard Lazarus. There are too many factors at play. It’s not just the event itself that matters, but how you view that event and whether you feel you have the personal resources and support from others to allow you to cope. Both emotions and cognitions play a part. There are many people who thrive on supposedly high-stress jobs, enjoying the challenge and meeting it. Even if you take an extreme event like a natural disaster, only a small proportion of the people involved will develop post-traumatic stress disorder. Most people will find a way of coping.

Another approach is to measure, not dramatic life events, but the hassles of everyday life, such as losing things or equipment breaking down. Maybe moving house could fit in better here; there are certainly plenty of daily hassles. If you take all the research that’s been done on the causes of illness, life events only account for a mere 12% of the link, but daily hassles are more closely correlated with illness. The reason for the low figure might be one of measurement. Daily-hassle scales allow you decide whether something makes you feel stressed, rather than deciding for you than an event is inevitably stressful. What matters is how stressful you perceive an event to be, how much you ruminate about it and whether you think you have the resources to cope.  

Pack up your troubles

Where do studies of daily hassles put moving house, then? In a sample of middle-aged adults in the US “property, investment and taxes” comes in at number eight, behind hassles such as concerns about weight, health of a family member, rising prices, home repairs, having too much to do and losing things. Even when you look at daily hassles, moving house doesn’t feature highly.

Studies looking specifically at the stress of moving house are few and far between. Most look at migration, where there are all sorts of extra factors involved. There is a British study where 75% of people questioned said relocating for their job was somewhat, quite or very stressful. But this doesn’t tell us how it rates with other events.

So although it doesn’t feel like it at the moment, there’s little evidence that moving home is the next most stressful thing after death of a spouse or getting divorced. I’ll console myself with that fact, while I wait for the next hiccup or obstacle that stops us from finally moving.

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