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Archive for the ‘Stress and Coping’ Category

Let’s draw a trouble tree. Take out a piece of paper and draw a tree with three branches.

Put your name on one of the branches.

Put two other peoples’ names on the other two branches. You might choose one of your children, a close friend, a neighbor, or a relative.

Now write your troubles on one branch and the other peoples’ troubles on their branches.

For example, on Suzanne’s branch I would hang the following miseries:

  • Son has learning difficulties
  • Oldest daughter has weight problem
  • Husband left for another woman
  • Basement floods periodically
  • New car continues to break down.

Even people who seem to lead a charmed life like Oprah have problems.
Her misfortunes include:

  • born to a single teenage mother in poverty
  • was sexually abused
  • lost a son
  • fired from a reporting job
  • struggles with her weight

Every person experiences troubles in life. Some people seem to experience more than their share of miseries. Others seem to be blessed and appear to have fewer troubles throughout their life. But no one escapes physical and emotional pain.

The trouble tree can help you put your problems in perspective.

Check out Doris’ latest books, “The Boy Whose Idea Could Feed the World” as well as, “The Parent Teacher Discussion Guide” and “Thin Becomes You”.

Doris’ web page: www.doriswildhelmering.com

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The other day, an editor called me and said, “Doris, I feel crazy. I have so much to do, and I’m never going to get it all done.”

Clearly, this man wasn’t going crazy; but after listening to his schedule with all the deadlines that he had to meet, I could understand why he felt so anxious. It sounded as though he had about 200 hours of work and only about 130 hours left in which to complete the work.

After listening to him list in detail everything he had to do, I asked if he wanted any suggestions, or if I could do anything for him.

He said that just talking helped; and in the end he knew he would get it all done, or at least get done what was absolutely necessary.

So often I hear the same lament in therapy. The person feels that he has too much to do and that he doesn’t have enough time to do it all. His life is disorganized; and if something doesn’t give, he’s going to die of a heart attack.

Usually when someone starts feeling overwhelmed, and most everyone feels overwhelmed occasionally, all the person needs is a good listening ear. In the telling of his tasks, he gets to dissipate some of his anxious feelings. And sometimes in the telling he is able to figure out what absolutely needs to be done versus what he would like to get done.

So when your friend or mate or child tells you how overwhelmed he or she is feeling, give the person an ear. By re­viewing aloud what they have to do, people start to feel more organized because they are sorting through and listing their chores. They feel more in control as they see what they must finish versus what they can put on hold for another week or two.

Rarely do over-extended people need suggestions, but almost always they need someone who will listen.

Check out Doris’ latest books, “The Boy Whose Idea Could Feed the World” as well as, “The Parent Teacher Discussion Guide.” and “Thin Becomes You”.  Doris’ web page: www.doriswildhelmering.com

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Sometimes I’ll ask a couple I’m seeing in therapy to do the following exercise.

  1. The husband and wife stand about six feet apart.
  2. The husband walks slowly toward his wife until he reaches a point where he no longer feels comfortable. Some men stop about three feet from their wives. Others stop at 30 inches and still others at 27.
  3. The wife now moves toward her husband or steps back from him, depending on how much space she feels she needs between the two of them.

The purpose of the exercise is to help a couple understand that each has an invisible boundary line. If the husband moves into the wife’s space, she’ll immediately step back to reestablish her boundary. Everyone has a different physical comfort level.

It’s a fascinating phenomenon to observe in yourself as well as others. Walk up to anyone and generally you’ll see the person step back from you or move toward you. If the person steps back, you may move closer. If the person steps forward, you may move back. Usually the two of you will move around until you establish a comfortable space between you.

Just as people have invisible physical boundaries, they also have unspoken psychological ones. When these are crossed, there is discomfort and sometimes even an argument.

One psychological boundary people have is their tolerance for talking. Some people like to talk. Others like quiet.

If a wife likes to talk and her husband likes quiet, her talking may create a sense of uneasiness in him. His psychological space is being invaded. He may address his discomfort by walking out of the room or tuning out.

The wife, on the other hand, may feel anxious when her mate doesn’t talk. One might say her psychological space has been invaded by his silence. She may address her uneasiness by picking a fight to get the verbal energy flowing.

Household noises often cross people’s psychological boundaries. One spouse may like the TV volume higher than the other. When the volume is up, one person feels intruded upon, but when it’s down, the other is uncomfortable.

One couple has trouble when the husband watches sporting events, particularly football. His wife becomes anxious and distressed. The continual talking of the announcer and the roar of the crowd impinge so much on her psychological boundary that she feels a need to run away and leave the house.

Another psychological boundary involves how much information spouses believe they should share with others about their relationship. The husband may see no problem with telling his best friend that they’re having financial difficulties. But the wife may think that discussing their problems with others is a betrayal of the relationship.

A couple may have different psychological boundaries when it comes to the number of things they like to have around the house. Some people feel most comfortable with many collectibles sitting around. Others want absolutely clean surfaces and a lot of knick-knacks create a sense of discomfort.

Think of yourself and your mate. How far apart are your psychological boundaries for talking? Noise level? Sharing information with others? Items around the house?

Conflict frequently results when couples fail to respect each other’s psychological boundaries. Understanding your boundaries as well as your mate’s will make you more tolerant and reduce stress between the two of you.

Check out Doris’ latest books, “The Boy Whose Idea Could Feed the World” as well as, “The Parent Teacher Discussion Guide.” and “Thin Becomes You”.
Doris’ web page: www.doriswildhelmering.com

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I want to know how can I control my temperament/anger, and increase my patience with my 3 year old son. I am out of energy, struggling with my weight/shape, time management and level of responsibility at work. I feel like a zombie.

Three year olds can be a handful and everyone seems to be overwhelmed today. Regarding your anger and weight, try this affirmation, “I choose not to be angry or overeat, I choose to be in control.”

Why this particular affirmation? Because it addresses both of your issues, anger and weight and the mere repetition of the affirmation will help you feel more calm. Say it several thousands times a day (no joking!).

Check out Doris’ latest books, “The Boy Whose Idea Could Feed the World” (a middle grade read) as well as, “The Parent Teacher Discussion Guide.” www.doriswildhelmering.com

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Taking this quiz on perfectionism will help you determine if you’re a perfectionist.

Do you fear making mistakes more than those around you do?
When you do make a mistake, do you overreact with anger, defensiveness and self-criticism?
Do you remember critical remarks more than you remember praise?
Do you operate from a belief system that says there is a right way to do everything, including folding socks, loading the dishwasher, writing a paper, reading a book?
Do you have difficulty relaxing because there is always something more to be done?
Do you drive yourself with such statements as “you should do this”and “you ought to do that”?
Do you avoid starting a job because your standards are so high that you don’t have time to complete it?

If you answered yes to five of these questions, more than likely you are trying to be too much of a perfectionist.

It’s fine to want to do your best and even to excel in certain areas, but to continually measure your self-worth by how much you get done and how well you do it can be self-destructive. Not only are you a more difficult person to live with (you secretly have the same high standards for everyone), but you are more likely to suffer from depression, performance anxiety and anxiety in social situations.

One thing you might do is observe how others who are not perfectionists live. You don’t have to pick someone whom you view as a slob. Choose a person who seems to be more middle-of-the-road. Someone, for example, who takes pride in her work but whose desk is never in good order.

Once you’ve picked out your less-perfectionistic brother or sister, find one thing the person does that you admire. If she can leave her desk with things still to do, allow yourself the same privilege. And see it as a privilege, not as a weakness.

Another thing you might do is to adopt a favorite phrase that you can chant in your head while taking a shower or driving your car. You can say something like, “I count more than my accomplishments” or “I’m a good person just for being.”

One fellow was able to give up some of his compulsive drive for perfectionism when I explained that if he were perfect, no one could possibly add anything to his life. His need to be perfect was actually a way of keeping people at a distance.

Having high standards and pursuing excellence is a fine goal, and it does give people a great deal of satisfaction and joy when they do well. But having too high of standards can be self-defeating.

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When your mate retires, expect change, and expect to adjust your life style.
Her husband has been retired for a year, and she’s ready to go back to work.

“Since he’s retired he thinks he has first rights to the telephone. He thinks he should be able to make his telephone calls first. If one of my friends calls early in the morning and wants to talk, heaven forbid. If I’m talking and he wants to use the telephone, he motions for me to get off. If that doesn’t work, he passes me a note or holds up a sign.

“Last week when I was out, he rearranged my dishes and spice rack. Then he tells me how much more efficient his arrangement is than the one I’ve been using for the past 37 years!

“If one of my friends stops by for a visit, he participates in our conversation. If I say, ‘We’re going out on the patio,’ he says, ‘I’ll join you.’

When he invites himself I think, ‘Go make your own friends.’

“Because he has more time since he’s retired, he’s always wanting me to invite our children over for dinner. Or he wants me to have friends for dinner and cards. I like our children and friends, but I’m the one who gets stuck with the preparation and most of the clean-up. And I get tired.

“When I go to the grocery store, he wants to go along. Yesterday I was picking out some strawberries, and he said, ‘They look bad.’ So I didn’t buy them, but I thought they looked perfectly fine. When I was getting the broccoli he said, ‘We haven’t had cauliflower in a long time.’ I knew what he was saying. ‘Get cauliflower instead of broccoli.’

“If I go outside to garden, he tells me to come in and take a rest or come in and have lunch. He is not respectful of my routine.

“I was signing up for a course at the botanical garden. When he heard me on the telephone he said, “Sign me up, too.” When I got off the telephone, I thought, ‘I’m getting myself a job.'”

This couple is suffering through a period of adjustment. She’s used to organizing and running the home, having the house to herself part of the time, and deciding her own schedule.

Her husband is probably lonely for companionship and hasn’t figured out how to handle all the additional hours he has recently gained with retirement. Because of his need for interaction and time structure, he’s coat-tailing on his wife’s schedule. It also seems he’s trying to run his wife’s life.

I suggest that this couple decide who is going to run what show. Perhaps he will start being responsible for the cooking on Tuesday and Thursday nights. If he hasn’t cooked in the past, he can sign up for a cooking course. This will give him contact with more people and a new interest and will help fill his time.

I also think a revision of who does what chores around the house is appropriate at this stage.

As to his desire to visit with his wife and her friends, the wife needs to hold steadfast to not always having him join them. This may mean that she will have to gently confront him when he says he’ll accompany them. She might say, “Tom, we need to have some girl talk.”

When a man or even a woman retires, it’s a period of adjustment for many couples. The main thing is for both people to figure out how they would like to live their life on a daily basis and then make a plan. Without a conscious plan, many relationships suffer the retirement blues.

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No one escapes life without pain and suffering. How you deal with the pain makes you who you are.
No one escapes life without pain and disappointment. This is the first noble truth Buddha taught. Life is pain. Life is suffering.

I look around me. Every person I know has had pain — physical pain and emotional pain. The death of a child. A chronic illness. Loss of a mate. Loss of a parent. Affairs. Lost jobs. Divorce. Problems with friends. Financial problems. Betrayals. Law-suits. A difficult child. Alcohol problems. Issues with drugs. Car accidents. Broken bones. Cancer. Infertility. In-law problems. Problems with aging parents. I could fill several books with my friends’ sufferings and ten more with some of the sufferings my clients have had to endure.

Life doesn’t provide us with only big hurts; it also gives us plenty of little thumps and bumps along the way. For example: A child won’t cooperate and do his homework; the toilet stops up; the electrician doesn’t come when you’ve taken off work; your fourteen-year-old “borrows” the family car; your mother is overly critical; a mate rejects you sexually; the refrigerator breaks down; the hot water heater goes out; a friend burns a hole in your furniture and pretends she didn’t do it. This is life.

Some months, some years are better. I sometimes think, “This is good. Everything is fine, only a little suffering these last few months.”

When pain comes into your life, how do you deal with it? Do you get angry? Cry? Withdraw and feel depressed? Put one foot in front of the other and keep on marching? Focus on something new? Obsess and think, “Why me?” and “It’s not fair.” Do you look for insight in reading and talking with others? Do you ask God for help? Do you work with a therapist? Do you push the sadness away by refusing to think about it?

How you deal with your pain is what makes the difference. How you deal with it is what makes you greater or lesser. It makes you the person you are and can become.

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