Stress Management

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review mirrorHow often do you ask some variation of the question: What's my blind spot?

If 'never' is your answer—Congratulations. You've just discovered your first one.

Of course, most of us get that we have blind spots. Things we don't know about ourselves that get in our way. But because of the nature of this 'out of sight, out of mind' phenomenon, we can forget. Which is where the trouble begins... ...continue reading

life preserverIt can be triggered by the seemingly simple task of picking out what clothes to wear or bigger challenges like decluttering your space, doing your taxes, finding a job, or planning a wedding.

Whether from circumstances that are forced upon you or – as is often the case – from saying ‘yes’ to too many things, being in overwhelm feels like drowning in the ocean. In fact the official test for overwhelm is to take a deep breath. If you swallow water, you’re in it. ...continue reading

pocketful front cover lgLast fall, I heard about a small little book that promised to help the reader quickly shift their thoughts to be more positive and happy.

I bought it.

But when it arrived, it wasn't just the size that threw me, but that there were no quick tips on how to do those quick shifts. Disappointed that I didn't get the book I had expected, I thought, maybe I should write it then.

My intention was to create a very simple little instruction guide with a little wisdom and a few tips on how to catch and change one's thoughts and shift them so we could become less stressed, less angry, more relaxed, calmer and happier. ...continue reading

LonelyWomanDear Annie,

While helping others deal with stress is important, what do I do if I am the stressed person? It seems like I have so many issues to deal with on a day-to-day basis. I've been seeing a counselor and am on medication but I still get so stressed out at times that it makes me physically ill. Do you have any suggestions? ~ Overwhelmed with Stress

Dear Overwhelmed,

I gave you that name because that is where you are right now. Once your life and body get overwhelmed with stress it is a different challenge than preventing or just maintaining a calmer state-of-mind. Your body is likely - literally - overdosing on cortisol, the stress hormone. So the first thing is to work to remove as much of this from your system as possible. Which means intervention now, prevention later. ...continue reading

Massage TherapyStress is like the flu. It can get passed on just by coming into contact with someone who has it! And holidays - with all their high expectations, sense of obligations, crowd navigations, and family connections - set up the perfect conditions for catching and passing on this bug.

But even if you yourself are good at keeping stress at bay (or just don't need anyone else's), there are likely all kinds of people in your life that are coughing and sneezing and groaning about their aches and pains. So if you want to help a person who's laid up with a bad case of stress, here are 3 steps to consider:

Step 1. Practice Prevention. Stay healthy with your own stress. Don't get too close to others who are infected and definitely don't use their condition as an excuse to add your own stress to a potential epidemic. And don't forget to practice good handwashing throughout the day to keep from spreading stress to others. ...continue reading

(Part 1 of a 3 part series on Being Prickly)

porcupine_CCDrew_AveryWe come into contact with prickly people all the time. It might be a scowl, a frosty attitude or a touchy disposition. It might be the choice of words as in 'What do you want?!'

Sometimes they serve us coffee. Sometimes they sit across from us at work or in committee meetings. Sometimes they live in our neighborhood or even worse! in our own homes.

And sometimes - more often then we'd like to admit - they are staring back at us in the mirror. ...continue reading

(Part 2 of a 3 part series on Being Prickly)
Cactus_CCSearchNetMediaDid you ever have an interaction with someone and walk away going - WT?? Do you have relationships where you walk away with that feeling all time? And the bigger question - Do people experience you that way?
 
Most of us slip occasionally, becoming prickly toward the people around us and could benefit from asking ourselves how we are coming across. But if you really want to understand and do connection better it helps to consider WHY you or someone in your life may be prickly in the first place. ...continue reading

(Part 3 of a 3 part series on Being Prickly)

Rose_thorns2_CCingridtaylarHopefully you've started at the beginning of this series with

Part 1 ~ How Prickly Are You? and Part 2 ~ Why People Are Prickly.

We can all be prickly sometimes, which doesn't mean we aren't good people, but it may mean that our thorns are getting in the way of others seeing that.

But acknowledging our prickliness still leaves us with two choices. We can either justify our approach - blaming it on genetics, life, others or apathy - and do nothing, or we can take responsibility for our actions and work to change people's experience of us. ...continue reading

Part 4 of a 3 part series on Being Prickly

Dog_meets_porcupine_CCdaisyelaine

The trouble with prickly people is that they are - well - prickly. As you can see by this picture it can literally be painful to be around them. So it's a natural reaction to want to limit your contact.

Unfortunately, for the hyper-reacter or grouch it is hard to learn new ways of being with people when people don't go the extra distance to positively invest in you. ...continue reading

Dear Annie,

AnnieZirkelCookies.jpg

It seems like whenever I grant a special treat to my 8-year-old son, it makes everyone more miserable than if there were no treat at all. For example, if I surprise him with the statement that I'm making cookies for dessert, then he quickly starts complaining that he wants them for snack instead, or when I present the cookie, he complains that he wants two instead of one, or that he wishes they were a different kind, or... you get the picture.

This kind of behavior occurs whether it is a surprise, or a planned event. For example, he was thrilled that we were going to get a movie as a treat for everyone doing their jobs well, until he found out that we were not getting the movie he wanted (not age-appropriate).


I don't think he's greedy, or bitter due to deprivation - although he might say that. Some other traits that may fill in the picture: He has trouble bouncing back from both disappointment and activities that are especially enjoyable for him. Structure is important to him, and he gets anxious easily, so he does better when expectations are very clear (especially at school though they say he's in the normal range).


With his younger brother it is a different story and from my own childhood, I really appreciated this kind of incentive. Now for our family, doing something fun or special seems to make everything worse.


What do you think is going on, and what can I do? - Frustrated Mom



Dear Frustrated Mom,

One approach to the cookie ingratitude is to say, "Fine then, no cookies for you." And I could hear this coming out of my mouth if I was feeling like entitlement was the culprit. But with all you describe about your son, I think we would do him the most good by helping him figure out what's going on.


So let's see if we can look beyond the gripe. Sometimes we gripe about cookies as the most convenient outlet for a different unresolved trigger - raining outside, brother troubles, school stress, tiredness, etc. If the griping seems out of place, it may help to play detective to see if something else is going on.


You also state that structure is very important to your son and that lack of structure causes him anxiety. Surprises are, by their nature, the opposite of structure. So while the surprise may be pleasant, that temporary free-falling feeling may trigger his anxiety. His trying to take control: Snack vs dinner, 2 vs 1, this kind vs that kind, could be his way managing his anxiety. Some of the other examples like struggling to bounce back from both disappointment and great fun would also fit into that temporarily unstructured transition.


With anticipated events, it sounds like your son is filling in details with concrete ideas of what the event will look like - creating a structured picture. When his picture meets reality he now has to synthesize the two images causing another free-fall.


The most important thing you can do is help him learn about his thoughts and emotions and assist him in finding strategies for handling his anxiety while continuing to stretch his comfort zone. If you want more specifics on HOW to do that - keep reading.


3 Steps for Teaching

1.) At a time it isn't happening, have the Big Conversation to explain your concern and frustration. Use examples like the cookies, the movie, ending a fun activity, or being disappointed. Explain your concerns about his not having more happiness. This is also a good opportunity to add that you need to be treated better because you are a good person and deserve respect.

Paint a picture of a child who can get better at these skills. Find examples of situations where he handles this better. Go in curiously. See how much he is aware of his reactions, whether he sees times he does this better, whether he understands his thinking and would like to change anything. Taking the direction from this talk see if he has any ideas on how he could change and what you could do to support him.


2.) Model reasonable emotions and share your thinking process out loud. For some kids, they really need to see/hear other ways of thinking. Let him hear how you think about good surprises that happen in your life, and how you think through your own anxiety.


3.) Teach strategies for checking and dealing with his reactions and anxiety - some suggestions are playing detective to uncover the thoughts that led him to his reaction, breaking things down, challenging him and brainstorming alternative reactions for next time, and roleplaying. Preventative discussions about upcoming events, and helping him 'keep the door open' for things going differently can also help. And of course giving him control in as many situations as possible (without being held hostage) can help as well.


3 Steps for Intervening during an interaction:

1.) Mirror and optimistically notice his reaction (breaking it down to find the good part):

Mom: Honey I'm making cookies for dessert.

Son: I don't want them for dessert, I want them as a snack.

Mom: So you like the cookies idea, you just would rather have them as a snack. (Or: So you liked the movie idea until you learned that you weren't going to get that movie. Now you're disappointed.)

2.) Give him the version that you had hoped he would see:

"Well I was hoping that me making cookies would make you feel loved." (Or: I was hoping that getting a movie would feel like a treat.)

3.) Resolution Options:

A.) Empathize and allow him to feel his disappointment but do not change your plans. "I'm sorry that it's not exactly what you wanted."
B.) If you think he can stretch: Empathize THEN Challenge. "I know you would prefer the cookies now. Do you think you'll be able to handle the wait?" or "Is there some other way you can look at this so you can appreciate the treat?" If he says 'No'. Go back to A.
C.) If you feel he has a legitimate point and he respects that it's your choice: Power share. Don't placate him if he is being abusive or just so you avoid a melt down but, especially if he is being respectful, allow him to have influence over a third way solution.


Between incidents, continue teaching and help him notice if any of his reactions are improving. For further reading, I like the book The Explosive Child by Ross W. Greene. Some books I recommend for children on optimism and resiliency can be found under the Parenting Resources section.


Please let me know if that helps.
Annie