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Coping With Everyday Life

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What This Blog is About

Your hosts for this blog are listed under “Hosts” in the menu choices. We invite you to join the blog and participate in our discussions about psychology and stress. If you are interested in pursuing any topic we cover, email us at charlesbrooks@kings.edu. We also encourage you to visit our website (www.subtlesuicide.com) to learn about our published books on subtle suicide, dysfunctional giver/taker relationships, and research on how psychology applies to everyday life.

This blog is about what psychology has to say about facing everyday stress. Anxiety, jealousy, anger, love, depression, grief – like everyone, you experience these emotions and the stress they can produce. You lose loved ones, you get bored with your job, you have kids, you care for elderly parents, the water heater breaks, you suffer a personal attack, a storm damages your house, your neighbor is a pain in the a……well, you get the idea. Stress surrounds you and sometimes you feel helpless to do anything about it.

Faced with life, you really have two choices: You can say the hell with it, decide to live with the stress, withdraw into a protective shell, and avoid trying to do anything about it. From a psychological perspective, this choice will turn you into a stagnant pool; you exist, but not in any productive or satisfying way.

On the other hand, you can decide to attack the stress in your life, to accept challenges and meet them as best you can. You can decide not to be ruled by your emotions, but to use them to your advantage. This choice requires more effort and focus than the first one, but the effort is well worth it in the long run. This choice, and how you can apply psychology to your life and become better at dealing with your everyday stressors, is what we talk about in this blog. Join us!

 

Values Important for Healthy Coping

In the 2020 election, President Trump lost the state of Georgia to opponent Joe Biden. During a one-hour phone call on January 2, 2021, President Trump pressured Brad Raffensperger, Georgia Secretary of State, to find 11,780 votes for Trump so he could overturn the election results and win the state of Georgia. Raffensperger, who says he voted for Trump, would not agree to the request. He maintained that Trump had lost Georgia fair and square, and to “find votes” would violate his oath of office.

Raffensperger was obviously experiencing what we would call cognitive dissonance – mental discomfort. The man he voted for lost the election, and a lot of people were claiming the loss was due to election fraud. Furthermore, the President of the United States was asking him to help rectify what he claimed was a fraudulent election outcome. Raffensperger could “find” missing votes for Trump in Georgia, swing the state from Biden to Trump, and reduce his dissonance.

But Raffensperger could also reduce his dissonance by choosing another road. First of all, he could find no evidence of any ballot fraud in Georgia. He was completely confident that Biden had won the state. Furthermore, he had sworn an oath of office as Secretary of State, and that oath carried with it responsibility to act with integrity, honesty, fairness, and honor. Therefore, he could refuse the request to “find votes.” Note that this dissonance-reduction strategy required Raffensperger to act in a way that was consistent with his values.

Raffensperger chose to be true to his values. He told President Trump that he lost the state of Georgia, and there was no way of turning that around. Keep in mind here that, from a psychological perspective, you can rationalize your way out of just about any dilemma; you can reduce dissonance by choosing either a constructive or destructive course of rationalization. Unfortunately, the latter – destructive – choice usually requires hypocrisy, denial, reality distortion, and other ego-protective actions that will maintain your stress levels and hurtful emotions. Destructive choices make effective coping with life challenges difficult and painful.

The coping lesson here is clear: Do the right thing for the right reasons. And what are the right reasons? They are reasons consistent with your values that are based on a social conscience, ethics, morality, and your sense of self-esteem and self-security. The right reasons are those that bring you, not others, feelings of competence and satisfaction as a constructive participant in the human family.

Stress Acceptance, not Management

“I need to manage the stress in my life better.” Forget about “management”; think instead of “acceptance.” You probably think managing stress is a good thing, something to help you relax and not let stress interfere with your life. An argument can be made, however, that managing stress implies that you want to avoid the stress. And, avoidance is the worst possible way to cope with stress.

            Think about it. Suppose you have kids who are very energetic and act out a lot. Someone tells you to “manage” them better. Do you imagine finding places for them to act out, channeling their energy into appropriate behavior, or do you imagine coming up with actions to keep them quiet and out of everyone’s way? I bet it’s the latter. Let’s face it, to most people managing kids means to stifle their energy, even medicate them if need be, to avoid or at least minimize their disruptive influence.

            Similarly, stress management often means avoiding stress by trying to avoid unpleasant emotions and events in your life. Walt has the opportunity to take on an additional project at work. “Doing this project will give me the inside track to a promotion,” he says to himself. “Of course, if I blow it, I’ll really look bad. Plus, I don’t need this extra stress in my life. Screw it. Let someone else take on the project.” That’s avoidance, which allows Walt to stay in his comfort zone. He is managing his fear of failure by avoiding, not taking on, extra work. That’s less stress for him in the short run, right? Unfortunately, he gives up a chance of promotion and improving his lifestyle, and lowering stress levels in the long run. He will always be plagued with that nagging question in the back of his head: “What if I had taken on that project?”

            When it comes to coping with stress, instead of seeking ways to manage challenges, you should accept life’s challenges and seek to be empowered by facing them. This strategy involves acceptance of three things: who you are, the demands of reality, and being responsible for meeting the challenges imposed by that reality. Walt needs to face it: “I’m an anxious person who’s afraid to take on something new because I’m afraid I’ll fail.” He also needs to admit: “If I’m not willing to take on new responsibilities, I’ll never advance. I’ll be stuck in a dead-end position spinning my wheels for the rest of my life. That’s the way the world works.” Finally, Walt must agree that if he is to ever have a chance at promotion, “The first step is up to me.”

            Coping with stress is accepting challenges that you can realistically confront with actions under your control. Doing so may increase your stress in the short run, but personal satisfaction, productivity, and reduced stress levels can be yours in the long run. Coping with everyday life often means, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”

Extreme Attitudes Destroy Self and Others

In the Spring of 2020, at the height of the pandemic, some people took to the streets to demonstrate against stay-at-home restrictions. A major contribution to everyone’s stress resulted from the either/or manner in which choices were delivered to the people: Close or reopen society; follow the President or your Governor; be guided by the medical or financial arguments; choose your needs or your neighbor’s. Unfortunately, presenting a simplistic either/or choice encouraged everyone to take emotional sides, and overlook the complexities of the problem. The result was emotional upheaval – anxiety, frustration, and anger – that made coping difficult. Decisions were approached from an emotion-based context, when they needed to be approached from a problem-based context. There were problems that needed solutions, but everyone worried about how much they were worrying.

When you selfishly focus on your emotions, you quickly descend into the deep hole of extreme, either/or thinking. Time and again in this blog, we note the dangers of extreme “me vs. you” thinking. It produces inflexible and hostile attitudes; it precludes constructive actions like consultation, negotiation, compromise, respect for others, and empathy for those in distress. Psychologically, holding extreme attitudes and thinking is destructive – both for yourself and for your family, friends, and acquaintances. Extremism damages everything you touch.

Although there is variation from person to person, here is the general destruct sequence: (a) It begins with having long-unresolved emotional conflicts and harboring anxious self-doubts. Self-esteem, confidence, and ability to act independently are weak and unstable; you can’t cope well with stress because you’re filled with fear and anxiety. (b) Rather than face yourself and your emotions realistically, you find it easier to attack others, such as empowered women, those of a different race, those who subscribe to a different sexual orientation, or those of a different religion. You drift into extremism: “It’s good-me against the evil-them.” (c) You long for the “good old days,”— the comfortable past of clear definitions of who is in charge, and of clear morality, which means, “What my group believes is righteous.” (d) You construct a world of lies, alternative facts, conspiracies, and false narratives to justify to yourself your extremism. (e) You turn to domination and violence to eliminate the enemy; your extreme emotions incite you to destroy the new and frightening world that has grown around you and threatens to leave you behind. (f) You turn against your own group, and aggression eventually implodes bringing both yourself and others down. Thus, a dysfunctional member of a family can wreak destruction on the whole family; a small-group leader can destroy the cohesion of the group; a national leader can lead millions to their deaths and destroy other countries.

Whether at an individual, family, small group, or national level, the causal dynamics of extremism are the same, and result in the same consequence – destruction. How do you prevent this destruction? Whether you are dealing with personal stressors, or conflict at a group level, the strategies would be the same: (a) accept the fact that your comfort and needs cannot be the only standards that guide your actions; (b) recognize at least the partial validity of both sides of an issue; (c) do not limit your options to choosing “either this or that,” and find a middle ground; (d) choose problem-solving actions that take into account both sides of an issue; (e) guide your actions with critical and logical thinking, not emotions.

Brendan is 17 and in the 11th grade. Charlotte, a good friend and classmate, decided to run for junior class president, and she asked Brendan help her with the campaign. Brendan agreed and believed she would be a great class president. During the ballot counting, some irregularities appeared, and Charlotte’s opponent made accusations that several of Charlotte’s supporters had “stuffed” the ballot box with fraudulent ballots. A student/teacher committee conducted an investigation, and – on the basis of surveillance camera footage and confessions taken independently from the accused students – ruled that Charlotte’s supporters had indeed cheated, and that they had been asked to do so by Charlotte. Her opponent was declared the winner; Charlotte and her supporters were suspended.

Brendan refused to accept Charlotte’s guilt. He said, “Charlotte never told them to cheat. They did it without her knowledge. They lied in their confessions that she told them to cheat. I believe they really don’t like Charlotte, and they stuffed the ballots to get at her. I don’t care what they said.” The committee, on the other hand, took note of Charlotte’s stellar academic and personal record at the school, but said the visual and spoken evidence could not be ignored.

Brendan took a subjective, emotion-based position based on his friendship with Charlotte; the committee reached a more problem-based conclusion based on objective evidence. From a coping perspective, Brendan’s choice will likely have some negative long-term consequences, notably strains in his relationships with peers that will be stressful and damaging both for him and his peers, and eventual hostility toward Charlotte as the cause of his difficulties.

“Action” Away Your Stress

Here’s one of the simplest principles to guide your coping with stress: The only two things you can realistically hope to control are your thoughts and your actions. The first step in coping effectively is accepting that fundamental reality. You can try to control others, but in the long run you will fail. In most situations, you are not in control.

            But even when you accept that fundamental truth about control, you still have to accept some limits. For instance, how many times has someone said to you, “You have to stop thinking that you’re weak and worthless! You’re not, so stop feeling that way!”

            Easy for them to say, right? The problem is, if you feel something about yourself, even though controlling your feelings is something you can manage, how can you force yourself to stop feeling that way? Is that what we mean by effective coping? Fortunately, no, it’s not.

            So, here’s an important rule to follow when trying to exercise your circle of control: You must stop focusing on trying to get rid of unwanted and unpleasant thoughts and emotions. You may want to force yourself to be less anxious, or less angry, or less jealous. You may feel that these emotions – and your thoughts about them – make you weak and vulnerable. But, remember, they are a part of you. Your emotions are not only a natural part of being human, but they are also you. Don’t deny a part of yourself.

            You might say, “I’m just too damn anxious. I get worked up over every little thing.” Hey! Anxieties are just thoughts, just emotions. Who says you have to subdue them, or be influenced by them, or get overly attached to them? They’re not perfect reflections of reality so why be obsessed by them? You may think that you’re too anxious, but that thought doesn’t make you a victim; you may think you’re a loser, but that thought doesn’t make you a loser. By the same token, you cannot think your way out of being a loser, or being anxious, or being hostile, or being depressed.

The only way to deal with those conditions is to modify your actions to become consistent with your values, and with having a purpose and goals to pursue. For instance, if you’re anxious about giving a presentation at work, your first inclination is to avoid having to do it – find some way to convince the boss that someone else should do it. You have learned from reading this blog, however, that avoidance is coping poison, and is the first step to increasing your stress. So, you should reject that option. Instead, accept the reality that you will be anxious, and begin preparing your presentation well in advance. You might also ask several colleagues for input you can include, and tips on how you can make sure the audience understands the importance of their input. When you begin speaking, start by thanking everyone who provided you with data and ideas to include in your plan, and point them out in the audience. Not only will those people immediately be supportive of you, but your audience will shift their focus away from you onto your helpers. That can have a calming effect, plus give you some time to acclimate your voice, audience eye contact, and general likeability to the audience.

There are other things you can do, of course, but the point is, do things that will make you feel at one with the audience. Your anxiety is based on a threat of failure; implicitly and indirectly encouraging the audience to join you in your task will reduce that threat in your mind. You can’t think your way out of your anxiety, so “action” your way out of it.

Let Others Know What They Mean to You

At some point, Rosalie decided her life was without purpose. She was 52 and married (28 years). The last of her three children had just graduated from college, and moved away to pursue Their careers. Her marriage was stable, although Rosalie had begun developing “mood” problems 10 years earlier. Her physician prescribed various anti-anxiety and anti-depressant medications with minimal success. She developed medical problems that were not life threatening, but that added to her general stress. She decided to try counseling.

Rosalie told her counselor that her purpose for living was over because her children were independent and did not need her any longer. The counselor pointed out that their independence was a testament to her excellent childrearing, but Rosalie could not find life goals consistent with her values, which were defined solely by her effectiveness as a mother. Her kids were gone; how could she continue to see herself as an effective mother?

Within a year after her last child’s graduation, she terminated counseling, and a couple of weeks later she committed suicide at home. Hundreds of people attended her funeral stunned with questions and disbelief. Rosalie, who had come to believe that her life had been stripped of friends and loved ones, probably would have been surprised to see how loved and appreciated she really was.

Who knows, if Rosalie had known how truly valued she was by so many friends and neighbors, would she have been less likely to give up on life when the chips were down? There’s no way of knowing, of course, but the question begs another important question that perhaps we all should ask ourselves: “Do I spend enough time letting people know how important they are to me, and how much I appreciate their presence in my life?”

I remember when an older colleague retired, and the occasion was highlighted in an issue of the alumni magazine. For weeks after the magazine article, he was literally inundated with letters, cards, emails, and phone calls from dozens of former students thanking him for the positive influence he had on their lives. He said to me, “My God, wish I had known back when I was teaching. There were a lot of days when I wondered if I was getting through to them…wondering if all my effort was worth it. Now I know it was. How about that!”

Here’s the coping lesson: When someone tells you that you’re a positive part of their life, that makes you feel good, right? Comments like that are good for the coping soul. But here’s the thing – when you tell someone that they’re an important and positive part of your life, not only do you make them feel good, but you make yourself feel good, too. Coping is a two-way street. When you help others, you help yourself.

At the end of each day ask yourself if you established a positive legacy that day, meaning did you do something that made a person feel better about themselves and life?  “I told my sister Lucy how she’s such a positive part of my life. She was having a bad day and it seemed like her face really lit up.” “After work I gave John a ride to pick up his car. He didn’t have to wait for his wife to pick him up; saved him an hour. No big deal, but he was really appreciative.”  “After dinner, I gave my neighbor Fred a hand fixing his garage door. He said having an extra pair of hands really made things a little easier for him.” The folks speaking those words gave Lucy, John, and Fred something to smile about, plus the speakers also ended their day with a smile. That’s a good day, and if that’s not effective coping, I don’t know what is.

How about you? At the end of a day, can you identify a positive legacy that you left someone? Can you end that day with a smile?

Humility and Empathy

The coronavirus pandemic was in full swing, and during one of those on-the-street TV interviews, I heard a couple of comments from everyday people that stuck with me. The first one was in response to the question, “Do you generally wear a mask in public?” The reply: “I’m not going to wear a mask. It’s a free country. I’m free to do what I want. I’m responsible for me, not others.”

The second comment responded to the question, “To prevent the spread of the virus, will you cancel plans to travel and visit family during the upcoming holidays?” The answer: “Life is short. Elderly members of my family could be gone next year. I will not cancel my holiday gatherings because this could be my last one with all of them.”

The thing that struck me about both these replies was the emphasis on “Me,” “My wishes,” and, “The hell with everyone else.” Maybe these people felt just fine living in their world of self-preoccupation; but their comments reminded me how important a dose of humility can be, not only when coping with personal stress, but also in developing a social conscience.

Stress can evoke a lot of troublesome emotions – fear, anxiety, guilt, grief, jealousy – that make life unpredictable and uncomfortable. A common reaction is to think it’s all about you, and life is being very unfair. You descend into self-pity, and seek sympathy from others. When that doesn’t work, you turn to self-criticism, which tears at your self-esteem. A sense of helplessness is not far behind, and now you are vulnerable to depression. The foundation for depression is definitely there:

Self-doubt:      “I don’t have the courage and strength to change and recover.”

Self-blame:      “I should have done things differently; this whole mess is my fault.”

Self-pity:         “I have been victimized and I deserve sympathy from others.”

The thing to note in these comments is that they are self-centered, which makes effective coping very difficult. When you inject some humility into the picture, however, coping becomes more manageable. You don’t allow yourself to act like you deserve better; you don’t insist that others hop on your pity train; you don’t get irritated because the corners of your world are not soft; you realize that life is not all about you, and you become more receptive to thinking about others.

Humility allows you to go “beyond yourself,” to face your troubles directly, and to interact with others who are also hurting. Only with humility will you be able to see the importance of reaching out to others with problems similar to yours; only with humility can you understand the effect you are having on others; only with humility can you become “other-oriented” rather than “self-oriented”; only with humility can you relate to others with empathy.

Empathy for others is built on your humility. Why is empathy important? The answer is simple: When you react to others with empathy, you use your own difficulties to reach out to another afflicted with similar difficulties, which provides you with insight into both your problems, and others’ problems. This process occurs in support groups. When a member shares pain and suffering with the others, they identify with that member. That identification allows them to relate to the co-member in a mutually-beneficial give-and-take relationship that profits both parties.

When humility is present, empathy allows you to understand others in the context of their needs, not yours. That understanding allows you to focus your actions around human values and a social conscience, and to act in the service of moral principles. But, that empathetic understanding of another also provides you with insight into your own issues. Both of you benefit, both of you discover that you are not alone, and both of you take a fruitful step to healthier adjustment.

American society is in a time of massive self-preoccupation. People seem ill-prepared to accept the reality of variability in what is right and what is wrong. Bewildered and frustrated, they reject accountability and retreat into the comfort zone of their own needs. This retreat makes them more dependent and passive, incapable of critical thinking, and vulnerable to false messages. As their sense of self crumbles, their values and purposefulness fade away, and they fail to see how self-destructive their emotion-based actions have become.

Self-Destructive Behavior, Part IV

When you habitually work to avoid stress, you risk becoming weak, passive, and dependent on others; your self-esteem suffers; you become self-critical, and vulnerable to serious problems like depression. At this point, you may resort to self-defeating – even destructive – coping actions that damage your mental and physical well-being. Therapist Michael Church has identified four self-destructive types: Direct-Active (Blog entry 11/5/21), Indirect-Active (Blog entry 3/4/22), Direct Passive (Blog entry 4/15/22), and Indirect-Passive. The Indirect-Passive type includes those who are dependent and fail to establish a positive and stable identity. Their self-concept is fragile, and they remain child-like in functioning. They often remain in chaotic, abusive and unsatisfying relationships, even when they have the means to get out. They tend to excuse and justify the abuse received by others and rationalize why they do not change their lives. They readily allow others to take advantage of them and even abuse them and those around them.  

Stephanie’s parents both died before she was 10. Growing up, her primary parental figure was an aunt who met her practical needs, but not her emotional and social needs. Stephanie recalled feeling lonely and alienated as a child and adolescent. In her teen years she developed chronic anxiety that was probably due to the loss and abandonment associated with losing both parents. Simply put, she suffered from separation anxiety and insecure attachment as a child.

Her anxiety persisted into college and beyond. In college she developed a close relationship with a classmate, and after graduation they married and had a child. They both worked, but Stephanie burdened herself with work responsibilities, so much so that her performance often suffered. As her high anxiety and stress became connected with her work and her marriage, she sought counseling on and off, and took various anti-anxiety and anti-depressant medications with limited success. Due to her continuously high stress levels, she also developed medical problems that lowered her quality of life and further strained her marriage.

Her daughter graduated from college and was accepted to medical school. Suddenly, Stephanie felt purposeless because her “child” no longer needed her. Adding to her stress, her husband became friendly with a woman who was perceived as a threat by Stephanie, and the marriage slowly deteriorated. One day, home alone with her thoughts and anxieties, she committed suicide. Indirect-Passive types rarely harm themselves, and her suicide is somewhat of a mystery. Her chronic anxiety and chronic medical conditions, however, together with marital issues and lack of purpose, appear to have caused a psychological tsunami that she could not handle.

Stephanie suffered significant adverse effects during childhood that undoubtedly caused her chronic anxiety as an adult. It was difficult for her to enjoy life and depression was never far from her door. She never developed a stable and positive identity, which led to low self-confidence and goals with minimal sense of purpose. A life without meaning and direction is difficult for anyone, but especially for someone with her physical and mental health issues. How could she be expected to deal with significant stressors without sufficient purpose to deal with such suffering? Her suicide suggests she gave into self-defeating and self-destructive tendencies rather than turn her negative emotions and thoughts into constructive and growth-oriented patterns.

His Son is Gay

            Jim is 46. He’s a construction worker. Makes good money, too, and has good benefits. His wife, Alice, works part-time at a local department store to help make ends meet. They have two teenage boys – Jordan, 17, and Jeff, 15 – to feed. Jim also likes to take Alice out to eat once a month, and the family enjoys taking a two-week camping vacation in the mountains every August. The family budget is a challenge at times, but with Alice’s extra pay they’re able to make it and even put a little aside each week.

            But last week Jim’s world spiraled downward when Jordan announced to the family that he was gay. Jim was furious, and adamant with his son: “No son of mine is going to make that choice to be a fag! That’s not how I raised you. You’re a man so start acting like one. If you can’t handle that, get the hell out of my house. Go live with Aunt Fay. Knowing her, she’ll probably take you in.”

            No ifs, ands, or buts with Jim. He believed that “choosing” to be gay was disgusting, sickening, and perverted, an anti-Christian abomination condemned in the Bible, and he would disown Jordan if he insisted on that lifestyle.

            From a psychological perspective, Jim is coping poorly. First of all, note the intensity of his emotions. His reaction to his son’s news is exaggerated, full of emotion, and showing all the signs of avoidance based on fear. What is he avoiding? What does he fear? Why is he unwilling to let his son live his own life? Why does he insist on controlling how his son behaves? Why is he unwilling to have an adult conversation with Jordan?

            Many psychologists would agree that Jordan’s actions probably threaten crucial elements of Jim’s identity, his core self. Specifically, Jim – carrying at the center of his self-esteem a variety of insecurities – hears what Jordan says and is plunged into anxiety believing that others may think that he, Jim, is gay; or a lousy parent; or a general failure in life. Jordan’s statement also arouses and torments Jim with guilt and self-doubts about who he is. In short, Jordan’s announcement taps into Jim’s underlying insecurities. Jim must avoid and deny these conflicts at all costs or his personality will disintegrate into self-criticism, depression, and self-destructive actions. Jordan must be cast out to protect Jim’s fragile stability.

            The fact of the matter is straightforward: extreme, either/or, authoritarian thinking occurs to deny and avoid unwanted inner tendencies and insecurities in oneself by targeting “them,” the “others,” the “enemy,” with extreme hatred and other negative emotional attacks. For Jim, the issue is not really Jordan’s homosexuality; the issue is protecting Jim’s fragile ego.

A politician, Barry Goldwater, once said, “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.” Psychologists, on the other hand, see inflexible and extreme attitudes and thinking as a desperate attempt to deny, to cover-up and avoid facing long-unresolved emotional conflicts and anxious self-doubting. Extremists doth protest too much, which shows an inability to cope well with stress because they must safeguard their unstable self-esteem.

Are you an extremist? Do you refuse to consult, negotiate, and compromise with those who disagree with you? What are you avoiding? Do your values and sense of purpose in life revolve around dominating others so you don’t have to face yourself? Confronting these and other such questions honestly and realistically are a first essential step in being able to cope with stress.

Don’t Focus on the Stress

Let’s face it, those who have trouble coping with stress spend too much time focusing on the stress. “I’m so stressed out! I’m going to lose control!” Well, take a deep breath and focus on some realities: Stress is a normal, unavoidable aspect of life, and feeling stressed does not make you inferior to others; you can schedule stressful events under your control when you expect relatively few demands and changes in other areas of your life; you can reserve some time for yourself each day to relax, if only for a few minutes, and take a walk, listen to music, or chat with a friend – although not about stress; you can commit to and nurture important aspects of your life – your values – such as marriage, career, children, friendships and family. These are constructive actions that will distract you from focusing on stress itself and corresponding emotions like fear, frustration, and anger. Above all, when stressed, you can choose to stay away from self-defeating behaviors like excessive eating, drinking, spending, or gambling. These are avoidance actions that will only lead to increased stress. Instead of choosing such behaviors, focus on choosing actions that bring you a sense of fulfillment, satisfaction, and usefulness. Your actions define who you are. Choose them wisely.

Stress Control. Basic Steps

After her third session in counseling, Blayne was about to leave, but turned around and said to her counselor, “How about next week just giving me the low-down on handling stress. No psychological mumble-jumble, just the basics. Give me a list I can post on the fridge.”

“Just happen to have one handy,” the counselor said. “Remember, though, these things work best when they are integrated with your individual circumstances. That’s where I can help.” Here’s the list she handed to Blayne:

Be personally accountable for evaluating your abilities, actions, and thinking. Coping accountability does not mean blame yourself for everything.

Modify your interpretation of stressful events. A threat can be viewed as a challenge.

Exit from the self-pity parade. It’s not all about you.

Work toward a realistic optimism and frame of reference about life. Realism is not found by listening to authoritarians.

Balance your decisions with logic, impartiality, and self-control. Do not let others make decisions for you.

Identify your values and connect your actions to them. Do the right things for the right reasons.

Focus on empathy for others rather than on your problems. Listen to others, not just yourself.

Lower your voice, smile more, and be humble in your interactions with others.

Every day, do something that makes others feel good.

Every day, thank someone who makes you feel good.

At the end of the day, write privately about events troubling you. Doing so can help you restructure your thinking about them.