Last time I noted how some people become “psychologized” by our psychology-conscious society. By “psychologized” I mean wearing on your chest, like some sort of medal of valor, your stress, anxiety, conflicts, and any psychological diagnosis you may have received. The message to others is, “Hey, folks, treat me with care. I’m psychologically troubled.”

Over 41 years of teaching psychology in college I ran across this behavior more than a few times. I remember one first-year student taking Intro Psych who came up to me after the first class meeting of the semester. She said, “I need to get a tutor in this course. Having a copy of your lecture notes would also help me.”

Trying to show my surprise at her comment, I replied, “A tutor? We’ve only had one class! How do you know you will need a tutor?”

“I have borderline personality disorder,” she volunteered, “and my meds interfere with my studies. They gave me a lot of trouble in high school. College is going to be a lot harder on me.”

I sensed she was setting me up to enable her and, right or wrong, I wasn’t buying into it. I told her tutoring was premature but she could always register with the tutoring center. I also informed her that I did not use lecture notes. “Before class I write down one-word prompts or a phrase to direct me. It won’t be any help to you. Guess you’ll have to pay attention in class.”

She never repeated her requests and I don’t know if she ever got tutoring. She did, however, turn out to be a fairly good student, ending up with a B in the course. She withdrew from school after one semester, though. Too bad. With some guts she could have made great progress toward self-discovery.

Playing the “psychological-disorder card,” a definite symptom of “Psychologized Syndrome,” (nothing is really credible unless it’s called a “syndrome”!) is a form of wimpy avoidance. The message to others is, “Treat me gently; pad the corners of my world for me. I suffer a lot of psychological stress and am damaged goods. Don’t make me face the realities of life.”

You know what the big problem is when you work hard to avoid your stresses?  You are taking the first step down the road to depression. Let’s analyze that road a little more.

No doubt you have experienced your share of bad days. They’re no fun, and if you’re like most people you would prefer to avoid them altogether. Anxiety, guilt, anger, fear, frustration……..who wants to be confronted with those emotions? Better to get rid of them, right?

With that question in mind, settle back into a comfy chair or sofa and close your eyes. Now picture in your mind all the people and events that give you occasional stress and sometimes cause you to have a bad day. As you go along it’s OK to open your eyes to write them down on a piece of paper.

When you’re done check out your list and see who’s on it: Mom and dad, maybe? Spouse or partner? Kids? Siblings? Co-workers? Your boss? A BFF? The dog? Christmas? Anniversaries and birthdays? Computers? Smart phones? Vacations? Facebook? I bet if you took enough time your list would be quite long.

Next, rid yourself of all your stressful times, all those bad days, by imagining your life without any of those problem people and events in your life. The goal is to imagine a world where you avoid all your sources of stress. So close your eyes and start designing your relaxing new world by deleting all those stresses. “Wait a minute,” you protest, “you want me to get rid of my kids, my parents, even the dog? All those people I love. Give up my job and my friends? The dog? Are you kidding me? I’m going to end up with an empty world!”

Bingo! If you work really hard to avoid stress in your life, you will stop living! Stress is a vital of being alive and trying to eliminate it is a losing strategy. In fact, you’ll end up not only alone, but also lonely. You’ll suffer despair, helplessness, and hopelessness; your self-esteem and confidence will be in the toilet; your world will spin out of control and the directional sign on your next life path will be “Caution: Depression Ahead.”

Stress, challenges, obstacles, hard work, frustration, anger, anxiety, and a host of other things you prefer to avoid must not be avoided. Those bothersome emotions are a part of you; they are not alien invaders. To try and avoid them will compromise your very being. So rather than avoid them, attack them! Confront them, meet them head on, deal with them, and resolve them.

The task may sound easier than it is, but if you are willing to play by the rules, learning to confront the challenges in your life can become quite natural. And that’s what effective coping with the realities of life is all about: Devising a plan to confront the challenges of life and the emotions they arouse.

Your plan must include specific actions to take. Avoidance actions? No, not unless you have no control over the person or the situation, and in that case you must disengage and avoid. Directing personal empowerment at events over which you have no control is a waste of time and self-defeating. Focus on those things you can control: Your thoughts and your actions.

In carrying out your plan remember to live in the present, accept the stress in your life, learn from your failures, and keep in fighting shape with exercise and diet. Above all, remember that positive actions are more powerful than positive thoughts, so structure your plan around positive actions. Here are some examples:

*Stop apologizing to yourself or others for being emotional in certain situations.

*Channel your stress into productive activities like volunteering, joining a gym, taking a surprise family outing, having lunch with friends, or other enjoyable things.

*Keep a record of when you feel stressed and what you are doing at the time. You’ll be surprised at the positive consequences of doing so.

*Don’t focus on the stress you feel. Focus on positive actions you can take to confront your problem.

*Keep a precise record of when you perform bad habits like smoking, drinking, overeating, gambling, yelling, or any other behavior that causes you concern. Again, you will be surprised at the positive consequences.

*Rather than ask someone else to do something for you, do it yourself.

*Schedule stressful events at times when you expect relatively few demands on you.

*Schedule relaxing activities each day, even if only for a few minutes.

*Devote high-quality time to important aspects of your life, such as marriage, career, children, friendships and family.

*In confrontational situations, take slow, deep, steady breaths and concentrate on making calm but assertive comments.

*Admit to your weakness, but never be defined by them.

*Accept who you are and present that self to others.

*Monitor and modify your negative, self-defeating thoughts.

That last item is important. People often ask, “How do I control my thoughts? How do I stop thinking negative things, self-critical thoughts; how do I handle all those ideas that are downers and torment me?”

How about this? Perform positive, constructive actions that bring you a sense of satisfaction and empowerment. Then you can think about those actions during the day. Not only will you be teaching yourself to think positively, but you will also get a sense of fulfillment, peace, and competence. You’ll feel good about yourself, with the added benefit of being less stressed out! And you get to keep the dog!


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