Wednesday, August 14, 2013


I realized quite some time ago that I don't handle stress very well.  This may seem strange coming from a psychotherapist.  Isn't a significant part of my job to teach people how to deal with stress?  Yes and no.

Learning to cope with stress effectively is certainly a goal for a lot of my patients.  But I think this means different things for different people.  For many people, effective coping involves limiting the amount of stress they expose themselves to (at least to whatever degree possible).  For example, if I am in the middle of a major life transition it is probably not a good time for me to take on a new project (unless I have to).

Here's another example.  Let's say I am someone who likes my home to be clean and tidy at all times.  Now suppose my spouse invites a large group of extended family members to spend the week with us.  Knowing this in advance, I might spend extra time cleaning up before they arrive and then give myself permission not to worry about trying to keep things tidy until after my guests leave.  (Because I can either spend my week trying to clean up after everyone and make myself miserable or I can spend quality time with people I love and enjoy myself). 

So because I know I have a low tolerance for stress I do my best to limit the amount of stress in my life at any given time.  Historically, this has been a pretty effective strategy.  Recently, however, there have been problems.  This is due, in part, to the fact that my husband believes I should be able to handle more stress than I do.  In making his case, he tells a story about how he used to worry about everything.  One day, he realized how miserable this made him.  He decided he no longer wanted to be miserable.  From that day forward, he resolved to stop letting things bother him.  He has been happy ever since.  The end.

It's a great story.  He makes a good point: excessive worrying does tend to make people miserable.  I know this.  And honestly, over the years I have learned to let a lot of things go.  What I think my husband fails to understand is that his experience of stress and my experience of stress are fundamentally different.  By nature, my husband is not easily exciteable.  His disposition is cheerful by default.  He likes to have fun and makes doing fun things a top priority.  When forced to choose between fulfilling some obligation (which can of course always be put off until later) and doing something fun, nine times out of ten he will choose to do something fun.

I, on the other hand, have apparently always been discontent.  My parents tell me I suffered from severe colic as an infant.  As a result, I cried a lot and was frequently inconsolable.  I can remember worrying about all sorts of random things as early as age four.  By the age of five, I had developed so many compulsive behaviors that my kindergarten teacher called my parents to express concern.  After a visit to a psychologist I was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.  At the age of five.

So in my view, the cards were stacked against me from the start.  I have been dealing with anxiety for literally my entire life.  To me, the fact that I've been able to find peace in my life is remarkable.  And yet I do have peace.  Not all the time.  But I do have it, and I am grateful. 

On the other hand, maybe it would be good to push myself harder.  My husband says I need to spend more time outside of my comfort zone.  I'll admit that I've been a little resistant to this.  My comfort zone is where I have peace.  What if I stray too far and am unable to find my way back?  What if I upset the delicate balance I have worked so hard to achieve?

Then again, I believe we should never stop growing as individuals.  I have grown a lot over the years but that does not mean I am finished.  Who knows what I am missing out on while I stay here in my comfort zone? 


  1. Since meditation seems off the radar, where one examines how they think, and the feeling produced by the body, I would highly recommend Tomatis's Mozart Brain Lab. It allows you to unbind what caused this(most likely in the womb given by your description) and free up the reactive mind through listening. Meditation is great, but results don't manifest quickly( and in my case took me three years to start to concretely see a change in day to day), but with MBL and a few months of listening sessions by a pro you will start unloading in dreams at night. It is freeing like I can't explain, a sense of contentment unfolds.
    You can't think or medicate yourself out of the way your are now…and you are not your husband.

    1. I always enjoy reading your comments; I appreciate your tidbits of wisdom. Thank you.

  2. When I was in the throws of enormous upheaval here are a few things I did to maintain a sense of stability:
    - keep the bedroom completely clutter-free (it becomes the peaceful safe haven, if others drop stuff in the bedroom, it would be put away immediately or out into the hall, chaos was out there and all around, but not in the bedroom)
    - schedule worry time - as odd as it sounds, it really works! I scheduled all worry related to the crisis to 4:00 PM regardless when it showed-up - it could be nasty email, lawyer's letters, client/family/personal crises, threats... then at 4:00 for 1-hour I would sit and worry about it as hard as I possibly could.
    - play - kids are great for this and the more tactile the better. Now that my kids are teens, we don't get colouring books any more in restaurants - how sad is that???!!! Build in a little play time every day even it it is only 10 minutes and comprises a sandbox and a Tonka Truck.


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