Posts Tagged ‘stress’

Have You Asked for What You Want and Need?

Friday, August 31st, 2012

Our interactions with others can be and often are one of the most stressful, difficult, and painful areas of our lives. That is especially true for those of us living with a chronic illness for lots of reasons. We may feel guilty because we can’t do what we think is “our fair share.” We often have additional needs that healthy people don’t. And if we have pain, resentment, or other illness-related negative emotions, they can creep into our interactions and communications and make things even more stressful, difficult, and painful than they already are.

It may feel like some relationships with important people in our lives are so painful and trying that they’ll never get any better. While that may be true, I have learned, from helping many of my clients improve their relationships and also from dealing with problematic ones in my own life, that damaged or broken relationships can be mended restored even when that doesn’t seem possible.

That is good news, especially for us, because we are often more dependent on others for both physical and emotional support than people who are healthy are. What’s even better news is the fact that sometimes all it takes to greatly improve a difficult relationship is to ask the other person for what you want and need.

Asking for what you want and need can be scary and difficult; difficult because because if you don’t do it correctly, it’s very likely that you won’t get the response you want and scary because even if you do do it correctly  they still may say no . But it’s also very possible that the result will be better than you could have imagined.

That’s what happened for a client I’ll call Sally. She contacted me to help her find better ways to live with Crohn’s disease. But it soon became very clear that one of the biggest stressors in her life was her marriage. Her husband had stopped being demonstrative and affectionate, and she told me she was dying inside.

For reasons that would take too long to explain in this post, she wasn’t able have a conversation with him and tell him how she felt. With some coaching, the approach she decided to use was to write her husband a letter telling him what she told me: that she was dying inside.

In the letter, she didn’t blame him, she didn’t plead with him, and she didn’t implicitly threaten him by telling him that she divorced her first husband because of a lack of love and affection. She just told him she was dying inside and that she needed to feel loved. And she put the letter in a place she knew he couldn’t miss it: she pinned it to his pillow.

Since Sally wrote and delivered that letter, her marriage has improved dramatically. Her health has gotten better too. And she is continuing to work on and improve both.

One more example: a friend I’ll call Robert was in a long distance relationship and was finding that telephone conversations had become boring and unsatisfying. He began to feel more and more emotionally distant from his girlfriend, but wasn’t sure what to do about it. Finally, after several weeks, it occurred to him that he could forthrightly tell her he wanted deeper, more meaningful conversations – and he did! Not surprisingly, the conversations became enjoyable and satisfying and he again felt close to her.

It may seem strange that a person could overlook such an obvious solution, but all of us do. So if you’re having a difficult time with someone in your life, chances are good that you can make things a lot better by asking yourself if you’ve asked for what you want and need, and if you haven’t, doing so.

Doing Different Things to Try to Get Well

Monday, April 30th, 2012

When we have a chronic illness, we often try every thing we can think of to get better. Unfortunately, some of the things we try provide little or no improvement. For example, I went on a very strict and difficult to follow diet for almost a year. Some of my Crohn’s disease symptoms quickly and miraculously went away, only to come back a few weeks later even though I continued to adhere to the diet.

Other things we try can and sometimes do provide really good results. A client with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) whom I’ll call Dave went on a special diet for two years. On top of that, he did yoga for one and a half to two hours a day.

His efforts paid off: on a scale of 1 to 10, his health went from a 5 to an 8 and his energy went from a 5 to a 9! He felt great about what he had accomplished, and justifiably so.

However, doing yoga every day took up an awful lot of his free time. And preparing the food for his diet also took a lot of time and took a lot of work as well. So much that he became resentful and angry because of all the time he needed to spend to stay healthy and stopped doing yoga and following the special diet. Predictably, his health and energy levels went back to 5’s.

It’s easy to see why Dave would feel resentful about his situation. But at the same time, he actually had a choice about whether or not to do those things and how much time to spend doing them. To help him see that choice, I asked if it would make sense for him to establish a three weeks on, one week off schedule. We both knew that his symptoms would probably get worse during his week off, but then they would get better again when he resumed his yoga and diet regimen.

From my question, Dave realized that his regimen didn’t need to be all or nothing, and that it was completely up to him to decide how much time and effort to devote to it. That realization dramatically reduced the stress he was experiencing and the resentment and anger he was feeling.

As I write this, he is still deciding what to do. When he makes his decision, I know it will be the right one for him.

One final comment: Dave is taking responsibility for his health, which is what I strongly encourage everyone to do. But I want to make it clear that I am not suggesting or recommending that change the amount of medications you’re taking or do anything that is against your doctor’s orders. You should discuss all changes like that with your doctor first.

Don’t Forget to Have a Better Life

Thursday, April 28th, 2011

Reminders are great for helping us remember to take better care of ourselves, and they can also help us remember how capable of dealing with life’s challenges we really are.

One recent client, whom I’ll call Mark, was very successful in many ways. But he was feeling a lot of stress and anxiety at work because of deadline pressure and the performance expectations he thought people had of him. And this was in spite of the fact that he was a very good engineer.

In the other areas of his life, he was very centered and grounded – so much so that he knew what being that way felt like. His description of being centered and grounded reminded me of a sailboat’s keel, which keeps the boat from tipping over in spite of high winds or big waves. I wanted him to be able to access those qualities at work, so I suggested that he get a sailboat calendar for his office. He did, and right away started using it, whenever he became stressed, to remind himself that he had a “keel” and could stay centered in spite of the pressure he felt. And the next time we talked he told me that having a nearby reminder that he could stay centered and grounded took a big load off his shoulders and helped him feel much less stress and anxiety at work.

Besides reminding us of our strengths, reminders, as I said before, can also help us remember to take better care of ourselves. When I need an extra reminder to be gentle and compassionate with myself, I put my watch on my right wrist instead of on my left one like I normally do. Then every time I check the time, I am reminded to give myself the care I need.

What reminders can you use to help you have a much better life?

For more ways to have a better life when you have a chronic illness, get my free report:  Do You Hate Having a Chronic Illness?  You Can Live Well Anyway – Here’s How!

What You Do Know Can Hurt You

Tuesday, June 1st, 2010

Before I tell you why what you know can hurt you, I want to explain why I chose the title that I did for this post. It’s a variation of the proverb “What you don’t know can’t hurt you,” which has been around for over 400 years. Many people have changed the proverb to “What you don’t know can hurt you” as a headline for articles about many dangerous or harmful substances, such as second hand smoke and monosodium glutamate (MSG). I’m using it because I want to talk about things we “know” that prevent us from seeing or seeking out solutions to our problems or improvements in our lives.

I recently coached a woman with fibromyalgia and several other chronic illnesses and conditions. Nancy, as I’ll call her, went through a divorce, lost her home to foreclosure, and now lives with some relatives who are hostile to her. They either criticize or fight with her much of the time. And because the apartment is small, she has to share a small bedroom with one of them..

Nancy “knows” that no improvement is possible in her living situation. She “knows” it because she can’t work and her disability income is much too small for her to be able to afford an apartment or even a room.

Clearly Nancy’s living situation is very difficult. I have lots of compassion for her. However, it’s very possible that there is a solution to her problems that she will never see or find out about because she is convinced that none exist. I would like to see her acknowledge that she think that no improvement in her situation is possible, and then tell herself, “I wonder if there is a solution that I’m not aware of.” I don’t know if she would find one if she did that, but I do know beyond a shadow of a doubt that miracles do happen, and they happen much more often to people who look for them and who are open to them.

My next Coaching/Support Group for People with Chronic Illnesses will start this coming Thursday, June 3rd. For more information, go to Coaching/Support Group information.

When you get angry, be gentle and understanding – with yourself

Tuesday, October 20th, 2009

I decided on today’s topic because of a conversation that took place recently in one of the online support groups I belong to. A woman I’ll call Carolyn wrote about her long, ongoing struggle to try to get disability insurance. She said she was very angry because she was being treated unfairly by the disability insurance system, especially compared to a relative of hers who was getting a much quicker response.

I don’t know Carolyn, but from what she shared about herself it seems clear to me that she qualifies for and should get disability insurance. I can easily empathize with her, not only because of her struggle to get the insurance, but because she lives in constant pain and shouldn’t have to go through all that additional stress. The fact that it’s well known that valid claims are routinely denied, especially the first time they are made, doesn’t make Carolyn’s-or anyone’s–experience of trying to get disability insurance any less trying and stressful.

Carolyn was denied not just once, but twice, so her anger is completely understandable and very probably justifiable as well. But I hope she follows it up with a lot of gentleness and compassion for herself (and I let her know that). When we get angry when we feel like we’ve been treated badly or unfairly, we often don’t realize that underneath that anger is a lot of emotional pain. And just as we give those we care about compassion when they have been emotionally hurt and are in emotional pain, we can do the same for ourselves.

Another person in the group told Carolyn to try to stay positive. That sounds good, but when we’re going through a hard time, neither I nor people I’ve talked about it with have been able do that for very long. And not only is giving ourselves compassion is much easier to do than staying positive, but it heals the emotional pain rather than just covering it up.

What To Do When You Just Can’t Do It All

Wednesday, July 1st, 2009

Over the years that I’ve coached people with chronic illnesses, more than one person has told me that they just can’t do everything they’re supposed to. Usually it’s a woman who will tell me that, probably because more women than men are afflicted with several of the more common chronic illnesses, and because in a typical family, women have more responsibilities than men do.

A typical story one of these women will tell me is that because of all she has to do for her medical care, taking care of their children, doing the shopping and errands, cooking for her family, etc., etc., and because of the fatigue and other symptoms she suffers from, she can’t keep up with the housework. Then she’ll say she feels even more stressed than she already was because she feels like she’s not doing everything she “should” and because she finds living in a messy house stressful.

Obviously she could ask other family members for more help, but she will typically say that doesn’t work. There are ways to make asking more likely to be successful, but I’m going to leave that discussion for another post.

I wish that there was a website that sold magic wands that really worked, so that these women (and occasionally men) could quickly and easily clean their houses and do everything else that needed doing, but unfortunately, no such website exists. And I don’t have any magic words of advice that will make their situations all better. But I think that people in stressful situations like the one I’ve described will find the posts titled “Acknowledging That Things Suck Can be a Good Thing“Bill Clinton said it,” and “A Million Dollars Worth of Ideas to Make Your Life a Lot Better” helpful.

Another way for finding the best solution for a difficult situation or problem is to write about it in the third person. In other words, if Mary has chronic fatigue and her house has become a mess–at least by her standards, she would write “Mary has been feeling very stressed because she’s exhausted and hasn’t had the time or the energy to clean the bathroom in three weeks.” She would continue to describe her situation in the third person, rather than writing “I’ve been feeling very because I’m exhausted and I haven’t had the time or the energy to clean the bathroom in three weeks.”

The reason writing in the third person in this way is helpful is because it depersonalizes our story and allows us to detach from it. Once we do that, we are usually able to see changes we can make and things we can do to improve our situation that we couldn’t see before. We are much more likely to see activities we can easily give up, ways to combine errands or other possible solutions.

I hope you find this idea helpful. There are other steps a person in the situation I’ve described can take to lessen their stress and improve their sense of wellbeing. I’ll write about them in another post.

Imagining what it’s like to have your illness

Tuesday, May 12th, 2009

In my post last week, I suggested that you use Bill Clinton’s campaign phrase “I feel your pain” for yourself, by saying it to yourself in the mirror. People have asked me questions about that post, so I want to elaborate on what I wrote. But first I’m going to share a couple of things about what’s been going on for me, one of them frightening and the other fun.

I live in Goleta, California, which is only a few miles from Santa Barbara. As you may know from watching the news recently, we’ve just had another bad fire – our fourth in less than two years. I was out of town the night that, as the firefighters put it, all hell broke loose. And I’ve been very fortunate because people in the area where I live did not have to evacuate, although we were told to be prepared to do so. I have a lot of empathy for those who did have to evacuate, and my prayers go to the 80 families who lost their homes.

In spite of being relatively safe myself, I found that I was much more stressed than I would have expected. After getting off the phone with someone who faced the real possibility of losing her home, I started missing exits while driving. It took me a while to connect my difficulty driving with that phone call. But now that I have, I think that many of us are very likely more stressed than we realize by our fears about what may happen to us. When our performance is less than we think it should be, stress or fear from an unidentified source may very well be the reason why.

On a much more positive note, last Sunday I took a very enjoyable trip to San Luis Obispo, which is about 120 miles north of here. I took it because I’m training to be a National Park Service volunteer guide on the Amtrak Coast Starlight. From the train we saw a deer, several dolphins, and dozens of pelicans flying in formation close to the train. It was a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

Getting back to my post about saying to yourself “I feel your pain,” one woman said she had tried talking to herself in the mirror, but it didn’t work no matter how long she spent doing it. I’m pretty sure I know why. Although she told herself, “I feel your pain,” I don’t think she really let her pain in and felt it. Doing that is the most important part of the exercise.

Here’s another way to look at it: Let’s say that a good friend was just diagnosed with cancer. The first step in supporting and being there for them would be to put yourself in their place and imagine, as well as you could, what it would feel like to have the same thing happen to you. We normally do this automatically. If we didn’t, the empathy and compassion we felt for our friend would be very shallow.

In the same way, what I’m suggesting is to put yourself in your own place and imagine, as well as you can, what it would be like to have your illness. I know this sounds paradoxical and strange, because you really do have that illness. But if you’re like most people, even though you do have it, you often don’t let yourself fully feel what having it is like.

When you do let yourself fully feel what it’s like to have your illness–and the reason I keep making this suggestion and ones like it–is because once you do, you will naturally and without thinking about it be kinder and gentler to yourself. And that’s what I want for you.