Coping With Everyday Life


What This Blog is About

This blog is devoted to discussing how to cope with everyday life, and your hosts (see menu listing of your four blog hosts) will post information from the world of psychology, counseling, and education. Our message revolves around three basic themes: First there is acceptance. There are certain basic truths in life that we simply must accept before we can decide how to act. Second is the notion of meeting challenges. Unfortunately, too often we avoid challenges that confront us because it’s the easy thing to do. Successful coping, however, requires us to take a more difficult road and meet life head on. Third, we must learn what things are under our control. We get in all sorts of difficulties when we try to control things we can’t. The truth is there are only two things we can control: Our own thoughts and our own actions.

We invite our readers to join in our discussion and share their own insights. This blog is not an advice column, but a forum in which to share ideas.

If you are interested in pursuing the psychology literature on any topic we cover, feel free to contact us by email 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.


Broadcast media is playing up the notion that many people are suffering stress over the presidential election. Psychologists are being invited into studios to offer their opinions and advice about dealing with this election anxiety. While there is no doubt many folks are worried that their candidate will lose and the consequences will be catastrophic, some media reports would have us believe that half the population is suffering significant stress over the election. That’s probably a little overplayed!

But if you are someone who is really getting stressed out and anxious about the election, what can you do to calm your nerves? Of course, regular readers of The Coping Blog know how to deal with stress, and a number of our previous blogs are relevant to the election issue. Still, let’s review some steps that may be helpful.

First of all, give yourself a little pat on the back. Your anxiety and stress show that you care, that you are involved in a fundamental part of our democratic process. Good for you!

Remember, your anxiety is a natural emotional state that can be a positive motivator for you. It need not be your enemy. Use your stress to motivate you to take actions that empower you.

Go into “critical-thinking mode” and ask yourself some fundamental questions: Are you making a mountain out of a molehill? Are you thinking irrationally or unrealistically? (“The future of humanity hinges on this election.”) Are you over-generalizing and being manipulated? (“Our entire electoral system is corrupt.”)

Granted, what has been said during this election can make it tough determining what may be an irrational fear, but the fact remains, you must approach your problem with some critical thinking. It may help to remember that we are a country of laws and not a Hollywood movie script. Think your fears through. Sure, literally anything can happen, but what is the risk of your concerns becoming real? Answering that last question can be helped along by consulting knowledgeable professionals and seeking out valid and reliable information.

Look for logical inconsistencies between words and actions from those whose pronouncements cause you worry. For instance, if someone tells you they are taking part in a rigged election, ask yourself why they would participate. Would you participate in an activity you believed was rigged against you?

Do not depend on unchecked websites. There are “joeblow.com” sites all over the place, and they will tell you the Apollo program was filmed in a studio, that one-third of Wells Fargo Bank’s Board of Directors are ISIS sympathizers, and that George Bush planned the Sept. 11 attacks. Your critical thinking skills will allow you to say, “Wait a minute. Such conspiracies would require thousands of participants. Would there not be one Snowden in the bunch?”

Determine what aspects of your concerns are under your control. For instance, decide which candidate you are voting for and be done with it, even if your state typically votes opposite your perspective.

Check out your TV remote and focus on three wonderful buttons that are under your control: “Power”; “Channel Selection” (Who would have thought it? Choosing Food Network or ESPN over CNN or FoxNews could have an impact on your mental health!); and finally don’t forget that magnificently- empowering button representing the second (after the telephone) most significant technological advance in the history of humanity, the “MUTE” button! Use it to your advantage!

If you have misguided, at best, or ignorant, at worst, friends and acquaintances who support the candidate you do not, it helps to remember that they are entitled to their opinion, and you must respect that right. You do not, however, have to listen to them, and you have the right to tell them you do not want to talk about the election. If they persist, disengage from them. Take this opportunity to block, hide, or unfriend people from your social media accounts. And remember that those who talk loudest and longest about the wisdom and correctness of their opinion are those who feel inadequate and insecure about the wisdom and correctness of their opinion. Psychologists call it “reaction formation.”

It might be helpful to shift your focus from the national level to your local elections. Many important issues exist at the local level, and candidates for city councils, clerkships, mayoralties, etc., are not usually attacking each other with the poisonous, childish vitriol we have witnessed from the presidential candidates. Focusing on local contests can help maintain your confidence in the election process and, on a grander level, America. As former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill said, “All politics is local.” You and your neighbors, “We, the People,” are the ultimate foundation of our government.

Get outside yourself to help maintain a healthy perspective on your life as an American. Nurture your social conscience by reaching out to others and engaging in volunteer activities.

As with any regimen attacking stress, maintain a healthy diet and exercise daily. Your body and brain must be kept vibrant and energetic. Keep both moving!

Finally, regularly review the posts at thecopingblog.com!




            Several years ago, sometime between when Facebook lowered the age to join to include adolescents and when adolescents decided they were cooler than Facebook, I (Carlea) facilitated a group with a few “tween” and teenage girls. One of the girls, Alyssa (all names are fictitious), was describing an issue she was having with a peer, Sarah, from another town. Sarah was consistently posting degrading, hurtful, and offensive comments on Alyssa’s wall. Even though this was in a time before smart phones and social media outlets were as ubiquitous as they are today, Alyssa felt trapped, helpless, and a disheartened. A typically quiet member of our group innocently offered, “Why don’t you just block her?” This simple suggestion changed Alyssa’s perspective on the situation as she suddenly realized she had an option that would allow her to regain power and control over the situation.  

            The next time the group met, Alyssa proudly reported that she blocked Sarah and felt a lot better after doing so. But her comment led to some other observations from our group. Christina asked Alyssa if she had any guilt about blocking her supposed-friend (the current word for this dynamic is “frenemy”). Alyssa thought about it for a moment and said it never occurred to her that she should feel guilty about blocking Sarah. “Why do you think I might have felt guilty? Sarah was being nasty so I stopped it.” Christina replied that she probably would have experienced some guilt, and would probably have taken a less extreme step and just “hidden” Sarah from her newsfeed.  Christina continued, “What if Sarah noticed and called you out on it? What would you do?” 

            As we discussed these issues it became apparent to the group that everyone has different thresholds for emotions. Whatever the threshold, however, the key is to search for options that will provide a sense of empowerment, and remember that there are often several solutions to issues. The key is first to realize you always have a choice and then you should do what makes you comfortable. There are seldom universal solutions. Alyssa chose to “block” Sarah; Christina would have chosen to “hide” her.  

            Bullying is not the only time blocking may be appropriate. For some people the barrage of “special events” photos that are posted to social media (e.g., new baby, first day of school, family outings, holidays) can be overwhelming, especially when grieving a loss. You may choose to avoid social media when those posting “triggers” are around. You may choose to block (or hide) the friends or family who routinely share pictures that you find upsetting. The thing to remember in all of this, of course, is that you have the power. 

            You might ask, “Well wait a minute, isn’t blocking someone really just avoiding an issue?” That’s a valid and fair question, especially in the context of the themes we try to develop in this blog. But the answer is no! Something like blocking in the context we discuss above is not avoidance because you are actually taking a very proactive and empowering step; you are taking charge of an issue that is bothering you, and in essence taking charge to control that issue. Exercising power and control when appropriate is the gold standard of coping when confronted with the types of challenges noted. In fact, not trying to empower yourself will prevent you from coping effectively with the challenge.  So, when it comes to social media and those who just bring you bad vibes, go ahead and hide or block them; you will ultimately feel a sense of control when you scroll through your newsfeed. Think of it as a virtual “decluttering.” 

            One thing we have not mentioned is whether you feel you should speak to the person you chose to block, hide, or completely unfriend. Would doing so help you feel even more empowered, or wouldn’t it matter to you? This is an individual issue with no universal answer, but we would be interested in hearing readers’ responses. 

            Finally, there’s another side to this unfriending coin, one we also hope readers will comment on: How would you react if someone blocked you from their feed? Would you feel guilty, immediately thinking you must have done something to offend that person? Would you be angry, offended that someone would dare unfriend you? Would you want to broach the action with the individual or just let it slide? Let us hear from you! Remember, there’s no “right” way to handle the situation – there’s just the right way for you.


Today’s guest writer shares some thought-provoking beliefs about the journey that is life. Although the specific coping actions he takes may not be for you, the philosophy behind his actions is consistent with themes we try to develop in this blog. His powerful comments are certainly a model for us all to consider.


September 28, 2016

My wife and I moved recently to Cocoa Beach, Florida from the Tampa Bay area. We try to make it a point every day to go for a walk to the beach to see the sunrise and greet the new day. That is where we met Charlie Brooks.

After a period of weeks of passing by one another on the beach, he cautiously inquired of the lemon-size growth on the right side of my neck. By now, I am pretty comfortable giving an explanation to those who ask. I said, “It’s a tumor.” I explained my condition further and described a little of how I deal with it.

So how do I cope with stage-four cancer? A good place to start is “one day at a time.”

A little background:

For almost eight years now, I have been dealing with the fact that I have cancer. 2008 was a most difficult and stressful time in my life. After eighteen years of marriage, my wife walked out and began divorce proceedings. Estranged from my young daughters, without friends or family nearby, I felt abandoned in a place I no longer wanted to be. I trudged thru those tumultuous days one at a time, but to be honest, I really was not coping very well with everyday life. 

In December 2008, I came down with the flu or what I would describe as flu-like symptoms (the apartment I moved into weeks before had a very bad mold and mildew problem and may have contributed to my illness). Both my glands on my neck swelled and were very sore. After several weeks I regained my health but the gland on my right side of my neck never returned to its normal size. I did research on what might be the cause and how to self-treat it, but for the most part I ignored it believing it would go away in time (like everything else, this too shall pass).

As a spiritual person (I had served as a minister for twelve years), I had been praying that something has to change in my life. I was mentally and physically tired. This change would either have to come from beyond my control or from within myself. I made some changes in my life to help cope. I returned to congregational worship on Sundays. I spent time at the local library searching their music collection, listening to music and reading books. I also set up a Facebook account.

In March 2009, I received an email from a former girlfriend of whom I had not had contact with since I was a teenager (answer to prayer?). What was really strange is that I had not reached out to her and she had no idea where I was in my life. We spent hours on the phone rekindling our relationship which began some 32 years earlier. I made the decision to relocate to Florida where she was living. Four months later we were married and have been inseparable ever since. She has been my sunshine helping me cope with everyday life.

The growth on my neck.

It took some time to settle in, to become employed and to obtain health insurance. During that time, the growth continued to develop. In 2011, I decided to go to an ear, nose and throat doctor (Otolaryngologist), who also performs head and neck surgery. I had several tests run, the results of which revealed I had non-small cell carcinoma (squamous cell). “It is malignant,” he said. My heart dropped. These were words I never thought I would hear concerning my life. So now what? Where do we go from here?

The doctor explained his next steps to treat the cancer. The protocol involved another test, then undergoing surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. Regarding the surgery, he said he may have to remove a portion of my tongue, my voice box, and part of my jaw bone which would require reconstructive surgery. He added, “You will also have to learn to eat and speak again. Even so, you are looking at a possible five-year life expectancy.” He actually gave the odds of life expectancy but I no longer remember what he said. I do not believe they were in my favor. I left his office devastated by the results and distraught over his medical recommendations (his bedside manner was lacking to say the least).

I returned home, sat down with my wife, and explained to her what the doctor said. That night was pretty much a blur as far as remembering our feelings, emotions and words. As for me, I now had some medical answers for my condition. What was left to do was to decide how to proceed.

I gave myself a few days to mull over the doctor’s words and allow things to settle in my mind. I held off telling my daughters, family, and employers until I could come to a resolution. Life at this point hadn’t really changed. My wife loved me. I was working, and doing all the things I did prior to learning of my prognosis. But internally, I was grieving and going through a grief process. I sought to compartmentalize the cancer, dealing with my thoughts and feelings a little at a time. Even now, this seems to be, in part, how I cope with my condition. It is not something I think about all the time. The bottom line was and is acceptance of the fact that I have been diagnosed with a malignant form of cancer.

Decision Time

It was really the decision-making process that helped form my ability to cope with cancer. Knowing what I have is not enough to put my mind at ease. What do I do about it and to what degree or cost am I willing to subject myself, my wife and family to in order to gain some sense of well-being? Thus began a journey of researching and discovering my options from Western to Eastern medicine. This was not just a medical experience, but a very personal human event.

Having been a minister for twelve years, generally working with congregations with older members, I witnessed first-hand the results of cancer-treatments in different parts of the country. Part of ministry is meeting people at their most critical times of their lives and being of service to them. However, for the most part, I was less than thrilled with their outcomes. This was not about their faith experience, but the physical struggles they experienced during and after treatment, not to mention the great cost of medical expenses incurred by those families.

Many would confide in me that if their cancer returned, they would not undergo the treatment again. I thought to myself, “If this is the best this country has to offer, I’ll pass.” I developed a mind-set then and still refer back to it to help cope with everyday life and that is, there is a difference between quality of life vs. quantity of life (live well vs. live long). I believe it is within our nature to strive for both, but when our failing physical health becomes a factor in determining length of life, the quality of life becomes primary. I should also state at this time, that my mother had died of pancreatic cancer. She began to undergo chemotherapy but discontinued the treatment due to the side effects. The treatment would not be a cure and she had only months to live. I remember one of her last words she spoke to me. She said, she never thought her life would end this way.   

With the full support of my wife, I decided I would not pursue nor undergo surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. I did attempt to have only the tumor removed without undergoing the other treatments, but no doctor I contacted would consider doing so due to liability. 

I emailed the doctor I originally received my diagnosis from and informed him I had chosen not to undergo cancer treatment. I received an email from him, telling me, “Good luck, you’ll be dead within three months.” I did not respond and it only made me more determined to pursue other forms of treatment.

I should note that this response is not just tied to western medicine physicians. One alternative medicine doctor suggested to me that I should quit work and spend my days meditating near a pond and contemplate life. He may have meant well, but to me, that was the same as saying, why don’t you just resign yourself to the fact that you are going to die. Just curl up and wait to die.

Over the years since being first diagnosed, I have undergone several forms of alternative medicine treatments (cost is always a factor, as health insurance does not cover alternative medicine). There are many different forms of treatments available outside the U.S., but the cost, time away from work, travel, and treatment, make these unattainable for most.    

I take a daily regimen of supplements (thanks to my wife), exercise and try to keep stress in my life at a minimal. Up until a few months ago, I was working sixty-three hours a week. I have reduced the number of hours to forty per week in order to pursue other personal interests. Whether or not any or all of this has contributed to beating the statistical odds, I do not know. What I do know is I am still here and living as normal a life as I did prior to the diagnosis. In fact, in a very real sense, I feel more alive than I did then. I do not take life for granted, but enjoy each and every moment of life and the good measure of health I have been blessed with on this day.

Some thoughts for me on my coping with everyday life –

1. Faith in God. I know not what tomorrow holds, but I know who holds tomorrow. God knows my life and nothing comes to me that does not first go through Him. I’m not seeking a miracle healing, though I desire to be healed in this life, but if healing doesn’t come, God is still God, and I will return to Him.

2. Connections between people and not possessions are what matters most.

3. Having an attitude of gratitude, thanksgiving, appreciation and forgiveness.

4. There is a song by Randy Stonehill. The lyrics state, “I’m gonna celebrate this heartbeat, cause it just might be my last. Every day is a gift from the Lord on high, and they all go by so fast.”

5. The only difference between my life and another is that I may know what I will die from. I say may because not even this is a guarantee.

6. The only things I have control over are my thoughts – what I believe — and my actions – what I do and how I respond based upon what I believe. Beyond that, things are beyond my control. It is enough.    




Brian is the primary writer for this blog.

One of the most fundamental problems with anxiety and stress is that we tend to project into the future. That is, we tell ourselves, “I’m going to be so tense next week when I take that driving test. I’ll probably lose my concentration and fail.” No doubt you have been guilty of this sort of future thinking. How does it make you feel? Do you agree that such anticipation only stirs up your emotions and raises your inner tension? Is this how you want to spend the next week, mired in some sort of dread condition?

How about learning to refocus your thinking back to the present to reduce this inner tension and to take charge of your current reality? How about living in the present moment to prepare yourself for the future? The techniques below have been shown to be quite effective in helping this process by helping you relax and blocking out distracting thoughts.

—-Do some breathing. When you’re anxious one of the first things to change is your breathing rate.  How can you get your normal respiration back?  First empty your lungs, “blow out the birthday candles,” so to speak. Exhale all the air you can. Then take a deep breath in through your nose for about 5 seconds. Repeat this about 5 to 10 times.

Next, try to gain a rhythm, such as 3 seconds in through the nose and 3 seconds out through the mouth. No need to focus on timing things; just make each phase last a moderate period. With practice several times each day you will become quite proficient at loosening yourself up in a stressful situation.

—-Along with the breathing technique you can use your senses and the 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 progression.  This method uses your five senses to orient your thinking to the present. First, picture five things you can see around you and describe each using an adjective or two. Ideally find objects that give you a relaxed feeling. For instance: “I see a black chair; I see a table that has a computer monitor on it; the table is on a blue rug; I see a window and bright sunshine outside; near the window is a tree full of green leaves.” Next, describe four things you can touch, again using an adjective or two. “A part of my chair has a metal frame that is cool to the touch.” Next, describe three things you can hear (“There is a soft hum of the air conditioner.”), then two things you can smell (it’s OK to lean over and smell the flowers on the desk), and finally one thing you can taste (take a swig of your water or coffee).  You can do these in any order but typically it works best if you follow this order of the senses as it hard to engage a number of things for each sense, for example it is hard to smell 5 things at once.

—-Another distraction technique is called serial 7’s. Say the sentence, “I will be a more positive person,” seven times. Then go back and say each word of the sentence seven times: “I, I, I, I, I, I, I, will, will, will, will, will, will, will,” etc. Then go back and say the entire sentence seven more times. You should pace yourself and follow this procedure about one word per second, fast enough so other thoughts can’t come through and distract you. This is a good technique to get your mind off whatever started making you anxious. Once again it is best to combine this method with your breathing exercise.

—- An additional distraction technique that works for many people involves focusing on one thing in great detail. When you start to feel anxious, this technique has you focus on one thing, imagining every possible detail. Then take each detail, name it, and focus on various characteristics. If you picture a car, for instance, how many details about a car can you name? This sort of mental effort can go a long way getting your mind off of the topic that was making you anxious and serve to relax a lot of inner tension.  If you still feel anxious after you try this once, move on to another object and continue to count the details.  As always, pair this process with your breathing exercise.

—-Each of us has many small things that we find personally satisfying and relaxing. It could be an object, a mental image, an activity, just about anything. It is these small things that often have the most effect in helping you cope with stress and anxiety. Perhaps a music playlist of your favorite songs; going for a short walk; playing with the family pet; stretching to increase your blood flow and your oxygen flow. Identify those things and, if possible, activate one of them when you feel stressed. At the very least, think about how you will use one of those things later when appropriate.

To give yourself some reassurance, write on index cards those things that bring you calmness and serenity. Keep the cards handy so you know you will have a quick and easy way to reduce any stress that may be coming your way with activities you can do that work to help you, or things that bring you some kind of peace of mind or calmness

—-Finally, it’s useful to “check in” with yourself throughout the day. What have you been thinking about? Have your thoughts been realistic, rational, and positive? Have you been excessively focusing on some problem that may not be real, or may not be under your control? The check-in process allows you to monitor yourself. You would be amazed at how often you fail to evaluate your mental status during a typical day; failing to do so can get you into all sorts of problems and before you know it, you have made yourself an emotional wreck. Activity transitions are a good time and place to do this checking and would include: When you’re arriving at work, when you’re going to the restroom, when you’re taking a break, even when you stand up after being seated for a considerable time. Whatever you have been doing, before you transition to the next activity, ask yourself: “How do I feel?” “Am I tense anywhere?” “Am I letting any minor things get to me?”  Remember, the more information you have, the more likely it is that you can take charge, empower yourself, and reduce inner tension.












In our previous blog we made the distinction between avoiding stress (stress management) and empowering yourself to make stress work for you (stress enhancement). In this blog we want to consider some steps to move toward this empowerment.

Before attempting to take on a stressful event, ask yourself, “Is this a situation I can control?” There are only two things you can directly control: Your thoughts and your actions. If your problem involves the thoughts and actions of others then your answer to the question must be “no,” and you should move on to other issues in your life.

If your answer is “yes,” then ask yourself, “What specific features of the situation make me anxious and want to avoid?” List the troublesome aspects of the situation and when they occur. Then you can move on to taking action to cope with the situation. Below are some general suggestions to help you organize your thinking about taking action.

–Expect to be anxious in situations that make you uncomfortable, and prepare actions to confront the emotion. Preparation is always the key.

–Do not deny your anxiety and tell yourself, “I’ll be fine when the event takes place.” You won’t, and the anxiety will overwhelm you.

–Do not apologize to yourself or others for being emotional in certain situations. There’s no shame being nervous, in crying, or in showing other responses to your emotions. Your emotions are a part of you and not something to be ashamed of when you feel them or know they’re coming.

–Try to channel stress into productive activities. For instance, let anxiety about your surroundings make you more vigilant about what is going on around you.

–Accept emotions as a signal that something is bothering you. Identify, evaluate, and analyze the events that bring on emotions to help you confront those events.

—-Do not focus on the stress you feel. Focus on the actions you can take or not take to confront your problem. For example, “I do not enjoy my job, but I refuse to answer ads for other jobs because I’m afraid I will fail in the interview.” Now you have something specific to attack….. not the stress itself, but your reluctance to search for another job because you fear failure in an interview.

—-Modify your thinking about stressful events. Do not automatically assume an upcoming event is a threat that will show you to be incompetent or stupid. View the event as a challenge that will give you an opportunity to show your skills.

—-Develop a realistic and optimistic outlook about being able to meet challenges presented by stressful events. Substitute irrational and distorted beliefs (“I must be perfect and succeed in everything I do or I am a worthless person.”) with more realistic ones. Repeating realistic comments to yourself will strengthen your realistic outlook. (“If I fail, I will examine what I did wrong and take steps to correct my mistake so I will be less likely to fail the next time.”)

—-Continue to remind yourself that some events are beyond your control. Design your actions within the realities imposed by your control or lack of control over an event. Driving to that dreaded interview? “I have no control over how bad the traffic will be, but I can leave early when traffic is more likely to be light. I can use my relaxation methods if I feel stressed, and I can map out alternative routes in advance in case traffic backs up.”)

—-Remind yourself frequently that effort is the key to dealing with stressful events. Prepare for stressful events by practicing actions that give you a sense of personal control over yourself, not over others or over events. A student has no control over what will be on the test; the student should, therefore, diligently study all the material.

—-Do not kid yourself by saying, “This time I will be OK. I will not be anxious.” Yes you will, and the failure to prepare will be devastating.

—-Accept that stress is a normal, unavoidable aspect of life, and that feeling anxious does not make you inferior to others.

—-In confrontational situations, do not lash out in anger. Take slow, deep, steady breaths and concentrate on making calm but assertive comments, staying in control of the situation. Practice a variety of situations with a friend so your assertiveness can become more automatic. (Our next blog will go into specific breathing exercises.)

—-You can help yourself by scheduling stressful events under your control at times when you expect relatively few demands and changes in other areas of your life.

—-During the day take time for relaxing activities, even if only for a few minutes. Use a formal relaxation technique, take a walk, listen to music, or trade jokes with a friend.

—-List positive actions you can take in a variety of situations that will make you feel more satisfied. Choose actions that help you become more competitive, persistent, assertive, flexible, and creative.

—-Remember that anxiety, like all emotions, is a psychological danger signal. Just as physical pain signals that your body needs attention, anxiety says your mind needs attention.

—-Commit to important aspects of your life, such as marriage, career, children, friendships and family. A life with commitment is much less stressful than an uncommitted lifestyle.

—-Develop relationships that help you respond to stress; eliminate relationships that rob you of psychological stability and growth. You know who they are! Move on from them.

—-Avoid self-defeating responses when stressed. Excessive eating, drinking, spending, or gambling will lead to increased stress.

—-Accept the fact that change is stressful. Marriage, Christmas, having a baby, retirement, seeking a job promotion — all are stressful and require adjustment. Should you avoid them? Should you tolerate a mediocre job to avoid the stress of seeking a new and more challenging position? Should you avoid commitment in a relationship because you fear the stress of marriage? Should you avoid ending an abusive relationship because you fear the stress of “making it on your own”? Are people who resist change and avoid stress better off in the long run? If you answer “yes” to these questions, you are avoiding life, not living it.

—-As a general rule, stop trying to avoid the stress and anxiety in your life. Avoidance is a form of denial that says, “I’m going to ignore you, so please go away.” Denial and avoidance will not work because your stress will not magically disappear. When faced with stress, your best bet is to recognize it, accept it as real, and attack it. Stress is not the issue; what you do about the stress is the issue.

These steps should help you organize your thinking about anxiety issues and help you see the best ways, in general, to approach the overall problem of confronting your anxiety problems. In Part Two, our next blog, we will look at some specific techniques many clients find helpful in refocusing thinking, lowering inner tension, and dealing with anxiety in the present without worrying about the future.




In our last blog we talked about the need to accept your emotions as a first step in being able to use them to your advantage. That brings us to what we think is an important distinction between “stress management” and “stress enhancement.” (The latter is a term coined by Church and Brooks in a 2007 Kindle Book called Stress Enhancement.)

No doubt you’re familiar with the term stress management. You also probably think of managing stress as a good thing, a technique that helps you relax and not let stress interfere with your life. We feel, however, that “managing” stress suggests avoidance of stress, keeping it under wraps and out of sight. 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 your way? We bet it’s the latter. Most people think managing kids means to stifle their energy, even medicate them if need be, to avoid or at least minimize their disruptive influence.

We believe stress management suggests trying to avoid the stress in your life, and is a poor way to cope. Do you want to manage your stress or be empowered by it? Imagine a worker who 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. “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.” The way we see it, this guy’s approach is, “Don’t take on too much,” and he is managing his current stress level by not taking on extra work; less stress for him in the short run. Unfortunately he gives up a chance of promotion and improving his lifestyle and 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, we believe that instead of seeking ways to manage (reduce or avoid entirely) your stress, you should seek to be empowered by the stress of challenges facing you.  We call the empowerment strategy “stress enhancement,” and we contrast it with the idea of stress management. Stress enhancement means accepting challenges that you can realistically undertake with actions under your control. The stress enhancer will take on that work project, understanding that short-term stress will be increased, but personal satisfaction, productivity, and reduced stress levels will be lowered in the long run. Stress enhancement is learning to turn short-term stress into long-term positive outcomes. Stress cannot and should not be avoided so make the best of it. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

To become a stress enhancer, the first thing you should do is challenge negative and irrational thoughts you carry around with you. All of us think some of the things listed below, and that’s OK if it happens infrequently. Some people, however, have these thoughts all the time, and that’s when they’re in trouble psychologically.

—-Making mountains out of molehills. We had a stressed-out client who made a mistake at work and thought he was going to be fired. Not only was he not fired, his “mistake” uncovered a flaw in a work Manual.

—-Taking everything personally. We’ve had clients who see the slightest criticism from others as a vital challenge to their self-esteem. These folks have to learn that they can’t control what others say. One client felt that whenever her husband decided to do something with the guys, it meant he felt she was a lousy wife.

—-It’s not a black-white world so don’t force others into one. “You either trust me or you don’t.” “Fred is always correct and Sally is always wrong.” This style of thinking overlooks a basic truth: There are two sides to every story, and the truth usually lies somewhere in the middle!

—-Keep a realistic perspective. When you over-generalize, you reach crazy conclusions from a single unrelated incident. “I gave a lousy presentation. I’m obviously a complete failure in everything I do.” “I got a lousy grade in my Economics course. I may as well quit school.” “I was turned down for a date, so I’m obviously a worthless individual no one wants or cares about.”

Secondly, to be a stress enhancer you must decide to take on a challenge only after a realistic appraisal of the skills needed to be successful and whether your abilities fit the bill. No one is able to do everything. A good reality check is to discuss your options with others. In our Blog of August 5, 2016 we discussed the importance of keeping your coping strategies realistic. If you decide to confront a challenge that is literally impossible for you to complete, your inevitable failure will awaken irrational thinking and you will be right back in your world of avoidance.

In our next blog we will discuss dealing with anxiety and stress in the context of stress enhancement, not in the context of stress management. We will also provide some general conceptual steps you need to take to orient yourself appropriately to making anxiety and stress work for you, not against you.





September 11, 2001

Nations, like individuals, must cope. Nations must develop empowerment strategies to help them confront challenges to keep moving forward, or, like poorly coping individuals, they will stagnate and drift aimlessly. In the history of the United States, I see four dates that posed especially harsh challenges to our country, challenges that had to be met and overcome if the country was to survive.

March 4, 1789. A new government under the Constitution — officially ratified on June 21, 1788 — began. This great coping experiment in democracy for the new republic began with three simple but elegant words: “We the People….” What an empowering concept! The experiment, however, was anything but easy out of the gate, and required considerable coping skills from the Founders. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson became bitter political enemies, reconciling only in the twilight of their lives. Ironically, both died on July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Among Adams’ final words were, “Jefferson lives.” Alas, Jefferson had died a few hours earlier.

April 12, 1861. The Civil War– or, depending on your perspective, The War between the States — began. Under the specter of the death of our country, American fought American, brother fought brother until, at the end, estimates say between 620,000 and 750,000  lay dead. These figures are incomprehensible when you realize that in terms of percentage of the US population, the equivalent deaths today would be between 6.5 and 8.1 million. A generation lost to a stupid war.

December 7, 1941. “A date,” FDR reminded us, “which will live in infamy.” Our country galvanized itself, and our parents and grandparents, children of the great depression, prepared to fight two wars simultaneously, one in the Pacific and one in Europe. Faced with annihilation and the end of America, they pulled it off with great effort and sacrifice, and earned their title, “The Greatest Generation.” Those still with us deserve our veneration, as do all veterans, who are the primary coping agents for our country.

September 11, 2001. This horrific day on which nearly 3,000 people died plunged our country into grief and fear. Today, 15 years later, we commemorate the memory of those who lost their lives and those who were connected to the victims through friendship and love. Those of us who endured that terrible day and the uncertain days that followed have many memories seared onto our brains, mostly sad memories, but some that are strangely uplifting.

One of my memories that falls into the uplifting category is watching TV and seeing a fairly large group of legislators from both political parties assemble on the Capitol steps. They were not grouped according to any designation like party, gender, race, ethnicity, or other such divisive nonsense. They were a group of Americans. And then they began singing God Bless America. I was so moved I stood as if I was in the presence of the national anthem. I would have joined them in singing but I was pretty choked up, not only with tears of grief, but also with tears of pride and gratitude for having the great privilege of being a citizen of the United States of America.

And to think, it all began those many years ago with those simple words that continue to remind us that it’s not about me and it’s not about you. It’s about “We the People.”

Charlie Brooks