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


            In this blog and our previous books we are generally guided by a couple of major themes. First of all we constantly warn about the dangers of avoiding challenges when they come your way. Getting into the habit of turning away from confrontation inevitably will get you into trouble psychologically. Secondly, we repeatedly emphasize the idea of acceptance. That is, you need to be more accepting of certain realities in life that simply can’t be changed. For the next few blogs we want to apply those themes to a general consideration of emotional life, and then look closely at ways of dealing with anxiety.   

We bet there have been times you have told yourself, “I should not be so anxious (or afraid, angry, sad, etc.) in this situation.” Maybe so, but your self-criticism misses the point that you are anxious and you need to do something about it. Anxiety, like grief, anger, sadness, and other emotions can be crippling and a major cause of avoiding facing challenges in your life. You can, however, learn to put emotions to good use.

Doesn’t it make sense that your emotions are quite natural? Shouldn’t it be normal to be anxious about being evaluated, grief-stricken when losing a loved one, fearful when confronting others, or sad after being rejected? Is it not reasonable to assume that normal emotional states can be used to your advantage? For example, anxiety can motivate you to prepare for tests and emergencies, bring you closer to significant others, confront criticism, work harder to improve performance, and a host of other effective actions.

Suppose you find yourself in a dead-end job but are afraid to look for a new one because you feel you will be anxious during the job interview and just experience rejection. The safe thing, of course, is to quit looking for a new job, avoiding the interview and all the other stresses that go along with a job search. In the long run, however, this strategy puts your life on hold.

Instead of quitting the job search, you could be empowering yourself by developing strategies and practicing actions to prepare yourself for interviews. First of all you need to remember that you have no control over the interviewer and the types of questions you will be asked. That being the case, it’s reasonable for you to assume and accept that you will probably be anxious during any interview you get. So prepare! Learn about the new company and develop knowledgeable questions to ask during the interview. Evaluate how your skills will mesh with the stated job requirements. Prepare to be honest if you fall short in some areas, but also prepare to describe how you can compensate. (See August 22, 2016 blog.) And remember, your anxiety is a natural emotional state that can be a positive motivator for you. It need not be your enemy.

The same can be said about other emotions. How about intense grief after the loss of a loved one? Depending on the circumstances of the death, you can become quite debilitated as a result of grief. Usually, however, intense grief signals how important others were to you, and how much they taught you about living. Wouldn’t the best way to honor their memory be to demonstrate that they left you with an inner strength that allows you to honor them in positive ways? So seek out those positives that will allow you to honor them: Share with others what they taught you; establish a memorial to them; write about them; find their influence manifest in your life.

Our next three blogs will discuss anxiety in more detail, and will be devoted to presenting specific actions to take when dealing with anxiety.



An acquaintance familiar with this blog recently asked me (Brooks): “Who is dealing with life better, Kaepernick or Trump?” Wow! Not often does one hear those names together – an NFL quarterback who sits or kneels on the sidelines when the national anthem is played (an action protected by the Constitution), and the Republican nominee for President. But the question got me to thinking how would I evaluate their coping skills solely on the basis of these actions.

As for Kaepernick my answer would depend on his motivation for sitting or kneeling. If he wants to increase the sales of NFL team jerseys with his name on them, then he is doing a great job with his protest. According to news reports, sales of Kaepernick jerseys have greatly increased. Of course maybe he just protests to draw attention to himself. If so, then once again he is coping beautifully because his protest has received a lot of media coverage.

If, on the other hand, the motivation behind his protest is to encourage a dialogue and spur action to improve race relations and social justice in the USA, I would say his protest is a dismal failure. To be sure his action has produced a lot of discussion, but unfortunately the discussion has centered on his protest method, and not on the issue he is protesting. In my opinion, a far better coping strategy for this young man with considerable financial resources would be to put some of those resources behind proactive social programs to bring warring parties together to develop positive ways to solve the racial injustices he is protesting.

My bottom line: If Kaepernick is protesting social justice inequities and is going to leave it at sitting or kneeling during the national anthem, his coping efforts are a dismal failure.

Trump? I think he’s simple to size up. In my opinion, if you boil him down to his essence you’re left with one thing: EGO. His overriding motivation for everything he does is self-glorification. He cares not for me, not for you, and not for the country. He cares only for himself.

Running for president is an exquisite and successful coping action for a narcissist like Trump because for many months he has enjoyed the adulation of thousands of mesmerized fans at live rallies. They literally worship his words and hope many of those words are distasteful and insulting. He readily accommodates their hope, and their positive reactions allow him to nourish an insatiable ego. This is quite an ego trip and in coping terms, I believe Trump is wildly successful in obtaining what he needs for feeling productive and satisfied – a well-fed ego.

Of course, voters must decide if Trump’s coping actions are what they want in a President of the United States. For me, a Republican of 48 years, the prospect of his being in the Oval Office floods me with intense anxiety. That is why I must visit the coping blog on a regular basis!


If you’re like us, you found the 2016 Summer Olympics to be nothing short of a God-send, a refreshing respite from the harsh negativity of Presidential politics. How long has it been since the political primary season began? Seems like a couple of years! At last, August came and we were down to only two candidates to insult each other, bicker like spoiled kids in the sandbox, and toss grenades with the hope of character assassination. How depressing.

But then, like a desert oasis, the Olympics descended on us, giving us a refreshing look at what really is best about humans: hard work, striving for improvement, reaching out to others, and relishing above all the intrinsic joy and satisfaction of participation, all without the guarantee of a trophy. Oh, sure, human flaws were there: PEDs, stupid indiscretions fueled by alcohol, and mind games energized by petty jealousies. But these scars paled in comparison to so many expressions of humanity at its best.

We think the juxtaposition of presidential politics and the Olympics provides a good analogy to the psychology of effective coping. You are often faced with all sorts of negativity in your life, from seemingly overwhelming stresses to feeling out of control while unpleasant events spin around you. These troubles are your political season. But you resolve to face your issues, to work hard, to empower yourself and initiate actions that bring you feelings of personal satisfaction from living a more productive life. This resolution is your Olympics.

As we note again and again, however, there are rules you must follow if your coping actions are to be successful. First of all, you must determine if you’re dealing with something you can control. Remember, there are only two things you can directly control: your thoughts and your actions. If you take on things beyond your control, you’re going to be frustrated. If you’re stressed out at work because of an overbearing boss who regularly criticizes your work, can you change the boss? Probably not. But can you take steps to improve the quality of your work? Of course. Is there a guarantee the boss will become more reasonable? No. But will you feel a greater sense of personal satisfaction? Yes.

You also need to remember that if you seek help with your life issues, whether that help is informal (friend) or professional (counselor), you must approach the help in the correct way. Consider the comments below:

“I’m so stressed out! Please help me!” This comment sounds like you’re looking for someone to wave a magic wand and magically free you of your troubles. Not good and it won’t work. You’re still in the political arena.

“I’m so stressed out! Please give me some guidance on how to take better control of my life.”  This comment suggests you’re looking for assistance in becoming more autonomous, more empowering, and better able to initiate independent actions in confronting your problems. This approach to seeking help is much more appropriate and more likely to bring you success. Welcome to the Olympics!


            If you’re a high-profile celebrity you probably avoid divulging any of your weaknesses to others. Problem is, for those who live in the clear fishbowl of fame, hiding is tough to do and eventually some embarrassing things can end up on public display. Just ask the partying US swimmers!

If you’re like most of us, however, you live in a more opaque world where it’s easier to hide some of your less desirable traits from others. Still, we bet you have often faced a situation where you wondered, “Should I ‘man up’ here and admit to a shortcoming?”

There’s no hard and fast answer to that question but there are definitely some situations when honesty can serve you well. Of course, we are not advocating that you bare your soul for all to see, but sometimes admitting to a weakness can lead others to evaluate you more favorably.

For example, imagine yourself in a job interview that goes like this:

Interviewer: “This job will require you to stand in front an audience from time to time and speak to them for about 30 minutes. Does that present any problems?”

Now suppose you really do suffer some anxiety when you are in front of an audience. We don’t mean you faint or tremble uncontrollably and have to run out of the room; we simply mean you get nervous, self-conscious, and would prefer not to speak in front of people unless absolutely necessary. With those conditions in mind, let’s consider two possible replies to the interviewer’s question.

Reply A: “Funny you should ask that. I have to give presentations for my present job and the truth is, I do get a little nervous and anxious when I’m speaking in front of people. Because of that, I try to do a lot of preparation. I try to practice and rehearse what I’m going to say. When I really prepare, I find I’m less likely to stutter or forget my train of thought. So as long as I know in advance about having to give a presentation, I would say public speaking is not a major problem for me, although it wouldn’t be my favorite part of the job.”

Reply B: “No, that requirement of the job doesn’t present a problem.”

Are you secure enough to give Reply A, or will you fall back to Reply B and worry about your problem later? You may be really torn here because you figure that if you give Reply A you might not get the job; if you give Reply B and get the job you’re screwed down the road when you have to give those speeches.

In many situations, when it comes to divulging a weakness, honesty is probably the best policy, a statement backed up by a variety of psychological research. For instance, psychologists asked people to evaluate the application of a hypothetical college applicant. For one group of evaluators, the application included statements from both the student and guidance counselor that some of the applicant’s grades should have been better, that in a few courses he simply did not live up to his potential. For a second group of evaluators, no such statements occurred in the application materials. The results showed that evaluators who read that some of the applicant’s grades should have been better actually rated his grades overall more favorably than did evaluators who did not have the negative observation about the grades.

In another interesting study, college students had to read a paragraph and rate it for clarity. For one group, the material was preceded by a statement that the paragraph was somewhat confusing. For two other groups, an identical statement either came after the paragraph or was never given. The results showed that the first group (statement preceding) rated the paragraph as clearer than did the other two groups.

One final study is worth mentioning. Students listened to a taped lecture by a speaker with a heavy Austrian accent. For half the students, before beginning, the speaker admitted that he had a strong accent and hoped the audience could follow him; no such statement occurred for the other half of the listeners. The results showed that the students who heard the apology rated the speaker as clearer, more likeable, and having more years of speaking English than did the students who did not hear an apology.

One thing is very important to note in these studies: admission of a weakness concerning some ability led to more positive evaluations of the individual being described, but the positive evaluation was specific to that ability. For instance, in the college applicant case, whereas grades were judged more favorably when the applicant admitted they weren’t always the best, SAT scores and other measures of performance were not rated more favorably. Similarly, the apologetic Austrian speaker was judged to have more experience with English, but not someone necessarily fluent in other languages. Thus, admitting a weakness is not necessarily going to have someone see you as a better person in general. Therefore, if you’re going to be honest about a weakness, keep it specific to a particular trait or action.

When it comes to managing the impressions that you give off you, keep in mind that whether you’re talking about a group audience, or a one-on-one interview, others will always be influenced by their expectations. You need to look at these times as opportunities to use those pre-existing expectations to your advantage.  In a job interview, for example, many interviewers probably expect a candidate to deny weaknesses and shortcomings.  Therefore, by admitting to a weakness you are capitalizing by disconfirming the interviewer’s expectation, which might set you apart in a positive way and show your uniqueness.

Furthermore, if you go beyond the simple admission of a weakness and show how you deal with it in a positive way, you transform your weakness into strength. Read reply A again and note how the answer includes initiatives taken to confront and compensate for the weakness. The candidate did not simply say, “I really get anxious when I have to speak in front of others.”

You should also realize that it is not accurate to assume that most people believe that keeping a “stiff upper lip,” and not admitting to weaknesses, is always a good thing. As the studies mentioned show, very often it is the case that admitting weakness is actually perceived as strength. Think about it. Your admission shows that you are not a robot; that being susceptible at times to weakness and mistakes makes you more human; and that you are realistically self-aware and do not see yourself as superior to others.

There are some clear lessons here: a little dose of humility can go a long way. Your honesty may get you that job, or make your audience more receptive. “Thanks for your introduction, Mr. Brown. You make me sound like some kind of expert here, but the truth of the matter is I don’t have all the answers to these complex issues. What I’m going to present today is really a work in progress, and I hope some observations from the audience can help point us in fruitful directions.” Beginning your presentation in such a way shows you are a team player and is likely to make you more likeable right from the start.

So remember:

–When you admit to a weakness, you are likely to be given a break because of your honesty. Other people have their own personal doubts and weaknesses. When you show some of your own, you become more like them in their eyes, and more likeable.

–Accept who you are; don’t try to present yourself to others as someone different. You will experience much lower stress than if you kid yourself and others about your characteristics.

–You do not need to bare your soul to strangers. But when a situation allows you to be honest about a characteristic, don’t be afraid to admit to it and show how you deal with it.