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Entries Tagged as 'stress'

How to Be a Friend in Need — Seven Tips That Can Help a Troubled Friend

March 9th, 2016 · No Comments

Friends and family in distress are all around us. From the workplace to the dining table to yoga class, we hear their stories. Their in-laws are driving them crazy. They have toxic co-workers and cope with bizarre office politics. Their stress is palpable.

And we want to hear about it. We want them to talk to us about it. Why do we do this? Is there something wrong with us? Not at all.

Wanting to talk with family or friends about their problems isn’t the same thing asschadenfreude, which translates from German as “harm-joy,” where we take actual pleasure from another’s misfortune.n-FRIENDSHIP-628x314_rev2

There are healthier, kinder parts of us that want and even like to hear about the woes of those we care about. Why is that?

We feel closer when we share our difficulties. When my friend reveals that she is divorcing, I feel special. She chose me confide in. I tell her how terrible I felt during my divorce and that it’s now a distant memory. My assurances relieve her. I feel good about being supportive. Our bonds deepen in such intimate conversations.

We want to know we’re not alone. Misery indeed loves company, and when we know that our friend’s sister-in-law is an alcoholic, we feel better about our nosy, opinionated mother-in-law. Neither of us has a perfect family and we feel better about that.

We do it out of curiosity. Let’s face it. We’re intrigued when we learn how our friend caught her boyfriend cheating. It’s flat-out interesting. While we don’t wish misery on our friends, when it inevitably comes their way, we want to hear about it. It doesn’t make us bad people. It simply means we’re human.

But there are ways to have friend-in-need conversations that support others and strengthen our connections with them. Here are a few simple guidelines to help negotiate this tricky terrain.

1. Don’t ask, don’t tell. Recently, I was having dinner with a friend who is divorcing after a long-term marriage. I wondered how it was going, but I remembered how, when I was divorcing, I treasured those times when I could relax with a friend and not think about it. So I avoided any topic that might remind her.

It’s so tempting to bring up the juicy topic, but just don’t. We all need down time from our difficulties. We need to relax and enjoy our social encounters. Trust that your friend will talk to you about a problem when and if they are ready.

2. Don’t pour gasoline on the fire. “UGH–what a GIANT drag! What a waste of time that you have to deal with this.” I recently erased those words from a text I was about to send a professor friend who is dealing with a student she suspects of cheating on an exam. She’d asked me for advice. I answered her question and let it go at that. She knows it’s a drag and a waste of time. My reminding her serves no useful purpose. We can be authentically helpful and supportive without inflaming a situation.

3. Don’t mine the conversation for pain. If your friend tells you that her son has gone into rehab, don’t ask what drug he was addicted to or whether insurance is paying for his treatment. Trust that if your friend wants you to know, she will tell you. While human curiosity is normal and natural, there is a time and place for it. This isn’t one of them.

4. Keep it under your hat. Assume everything that a friend in need tells you is absolutely secret. Tell no one, even if you weren’t asked to. You may be tempted to tell your sister that your neighbor’s husband had an affair with the nanny and you might know for a certainty that your sister won’t breathe a word of it to anyone, but just don’t do it.

When we spread stories about our friends in need, we compromise our Integrity–that quality of choosing honesty, principled behavior, and walking our talk. The momentary pleasure of sharing juicy details of another’s life is not worth it. You won’t feel good about yourself in the long run, and you’re letting others know you can’t be trusted with their secrets.

5. Don’t offer advice or suggestions unless you’re asked. Telling your friend with a cheating spouse that you know the best divorce lawyer in town might do more harm than good. Your friend may be hoping for a reconciliation. Such uninvited solutions have the potential to increase a friend’s stress and anxiety and undermine their confidence.

6. Do support their feelings. Whether they’re angry, sad, worried, or anxious, people’s feelings are always valid. Statements like “I understand,” or “I get it,” are far more helpful and supportive than, “Don’t be so sad” or “You don’t have anything to worry about.”
When we affirm another’s feelings we show them that we’re listening and that we understand what they are going through, without adding to their woes. It helps us understand that our feelings are normal and that we’re not alone.

7. Do give the gift of presence. One of the greatest gifts we can offer another is our undivided attention. Put down your cell phone, stop multi-tasking, and really show up to listen. This simple yet powerful act is one of the most precious gifts we can offer a friend in need. Often just “holding space” like this is extraordinarily comforting and healing.

So the next time you’re talking with a friend or family member who has hit a rough patch, remember these simple guidelines. And when you’re the one in need, be sure to reach out and ask for exactly what will help you.

Life’s challenges don’t spare any of us. Having someone supportive accompany us on all or part of that journey can make a huge difference in how well we go through it. We are social creatures, and having friends-in-need when we’re troubled is powerful medicine.

Tags: compassion · connection · stress

Lessons from My Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Wonderful Day

October 1st, 2015 · 9 Comments

ace key

It was one of those important and tightly-scheduled days where everything needed to go as smooth as silk, so of course it didn’t.

My daughter and 20-month old granddaughter were coming to visit me in Miami from New York for my birthday.  I had allowed a thirty-minute window before rush hour to get the baby’s car seat from my storage unit. Then I’d have just enough time to tidy the house, start dinner, and drive to the airport.

Lesson #1: Expect the unexpected, especially when it’s really inconvenient. We set ourselves up for stress and turmoil when we don’t allow time and space for unforeseen events.

I vaguely remembered having some confusion about the storage unit key the last time I was there, so I grabbed the box of extra keys from my desk and drove off. I congratulated myself for my brilliant foresight—every key I owned was with me.

When I got to the storage unit and couldn’t find the right key, I began to worry. In my upset and rush, only found one key that was the right size.  But it said “Ace” on it, so I assumed it was a duplicate key from the hardware store.  Since I’d never duplicated the storage key, I left without trying it in the padlock.

Lesson #2: Don’t make assumptions when you are upset or in a hurry. Your thinking isn’t as clear when you are stressed.

Lesson #3: Don’t give up without trying, especially if the effort is minimal.

On the way home, my worrying increased. I couldn’t imagine where that key was. I considered a rapid succession of possibilities–my desktop, a purse, my jewelry box, a bowl in the kitchen. I forgot to quiet my racing mind, even though I teach and practice mindfulness and stress management.

Lesson #4: We perform better and think better when we’re calm. Take de-stressing action at the first sign of upset. Disconnect from unhelpful thinking, regularize your breathing, and allow your body to relax. 

Instead, I rushed home and rummaged through every nook and cranny that could harbor a key. No luck.

My heart began to pound.  Thoughts flooded my mind: Where is the nearest baby equipment store? Do I have time to buy another car seat? What if I can’t find one nearby? Can I get one delivered by tomorrow? That will cost a fortune! What will we do in the meantime? We’ll be stuck in the house!

I caught myself and stopped the runaway train in my mind. I focused on my breath and grounded myself by feeling my body.  I began to calm down.

Lesson #5: Better late than never. 

I looked through the key box once more and picked up the Ace key.  That has to be it! I didn’t even try it! How dumb! How hard would that have been? I shouldn’t have been in such a rush! What’s wrong with me? 

Lesson #6: Let yourself be human.  Humans make mistakes. Irritation and self-scolding only drive up stress levels and make mistakes more likely.

Again I calmed myself, then drove back to the storage unit. The key fit! The door opened! Life was good!

My daughter’s plane would be landing momentarily.  I texted her that I was on my way, dragged the heavy seat down to my car, and headed for the airport. At a red light, I opened my purse to get my phone so I’d be sure to hear her text telling me where she’d be waiting.

But I couldn’t find my phone. I pulled off the road and searched purse, pockets and car. No phone.

I remembered that I’d texted her just before I took the seat to the car. Ack! I bet I left it inside the unit.

My thoughts raced more intensely than ever: I’m going to be late! The airport will be bedlam! I need my phone to know where she’ll be! I won’t be able to find her! How did people ever find each other at airports without cell phones? This is a disaster!

In an instant, my hands began to tremble and I was no longer able to think clearly. 

Lesson #7:  Stress begets stress. Cortisol—the hormone that prepares us to run or fight for our lives when we’re in fear–has a half-life of about an hour.  This means that an hour after an initial stress response, half the cortisol is still revving us up, and an hour after that, half of that half is left, and so forth. Each time we react stressfully over a short time frame, more cortisol is dumped into our systems before the prior load has dissipated. So our reactions come more quickly and more powerfully.  By this time, after multiple doses of cortisol, my reactions were swift and overwhelming.

I turned around and headed back to the storage unit for the third time. When I arrived, I raced upstairs through the warren of hallways and opened the door to my unit. The phone wasn’t there. I felt the blood drain from my face.

I remembered that a group of men were down the hallway when I’d picked up the car seat. I must have left the phone on the floor in the hallway and those men—those thieves—took it! If they get through my ridiculously simple password, they’ll have access to my bank account information. My identity will be stolen! Why didn’t I use a better password? Why did I keep information like that on my phone? The weekend is ruined!

I urgently felt the need for a plan, but I was so confused.  Halfway to the airport, I turned around.  I’d go home, call my daughter, and ask her to take a cab. Then I’d delete the confidential information from my laptop and hope it would sync to my phone before those thieves messed up my life.

My heart thundered as I crawled through rush hour traffic. My mind was reeling: This is taking forever! My daughter must be exhausted. I bet the baby is starving! And my phone is gone! Those thieves are laughing at my stupidity! This will take weeks to sort out!  I blinked back tears.

Lesson #8: Stress can hijack us emotionally and cognitively. By this time I was exhausted and my thinking was very compromised. Driving in this state could easily lead to an accident.

Luckily I calmed myself enough to realize that driving was my only priority at that moment.  Everything else could wait until I got home.  It wasn’t easy. But I got very present and focused on my driving.

Once again, I began to calm down. At a red light, I saw the clear purples, pinks and blues of the evening sky. I remembered the beautiful birthday gift of my daughter’s visit.  I thought about reading stories to my granddaughter.

My thinking cleared up: Everything is going to be okay. The only thing I know for sure right now, is that my daughter has to take a cab and my phone is gone. Whatever else happens can be straightened out when and if it happens.

Lesson #9: Keep things in perspective. Identify what is really at stake, not what your runaway mind is imagining.

About a block from my house, I heard a pingggggg that sounded exactly like a text coming in. A few moments later another pinggggggg. It was a text.  My phone was somewhere in the car!

I pulled into my driveway and found the phone lodged deeply under the passenger seat. I didn’t waste a moment trying to figure out why I hadn’t found it earlier. I called my daughter, apologized, and asked her to take a cab.

Tears welled up in my eyes again, and I laughed aloud at the same moment. All that for nothing! Except perhaps a good story of how not to deal with unforeseen events, stress, and upset.

Lesson #10: When all else fails, find something to laugh about, including yourself. In the School of Life, laughter always earns you extra credit.

My stories could wait. I had just enough time to shower and get dinner ready before my special guests arrived. But before I did that, I went inside to my desk and put a label on the storage unit key. That fake duplicate key would never fool me again.

Tags: fear · laughter · self-criticism · stress

Can you say “no” clearly and honestly?

August 6th, 2009 · 2 Comments

monkey-noDo you ever say “yes” or “maybe” when you really want to say “no?”  Or do you muddle your “no” with explanations, excuses, or apologies?

Consider these alternatives:

–I don’t want you to get the wrong idea about me.  But you know, I don’t know, I just don’t think it’s a good idea.  I’m sorry.  Please don’t be mad at me.

–No.  I’m not ready to have sex with you.

How about these:

–I really don’t want you to use my car tonight because the last time you went out in it you stayed out until 4 am and you didn’t call me and  I was so worried about you and I just don’t sleep when that happens.

–No, dear.  You can’t borrow my car tonight.

Or these:

–I don’t know.  I’m really tired, and I’m not sure how I’ll feel tonight.  So, I’ll have to call you later.

–No, I’m not available tonight.  Thank you for asking.

How about these options:

–You know, my credit card balances have really crept up and I have to get my washer fixed and go to the dentist and I don’t get paid for another two weeks.  So, I don’t know, I’ll have to think about it.

–No, I can’t lend you money.

When we are not clear in our no’s we open the door to debate and  argument.  We set ourselves up for difficult relationships.  We often agree to do things that conflict with our real desires and our core values.

And whether we reluctantly go along with something because our “no” was never clearly expressed, or we somehow wriggle out of it by offering up enough excuses, we never enjoy ourselves.  Either we wind up doing something we didn’t want to do, or we’re exhausted by our guilt and the effort to get out of it.

One of the most empowering things we can do is to say “no” honestly, clearly, and cleanly.  It gives us both inner strength and peace in our hearts.

Try it out and see how it feels.

Tags: stillness · stress · treats · Uncategorized

What do you do when things don’t go smoothly?

June 2nd, 2009 · No Comments

Broken BowlA quiz:

1.  The electric drill breaks in the middle of a big project that you had set the whole weekend aside for. You:
a.  Tell yourself the drill shouldn’t break because it’s not that old.
b.  Curse the drill, the traffic on the way to the home store to buy a new drill, and the long checkout line in the store.
c.  Tell yourself and the person next to you in the checkout line that it’s a rip-off that drills cost so much and don’t last long.
d.  All of the above.

2.  Your printer is feuding with your computer when you need a document pronto for an important meeting.  You:
a.  Tell yourself that the printer should work because it was working fine a minute ago.
b.  Hit the print command over and over.
c.  Tell yourself you are an idiot for waiting for the last minute to print the document, and worry about losing your job.
d.  Tell yourself that bad things always happen to you
e.  All of the above.

3.  You leave late and hit a huge traffic jam on your way to your dental appointment.  You:
a.  Tell yourself the traffic shouldn’t be jammed at this hour.
b.  Grab the steering wheel tightly, clench your teeth, and curse the traffic.
c.  Think up dramatic excuses to tell the dental receptionist, the dentist, and everyone in the waiting room about why you are late.
d.  Complain to everyone in the waiting room that you have way too much to do and not enough time to do it in.
e.  All of the above.

4.  You are remodeling your kitchen and the granite you ordered doesn’t arrive on time, requiring your contractor to postpone the installation of your counters and new sink.  You have a big party at your house Saturday night, and you were planning to show off your new kitchen.  You:
a.  Chew out the contractor about how he missed an important deadline.
b.  Cancel your party and tell your friends (and yourself) how stressful it is to remodel.
c.  Get in a huge fight with your partner who doesn’t want to cancel the party, and who just doesn’t get it.
d.  Spend the afternoon crying.
e.  All of the above.

If you chose a, b, c, d, or e, it’s called arguing with reality, and it’s an argument you will lose.  Always.

Here’s the truth:  drills break, printers don’t print, and traffic jams happen.  Refrigerators and washing machines break, too, usually when they are full.  Kids forget to take their homework to school, granite doesn’t arrive on time for your party, and your last pair of contact lenses rip as you take them out of the container.  No matter what you are endeavoring to do, sometimes there will be glitches, delays, foul-ups, screw-ups, and mess-ups.  Count on it.

Now, answer one more question:

You are in the middle of something and a glitch, delay, or foul-up happens.  You:

a.  Accept reality
b.  Respond with a peaceful heart
c.  Find your sense of humor
d.  All of the above

Tags: stress · truth