Thursday, October 05, 2006

Coping/Managing Stress and Anxiety

Someone once wrote in asking for my personal secrets, my coping strategies, not just a lot of psycho-babble.

How do I handle stress?

This person, I happen to know, has a really high stress professional career, deals with people who are non-compliant with free medical advice. So she inhales more than me, probably.

We call it managing stress these days, not handling, not even coping. Like everything in your life has to be put in its proper place, managed. Gives the illusion of control. Manage bad news. Manage trouble. That's why problems are called troubles. They're troubling.

It can be bad. Like problems can keep us up at night and wake us up early in the morning. But let's not get into sleep disorders. It's already pretty clear that my rambling is designed to sidetrack from having to self-disclose.

Just answer the question!

BUT if you are having trouble sleeping, sleep deprivation can exacerbate whatever else is going on. Have it checked out and consider medication, take only as prescribed and don't drink.

My stress, during MY day? From morning until midnight?

Oh, let's talk about you.

I recommend a million things, right, from muscle relaxation, deep-breathing, real psychotherapy or family therapy, imaging techniques.

One of the best things to do with anxiety is to go directly to the catastrophic expectation, the very worst scenario, and work out how you'd handle that. Do it with another person listening, if possible. It can be fun. Think what you'd do if your greatest fears were realized.

Maybe you'd sell the house, buy an R.V., travel the country. Visit Mexico. Or lose the house, buy a mo-ped.

Learn a new language. Work at Blockbusters. (How bad could that be, let's talk) Bag groceries.

So I'll push you into a world of fantasy, have you step over the threshold.

I'll make you join this world. Let your imagination wander. Such a good thing. The fantasy is best, of course, if you can find something very different that's positive in having your worst nightmare come true.

The Chinese say, Crisis equal(s) opportunity.

Then, of course, you have to problem solve. Since you don't want to have to really GET to the catastrophic expectation (losing a job, a spouse, etc., your life) you work to resolve the problem. This is where you call in your favors.

You talk to friends, relative, docs. You get advice. You DON'T shoulder your burden alone. If at all possible, you DON'T rely on you and only you.

Then you get to work. Put the plan into motion.

Oh. And did I mention prayer? Television? Hobbies? EXERCISE? Any other distraction is good? If distraction's possible, it's none too shabby a coping strategy. It's usually IMPOSSIBLE, unfortunately, when you're really anxious.

The idea of distraction is very different than problem solving. The idea is to fool your body/brain (same thing, remember?) into paying attention to something other than your thoughts. The brain can't attend consciously to all that much at one time.

Now. On a very BASIC level? Me? After I've gone through those steps, determined a plan of action and carried through (oh yeah, you actually have to DO something to really solve problems), at the end of the day, which means about fourteen hours into being awake, I listen to music. I try to do it at work, too, but I crank it up too loud, I think, and other tenants get angry. (this is what goes on in my imagination, no one's ever complained)

I'm not Type-A, either, for whom it's actually prescribed, or at least don't think so.

I do think, honestly, You are what you hear.

Now it's time to confess about my relationship with opera, specifically, the female voice. Sopranos. Good ones. The ones who actually emote when they sing and bring me to tears.

Never liked it growing up, seriously, or even well into adulthood. My idea of a great song was and still is My Guy by Mary Wells. Goes like this. It's an oldie, but maybe you know it. It's got a clip to it.

Nothing you could say

Can tear me away from my guy
Nothing you could do
'Cause I'm stuck like glue to my guy

I'm stickin' to my guy
Like a stamp to a letter
Like the birds of a feather
We stick together

I'm tellin' you from the start
I can't be torn apart from my guy

Nothing you can do
Could make me untrue to my guy
Nothing you could buy
Could make me tell a lie to my guy

I gave my guy my word of honor
To be faithful and I'm gonna
You best be believing
I won't be deceiving my guy

As a matter of opinion I think he's tops
My opinion is he's the cream of the crop
As a matter of taste to be exact
He's my ideal as a matter of fact

There's not a man today

Who could take me away from my guy

(Tell me more)
There's not a man today
Who could take me away from my guy

Pretty normal, I think, to like a song like that.

But one day I woke up and I CRAVED Renee Fleming. I craved a fabulous female soprano voice that was NOT Barbara Streisand. (Although face it, SMILE is a real keeper).

But I NEEDED a voice that soared over Barbara's head, seriously, made Barbra sound less than Sorry Babs honey, I've loved you since I was 8 and sang along songs from Funny Girl. So you know I felt pretty crazy, needing an opera star in my life.

It baffled me.

Of course I went out and bought enough CD's to satisfy the thirst, then turned to learning actual operas. (Puccini, people, go Puccini).

I didn't get it because this truly came out of left field. From Nowhere. It could happen to you. And it should.

Anyway, I turned to F.D., the genius, the doctor, the one who understands the things that I don't. He said, "Well, your brain, how shall I say it, matured."

The brain turned a corner, musically.


The opera stage lasted and lasted, and it's not at all over.

Suggested CDs? I'd go with Renee. Try either The Beautiful Voice or Bel Canto – or the one Renee does with Bryn Terfel, they sing popular songs, Under the Stars

For your edification, just so you should know that not everything's in Italian, here are the words to 2 songs on The Beautiful Voice.

The first is by Antonin Dvorak in Gypsy Melodies, Songs My Mother Taught Me (it's in English)
Songs my mother taught me
In the days long vanish'd;
Seldom from her eyelids were the teardrops banished

Now I teach my children each melodious measure
Oft the tears are flowing
Oft they flow from my mem'rys treasure.

In the opera, La Rondine, Magda sings Chi il bel sogno di Doretta pre invinar.
Who could guess Doretta's sweet dream?
How did its mystery end?
Alas! One day a student kissed her on the lips
And that kiss proved to be a revelation:
It was passion!

Who could describe the insidious caress
Of a burning kiss like that?
Oh, my dream! Alas, my life!
What do riches matter if
happiness blossoms again in the end?

O golden dream—to be able to love like that!


The brain needs a good stretch, peop. Make it work. Bring on the maturity, give it a shake. This really does rechannel stress if you allow that sensory data to detour your attention from the same old depressing, distressing garbage in life.

Or go back to the gym.

What goes up really must come down. As a cognitive therapist you'll hear this from me a lot. Be patient. You'll recalibrate eventually, no matter what you do. I prefer to speed it along just a tad.

Copyright, 2006, TherapyDoc


Margo said...


I was driving your son to the airport late last night and when I flipped to CD mode, anticipating a little Bright Eyes, opera came on. Since my brain has yet to mature, let's face it, and I would never BY CHOICE listen to such a thing, I'm left to believe that you made me a mix of your favorites, and snuck it into my car on your last visit.

I wouldn't put it past you. YOU'VE DONE IT BEFORE.

I will say that my brother and I had a laugh over it. But I'd like your readers to know that in addition to "My Guy," you also know every single lyric to most Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd songs, and you've been known to enjoy a Kelly Clarkson video or two.

And most of my childhood memories do, indeed, involve blasting Barbra at top volume in the kitchen while we cooked, singing along but unable to hear ourselves over her.

Good times. But we'll never all relax to opera.

therapydoc said...

I am nothing if not eclectic, right? Nah, I didn't sneak it in. I think I forgot that C.D. SEND IT BACK, unless, of course, you're really listening to it on the side and just don't want to admit it.

I wouldn't put it past ya'.

Anonymous said...

Wow, you have suddenly made me feel more normal. I do that - I take the things that scare me, keep me awake at night, and I imagine the worst that could happen and think through how I would handle it, what I would do. I thought there was something wrong with me for letting myself imagine terrible scenarios. But thinking through how to deal with them and what would really happen in the long run does make it less worrisome. Especially considering most if not all of it never happens anyway.

Thank you for this blog, I'm enjoying the reading and the perspective you give me.