Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Four Simple Ways to Reduce Stress

As I entered the room I could feel the tension of the forty-eight individuals seated at the oblong conference tables. I was about to present a workshop to these teachers on managing stress. Conditions for educators across the nation have become increasingly more demanding as states mandate more and more changes, where parents are less involved in their children's academic achievements, and children dominate the classroom with disrespectful behaviors.  I have a family member who recently resigned from teaching due to the enormous amounts of pressure he's been under. His doctor basically told him it was either his career or his life. In one of the most highly respected fields of employment, we are now facing a crisis of immeasurable proportions that could potentially leave us with a diminishing number of highly skilled professionals dedicated to educating our youth. While I am not able to solve their occupational issues, I could provide them with the skills and knowledge to dramatically reduce the stress in their lives so as not to cause any detriment to their abilities or their health. 

When asked "Where does stress come from?" there was no shortage of responses: "the administration, the state, the ridiculous amounts of unnecessary paperwork we're expected to handle, unruly kids, uncooperative parents", and the list went on. Like many of us, these teachers mistakenly believe that stress comes from outside sources when the truth is that all emotions are internally generated. 

Clinically, professionals tell us that stress is the result of trying to do too much in a short a period of time with inadequate information and insufficient resources to complete said task. Additionally, stress comes from seeking the approval of others, from needing to control a situation (or individual), having unrealistic expectations or too much responsibility, as well as a shortage of money in relation to our expenses. And while moderate amounts of stress can actually prove beneficial and motivate us to accomplish a lot or facilitate positive changes in our lives, chronic stress is the number one cause of disease and can potentially lead to death.

In The Secret Side of Anger, I discuss the origin of all emotions: our mind. Every feeling we have is the product of our thought process. What I think about generates all of my feelings. Here's an example: each morning I get up at 4:30. I have list upon list of everything I need to accomplish by 8 pm that evening. I create my own anxiety when I tell myself I absolutely must get it all done, as if something terrible will happen if I don't. I don't like feeling stressed so I simply remind myself that I will stay focused, work diligently until I reach the end of my workday, and whatever is left, if it's important, I will continue with the following day.  Likewise, if I'm on my way to an important event, such as speaking at the New Life Expo in NY City, and I'm stuck in traffic with a real possibility of being late, I remind myself that this is not the end of the world. I will simply do my best in a situation that I have no control over and when I arrive I will offer a sympathetic explanation while offering to do whatever possible to appease the situation. 

Here are four tips to help you reduce the amount of tension in your life: 

1. At the onset of anxiety, remember to breathe. We tend to hold our breath when we become angry, stressed or upset, depriving our brains of much-needed oxygen-rich blood. Take a few long, slow, deep breaths. You will instantly feel more relaxed.
2. Pay close attention to your internal voice. What are you saying to yourself? Are you reinforcing your nervousness or are you reminding yourself that you are completely capable of managing the situation?
3. Put everything into proper perspective. Weddings, Christmas, and surprise parties do not have to be perfect. Good is fine. Strive for enjoyable not flawless. Pay careful attention to your expectations.
4. Incorporate stress reducing activities into your daily routine. Prayer, meditation, aerobic exercise, music, yoga - whatever keeps you calm must be as much a part of your daily life as eating, brushing your teeth, and sleeping. By lowering your starting point  you will find yourself less reactive to potentially stressful situations.

Remember that all emotions, including stress and anger, are self-imposed. While the world may place an enormous amount of demands on you, you have the option to decline ("no" is a legitimate response). However, if you choose to accept those challenges, keep in mind that you have freely chosen to do so, that you are more capable than you may give yourself credit for, and that unless someone's life is in danger there is always tomorrow.  "I may put off till tomorrow what I choose not to kill myself doing today." Let that be your new mantra. The teachers gave it two thumbs up. Peace.

To order a copy of "The Secret Side of Anger" or "The Great Truth" visit

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Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A No-Win Situation: What to Do When You're Caught in the Middle

We've all found ourselves in situations where we feel as though we're caught between a rock and a hard place. Faced with making a necessary decision, our choices are less than favorable and all options have potentially serious consequences. Your best friend confides that she's having an affair and begs you not to tell  her husband. But her husband is your brother-in-law. Your two best friends have a falling out and each insists that you ally with them and break off all contact with the other. The problem is you still care about each one. Two invitations arrive in your mailbox requesting you attend major events on the same day: a wedding for your neighbor whom you've known for fifteen years and the christening of your niece's baby. Not wanting to offend either or risk your relationship with them,  you find yourself caught in a no-win situation where somebody is going to end up being upset with you.

Ideally, we'd like to be able to explain our quandary to each party and have the support we need to make a fair decision. We'd like to believe that each person cares enough about us to understand that our decision may not align with the one they would prefer yet they would respect our decision and that our relationship would remain intact. In some cases, we're fortunate enough to have such loving people in our lives. Other times not so much. People may become offended or irate. In some cases, they may resort to threats, coercion, manipulation, temper tantrums or bribery in order to have us comply with their demands. 

This behavior is a clear indication of their own insecurities, fears, selfishness, and personal issues. They need to control the situation and those involved (you) based on an irrational fear that if they allow others to freely make their own determination the concerned person will not be OK with those choices. Perhaps others will think poorly of them, they may have to face devastating consequences should the truth be told or they may be viewed as less important than the other party should you favor one over the other. In doing so, you run the risk of offending and possibly losing someone you care about. Yet if you do not follow your heart and do what you believe is right, then you live with shame and regret. 

So, how does one handle a situation where all parties are clearly not going to be happy with the outcome? Some feel you should do what is best for you and not worry about anyone else. But you care. How can you turn that off? And do you even want to? Here are some points to consider:

1. Take into consideration everyone's perspective, needs, and requests.  Eliminate any that are unreasonable or ask you to go against what you believe to be just.
2. Identify whose needs are greater at that point in time.
3. Encourage all parties to do what is right. (This can present a challenge since right is a subjective term.)
4. Seek a resolution that has the most benefits for the majority of people and the least amount of consequences for said parties.
5. Relinquish the need to satisfy anyone involved. While it's important to care about each person you are not responsible for how they interpret your actions or how they feel about them.

And most importantly, the one critical consideration we must never concede to:
6. Always do what you believe is morally right. Never compromise your values for anyone. You only have to answer to yourself and to your Creator. 

When you make morally right decisions, not everyone will support you but you will have a sense of inner peace knowing that you did what God expected of you. And nothing that happens after the fact matters as much.

To order a copy of "The Secret Side of Anger" or "The Great Truth" visit

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Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Three Key Strategies for Reducing Anger

I see clients ever week who ask me to teach them how to control their tempers. "I'm not the person to help you with that. Controlling anger can be hazardous to your health and to the safety of those around you." Most often, they stare at me in disbelief. "Controlling anger takes an enormous amount of mental and physical energy. Due to the nature and sheer force of anger, it can easily overpower you at some point, rearing its ugly head at the most inappropriate time, in the worst possible manner, and often at  the wrong individual. Repressed anger, on the other hand, has the potential to cause serious and life-threatening health issues. So, the answer is 'no'."

What I have been teaching  my clients for twenty years is to understand what anger really is (it's a symptom of deeper underlying emotions - hurt, fear, and/or frustration), how to express it appropriately (when necessary), and most importantly how to heal it, to be free of any residual rage, annoyance, bitterness or resentment.

There are three basic strategies that work best for helping those with anger issues: cognitive therapy, relaxation techniques, and skill development. 

Cognitive therapy*: our thought process. When working with a client I help them examine their core belief systems for any flaws that need to be corrected. Eckhart Tolle, NY Times bestselling author of "The Seat of the Soul", says that the most important thing we have are our beliefs. Every decision we make is based on what we deem true. An inaccurate principle will yield erroneous results. If I believe I am always targeted at my job because  I am an older employee, then every time someone is unhappy with my performance my belief cause me to feel disrespected, discriminated against, etc. - all of which will lead to anger.
Here's a simple equation to help you determine if your thought process will yield positive results or not: TECO Magic - Thoughts create Emotions. Emotions determine the Choices we make (our behaviors) and each action produces an Outcome. Thought > Emotion > Choice > Outcome. 

Relaxation techniques: these involve such activities as meditation, yoga, hypnosis, visualization, prayer, nature, reading, music, affirmation - any behavior that fosters a sense of calm and well-being. In the second edition of "The Secret Side of Anger", I have included a new chapter called, "Creating a Peace Plan". I strongly recommend that people create a list of behaviors that make them feel calm and relaxed. By incorporating a few into their daily routine, they automatically reduce their levels of stress and anger so that when a situation arises that would normal cause them to react in a hostile way, they respond in a much less severe manner. I have exquisite nature photos hanging in m office and in my home. Simply gazing at them evokes feelings of tranquility. Reciting the Serenity Prayer or a passage from Scripture can calm me down instantaneously. Even something as simple as deep breathing, which allows more oxygen to be delivered to the blood and brain, can calm the mind and relax the body. And it can be done anywhere and in any situation. 

Skill sets: these are critical in managing anger  appropriately. The SWaT  Strategy is one of my favorites. At the first sign that you are becoming upset, Stop what you are doing. Next, Walk away. And third, Talk yourself calm. (For more details, read "The Secret Side of Anger".) Talking out your feeling with a trusted friend, trained professional or in the context of a support group can prove highly beneficial. It enables you to see things from another perspective, gain valuable insight, unload frustration in a safe environment, and get positive feedback and suggestions. 

Each of these approaches has enormous benefits. A combination of two or more can lead to lifetime of peaceful coexistence with  yourself, others, and the world. Don't  you deserve it?

*I am not a therapist and do not do therapy with my clients.

To order a copy of "The Secret Side of Anger" or "The Great Truth" visit

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Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Sarcasm: Is It Humor or Something Sinister?

I hate sarcasm. It's rude, hurtful, and offensive. Yet I have met many people who insist that it is humorous. "Sarcasm can be funny, " my friend John told me. "I beg to differ", I replied. "There is nothing funny about saying something hurtful to another person." "Yes, but...", he continued, "you can make fun of them and as long as it's done in good taste it's not insulting." We debated the issue for a few minutes and then put it to rest. Clearly, he was of the mindset that there was nothing wrong with sarcasm.

However, there are distinct disparities between the two. Look up both words in the dictionary: sarcasm comes from the Greek word "sarcazmos", which literally means "to tear ones flesh". That's a pretty violent description. Other terms used to define sarcasm are "sharp, satirical utterances designed to cut or give pain; bitter, caustic language directed against an individual." Tear, cut, pain, bitter, caustic: are any of these words indicative of humor? 

The definition of humor, on the other hand, uses such terms as "funny quality; elicits amusement and laughter; designed to make others laugh, smile or chuckle." Quite a contrast, don't you agree?

Sarcasm is actually a form of passive/aggressive anger. It is designed to hurt the intended party, to embarrass or humiliate them, to make them feel uncomfortable. Covert and underhanded, it is used to disguise anger and alleviate any responsibility should the other party take personal offense. "I was just kidding! Everyone else laughed. You are just too sensitive." Blame: an alternative for ownership of bad behavior. 

Sarcasm reveals a lot about the person dishing it out. People who are kind, sensitive, respectful, thoughtful, and confident do not resort to such cowardly behavior. If they have something unflattering to say to the other person they do so in a direct and polite manner. Calling your child a nickname that they do not like and telling them they are too sensitive when they get angry with you is passive/aggressive. Making a joke about your husband's balding head, knowing he is sensitive about his receding hairline, is hurtful.  Calling  your boss a "know-it-all" ("Well, how could you be wrong? You surely know everything there is to know about running this company!") cannot be negated by a lame "I meant that in the most flattering way possible."

Humor is truly lighthearted and careful not to offend the other party. My husband and I use humor with each other all the time. We can tease one another  in a very playful manner, designed to make them laugh (like the time I left a pot of boiling water on the stove and forgot to add the rice, scorching and blistering my favorite saucepan). He knows I am not the least bit sensitive or embarrassed by my sheer stupidity and he has free reign to use it as an opportunity to make me and any other family member laugh. 

Humor can alleviate stress, diffuse anger, relieve sadness, and bring people together. It releases endorphins, the feel-good chemical, in the brain and actually boosts the body's natural immune system. There are never any underlying or sinister intentions behind the action and there is no pain or offense on the receiver's end. Webster uses words like funny, playful, amusement, smile, and chuckle in defining true humor.

In discerning whether or not your teasing is actual humor or sarcasm, check your motives and intent. Are you truly being playful or on some level do you hope that the dig you are throwing at the other party hurts? Motive and intent are key.

There is one exception to using humor that I must caution you about: never ever use vitreous humor. It can be very dangerous and do some serious damage. Oh wait - isn't that the gel that fills the space between the lens and retina of the eye? Ok, never mind.  It's safe. (That's a little humor - did I make you laugh? No? Too little wit, I'm guessing. So sue me.  I'll take it to the Court of A(banana)peels.)        :-)

To order a copy of The Secret Side of Anger or The Great Truth visit
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