Coping With Stress By Helping Others Cope With Stress

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This sounds like an oxymoron.

Could you possibly help someone else cope with their stress when you feel totally overwhelmed by the amount of stress you have to deal with yourself?

The answer to that question is Yes, you can.

Until recently, I firmly believed that to help others, you should at least be fairly secure in your convictions of what works and what doesn’t work as stress management strategies because you use these strategies successfully yourself. If you believe that mindfulness works, like I do, you should practice what you preach and thus set an example to the people you are trying to help.

This week I found myself in a situation that turned this belief upside down.
As you may now, I am moving house, and the experience has deteriorated into an emotional rollercoaster ride that has turned my world upside down. So much for successfully using my own stress management strategies.  Feeling barely able to face another day, another crisis, I woke up one morning to find an e-mail from a friend desperately needing help.

Groaning, falling out of bed and crawling into the kitchen for the first caffeine shot of the day, I asked myself how on earth I was going to handle a situation this demanding and devastating to my friend.

This is how I found out that not only is it possible to help someone else while you are sorely in need of help yourself, but you can help yourself in the process.

I discovered that:
• Helping someone else distracts you from drowning in your own drama. It gives you something else to ponder. It lifts you out of your depression and dramatically reduces your obsession with your own threatening Armageddon.
• It stimulates your creativity. Trying to find a way to help someone else, activates your problem-solving skills, skills that you may have felt too paralysed to apply to your own problem.
• It shows you that you are not alone, that you are not the only one suffering. It reminds you that there are people with problems much worse than yours.
• The person you are trying to help may introduce you to a new stress management method, help you to fine tune one that you are already using.
• Helping others makes you feel good; it lifts your mood. As Robert Ingersoll said, “We rise by lifting others.”
• It increases your self-confidence. I realised that if I can help my friend to cope with this stressful situation, I can definitively handle my own, much less stressful situation.
• It reminds you also to be kind to yourself. You should be as compassionate towards yourself during stressful times as you are towards your friend.
• It makes you feel grateful. Once the storm is over, and you are both still standing despite the howling wind, you feel thankful that you have been there for her, that you were able to stay on your feet and help her to remain upright as well and that your relationship is so much closer now for having made the effort. I am convinced that gratitude is THE most powerful stress management strategy ever discovered. I go on and on about it in my book “Embracing Change: Simple Strategies, Smart Suggestions and Insight-giving Stories.”
• It makes you put the strategies you so eloquently write about, to the test, in extreme conditions. Another approach I go on and on about in the same book is narrative expressive writing. In my current situation, I am using it to deal with the suffocating stress I am subject to myself. I am also using it to help my friend cope with an avalanche of stressful life-changing events. Both of us are using narrative expressive writing to write our trauma out of our thoughts.

As I am doing by writing this article.

Practice what you preach, my friends remind me. See, I am listening. Actively.


Have you subscribed to my blog’s mailing list yet? If you are already a subscriber, thank you so much! If not, please do. My blog aims to assist you in making the most of yourself and in providing you with the tools to do so. You can subscribe by clicking here, and you will receive my 10 Steps to Instant Self-Confidence guide – straight from the horse’s mouth! as well as a copy of the Cope with Change Cheat sheet and Checklist.

Moving House Can Be An Uplifting Experience

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Despite the barely bearable stress that it creates

It is said that wisdom comes with age.

I am still waiting, not so very patiently anymore, but I haven’t given up hope.

I have stumbled across one or two golden nuggets in the past 50 years and these share with my readers in my books, articles, blog, courses and workshops.

I am moving house. If you read my article Moving House In The South Of France you’ll know that it is no easy endeavour. Bien au contraire.

I am at the packing stage. I hate packing. I have been packing now for thirteen days. I spend from 3-5 hours a day packing depending on how much time I have available. The most time-consuming part, as everyone knows who have ever moved house, is not the packing itself, it is deciding what to keep and what to let go.

Trying to make move less stressful, I read Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. According to a survey from a moving company, it takes 182 days for the average person to unpack every box after a move, and some boxes never get unpacked at all. When I started packing, I had several boxes in the attic that I have not unpacked since the last move. I was very tempted to send these straight to the dechetterie (waste disposal unit,) but I could not. So I started packing by clearing out the attic. It was a tedious process. Reading the book did help, without Marie’s guidelines, it would have taken twice as long and would have been much more painful.

My Personal Packing Strategy

My version of the sorting and packing process looks a bit like this:

Have I used this in the past two years? If yes, and I am sure I would continue to use it, I keep it.

If no, I ask myself if owning it makes me happy. If it does, for whatever reason, I pack it.

If I have more than one item, exactly the same, I try to determine why this was the case. I have two microwaves, two irons, two ironing boards etc. because my current house includes a self-catering apartment. I am moving to a house without self-catering accommodation, so I gave some of these items to friends and sold the rest online.

For some or other reason, I also had, for example, four hairdryers. I had kept all four, just in case, one day, my current hairdryer breaks. Handling this one was difficult. I decided to give the current one to the charity shop, keep the newest model, give one to a friend and sell the remaining one.

If I wasn’t sure if something still makes me happy or whether I would continue to use it, I ask myself if it was time to pass it on to someone else who might find owning it a pleasure, or just plain useful. If the answer was yes, it went to a friend (as did one of my horses) or the Emmaus (a charity shop.)

If no, I ask myself if it can be recycled. Recycling things make me feel virtuous, so a lot of things went off to the recycle bin, including an Audi that was no longer roadworthy.

How My Packing Strategy Benefits Others

So.  Who benefits from my updated packing strategy?

  • A few of my friends who now own my precious pre-loved and in many cases, still-loved possessions.
  • I got rid of at least 30% of our possessions so far, which means we have much less to move. The move will be less stressful, and my immediate family benefits significantly from my lowered stress levels.
  • One of my horses has found a new home with one of my friends, where he will be dearly loved, spoiled rotten and will live out the rest of his life in luxury.
  • The Emmaus Community benefited from my donations, which they will resell and so maintain their independent status.
  • The environment benefited from my attempts to recycle as many of our possessions that we no longer need. It is easier to part with stuff when you know it is going to be used to produce useful items and will not end in a landfill.
  • I did. Although I did not make much money selling things, but this did not matter, at least I made an effort. I also met some interesting people on and off-line.

I benefitted in several further unexpected ways:

Decluttering lifted a burden from my shoulders. I intended to get rid of our unwanted, no-longer-used and no-longer loved possessions for a long time. Moving forced me to stop procrastinating and to get to it. My motto these days is: Collect experiences, not possessions.

I make a point to hold everything I no longer wanted in my hands for a moment and to thank it for what it had bought to my life. This has been an empowering experience that I highly recommend. If you are familiar with my writing, you will know that gratitude and generosity are two of my favourite subjects. The sorting, sharing and packing process give me yet another opportunity to be grateful and generous. The short- and long-term benefits of this practice are extensive, as I explain in my book Embracing Change – in 10 minutes a day.

Finally, I recently read that being grateful is a potent anti-ageing activity. We are already more likely to pause and reflect on what we have to be thankful for as we grow older than we were in our 20’s and 30’s. In the video below, Dr Wendy Mendes of the University of California, San Francisco, discusses the anti-ageing effect of gratitude in more detail:

Knowing that I am benefiting from packing in these various ways, helps me to deal with the stress of moving house. On balance, I would say that the stress of packing is just about balanced by the benefits of packing. But only just.


Have you subscribed to my blog’s mailing list yet? If you are already a subscriber, thank you so much! If not, please do. My blog aims to assist you in making the most of yourself and in providing you with the tools to do so. You can subscribe by clicking here, and you will receive my 10 Steps to Instant Self-Confidence guide – straight from the horse’s mouth! as well as a copy of the Cope with Change Cheat sheet and Checklist.

How to Become a Proficient Liar

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I tell the same lie every day. I lie to make my life easier. I have told this lie so many times that I can now do so with absolute conviction. No one suspects that it is a lie, not even those closest to me.

Early Days

When I started telling this lie, I wasn’t very convincing. People didn’t believe me. They looked at me doubtfully. Some even asked, “Are you sure?” I looked them straight in the eye and firmly repeated the lie, this time without batting an eyelid. Some challenged me. I just laughed and said, “No way, you are imagining things.”

How to start

I finally got it down to a fine art. Initially, it is easier to lie to people who do not know you well, so if you want to learn how to lie successfully, start lying to these unsuspecting people. They are more likely to take whatever you say at face value.

Keep it simple

A good lie needs no embellishment. Resist, at all cost, the temptation to exaggerate or to embroider. Within days you will have forgotten the details, and you will get them wrong. People will get suspicious. You will be caught out, and the embarrassment will be intense. You will lose all credibility. In the beginning, that happened to me on occasion, with far-reaching consequences. Not anymore. Now my whole lie consists of three short words. Two, if I shorten the sentence with an apostrophe.

Persevere

It is more difficult to lie to people who know you, especially people who care about you. You will need to be persistent and unwavering. They will try to catch you out. They will keep on asking the same questions, over and over. If you persevere with your lie, even those closest to you will eventually give up. My nearest and dearest may not believe my lie, but they have stopped badgering me about it.

Smoke Screens and Mirrors

In any case, in my extensive experience, most people see and hear only what they want to see and hear. If your lie fits in with their expectations, they will not question it. They will believe it because they want to believe it. People believe my lie because they do not want to believe the truth.

Deflect and Distract

Also, an experienced liar knows that most people are only interested in their own peccadilloes. They are so focused on their problems that with a bit of planning, even the most blatant lie can go unnoticed. Tell your lie, and then distract or deflect them. Follow it up immediately by asking about something that is of great personal importance to your listener.

Spreading Lies

I suggest that you do everything you can to ensure that your lie is repeated by others as often as possible. A lie gains believability when it comes out of other people’s mouths. It is especially effective if you can get someone trustworthy to repeat your lie. It takes a bit of practice to get this right, and the first few times it will make you feel guilty, but it is one of the best ways to ensure that your lie survives out there in a world full of doubting Thomases.

Avoid Non-verbal Betrayal

Mindfully control your body language. Do not blush. Do not stammer. Do not fidget. Do not look away. Do not bring your hand to your face but do not put your hands in your pockets either. If it appears as if they don’t believe you, do not cringe.

Facilitating Lies

One thing that counts in favour of the not-yet-proficient liar is that most people, during a conversation, are not interested in your response. While you answer their question, they are already thinking about what they are going to say next. It is effortless to slip a carefully-crafted lie into this vacuum.

Rinse and Repeat

Remember also to repeat your lie often to yourself. It is said that pathological liars are so good at lying because they wholeheartedly believe their own lies. This, however, has not worked for me. Even though I have repeated my lie to myself for decades; I still cannot convince myself that it is true. Too much evidence to the contrary.

Still, it has had and still has its uses. So, when people ask me how I am, I tell them with total conviction:

“Honestly, I’m fine.”


Have you subscribed to my blog’s mailing list yet? If you are already a subscriber, thank you so much! If not, please do. My blog aims to assist you in making the most of yourself and in providing you with the tools to do so. You can subscribe by clicking here, and you will receive my 10 Steps to Instant Self-Confidence guide – straight from the horse’s mouth! as well as a copy of the Cope with Change Cheatsheet and Checklist.

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How to cope with a heatwave

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Stocksnap @ Pixabay

Thursday last week, the temperature soared to 44°C (111°F) in the shade.

I discovered that I have developed, unconsciously, an extremely effective strategy to cope with the sweltering heat.

No, it does not involve hosing down the horses and getting thoroughly soaked in the process. That only works for about 20 minutes.

Nor does it have anything to do with lying down flat on my back in the kitchen on 200-year old terracotta tiles, although it does provide relief for a slightly longer period.

You would think that here in the sun-blessed south of France we would by now have insulated our houses and installed airconditioning. We have not, because of reverse snobbism. We live in 200, 300, 400 and even 800-year old houses, that have been built to withstand exceptionally hot conditions and that have effectively done so for several centuries.

Not any more.

Whether it has anything to do with global warming, I do not know. All I know is that during the canicule (heatwave,) I am incapacitated from noon each day until at least 9 o’clock each night.

Without noticing and without giving it much thought, I have devised a surprisingly efficient coping strategy. I will share it here with you so that you can benefit too, whether you are trying to deal with the suffocating heat of the summer in the northern hemisphere or the mind-numbing cold of winter in the south.

So what do I do?

I read.

Admittedly, escaping stressful situations by losing myself in a good book has long been a favourite coping strategy of mine as I am sure it is for many of you.

To cope with the heat I read, but not just any old book. I usually read murder mysteries.

In this heat, I read murder mysteries set in Scandinavia: Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Greenland and Denmark. Preferably somewhere where all the action happens in subzero temperatures with elaborate descriptions of ice-covered landscapes.

My favourite Nordic Noir authors:

Jo Nesbo – I can devour his books about Harry Hole, from Oslo, Norway, a “driven detective with unorthodox methods” at any time, but never with more relish that when the temperature outside reaches the upper 30’s and low 40’s.

Camilla Lacksberg – Her best-selling books are set in Fjallbacka, in Sweden, where a well-characterised married couple, Patrik Hedstrom and Erica Falck, work together to solve well-constructed crimes. My favourite is the first one, the Ice Princess, but any of her books are as effective as airconditioning, especially those featuring frozen lakes and frostbite.

Ragnar Johanson – I have just started reading his books about a young detective called Ari Thor. Johanson’s Dark Iceland series unfold in and around Siglufjörður, in the north of Iceland. I have read Snowblind and Blackout this summer, mostly at night, when it was too hot to sleep. I was all set to read the rest of the series when I got distracted by another excellent author of Scandinavian Noir:

Viveca Sten – 7 books in the series so far and I have read the first 6 in less than 2 weeks. I am currently reading the 7th book, In the Shadow of Power. Most of her stories happen on Sandhamn, an island off the Swedish coast, 50km east of Stockholm. Her temperature-regulating descriptions made me curious about the island, so I googled “Sandhamn in the winter” and found several wonderfully cooling pictures of a snow-covered island with huge ice blocks floating in the sea around it. I binge-read these books not only because of the heat, but also to find out what happens to the two central characters, Thomas Andersson, a divorced detective inspector whose daughter died of SIDS and Nora Linde, a lawyer struggling to balance career and motherhood.

Stieg Larsson – I have read his three books, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, gripped by a reading frenzy in 2010 or 2011. I have reread them again this summer, purely because they are so outstandingly good, good enough to make you forget the temperature outside (as well as every other mediocre detail of everyday life, such as what day of the week it is or when you have last had something to eat.)

Lars Kepler – hailed as the next Stieg Larsson – is actually the pen name for husband/wife duo Alexander and Alexandra Ahndoril. Their books differ in various ways from Larsson’s books, although they do have one thing in common, especially my all-time favourite The Hypnotist, which has been likened by reviewers to Silence of the Lambs: they make you forget about everything else that is going on around you.

Henning Mankell – Kurt Wallander works for the Ystad police department, 50 km south-east of the city of Malmö, in the southern province of Skåne in Sweden. He drinks too much, exercises too little, eats mainly junk food and loves opera. He manages to solve intricate crimes because he has a remarkable ability to mentally process crime scenes. His daughter, Linda Wallander, also becomes a policewoman during the series. My favourite of his books is The Dogs of Riga – partly set in the Baltic state of Latvia.

Torquil MacLeod  – Next, I am going to read Meet me in Malmö: the first Inspector Anita Sundström mystery and it that is any good, I’ll read the rest of the series.

So if you are struggling in extreme temperatures, I unreservedly recommend reading books set in temperatures opposite to those you are trying to escape from and enriching the experience with visual imagery by doing a Google search of the setting.

To help cope confidently with stressful situations like heatwaves, I have created a “Coping with Change Checklist and Cheatsheet” and a “10 Steps to Instant Self-Confidence” Guide that I share with the subscribers to my mailing list. Claim your copies here.

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I spend many, many hours every week researching, writing, editing and distributing my articles, and in the process, I drink many, many cups of coffee. If you were empowered, educated, enlightened or entertained by this article, please buy me a cup of coffee! (you choose how much you want to donate) and help me transform more people’s lives. After all, giving is not just about making a donation, it is about making a difference.

Two Surprisingly Easy Ways To Manage Stress

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For those stressful days when you cannot think of anything that could possibly make you feel grateful

I have recently applied to become a writer for a Medium publication called A Few Words. The publication is called A Few Words because each post is limited to 500 words or less. Most of my posts are more than a 1000 words long, sometimes more than 2000. Below you’ll find my first attempt – it is currently 568 words – I shall have to make it shorter before I submit it for publication.

Some days, it is more challenging to feel grateful than others. Some stressful days, trying to find something to be thankful for seems like an exercise in futility. At times like this, I do one of two exercises.

5-minutes Mindfulness Gratitude Exercise

You can do this exercise anywhere and at any time. All you have to do is to take 5 minutes out of your busy day, look up from whatever you are doing and notice what you can see, hear, feel, smell and taste in your immediate vicinity that makes you feel grateful:

  • My laptop, my connection with the world
  • My favourite coffee mug
  • The alarm clock that my cousin gave me
  • The little antique table that I got for a song
  • The great book I am reading at the moment
  • The perfume of a bunch of my roses
  • My grandfather’s paintings on the wall
  • My mother and grandmother’s Bible
  • The gorgeous skirt that my friend shortened for me
  • The first rays of sunrise falling into the room
  • A cat purring in my lap
  • The taste of a home-made rusk dipped in coffee
  • The quietness of the early morning

The five minutes fly past and soon I start to feel less stressed. I also remember that I have to send a text to my friend who adjusted my skirt to thank her, and that I should let another friend know how much I am enjoying the book she lent me, and that I wanted to bake another batch of rusks and share them with someone I know who loves them as much a I do…

Small Suff Gratitude List

The other exercise I sometimes do, when I run out of obvious things to be grateful for was inspired by the “Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff”- concept. I call it my “Small Stuff Gratitude List.”

Once again, I take five minutes out and I try to focus on the small things that I am grateful for.  Not the rusk that I am eating, but the sunflower seeds in the rusk, that took me ages to find. Not the glorious sunrise, but the particular salmon pink colour that I love and that is part of every sunrise. Not the apparent beauty of my horse, but the adorable way the hair curls in whorls on her forehead.

The idea is to notice and list the small stuff, the fine detail, the little things, sounds, events and actions that we miss when we are trying to cope with a stressful situation:

  • The first sip of coffee of the day
  • An unexpected “thank you”
  • The refrain of a song from my childhood
  • A friend’s voice on the phone
  • A well-crafted sentence in an article I read
  • A recently-emptied dustbin
  • My cats devouring their breakfast with relish
  • Home-made cherry jam
  • Looking forward to an upcoming holiday
  • The dawn chorus
  • A smile in someone I care about‘s eyes
  • A sigh of contentment

Taking a few moments to do one of these exercises, at the beginning or the end or at any time during the day not only makes me happier, but it also makes me feel calmer. Both exercises are great stress-dissolvers. Both activities very effectively remind me of what is really important in life.

Not sure how I can shorten it, what I should leave in or cut out. Any ideas? Any insights?

To help you handle stress, I have created a “Coping with Change Checklist and Cheatsheet” and a “10 Steps to Instant Self-Confidence” Guide that I share with the subscribers to my mailing list. Claim your copies here.

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I spend many, many hours every week researching, writing, editing and distributing my articles, and in the process, I drink many, many cups of coffee. If you were empowered, educated, enlightened or entertained by this article, please buy me a cup of coffee! (you choose how much you want to donate) and help me transform more people’s lives. After all, giving is not just about making a donation, it is about making a difference.