Adapting Stress Management to Your Natural Bent

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Have you ever wished that disability-accommodation laws provided better for people with emotional and autism disorders that make frustration (even) harder to bear? Wouldn’t it be nice to have special checkout lines that guaranteed exemption from long waits, special customer service connections that fixed every glitch within five minutes, special cars that flew over blocked traffic?

Okay, I’m being a dreamer, and perhaps belittling the role of hardship in nurturing Christian growth. But some of us do have lower stress-endurance levels than average, and while you don’t have the right to always get your own way because of that, neither should you berate yourself for not being able to take the same level of stress as the person in the next apartment/cubicle/pew.

If we believe in God’s grace to accept us despite our weaknesses, we should also accept ourselves and work with those weaknesses, not against them. Part of Christian responsibility is being good to ourselves so we’ll be in good condition to do good works.

If you want to minimize your stress to ensure maximum personal effectiveness, plan your day/week/career/long-term goals with the following questions in mind:

  • Have I had any meltdowns or near-meltdowns in the past six months? If so, consider the circumstances that led to the meltdown (not just the incident that set you off, but whether you were already overstimulated or, conversely, bored), and plan on avoiding those circumstances in the future. This may mean shortening your to-do list, leaving more margin between appointments, asking for work that’s more creative/stimulating, or staying out of gripe sessions and associating with cheerful people. Or it may mean modifying your own expectations: no improvement or adjustment will ever satisfy you if you cling to “I have to be perfect” or “everything has to go right” attitudes.
  • Am I an introvert or an extrovert? If an introvert, put at least two hours of “alone time” in your daily schedule–and try not to work in customer service. If you’re an extrovert, reenergize yourself daily through work and leisure activities that involve lots of stimulation and human contact.
  • Do I prefer working by the task or by the hour? Arrange your schedule to accommodate these tendencies. Even if you’re a by-the-task type working a fixed-hours job, you can take your breaks at natural stopping points. And few employers object to your staying fifteen minutes past quitting time to finish up a task!
  • Would I describe my temperament as melancholy, easygoing, get-things-done, or bright-and-sunny? If you have a low-key temperament, keep your tasks list small and slow–you’ll make up for a lack of quantity with an increase in quality. If you’re the driven, high-energy type, stimulate yourself with a long, challenging to-do list. Whatever your temperament, work with it instead of trying to force yourself into a mold that suits someone else (and feeling guilty when you just don’t fit). And never, ever nag a “weaker brother,” or anyone with a different temperament, to become more like you–that only leaves two people stressed, angry, and frustrated.

Finally, feel free to pick, choose, and test stress-management tips from the experts according to what appeals to you. Not everyone is made for aerobic exercise and yoga, hot baths and social activities, protein-rich meals and herbal tea. Above all else, don’t copy anyone else’s approach just because that “someone else” seems to have it all together: God created you as a unique individual with unique responses, and it will only increase your frustration if you expect any guarantee of becoming “just like” anyone else. Besides, most people have stress issues you can’t see. That acquaintance who “has it all together” may be falling apart inside–and perhaps needs support you can deliver once you calm down and rediscover your effectiveness.

COMING SOON! My new e-book, 100 Ways to Live as an Optimist in a Pessimistic World, will be released this spring. Join the 100 Ways email list for up-to-date news, special offers, and teaser optimism tips!

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How Tough Should “Tough Love” Be?

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As noted last week, I have mild autism (Asperger’s syndrome)–and it’s caused more than a few financial and vocational problems. Not to dwell on the past or blame anyone for anything, but sometimes I wish my family and friends had been less generous in automatically saying “Yes” to requests for financial help. We “Aspies” aren’t lazy, but we’re particularly averse to stepping outside familiar comfort zones–including current living situations, leisure hours, spending habits, and work/work-seeking habits (or lack thereof). A few “earn your own money” kicks in the pants might have done me some good.

Special needs aside, many parents fret over the question, “What can I do about my adult child who’s still living under my roof letting me do his cleaning and cooking? What’s the alternative–tossing my kid out on the street to starve?”

The standard answer is, You’ll have to risk the “tough love” approach–withdrawing all support and letting him take the consequences–or be stuck in this situation forever. But the best approach doesn’t necessarily follow a script. Remember the prodigal son? His father let him experience the consequences of irresponsibility–but only after giving him everything he initially demanded. And, when the son came back begging for help meeting his basic needs, the father gave him more than he asked, without a word of “Promise me you’ll never do that again.”

Whether it’s your adult child with one foot still in dependence, your friend who “needs to talk” for hours, or your spouse battling alcoholism–how can you find the line between genuinely helping them and simply enabling them to continue in irresponsibility?

Does This Person Have Legitimate Special Needs?

These include any diagnosable physical or mental disability, including chemical addiction. It’s best if you go to therapy with your loved one: you’ll be too emotionally involved to judge how much responsibility the other party can and should handle. Under a counselor’s guidance, reach a solid agreement on what will be expected on both sides. Then hold firm to your side of the agreement (which may require both saying painful “no’s” and inconveniencing yourself for legitimate needs).

Are They Even Aware of What They’re Doing?

If someone has no special needs confirmed by an objective third party, but is simply in the habit of asking for “help” the moment things get challenging, sometimes all that’s needed is a frank person-to-person discussion. If you genuinely try to understand your loved one’s concerns, and if you encourage them to explore what’s needed to achieve their real dreams, you may be able to reach an effective agreement on new boundaries and mutual accountability. And your relationship will be stronger for it.

Are They Unwilling to Learn Any Way But the Hard Way?

If, after giving your loved one every chance to share their point of view, they refuse to consider any option except “I tell you what I need and you give it to me” (or if they agree to boundaries which they then repeatedly violate), then it’s time to get tough with your love. Tell them clearly what you won’t do anymore: no more cash on demand, no more taking calls between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m. Then, hold firm throughout the inevitable period of “just this once” and “I thought you cared” pleading.

You’ll probably need help yourself to ride out this transition, especially if your loved one is heading into serious trouble. Parents, in particular, feel morally bound to save their “baby,” even if “baby” is fifty-five years old and milking them dry to support illegal activities. Enlist support and prayers from trusted friends. Get qualified counseling. Confirm, as often as necessary, that you are doing the right thing.

Above all else (this applies however extreme or manageable your situation), commit your loved one to God and trust Him to work it all out for good. He’s the only One Who can handle any situation and Who loves everyone in perfect wisdom.

  • A blog for naturally melancholy Christians tired of being told to "snap out of it"; for Christians who struggle with mental-health issues and long for assurance God delights in them nonetheless; and for naturally optimistic Christians who want to understand their "gloomy" loved ones.

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  • About Me

    I am the go-to writer for people with tough stress issues and special emotional needs—and for those who love them, organizations that serve them, and anyone who just wants to better understand the world of mental/emotional struggles. Or who just wants to pick up some good stress-management tips! Visit my main website at www.PositiveContentFactory.com.

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    Bible quotes used in this blog are from the New Living Translation or the New International Version (1984). See http://www.biblegateway.com/ for copyright details.
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