Archive for May 2014

Six Steps to Take When You Feel Overwhelmed

The last week engaged my wife and I in quite an adventure. She had tickets to go to her childhood home and assist her parents who were having some medical issue. The day before her departure, she became violently ill and required emergency surgery. Thankfully, everything came out well and her recovery progresses well as expected.

The day after her surgery, I was scheduled for a spinal cord stimulator (SCS) trial to see if the device would reduce or eliminate back pain I’ve experienced for more than fifteen years. Both of us decided since she was recovering well, I should go ahead with the trial. So we enlisted my daughter to play taxi cab for me, and transport me to and from my outpatient surgery to implant the device for the trial.

All went well. . .I became a believer in the SCS the first day. Then I remembered I had promised to keep my grandkids for three days while my daughter participated in a conference in town. He husband travels often in his job and this week, of course, he traveled. She couldn’t opt out of the conference since she was one of the keynote speakers on the agenda. So. . . here comes a real test of my resilience, coping skills, and stress reduction techniques.

A lot goes on in our life every day. Some good, some bad, but it happens whether we want it to or not. Sometimes the events come because of our choices, sometimes they come because life happens. We can get through them, though, if we follow a six simple steps.

overwhelmed, stress, relief


1. Take things one at a time. Too often we look at the whole of what we face and get overwhelmed. All of the events that faced Carole and me last week looked impossible with rearranging travel, scheduling surgery, my SCS trial, keeping promises, taking care of my wife post-surgery, etc. How could I do it all not knowing whether this device with wires poking out of back would even work or not? What if it didn’t? How would we make it? So many questions! The answer is focus on things one at a time. The emergent issue was my wife’s surgery. This was life or death, had to get done, everything else could wait or be cancelled. I kept my calendar with me to make sure I could keep up with the next event and changed her travel plans while she was in pre-op. Done! Next issue. By looking at events one at a time, and putting a blinder up for the rest of them until the first one is under control, we can keep ourselves from being overwhelmed. My daughter got ready with a stand-by babysitter if I was unable to care for her children, but the SCS seemed to work well and would be a good test of it’s capabilities chasing three kids under the age of six, so I kept my promise. One event at a time, with contingencies set for the just in case issues.

2. Take a few deep breaths before getting lost in an emotional pit. We’ve heard the grand advice about counting to ten before talking when we are angry or upset. The same advice holds true when we find ourselves in what seems to be an overwhelming situation. Take a few deep breaths. Calm yourself. Understand this is not the end of the world and probably not as bad as it looks at first. Solutions are available and people are around to help. So before you crumble into a million pieces, close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and relax as much as you can.

3. Take inventory of issues. As in my story this last week, stop and make a list of everything going on. I keep a pretty detailed calendar to track events in my life. It’s a habit of mine from the early 1980’s because we never get time back. It just disappears and we only get to use the minutes we have once. So I’ve tracked appointments, requirements, events, to-do lists on a single calendar for over 30 years now. So when my wife became ill, it was easy for me to see what else would move to take care of her needs. It could see what could slide and what could not. I could see what was important and what was not. I could make immediate phone calls and cancel things that would interfere with focusing my attention on her.

4. Take inventory of assets. As I looked at the issues I faced last week, I also began to take inventory of the people around me I could call on to help. With smartphones, it’s easier to categorize and tag people into those special places. I can’t say I’ve done as good a job in my contacts as I should. With some 4,300 contacts, I have a lot of work to do to catch up on tagging and categorizing like I’d like to, but I’m in the process based on some work I’ve done with this program. However, if you’ve identified those with special skills, close friends, confidants, locations, etc., it’s not a hard process to find people quickly when you need some help.

stress, relief5. Make a preliminary action plan to resolve the issues as you see them. This step gets you out of the hair-on-fire mode and lets you see solutions. You may not know how to solve everything that’s facing you, but you probably know the next thing you can do in the situation. It might be as simple as making a call to a friend or 911 or a neighbor. But in most situations, you probably know the next step and probably the next several steps you should take in most situations. Stop and think about those steps. If you have a few extra minutes, you might even write them down so you don’t forget them. Your calendar is a great place to put those next steps.

6. Do something! This final step is probably the most important. Often when faced with what seems like overwhelming events, people freeze and do nothing adding to the stress, emotion, frustration, depression, etc. Just do something. It might be the wrong thing to do, but it will get you moving and wrong things can usually be corrected without much trouble. It’s much easier to turn a moving object than a stationery one. So just take that first step and get moving.

Do Americans suffer more than other people?

Do Americans suffer pain more than others?

My daughter-in-law posed an interesting question the other day. “Why do Americans have such a lower threshold of pain than other countries?” We might at first argue the point and say the question doesn’t make sense. Americans are like anyone else and experience pain the same way any other human experiences pain.

While the statement appears true, we all have the same sensory nerves and brain matter that tells us when have pain. We all experience heat, cold, the sensation of sharp, dull, pressure. Yet, Americans take more pain medication than the rest of the world combined despite the fact we comprise only 5% of the world’s population. Does that mean we sense pain differently? Does it mean we are candies and whine and whimper too much? Does it mean we just have easier access to something that relieves us of pain and everyone else would do the same if they had equal access?

Does anyone know?

pain, medication, suffer, americans

It is a good question my daughter-in-law posed. I’m not sure anyone has the right answer. Maybe it’s all of the above. Certain people in Europe can obtain medicines equal in strength to the medications we use, yet they don’t for some reason. Many tribes and primitive people have opiates readily available to them in raw form that they use as ceremonial drugs to bring them to ritual ecstasy. But they don’t take them to relieve pain.

Why do we go to the medicine cabinet when we have a headache or a muscle ache or joint pain or any other ache or pain that causes us discomfort? Why do we reach for the remedy in a plastic bottle with a child-proof cap while the rest of the world just suffers through the ailment? What would it take to toughen us up? Should we toughen up?

Pain is a good thing!

Pain is sometimes a good thing. Ask a leper and they will tell you how good pain is, because they have lost all sense of pain. Consequently, a leper will lose toes, finger, ears, nose, and other body parts to injury and subsequent infection because he never feels the pain associated with the injury. Pain is our friend many times. So why do we wish it away in America? Why so intolerant?

Perhaps we will never know. Perhaps our intolerance for pain in this country is one of those unfathomable mysteries that will only be answered at the end of time when we can look back over all of history with all other people for eternity and compare notes with each other. Until then, we can only ask the question. If you have an answer, let me know. My daughter-in-law and I are curious.

How much sleep do you need?

Eat right, move every joint every day, sleep enough

In two previous posts, I’ve talked about eating right and moving every joint as necessary for the maintenance of good health. Today, the topic covers a third component of maintaining good health that once again, most Americans fail to do. We need to sleep enough. Not too little and not too much, but enough.

How sleep is enough for you? I can’t tell you. But I know very few people who can function well on four or five hours of sleep a night. Neither do I know very many people who function well on twelve hours of sleep every night. The average adult needs seven to nine hours of sleep as you view the most recent research on the subject.

How much sleep do you need?

So how do you figure out how much sleep you need? I would like to tell you there is a great formula that tells you the magic number, but there’s not. It’s a little bit of trial and error. I’ve found the best way most people discover their best sleep is to try the same number of hours a week at a time and keep a diary of how you function with that number of hours.

sleep, healthA few rules to remember as you go through the process, however. Go to bed at the same time every night. That doesn’t mean 10:00 every night except Friday and Saturday when you stay up until 2:00am. The problem most of us get into with our sleep comes from our failure to follow a routine. When our body knows we will go to bed and get up at about the same time every day, it appreciates it. An occasional late nighter will not kill your pattern, but continuously changing your wake up and bed time will.

As you add or subtract time during your experiment, add or subtract not more than thirty minutes at a time. Then stick with that sleep cycle until you’ve tried it for at least a week. It will take you a few weeks, maybe even a few months to figure out your peak number of hours to sleep, but when you consider you’re setting yourself up to function well for a lifetime, it’s well worth the investment.

Quality is as important as quantity

Equally important, though, is not only the duration of our sleep, but the quality of our sleep. We manage today to go to bed with the television blaring, or earbuds plugged in playing the latest hits, or some other light and noise interference that keeps our bodies from realizing it’s time to shut down and go to sleep. Our bodies build a circadian rhythm based on light and noise levels around us. When we never shut out those two things, we confuse the brain and never give it a chance to shut down and replenish our system.

When you sleep, turn everything off. Don’t leave lights on. Don’t listen to the radio. Don’t watch the television. Don’t have distractions when you go sleep. Only two things happen in bed, one of them is sleep. The other we won’t talk about here. Do all those other things somewhere else and concentrate on sleeping when you go to bed.

Unfortunately, some must work night shifts and must suffer sleeping during the day. Now matter how long one tries to get used to it, it’s never quite the same as sleeping at night. Unless, of course, you practice sleeping at night as describe above with television, radio, flashing lights, and all the other sleep disrupters around you. If you must sleep during the day, I would advise getting the room as dark as possible with room darkening shades or blinds, using an eye mask, and creating white noise to shut out the distractions around you.

What a difference sleep makes!

When you find you’re peak sleep time (for most adults between seven and nine hours), you’ll probably wake up without an alarm clock at that same time every day. You’ll probably have little trouble going to sleep if the follow the rules above. You’ll probably feel better and function better than you have in a long time. Sleep allows your body to recover from the stress and strain of the day. It’s how your body heals from the minor events of the day. You need it!

So there you have it. Three simple things you can do for better health that don’t cost anything, but can make dramatic improvements in your daily health. Eat right, move every joint every day, and sleep enough. Sounds simple doesn’t it. So why do so many Americans do so poorly in all three areas? Let’s start a new fad and just do these three things well to begin a growing trend toward a healthier America.