August 2001

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Vol. I Number 2

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Stress-Proof Your Work Life

By Maud Purcell, LCSW, CEAP

drkoop.com Health Correspondent

In arrangement with www.drkoop.com

 

I could rattle off all the usual suspects—exercise, sleep, nutrition, meditation, massage and yoga. But you’ve heard all that before, haven’t you? And you’ve tried to implement these stress reducers, with only limited success. Unfortunately, for reasons that are beyond your control, you can’t always fit these stress antidotes into your workday—and then what?

 

Don’t panic. There is one thing that is almost always within your control: What happens between your ears! What and how you think on the job has a major impact on your stress level. And you can choose the way you think about events, and what you decide to do about them.

 

But first let’s see if these signs of work stress apply to you:

 

*You are often sniffling, coughing or aching.

*Your concentration is non-existent.

*You are constantly ready for a nap.

*You have become grouchy and short-tempered.

*You are less efficient on the job.

*Getting out of bed for work feels like having a root canal.

*Your sense of humor has evaporated.

*Your attitude toward work is “who cares?”

*You get into skirmishes with co-workers.

*Even the fun stuff isn’t appealing anymore.

*Be honest—no one’s looking over your shoulder—did you check all 10 signs of work stress? If so, you aren’t alone. And even if only two of these signs seem to fit, you can feel better on the job. Here’s how:

 

**Accept that the world is not fair—There will be times when your hard work goes unnoticed, when someone is chosen over you for an interesting assignment, or when you alone are required to put in overtime. Rather than getting mentally worked up about these situations, accept that they are just part of the deal. It isn’t worth getting upset over, and complaining that things aren’t fair will only make you look like a whiner. Don’t forget that the unfairness of life may soon work in your favor!

 

**You won’t turn into a pumpkin if you make a mistake—Errors on the job are certainly embarrassing and frustrating. However they rarely lead to anything more than a reprimand. Mistakes often provide important lessons, and they make us more accepting of others’ imperfections.

 

**Resist the need to be right—Insisting on being right is highly stress inducing. First of all, there is often more than one right answer. Secondly, unless you own the company, this is not your “ball game.” If you disagree strongly enough with your boss or co-workers, maybe you should join another ball team!

 

**Decide to learn something new from each person and situation—You can always learn new things, or get a fresh outlook. Leaving your mind open to this possibility turns potentially frustrating situations into great learning experiences.

 

**Empower others on the job—When someone comes to you for help, instead of jumping in and fixing it yourself, empower that person to come up with their own solutions. This will boost their confidence and lighten your load!

 

**Be solution focused—Determine what problems can be realistically fixed, and fix them. Let go of impossible goals—they are a waste of time and energy.

At first these changes will feel uncomfortable, and you may find your ego or emotions resisting them. If you stick with it, however, you will see how much better you feel. Pretty soon these new patterns will become habit, and work will be a much happier, healthier place. And you may actually find yourself whistling while you work!

 

 

This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease without consulting with a qualified healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your condition.

 


Summer Camp and Homesickness

By Pat VanDyke
drkoop.com Health Correspondent
In arrangement with www.drkoop.com

Every year, thousands of children across the United States count the days until the end of school with excitement, looking forward to going to camp.

Some parents admit they are almost as eager as their children for this annual rite of summer.

"Jarrell loves camp," says his mother, explaining why her 11-year old son is pacing up and down the steaming asphalt of the parking lot, obviously anxious for the camp bus to arrive. "He starts talking about it in February, and by June he's already packed and ready to go. This will be his fourth year at Camp Winnetakawa. Sometimes I think his two weeks at camp each summer have a greater influence on him than all nine months of school. Of course, I enjoy having time to myself as well. We both look forward to his two weeks away."

Jarrell's experience isn't unique, but not all children are as gung-ho about camp, and not all parents see its value. In fact, many parents wonder if the experience isn't overrated -- a leftover tradition from a period in the nation's history when the great outdoors was idealized and exposure to "fresh air" was touted as the solution to urban children's every ill.

Although parents must answer this thorny question for themselves, many experts agree that even in today's increasingly high technology world, a summer camp experience can be one good way to prepare a child for the demands and responsibilities of adulthood that lie ahead -- as well as provide harried parents a week or two of reduced childcare responsibility.

Should you send your child to summer camp this year?

Look Closely at Your Child

As Lori Stark, Ph.D., director of psychology at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center in Ohio, notes, "Overnight camps of one week or several weeks can build children's self-confidence, independence and social ability, while involving them in activities they might never experience in their own neighborhoods -- but before you start looking at camps, it's best to look closely at your children."

First, make sure your children want to go away to camp, most psychologists counsel. Camp needs to be something they want to do, not just something you want them to participate in.

"Also consider whether your child willingly asks for help from adults, plays well with new acquaintances, and easily stays overnight at friends' or grandparents' houses," Stark adds. "Even if the child is willing or even eager to attend camp, parents can still do a great deal to help prepare them for the experience and get the most out of it."

This includes preparing children for the very common experience of feeling homesick.

Take Me Home, Oh Mudda, Fadda

Although the song was popular almost two decades ago, many adults still consider the refrain of Alan Sherman's Camp Granada as the quintessential description of a summer camp experience -- particularly in terms of a child's desire to be rescued from camp by parents because of homesickness.

To be sure, homesickness remains a common occurrence -- particularly among first-time campers at sleep-away camps -- but the general consensus among child development professionals is that parents can play a huge role in helping their children anticipate, cope with and successfully overcome these feelings so they derive the most benefit from their brief time away.

In the mid-1990s, Christopher Thurber, Ph.D. and John R. Weisz, Ph.D., psychologists at the University of California, Los Angeles, studied homesickness in children attending their first summer camp. The two child development professionals talked to more than 1,000 children, eight to 16 years old, about their preferred methods for coping with feeling homesick while attending a two-week camp. They also asked the children how much control they believed they had over their feelings and what made them feel better. The study was published in the May 1997 issue of Developmental Psychology.

While the psychologists agreed that homesickness is often as much a part of camp as campfires, swimming lessons and bug bites, they also found that not all children are homesick, and that parents really can lessen the likelihood that the homesickness their child experiences spoils the camp experience.

Camp Promotes Coping

According to Thurber and Weisz, younger children experienced more homesickness than older children, which the psychologists believed was related to the older children having more experience with sleeping away from home and more practice coping with homesick feelings. Thurber and Weisz believe that the fact that the older campers were less homesick points to the likelihood that camp experiences help children learn and improve "away from home" living skills -- a vital life lesson.

The young campers who shared their gloomy and anxious feelings with the UCLA psychologists said that they best dealt with the separation by: doing something fun to take their minds off of their homesickness, thinking positively, consciously changing their feelings to focus on being happy rather than sad, and reframing how they thought about how long they were going to be away from home. The researchers also found that girls at camp sought support from their friends and counselors more often than boys when dealing with homesickness.  Boys tended to have similar feelings, but were less willing to share them with others.

Practice Handling Homesickness Helps

Thurber and Weisz recommend helping children understand that feeling homesick is a natural reaction, and that physical activity and making new friends can help distract them from the sad and nervous emotions that are part of being away from home. The two also suggest that before children go to overnight camps, they should practice shorter separations to learn how to cope with these emotions.

"Parents can help their children understand which aspects of the separation they can control -- like letter writing and participation in activities," said Thurber, "and which aspects they cannot control -- like the duration of the separation and the camp routines. The least homesick children are those who change what they can about the separation and adjust to what they can't. And that takes practice."

More Than a Vacation

"Summer camp is more than a vacation for children," explains Bruce Muchnick, Ed.D., a licensed psychologist who works extensively with day and resident camps and consults with American Camp Association. He provides the following recommendations for parents considering the first overnight camp experience for their offspring this summer:

Have realistic expectations. Camp, like the rest of life, has high points and low points, Muchnick points out. Not every moment at camp will be filled with wonder and excitement. Help your child have a reasonable and realistic view of what's ahead. Discuss both the ups and down your child may experience. Your child shouldn't feel pressured to succeed at camp; the main purposes are to relax and have fun.

Think of it as an opportunity for you and your child to practice "letting go." Camp not only allows children to experience a world bigger than their usual one; it also affords parents and children a chance to develop separate interests independent of one another. At camp, children often develop a greater sense of autonomy and sense of self while making new friends, developing new social skills, learning about teamwork and solving new problems. The time also allows parents an opportunity to take care of their own needs, so that they feel refreshed and ready to resume parenting responsibilities when the children return home.

Prepare for camp together. Decisions about camp -- such as which camp to attend and what to take -- should be a joint venture that reflects a child's level of maturity. When a child feels a part of the decision-making process, the chances of camp being a positive experience are heightened.

Talk about concerns. As the first day of camp nears, some children experience uneasiness about the separation from home. Encourage your child to talk about these feelings, rather than acting on what you think the child's feelings may be. Communicate confidence in your child's ability to handle being away from home to survive even a bad bout of homesickness.

Stark agrees that talking about a child's concerns in advance is often key to a good camp experience. Whether the issue is a child's fear of undressing in front of others, bedwetting, fear of the dark or fear of homesickness, it's best to get it out in the open and help the child make a plan to overcome it.

For example, if the child is worried about being homesick, point out the things that the child can do to feel better -- like writing a letter, talking to a friend or counselor, or calling home, if the camp permits it.

Stark adds these additional recommendations:

Envision the camp. Visit the camp in advance with the child, if it's close enough. If not, show the child pictures and a camp brochure, or watch the camp video and talk about what it will probably be like. "The more information you can find and share, the better your children will know what to expect," Stark says.

Use the buddy system. Find out from the camp if any other children from your area are going to camp, and have your child meet them before heading off. While sending children off without you can be an opportunity for personal growth, it's far easier for them if they go with one or more familiar people.

Write often. If your child is gone for several weeks, write letters or send cards several times a week. In fact, you may want to write before your child leaves, so there's a letter waiting when he or she arrives at camp.

Sometimes, it can be helpful to leave fun notes in the pockets of a child's clothes, too. But don't be too quick to reach for the telephone and call, Stark cautions. Your child might be adjusting perfectly well and not missing you at all, but then be reminded of home and become homesick after hearing your voice -- especially if you are anxious about how he or she is adjusting.

For more information about summer camp experiences and determining whether your child is ready this year, consult the following resources:

The National Camp Association, 1-800-966-2267, www.summercamp.org