Stress-Proof Your Work Life
By Maud Purcell, LCSW, CEAP
drkoop.com Health Correspondent
In arrangement with
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
*Your concentration is non-existent.
*You are constantly ready for a nap.
*You have become grouchy and
*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
*You get into skirmishes with
*Even the fun stuff isn’t appealing
*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
**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
**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
**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
year, thousands of children across the United States count the days
until the end of school with excitement, looking forward to going to
parents admit they are almost as eager as their children for this
annual rite of summer.
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.
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
you send your child to summer camp this year?
Closely at Your Child
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."
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.
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."
includes preparing children for the very common experience of feeling
Me Home, Oh Mudda, Fadda
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
Practice Handling Homesickness Helps
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.
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."
Than a Vacation
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
adds these additional recommendations:
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.
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
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
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.
information about summer camp experiences and determining whether your
child is ready this year, consult the following resources:
National Camp Association, 1-800-966-2267,