Baggage Check Live: From the travel plaza of Breezewood, Pa.

Apr 09, 2019

Licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Andrea Bonior was online to take your comments about her advice column, Baggage Check, and any other questions you might have. These comments may appear in an upcoming column running in Express and online.

Want to read more? Read Baggage Check columns.

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Hi, all!

It is great to see you here in the queue. Believe it or not, I am in the travel plaza of Breezewood, Pennsylvania, so cross another state off the list of where this chat has been based! (Guessing you East Coasters have passed through here yourself at some point.) How is your week going?

In this week's Baggage, we have a LW who is noticing a pattern with petering out (or even burning out) at the same point a couple of years in to each job. Have you been there? And in L2, we've got someone who inadvertently stepped on a coworker's toes when she was just trying to help. And now things are.... weird.

By the way, Ben's illustration this week? On a whole different level. Wow!

On another note-- a question for you. I have been toying with the idea of having a guest on every once in a while, and Rachel is up for it. I don't want anything that will disrupt the community vibe of this chat, nor would I foresee something particularly regular, but what would you think of me bringing someone on with a particularly interesting perspective every once in a while? Maybe for the last half hour of the chat every month or two?

Any names come to mind?

Okay, let's get started. Whaddaya got?

Seems like maybe your coworker actually just likes to complain, rather than wanting a solution to a problem. Your problem is that you saw it as a problem to solve. You cannot fix this, just keep the coworker at arms length and learn a lesson: in the future if someone complains about something, before jumping in with a helpful solution, say ‘Wow that sounds really [insert appropriate adjective here]. What are you thinking of doing about it? Only if the response is something along the lines of “I don’t know what I can do.” Can you say “would you like any suggestions?” Otherwise just stick to positive noises.

Thanks. I agree, and it is disheartening-- sounds like LW really had the tools and resources and energy to proactively help-- but it was wasted on the coworker.

I have a 5-and-a-half year old daughter I'm somewhat worried about. She's very smart, started Kindergarten early and excels there, she's witty, physically adventurous, but from even when she was quite young she takes every criticism or correction and internalizes it no matter how gently it is offered. If, say, we are laying together and she's being squirmy and I gently ask her to be careful of kicking me she freezes up and moves away from me completely saying she will never cuddle with me again because I hate her. Although I consider what she says to be overly dramatic I can also see that it really does effect her self esteem. We were talking at bedtime tonight and I told her that it sometimes seems to me that she doesn't like herself. She admitted it was true and told me she does feel that way sometimes using telling a joke during lunchtime at school but no one laughing as an example of a time she feels self hatred. I have tried to talk to her about learning, trying, failing, and making mistakes being Ok and also how she needs to believe in herself and not rely on others approval. I'm worried she feels this self-hatred and also worried that she will one day meet someone who knows how to exploit her needy-ness. I would like to try and tackle some of the harmful thought patterns and help her rewire for more self love and confidence but I don't know the best way to do that, the best message to promote. Where can I turn to for help with this?

It's really good that you are being vigilant to this, and as much as I do think it's normal, I also think it's worth keeping an eye on!

A lot of parents struggle with seeing this in their kids, and I do think that some kids are simply more prone to this than others, right out the gate. One thing you might do is shift your focus from talking about making mistakes/trying/learning/failing to actually SHOWING yourself screwing up. Seriously. As we all know, kids learn best by observing what we do, not what we say. Might there be some hidden habits in you or someone else she is close to that teach her that mistakes are bad and worth feeling guilty over? That one error defines a person? Again, it seems like your heart and mind are really in the right place of TALKING about these issues but I'd open my eyes a bit more to what she might actually be observing.

In terms of some support you could get, some people would go to a therapist at this point and though I'm sure that could potentially bring some benefit, I also think there's a lot of room for work on your own with her if you are willing to do it. Things like really reading up on Carol Dweck's work on growth mindsets versus fixed mindsets. Yes, it's become nearly cliche in pop culture to the point of almost being misunderstood-- but if you really get the gist of it, you'll see how much it can matter. (And the fact that you said in your note about how smart, adventurous, and witty she is-- great traits, no doubt, but traits all the same-- make me wonder if she is defining herself by traits and is therefore in the classic trap of being scared to have those traits proven wrong by failing.)

I would also really work with her not just on reframing mistakes, but also on actual coping mechanisms-- physically and cognitively. There are lots of tools out there for kids in terms of being able to notice what's going on in their body when they feel shame/anxiety/embarrassment/anger at themselves, and the more they can calm their bodies, the more they can let those mental feelings pass.

Some people would also recommend some exposure-type ideas, like having her purposely tell an unfunny joke and see that the world doesn't end-- but that may be a little much for this age. You don't want it to backfire and teeter into a socially traumatizing situation!

Anyway, that's where I would begin!

Doubtless Andrea and Rachel already have plenty on their to-do lists (ahem). Having said that: would you consider curating a list of REPUTABLE links and then including them at the top of every weekly chat? Such as definitions (psychologist vs. psychiatrist); types of therapy (CBT, etc); resources ("How to find a therapist"); immediate help (suicide prevention, AA, etc). Having these frequently-recurring questions appear consistently might help folks not have to wait until the next chat for an answer. Apologies if you've already considered the idea.

I think this is an excellent idea, and I'd love to do it. It might take me a bit of time to compile these things and for them to be formatted correctly without my breaking the Internet, but I love it and will definitely make it a goal over the coming month or two-- so thank you for the suggestion!

Hi Doctor, I love your chats and figured you can help me with this ... I have had a decent life, no real issues beyond generalized anxiety. The thing is, I don't seem to have any happy memories! I know I've had good times. But when I remember good things, all I really remember is the bad parts. Like, the wonderful 15 years with my healthy dog are a blur, and all I really remember is the final heartbreak of putting her down. No joy from my years on onstage performances, but many vivid memories of the few times I messed up. And no happy recollections of relationship beginnings and love and fun times, just the regrets and bitter endings. It's like any happy memory is completely cancelled out and replaced by negativity. Is this depression? Or something else?

It could be depression-- and it could also be related to what you call your generalized anxiety (and there's a huge question mark in my mind about the severity of that, and whether you're getting help, etc.)

But something big is missing here for me-- what do these memories do to you? Do they put you in a funk? Or are they blips on the screen?

How is your mood in general?

That seems key for me. Some people are a "visualize the worst" type-- even about the future, where for some it can be a coping mechanism to map out the worst case scenario-- but overall they feel pretty good and their day-to-day mindset in the present is pretty healthy.

Other people are a "visualize the worst" type and it's because they're really, really hurting and it's all they can think about.

I can't really tell with you-- "I have a decent life" doesn't give me too much. And again, to what extent is your anxiety a problem?

If you really want to work on this, I could see a two-pronged approach: one to reframe some of the negative memories (learning to actually recreate some of the more positive memories of your dog, learning to channel some of the pain into meaning about his life, and your love for him, and how to continue to do things now that feel like a positive way of honoring him and carrying his memory forward, etc). The other would be to learn to be more mindful and engaged in the positive moments in the meantime, so that they can resonate with you a bit more and be more likely to stick. This would help abate this problem in the future.

You might also do some work exploring whether there is a self-blame piece here-- you mention "messing up," and also the experience of putting your beloved dog down-- which some people turn on themselves in terms of the question of doing the right thing. So might there be a self-compassion piece here that's missing? To work on "forgiving" yourself? (I put it in quotes because you are not actually to blame, you just may think you are.)

Gratitude exercises have also been known to help people with a more positive mindset shift.

Good luck!

We adopted our daughter when she was around 2 from an overseas orphanage. She has always been "scared" of some sounds (wind chimes, guitar strums) but recently has been more vocal about it (for e.g. no music in the car when its dark outside). In addition, she says she doesn't sleep sometimes as she feels some is "watching" over her. We've started a conversation with our pediatrician but she has 2 younger siblings and all the recent drama has been taking a toll on all of us. Any thoughts/suggestions?

You don't say how old she is now, so it's hard for me to know how developmentally typical this may be-- there's a big difference between a 5 year-old who feels some of these things versus a 15 year-old.

That said, I'd err on the side of vigilance. This could be related to trauma, anxiety, or even (not to alarm you) some detachment from reality, depending. How is her mood in general? It might be a good idea to get her in with a therapist to develop a relationship with, so that if these things got a bit worse, she would already be primed to talk about them and also have a professional able to better assess if there was cause for alarm. But again, without knowing her actual age now, it's hard to know to what extent this could be concerning. There's most definitely a chance it could be a passing phase, but caution is better than sticking your head in the sand.

How to fight them? It's nothing that rises to the level of "crisis" but I just feel like I'm kind of coasting through week to week, which adds up to coasting through life, and that's not the sort of life I want to live. Any suggestions from you or others of things to try besides a massive life overhaul? (Did that once, it was awesome, but now's not the time to do it again.)

Well, it's time for me to preach the beauty of the Gray Area, I think!

Who says it's a massive life overhaul or nothing? Not I, said the fly!

Treat yourself like a subject under observation, and pay attention to when your blahs are at their worst, versus the things that make you feel less blah during the week. What patterns do you notice? What moments resonate best? What times are you most in "flow," where you are feeling engaged and energized and the time passes easily? Who do you most enjoy spending time with? What do you look forward to? What challenges would you be willing to put effort into? On the other hand, what drags down your mood? What do you find yourself dreading? What holes are there where you feel that something is missing?

The big answer to blahs-- whether at midlife or any stage-- is to cultivate a sense of meaning and make connections to daily activities that can be in accordance with that. But the small ways to get there involve being willing to make small changes and keep your eyes open. So think back to that major life overhaul and what made it so awesome. What parts of it could you reincorporate, even if not in a "massive" way? Removing toxic people? Increasing novelty and adventure? Getting rid of drudgery? Taking ownership of something? Doing something creative?

There are answers here, but it will go best if you let yourself be willing to paint with small strokes at at time!

I have a very close friend whose long-time boyfriend just broke up with her (out of the blue, as far as she is concerned). She felt like he was the One, and was expecting an engagement in the near-ish future. She also has minimal dating experience, despite being in her late 20s, and has never casually dated. How can I be supportive and helpful? I can't very well say "you can do so much better," because she clearly doesn't think he was lacking, even though I actually think that's the case. I've told her to let me know what I can do, but that feels very insufficient.

It may be insufficient, but I think you may have a different reason for thinking it's insufficient than I do.

I'm wondering if you're looking at this as if you have to "fix" it for her-- to say the perfect thing to make her feel better, to put everything in perspective for her so that she'll shift her mindset, to help her get through this more quickly.

That's not your job as a friend-- nor may it even be within your (or anyone else's) ability. She needs to grieve, be upset, and get through this at her own pace. You can be along for the ride but it's not you telling her to turn left, or even programming in an address on Waze.

But I do see the deficits in "Let me know what I can do," because that puts the onus on her to ask for help, which can be, at best, another item on her to-do list, or at worst, a major barrier that is uncomfortable for her. Your heart was in the right place, and it could be that indeed she will tell you what she wants and needs. But since you think it feels insufficient, I'm guessing that she's not actually telling you-- and she may not even be sure of what she wants.

So, be a friend.

That may be showing up with a dinner that she likes. Texting her just because. Suggesting an outing. Keeping in contact. Listening and then listening some more, even when you want to grab her by the shoulders and say "But he didn't deserve you! You can do better!" Not making her feel like she has to get over this right away, but gently reminding her of her strengths.

So-- she has you as a "very close" friend as a reason. Do what it is you do as that close friend and always have-- that feels generally supportive and helpful. Be the loving ear (ew, strange visual, sorry) who doesn't have to worry about pushing an agenda or a mindset. (She's probably got plenty of others doing that already.)

She needs you to keep being you and not disappear, essentially!

I have done better at managing burnout by:  — recognize the symptoms and start taking more personal time earlier and more often — look for a different (better) job so you can change jobs in a forward, intentional manner rather than as a desperate avoidance of burnout / need for money when you had to quit  — see if there’s jobs in your field that offer variety — I switched from employee to entrepreneur then to contract worker. Working as a sort of consultant/temporary staff at multiple companies in my field gives me more variety and less drudgery. The need to do things differently day to day isn’t for everyone but it suits me better. Good luck!

So glad you found what works for you. And I agree-- it's always better to act in prevention of burnout than to be forced to act as a response to it.

Some more factors that contribute to burnout-- on my mind because I was just speaking about this-- being micromanaged, unclear boundaries about home versus work, an unspoken understanding that people don't use all their leave, a lack of autonomy, lack of clear rationale of how your tasks connect to the big picture, conflicting demands, lack of trust in the workplace, unclear expectations, a sense that you are supposed to sacrifice your own well-being for the greater "cause," a lack of a sense of purpose and meaning, lack of positive social relationships in the workplace, a culture of blame and lack of ability to be vulnerable and take risks, and my favorite-- hypocrisy about workplace wellness (CEOs who think that because they started a yoga class in their workplace, they have checked the box, and that will somehow erase the toxic hellhole they are creating for their employs through the problems above.)

Hello, Dr. Bonoir, Among my 11 grandchildren is a 10-year-old boy who is very bright and personable. He is good at sports, academics, and is well-mannered and cute as he can be. Sounds perfect? I thought things were wonderful for him--both parents in the home and very supportive of his activities and interests and a good-natured older sister who spends time with him. I was stricken last week when we were casually talking about his family's activities. His dad takes him to sports events. Thinking he probably enjoyed that, I said that he was lucky to have some alone time with his dad. He replied, "Not really. He's mean." I said, "Oh, do you mean he's strict?" My grandson replied, "No, he's actually cruel." I did not want to go further along that path without some idea what I could say that would be helpful. I don't want to dismiss a child who is confiding a problem to me, but I don't want to ignore him if he needs help. I'm sure that whatever "meanness" is present, it is not physical, but my son does have a caustic sense of humor. In addition, my grandson has a flair for the dramatic. I would want to know if my children were unhappy with their relationship with me, but I don't know whether or if I should broach this subject with both of my grandson's parents or with either of them. Although secrecy was not promised, nor requested, it might have seemed de facto to my grandson, and I don't want to make my son and his wife feel unhappy if this complaint is merely a mood that passes on its own. I am leaning toward just keeping the remarks to myself and contacting my grandson more frequently to assess his feelings. Am I shirking a responsibility? I grew up with two abusive alcoholic parents whose patterns I have avoided, but I used to wish when I was a kid that some adult would "save" me.

You sound like a person who is very thoughtful and compassionate and already playing out different scenarios in your head, and I can't tell you how heartened by that I am, and how much I already think that will guide you really, really well in this.

So I only feel like I can add some notes.

First of all, as much as I don't want to plant seeds of doubt about your own son, I don't think you should ever assume "I'm sure it's not physical." I'm not saying that it likely is, but I wouldn't want you to dismiss that out of hand when we never truly know what goes on behind closed doors, as much as you might not want to believe it about your own child. But the stakes are too high to dismiss it without ruling it out for sure.

So I do think you need to follow up with him a little more specifically than just more frequent check-ins. "You know, Max, I was thinking about what you told me the other day about how you feel like your Dad is cruel. That took guts to tell me that you felt that way, and I felt sad for you when I heard it. Do you think we could talk about it again sometime? I really want to hear more about what it's like for you, and I want you to always feel like you have someone to talk to about your feelings."

This could be drama; this could be a one-off comment; this could be, as you said, a mood that will pass on its own. But I think you need to err on the side of taking it seriously-- because in that case, let's say it was nothing and your concerns were unfounded-- the worst thing to happen in that scenario is that your grandson thinks that you take what he says very seriously and that you care very much about his feelings.

That is a pretty great worst-case scenario, as worst-case scenarios go.

On the other hand, if you don't really follow up, worst case scenario is that there is something significantly hurting your grandson that goes unchecked. And best-case scenario, the concerns are unfounded, but he ends up getting the message that he confided something important in you but you didn't really follow up with it.

Not so great.

Once you find more info, then you can figure out whether to intervene, depending on what he's giving you. But you need a little more data right now-- that's my take.

I've recently begun seeing a therapist primarily to help with feelings and stresses stemming from taking care of an ill parent. I recognize this as an opportunity to work on all aspects of my life including how it's impacted my marriage. My question revolves around a specific incident involving my wife and something she did with another friend and asked that friend not to tell me about. It's nothing terrible but could potentially effect her employment if it somehow ever got back to her employers so how. If I discuss my feelings around her asking our friend to keep something from me will that information stay between my therapist and I? Therapist - client privilege so to speak.

I always do like to put the disclaimer out there that I am not an attorney, and my usual boilerplate speech about confidentiality (where in general it's only at risk when someone's imminent safety or health is in danger) sometimes runs up against issues about security clearances and the like, especially in the DC area. So I don't ever want to absolutely guarantee anything because I've heard from a lot of you that things can get complicated in those respects when it comes to disclosing past treatment.

That said, I truly can't imagine a scenario where something that your WIFE did and that YOU discussed in your own therapy somehow got outside the bounds of confidentiality, except in the case of the health/safety issue. That would be another layer-- not just disclosing your own treatment, but disclosing a specific that was talked about in terms of your wife, when it's not even couples therapy-- and so my basic answer is yes, you have every reason to expect full confidentiality with that and that it will stay between your therapist and you.

(For what it's worth, when I am referring to other people besides my client in notes,  I generally don't use anything but an initial as an extra layer of confidentiality if those notes were ever requested by the client or subpoenaed or whatever. Of course, when it is the spouse, it's sort of obvious, but even so.)

A few weeks ago I wrote in about making a big decision regarding where my daughter would go to HS (base school vs. transfer to school with special program). Well, we got the news yesterday that she is in the special program--Yay? We haven't told her yet and are trying to get our heads around having the conversation with her about pros and cons and making that decision. We are feeling nervous about taking on the logistics of this transfer, but don't want our nerves to pressure her to turn it down, or to encourage her so much that she feels she HAS to do it. Any advice on how to help her (and us) analyze this and make an informed decision?

Congratulations to her! And note that that's an exclamation point, not a question mark!

So-- if you don't want your nerves to pressure her, concentrate on listening rather than talking at first. Hear her out. Be open. Congratulate her on the accomplishment and see what vibe she has about it. Ask her what type of questions come to mind that you can help her figure out, and then seek out that information-- for yourself as well.

If you come across what feels like a dealbreaker for you, then that is one thing. But otherwise, the best way to not pressure her is to literally follow her lead-- to add to the analysis, rather than direct it.

Keep us posted!

1) Is there a polite way of letting people you work with know they wear too much cologne/perfume? Unfortunately my supervisor is sometimes one of them. And our HR contact person is known for pretty relatively gruff. 2) Is there a way of letting strangers know the same? Like: "I'm sure you are a perfectly nice person, but you are wearing so much perfume that I am trying not to vomit."

This is exactly the type of question I think it would be fun to have a guest for-- Alison from Ask a Manager comes to mind!

I am laughing at your second line. I do think if you have absolutely no recourse with HR (not totally sure how gruffness is a dealbreaker-- maybe they could still be helpful and send out a general email-- that seems like the best first step), then you choose to be really respectful but direct. Choose a private time and be breezy about it. Something like "You know, I wanted to let you know. I've been having some problems with scents around the office lately. I'm just trying to let people know that I'd appreciate it if they were mindful about colognes and perfumes since some of us react a bit more strongly to scents."

Other ideas on a path to take here? I know it's a common problem.

The co-worker should rethink the decision to complain about the landlord at work if getting offers of help offends. Why bring it up if you don’t want advice?

Fabulous question!

I am in a 3 year long relationship with a man whose 20 year old son came to live with us. I always feel that I am an outsider in my own home. We co-own. If his son does not like something about the home (furnishings, kitchen stuff, for example) he tells his dad and my partner sets out to change it. However, I like my house the way I want it to be and how we have discussed. When we have disagreements or problems, I feel alone and go off in the house by myself to do whatever. Many times just in my room to watch a movie, take my dog for a walk. My partner seems to get even more bro-ish with his son. It accentuates their relationship and further pushes me out. Can you explain to me if it sounds like the configuration is “I live in my partner and his son’s house” instead of “His son lives in mine and my partner’s home”? It was even worse when his daughter (21) lived here. I have two daughters, 20 & 23 who live on their own, for more detail.

It certainly sounds like that dynamic at first glance. Of course, I am not sure what kinds of things are being changed around-- is it moving the coffee maker a few inches, or is it rearranging the living room?

The bottom line, though, is that you and your partner need to spell out exactly what the arrangement is here in more clarity. Is he temporarily crashing as a guest? Or is he a full third of the democracy in the home, mattering just as much (if not more) as each of you on your own? It's good that it's not as bad as it was when his daughter lived there, but that's a sign that the boundaries are consistently out of whack. Things need to be spelled out with what his role is, what he contributes or doesn't, what he has voting or vetoing power in and what he does not. If you can't get on the same page about it, a couple of sessions with a couples counselor could help. But when you are each looking at the arrangement through fundamentally different lenses, you're going to keep having these conflicts.

Do you know of any techniques specific to dealing with anxiety over positive events? I was diagnosed a few years ago, but generally have the "voice of doom" pretty well controlled for when there's some problem that needs to be dealt with. I don't want to sound braggadocios, but things have been going really great lately. However, my current techniques aren't working so well at handling the "what if's" of my new BF including me in plans for an August beach vacation or how low the number of homes for sale in my price range is in this area. Any advice would be appreciated.

I think what often gets overlooked is that the physiological stress response between positive events and negative events can be very similar-- excitement and anxiety are two sides of the same coin. There's a reason why things like partnering up, getting a dream job, buying a house, or planning a vacation are still considered stressors-- even if they're moves in a positive direction.

So-- you've got to figure out exactly what this anxiety looks like (operationalize that variable!) and go from there. I am guessing that it has a significant physical component-- which can still lead to edginess and irritability and panicky feelings. Ground yourself with some techniques to address exactly how you are feeling it (breathing exercises, visualizations, progressive muscle relaxation) and try to make sure that you are getting enough outdoor time, social time, exercise, and sleep.

As for the "what if"s, I'd be surprised if they didn't have at least a little in common with the "voice of doom"-- otherwise they wouldn't be negative-- so see if there are any of the same techniques that worked so well can be stretched and adjusted to these newer "what ifs."

Ultimately, the goal is the same-- to develop a relationship with ALL these thoughts where you can let them pass rather than getting stuck within them. So mindfulness can help too.

Maybe it's the jobs. Also, I've noticed that actors Mandy Patinkin and Rob Lowe tend to leave TV series they're in after a few years, and it doesn't seem to have hurt the arcs of their careers.

Hahah I love this!
You know, I do think there is a certain personality type that is just better suited toward change and novelty. I've worked with people like this, who have finally learned that switching jobs every few years is not a "failure" but is actually just how their brain is wired to be better satisfied.

There's some evidence that people who are prone to ADD might benefit from this as well. (And no, I'm not telling everyone to go out and job-hop ... but just to entertain the notion that change can be good and nothing to be ashamed of.)

I seem to recall reading an article about trying to recognize the difference between when a person just needs to vent (and receive sympathetic noises in return), versus seeking help (and hoping for advice).

Yup. There's definitely an art to that-- and not knowing the difference can lead to chronic problems within two people in a long-term relationship!

Problem is when it's someone like a coworker that you don't know as well-- who may be erring on the side of seeming like they really WANT the help-- and then bam they don't. Lesson learned for the future, at least. 

Even though I agree with your comments 99% of the time, I think it would be interesting to try to guest once in a while - maybe the 1st chat of the month or so.

Thank you! I take 99 percent as the highest of compliments. I'm not sure I agree with MYSELF that often!

And I agree-- part of what I like most about the idea is that we already see how much different perspectives can be helpful among you chatters adding nuance and complexity and experience.... and a guest could do not only that but tackle some additional questions as well. 

I like the idea of an occasional guest. IMO, it would be interesting to have simultaneous responses from you and … Carolyn Hax <smile>.

Thanks. Now that would be interesting indeed!

Better yet, a link to such a page. Post the link not only on these chats but also on your column.

That is a great idea too! Thanks. We will see if I can get the powers that be to house it somewhere.

Perhaps these bother her because she feels she can't control them. If so, maybe if she had a chance to strum a guitar or blow on wind chimes herself she'd feel more in control of them, and learn to be more confident around them.

Could be.

Could also be a mild form of misophonia ... or a sensory sensitivity issue.

Or just part of who she is. Thanks.

Are you in the Travelers' Oasis (on the lefthand side as you go from I-70 to the PA Turnpike)? If so, note that the upstairs bathrooms get way less crowded.

This is very, very good to know! Thank you!

I recall a piece in the Post about someone who spent several nights in Breezewood, so contrary to the usual Breezewood experience. We will see if we can hunt it down by the end of the chat.

Should I kill myself or have another cup of coffee?

I have a feeling this was all said in good fun, especially given your title.

I wouldn't be true to my training if I didn't address it as if it were serious, though (and sorry to those who may be rolling their eyes.)

If you are having thoughts of hurting yourself or ending your life, or are concerned about someone else, please know that real help is available.

You can call 1-800-273-8255.

I want to be safe rather than sorry.

This is a great idea. It's been shown in studies that it seems to be an evolutionary advantage to remember bad things more than good, because it keeps you vigilant ("It's a beautiful day for a stroll on the savanna" is outweighed by "If I go out there, I have to watch out for the saber-tooth tigers). Practice remembering the good things and pushing the bad memories away.

Absolutely-- that negativity bias is well-documented, and it really was an advantage.

And you know what makes it far worse? Being underslept. Because in those cases, you were more likely to get eaten by a predator, so your brain overcompensates even further-- viewing everything as a threat to keep you on your toes and give you more time to overcome your sleep-deprived sluggishness.

And Americans get significantly less sleep now than a generation ago-- and less quality sleep too.

So it's no shock that anxiety is up, in my opinion.

FWIW, I, too, have discovered that for many, their revealed preference turns out to be NOT solving a problem they have identified and articulated. I sympathize with LW2!


And before someone puts forth the effort to compile specific help, they can maybe do a test balloon-- "Hey, my husband may have some legal ideas... would you like me to run this by him?"

I really do sympathize with LW2 as well though!

I think because I was heaped with responsibility by my parents as a kid (oldest daughter of a large family). So that was my natural response because I was going to be asked to do something anyway, right? Took a while to realize what I was doing and stop it and just listen.

Yes. Sometimes the listening IS the help. That's great that you figured it out when it was time to!

You certainly can't, because what she will hear is "You had lousy judgment when you thought he was The One." Just lend a sympathetic ear and go out for a movie when she wants to. Don't overdo. Like the second letter writer in today's column.

Yes! I hadn't even seen that parallel today-- both questions were really about to what extent to try to swoop in and fix things.

It would be interesting to hear your opinion or an experts opinion or trying medical marijuana versus prescriptions for depression and anxiety. A doctor just suggested I try it. I am taking both a prescription for depression and anxiety which helps but I need more joy and motivation.

You know, I've really seen all ends of the spectrum here.

I've seen situations where it does seem to provide just the right alleviation of anxiety (or in some situations, depression) symptomology to help the person live a more functional life.

I've seen other situations where it really seems to just mask the symptoms, and create additional helplessness on top of that because now the person believes that they can't feel better (or even go through certain daily experiences) without it.

I guess it's all a matter of degree-- the difference between treating something versus masking it. I would say, why not also consider an additional tool-- therapy-- to help address some additional aspects of what might be going on-- cognition-wise, relationship-wise, behavioral habit-wise. Those are the things that-- if not addressed-- could keep the depression and anxiety perpetuating, even if you've got a decent regimen of antidepressants and/or medical marijuana.

And when you mention joy and motivation, I really start to think about meaning and purpose and engagement with life-- and how crucial those can be. That's an additional thing that therapy is typically pretty good at addressing.

I am a college student and my good friend's father just died on Sunday. He has been battling cancer for years, but in January it went from years to live to months to live. We are both in our early 20's and I have no idea how to go about being a good friend and supporting her. The only death I have experienced was grandparents when I was very little so I have no idea what to do. I obviously responded to her text that he died, telling her how sorry I am, and that I love her and I am here for her if she needs anything, but what else should I do? Do I go to the funeral? I only met her father once. I have never dealt with this before and could use some help.

If you can go to the funeral, GO.

Funerals help show support and love to the living. To make them feel like their loved one will not be forgotten. That their life matters-- and that there are people who (even if they only met the person once) will be there to listen and remember and have the back of the people who are still around.

Beyond that, DO NOT DISAPPEAR. I'm serious. I can't tell you how often people do this, out of awkwardness of not knowing what to say-- no ill intentions, just being worried about saying the "wrong" thing.

When in reality, disappearing is the wrong thing. Be there. Hang in. Volunteer different types of help (bringing meals, taking her places, helping her with laundry) and see what sticks.

Be thoughtful and loving and hang in and be responsive and follow her lead. There are no specific answers besides that-- and those things can be beautiful in their own right.

Terrific [and terrifying] list about causes of burnout! And the ending ("CEO who starts a yoga class") was just perfect.

ha! Thanks.

My favorite is when I get to see the faces of these heads of business out in my audiences, where in the beginning they're like "Ah, yes, I am lightened, I have heard the word 'wellness' before, so I am one of the good ones" and by the end they are a little sheepish, like "Oops ... I think I may be part of the problem."

I have a similar pattern of getting bored with my job every 2-3 years, most likely caused by several years in the military and constantly changing jobs/locations. If there are any veterans in your workplace, you could ask them how they dealt with the change from continuously moving around to something more stable. They may have insight on how you can adjust your own thinking/expectations and not get bored so easily.

Interesting idea!

this could be a cultural issue as well (certain ones use more of it) and in the land of 2019 I'd tread rather carefully.....

Great point.

This is why an HR department that actually has some efficacy can be a godsend!

I hate to sound the "uphill through the snow both ways" alarm, but did your partner always spoil his kids that way? Did he always let them think he was there to make life perfect for them? Because the idea of a guest child making daddy change the curtains because child doesn't like them is incomprehensible to me.

It could be a long-standing pattern, for sure.

I'm on a TuZZday program. Keep on truckin.' Turn up the Top.

That's got legs!! And it knows how to use them!

Maybe ASK the person if they're just venting, or would like some suggestions?

For sure.

Though I do feel the need to defend the urge to err on the side of being helpful!

We are very fortunate to have a good family friend, a single fellow who is in between the ages of us and our kids. Both of our extended families are out of town and he’s become sort of an honorary relative, and is the “Not Mom or Dad” adult my teens can talk to. Given the heightened awareness these days of the potential for unhealthy relationships between adults and kids, any suggestions for dealing with well meaning people who may think it’s weird for “Uncle Jim” to take my son to a ball game once in a while or be our after school backup picker-upper?

I guess it depends on the context.

If it's just a raised eyebrow here and there, that's on them, and I don't necessarily think it needs to be addressed.

If it's someone who actually initiates a conversation about it, then you can listen to what they have to say (because why not? It always pays to be civil... and perhaps vigilant, because it's worth mentioning that in the extremely slim chance that something negative WAS happening, you wouldn't want to tune that out wholesale) and then just have a set answer that you repeat as needed. "We trust him/are lucky to have him/ love the connection he has with our family", etc.

Please don't use the link shortener in the printed column. I really hate when I see that in the hard copy.

Good to know. Though how would a longer link somehow be better?

That part might be a moot point, since honestly I don't know if they'd be willing to spare the extra space to link to any FAQ in the print column anyway ... but definitely in the column online.

I have one. I started it, then I stopped because I kept crying. I think I either felt like I didn't have anything to answer, then I just realized I was ungrateful so I cried about that.

I am sorry.

But I also think that sometimes me misunderstand gratitude and put pressure on ourselves that it's simply about being "thankful" for everything and "counting our blessings." In reality, it's about finding a way to engage fully with the life we have-- and accepting its blemishes-- but willing to keep saying yes to it anyway.

I get into this a bit in Detox Your Thoughts.

Maybe start smaller-- without the pressure of a journal? but just a thought here and there?

My husband’s go-to strategy for managing stress in his life is to try to over control our life at home. When things are going well at work, he is easy going, humorous, and very thoughtful. However, when job stress gets high, he becomes obsessed with very arbitrary domestic things, that other times he doesn’t care much about. Until I caught a clue, every Sunday night he would be ordering me around to do little tasks, that if I didn’t jump right to, it would become an argument about how I didn’t care, etc etc. I have tired of being his Guatemalan worry doll and don’t want to play this game any more. However he is resistant to acknowledging what the real issues are. I would love to be an emotionally supportive wife instead of by talking about the real issues, but if he won’t go there, what do I do?

So, I'm guessing if he is resistant to acknowledging the real issues, he is also resistant to even considering getting help for them, right?

At some point, you need to let him know how this is affecting you. And my guess is that it will go better if you bring it up not in the moment, but in the time where he is more relaxed, and then you can use specific examples (not like a laundry list of his "offenses," but rather some concrete data so that he doesn't think that you are just lodging a general complaint.) Emphasize that it differs from his usual personality, and that it is not only hard for you to take, but also is representative of the fact that he must not be feeling good during those times too. And that he might not see it, but as his partner you do-- and that it's hard for you if he not only puts you in this position but also chooses to ignore how it affects you.

The good thing is, if he is willing to get help, there are all kinds of a anxiety-reducing tools that he can learn, physically and mentally, if he is willing to seek them out in either self-help form or with therapy.

But you've got to make your case-- civil, respectful, empathetic, specific, firm-- first to get him there.

Otherwise, I give you a free pass to remove yourself from the situation when it gets too much.

The question from the earlier poster about her 5-year-old daughter really resonated with me. My son who is also 5 also has a really hard time accepting any kind of criticism — even when it's done gently and calmly. It seems like it's age appropriate for him to react this way, but I'd like to learn how to teach him to accept criticism in a healthy way as he gets older. Any resources that you could recommend on children's development would be great too.

I would definitely recommend Meghan Leahy's chat on parenting as well-- but I really do think it's about teaching coping mechanisms for the anxiety in the moment (so that it is less likely to turn into negative self-talk that sticks) and also modeling mistakes as growth, encouraging the growth mindset, and stressing effort that INCLUDES risk and failure rather than praising achievement.  Hang in there-- you are wise enough to be noticing this now, so if you are motivated to keep at it, your son will be better off and more likely to learn how to be kinder to himself.

That could not trump health issues (sensitivity to perfumes is a well-known issue).

For sure. There's a solution in there somewhere, as no one should have to feel like it's hard to breathe in their work environment.

Um, a spectrum by definition has only two ends. You probably saw all points of the spectrum. <smile>

Ahhh! Very true.

Yes, recognizing the difference between a person just venting versus actually seeking help can be difficult. In fact, I often have challenges in general in determining whether people are just talking or actually mean what they say. For example, I volunteered for many years at a large museum complex and would frequently mention it when meeting new people. It seemed like a neutral conversation-starter that could lead into a lot of different topics. Inevitably, everyone, literally everyone, would say “Oh, I always wanted to volunteer there.” So I would send them/bring them a packet of information for prospective volunteers. No one ever followed up and several people looked absolutely horrified when I handed them the packet. I stopped talking about it. Maybe I’m a too-literal-Aspie or maybe I’m too Type A (driver/bulldozer). :-)

Yeah, I can see that being one of those "toss-off" comments and people do have different levels of meaning about it. There's also a cultural piece here-- we Americans are the queens and kings of these comments-to-nowhere.

Like "We should totally get together!"

Living with mistakes is so much a part of life. Perhaps when she freezes after accidentally kicked you and says you hate her, you can remind her of when you accidentally did something similar and ask her if she she hated you and how she felt about that happening. Mirror the experience to see if she'll tap into the fact that she didn't feel angry at you. I agree with Andrea - especially about living your own mistakes. In fact, how about doing an activity with her you know you're not very good at to show you don't have to excel at everything eg if you're not inclined to art, perhaps you could go to a paint your own pottery place and have a good laugh together, showing that you don't have to be got at something to enjoy it.

I like it!!

I really do think that as parents, sometimes we are really great about talking about the lessons we want our kids to absorb, whereas not so good at actually living them out.

Myself included.

In my company it's expected that we move into new roles every 18 months - 2 years. I've had 2 roles that have been 3 years each and by the end I was so ready to do something else! Maybe look for a job with a company where frequent rotations are the norm. That way you can build up your reputation within a company but still get the stimulation from a new experience every couple of years.

Interesting-- thanks!

All too often when couples break up, friends speak poorly of the ex. IF the couple were to reunite, the couple forgive each other but the friends words continue to hurt.

Good point.

There's a term in yoga "holding space" - to me it means being there, next to the person reaching out literally and emotionally. In this case, I think it's being a comforting presence. When someone is grieving, often the best gift is just sitting and holding their hand while they cry. That can be incredibly comforting.

I love this concept. Thank you.

Dan Savage!

Now that would be fantastic.

Although weed is not considered to be a depressive (like alcohol is) it can induce depersonalization syndrome

True. And though I wouldn't say it is common, it can be really disorienting for those for whom it happens too, especially if they are prone to anxiety in the first place.

I was surprised the OP saw this as a problem - it seemed to me that he/she was just the personality type that enjoys learning and/or fixing rather than maintaining. I know some people in my field who recognize that about themselves and (at one of our larger companies), put in requests to switch departments every three to five years, bringing a fresh perspective with them each time. Others I know move to small companies and start-ups in a related field and stay until things stabilize and then move on. I would suggest the writer look at this as a positive attribute, not something that needs to be adjusted.

Yup. I imagine that part of what we haven't addressed here is that there is a big difference between true, debilitating burnout versus just getting antsy and restless in a job. But a fresh change and good self-care can be helpful in both cases.

Bc then when I clip the article, six months later when I find it again I can still access the link. I can't always find the online version on the Post's website with the live link, esp when a different title is used for the same article on the website vs. the print.

Ah.... that makes sense! Thanks.

There is a teensy part of me that believes that what the spouse needs from the OP is for her to be his (temporary, time-limited) Guatemalan worry doll.

Could be. But that would be a lot more reasonable of a task if he were to reflect upon the fact that that was what he was needing/asking for.

Does your son ever say anything critical of others, in your presence, even if it's appropriate? That could be a potential opportunity to talk about how people deal with criticism, and get him to talk about how he feels to be on the receiving end as well as the giving end.

Great point.

Ahh.... our time is up, unfortunately!

Thanks so much to all of you for a great discussion and lots of support for each other, as always. And it does seem like an occasional guest is a welcome idea, so stay tuned for that in the coming month or two.

I'll look forward to seeing you next week (I probably won't be in as exciting a place as Breezewood!) and in the comments and on Facebook in the meantime.

Take good care!

In This Chat
Dr. Andrea Bonior
Dr. Andrea Bonior is a licensed clinical psychologist and the voice behind Baggage Check since its start in 2005. She serves on the faculty of Georgetown University and is the author of the Publisher's Weekly best-seller "Psychology: Essential Thinkers, Classic Theories, and How They Inform Your World" and "The Friendship Fix.”
Rachel Podnar
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