Recently the Virginia Tech massacre once again filled our news and talk shows with one of their favorite enemies of the people, terror. We all need to know how to cope with fear, so I’ll give you here my favorite enemies of fear. Those who study and rehearse these can keep them handy as an emergency tool kit for terror.

Fear-fighting techniques for the body and mind are taught in the award-winning self-help book, The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook, edited by Dr. Ed Bourne. This book was written to keep people who suffer from worry and fear from having to pay to come see a therapist like me.

Most fear-fighting techniques for the body teach us that peace comes from tuning out the involuntary nervous system (the nerves that carry messages from the body to the brain, for example, telling it how tense the body feels). Recovery is found in deliberately paying attention to the voluntary nervous system, which gives and carries orders from the brain to the body.

Here are the three basic steps to a relaxed body: One, tune out the involuntary nervous system and tune in the voluntary nervous system. Two, watch a relaxing movie in the theater of your mind. And three, go back to your body and feel the calm. Let’s see some ways to do these three things.

1. Take slow, deep breaths, and keep doing it. Be sure to push all the air out of your lungs before taking the next breath. Change your location, or at least your position: get away from immediate physical sources of stress. Do "systematic muscle relaxation": tense up the muscles in one area of your body (legs, arms, torso or face), hold the tension a few seconds, let your muscles relax, and then move on to the next area of your body to do the same thing.

If you can’t go to sleep, get out of bed and go sit in an uncomfortable chair you designate as a Worry Chair: pray out/write down/talk out your worries, then return to bed, and refuse to think about these things again there. If you can’t stop the worries, take yourself back to the Worry Chair—such discipline teaches the brain a lesson. Note that you may not be able to "go to your happy place" mentally until you’ve done this first step physically.

2. Take a comfortable seat in the wonderful movie theater built into your right brain. Visualize carefully being in a beautiful, safe place (a beach, a lake, grandmother’s couch, a big stream-side tree in a meadow). Take in what all of your senses are experiencing there (sun and breeze on your skin, natural sounds, beautiful sights left and right). Imagine a loved one joining you there (a person, angel or God). Look, listen and feel for signs and words of love (a hug, encouragement, or blessing which you imagine). Do this at least once a day when you’re not scared, until you find you can do these things effectively in the midst of a stress storm.

3. Let your mind go back to your body and feel the difference all this has made. This is a good time to repeat to yourself words of assurance and calm that will now sink in. Good words to say are found in Bourne’s Workbook, which teaches how to change negative self-talk into positive. I’ll describe some of my favorite techniques next time. These will make the chat room found on the left side of your brain as peaceful as the happy place you’ve now created over on the right side.

The key to managing worry and fear is learning how to change the channels in your mind. We learned last time how to switch awareness from the involuntary nervous system that takes feelings TO the brain, and give it to the voluntary nerves taking messages FROM the brain out to the muscles. We also learned how to go into the right brain that imagines scenes, and change the channels there.

Overcoming fear might start with changing the channels on your TV. The best breeding grounds I know for fear are horror and action movies, crime shows, and the evening news. Then learn to change the channels in your left brain, where words live. That’s where fear talks to you, and if you’re smart, where you’ll learn to talk back to it.

Write down all the negative things fear says to you, and later when you’re not afraid, write down comebacks that express your faith. Rather than running from pain, solitude and death, embrace the thoughts of them. Don’t let them be impersonal, faceless foes, but talk with them. Learn to think of them as your friends and teachers.

Whatever you believe in as being stronger, wiser and better than yourself, that is your god, and you can substitute that for "God" in the guidance below. Speak to your fears in your left brain and if you can, out loud, with words like these:

This too shall pass. . . . Let go, let God. . . . One day at a time, one moment at a time. . . . I don’t need worry—it’s just the interest paid on borrowed trouble. . . . No one can take my self-esteem without my permission. . . . Focus on the fire drill, not the fire. . . . If I focus on the problem I watch the problem grow, but as I focus on the solution I am watching the solution grow. . . . I will not act frozen as if I’m a slave to fear, but I’ll act out my freedom and my faith. . . .I can see God holding me, right here, right now. . . .

Write down your favorites of these and other sayings, and keep them with you in your wallet or purse. Bible passages that will help are the 23rd Psalm, Matthew 6: 25-34, Philippians 4: 6-8, and I Peter 5:7. Remember and identify with courageous people from fairy tales (I love the moxie of Hansel and Gretel) and from history. My favorites from biblical history are David and Goliath, Daniel in the Lions Den, Esther defying Haman, Jesus defying the Romans and the church, and the woman who crashed the Pharisee’s kosher luncheon in Luke 7. My favorite role models from modern history are Winston Churchill, Lech Walensa, Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, and Pat Tillman.

School children practice their fire drills when they know the building is not on fire, so that when it is, they can get to safety with peace and calm. Remember these things will only have the power you give them by mediating on them in advance. When you give your mental channel-changing muscles a few work-outs, come the next crisis, you’ll be cool.

For the 20 million Americans who suffer from depression, I explained last week how antidepressant medication is wonderful. It helps relieve some of the symptoms of depression without creating any, and it even relieves one of the causes.

Whereas antidepressants have no inflated street value because they give you no buzz or addictions, most medicines for anxiety are just the opposite. They are sold on the street at a profit, because they do provide a short-term habit-forming buzz.

Well over twice as many Americans suffer from anxiety problems as from depression, but here the most popular medicines in many cases end up doing more harm than good. For too many, a pill relieves some anxiety symptoms, quickly but not for long, so that they come back as strong or stronger after the pill wears off. Instead of relieving any of the causes of anxiety, a nerve pill creates the discomfort of withdrawal, which becomes a new source of anxiety.

Because its onset is gradual and felt all over the body, withdrawal discomfort is subtle and yet bothersome. Another anxiety-producing side effect of tranquilizers and sedatives is equally insidious: to some extent users learn to monitor their nerve and muscle tension closely for signs that they might be ready for another pill. In scanning for stress, they have in effect gone on psychosomatic alert.

Too many of my friends and clients have abused these pills and become dependent on them. After that, they’ve not been much good to themselves or others, except for the few fortunate ones who found recovery.

Sure, there’s research that says there’s not much risk of abuse or dependence with the milder sedatives ("nerve pills" like Valium, Xanax, Librium, Tranxene, and Ativan), or the heavier sedatives ("sleeping pills" like Tylenol PM, Ambien, Lunesta, Sonata, ProSom, Restoril, Halcion, and Dalmane).

But these studies have usually been sponsored by the companies who make these drugs, and the same was done and said in the old days when barbiturates and morphine came out. All of us who have had special training in treating drug abuse have seen the overwhelming research evidence that these meds carry a significantly greater risk for abuse and dependency.

This risk is especially great for the approximately 30 % of Americans who have had a parent get dependent upon alcohol or drugs. Because of genetics, modeling and the added likelihood of being born into a chaotic or detached family, they are almost twice as likely as everyone else to develop drug abuse or dependency in their own lives. The extra 10 or 15% who have had both parents to be drug abusers are three times more at risk with these medications.

Now I’m certainly not saying that no one should be taking medication for pain, anxiety or insomnia. I’m only suggesting as I did last week that alongside these medicines we take measures to resolve the underlying causes of our anxiety, and to avoid abuse of these pills. All this generally requires some form of counseling to pull off.

Counseling may also be needed to work through the denial that comes with any chemical dependency or abuse. So what might drug abusers be denying? Here are some common tendencies:

1. They deny there are other, better ways to relax, get to sleep or get through the day.

2. Before and after medication, they deny that withdrawal makes them tense, and act short or mean toward anyone that questions their drug use.

3. During medication, they deny how physically and emotionally unavailable they are to their loved ones, and how much their loved ones need them.

They deny how much they are hurting themselves with these drugs, given the medical and psychological side effects. They deny how their lives have gone downhill during their years of drug abuse. They forget how close they used to be to family, friends and God. They forget when they used to have self-esteem and self-confidence. They forget the hopes and dreams of their youth, which were more noble than what they long for now--calm nerves, pain relief and a good night’s sleep.

Once they begin to see the harm being done to themselves or others, they deny how bogus are their finger-pointing excuses for using the drugs anyway: "If you had my (wife, husband, kids, parents, boss, job, pain, life, whatever), you would need help relaxing, sleeping and coping with pain too."

So remember that an ounce of prevention for anxiety is worth a pound of cure. And realize that if you’re not careful with these pills, the cure you’re counting on for tension, pain or insomnia too often becomes a contributing cause.

What is healthy faith, anyway, and who am I to judge it? As a psychologist, I can tell when people’s religious beliefs and lifestyles are enabling them to enjoy life, be enjoyable to others, and leave the world a better place each day. No matter what a person’s religious faith or denomination, most would agree this is healthy.

For defining sick and healthy religious or spiritual faith, an excellent book was written some years ago by a counselor Steve Arterburn and a pastor Jack Felton, called Toxic Faith. I really like their final chapter, "Seventeen Characteristics of Healthy Faith". Here they are:

1. Focused on God: trying to tune ourselves into harmony with God rather than getting God to meet our needs.

2. Growing: "healthy faith grows and matures over time." Every living thing grows, and faith that doesn’t evolve its beliefs and practices is practically dead.

3. Respectful: it’s good to believe and remember that all human beings are capable of inspiration and personal growth.

4. Free to Serve: believing that we don’t have to work for the welfare of others, but that we freely choose to do so, with our hearts in it.

5. Self-worthy: we see ourselves as having a high inherent value, bestowed upon us by God.

6. Vulnerable: "being real", and therefore open to feeling the very human heartaches of rejection, failure and loss.

7. Trusting: the authors urge us to trust ourselves with other people, trust ourselves with God, and trust God with ourselves.

8. Individualized: celebrating that God gave each of us unique talents and opportunities, so that we strive to be a unique expression of God’s ways.

9. Relationship Oriented: the focus is on relationships more than rules, on getting along with God and others vs. seeing oneself as an independent individual.

10. Personal: if we believe there’s a personal God seeking a personal relationship with each human being, then God’s word to each of us is personal.

11. Balanced: the authors mention balancing work, rest and play; witnessing and serving; obeying rules and being creative; avoiding the perspectives of either/or, black or white, all or nothing, and us or them.

12. Nondefensiveness: "healthy faith welcomes critical evaluation and tough questions as opportunities to learn and relate." I love that one.

13. Nonjudgmental: "stop judging others and listen to them", especially to what they need. This requires comparing ourselves with God, with what we are to become, not to other people.

14. Reality Based: healthy believers "see the problems before them, do what they can to resolve them, and trust God to do the rest."

15. Able to Embrace our Emotions: we need to feel our emotions and express them in constructive ways.

16. Able to Embrace our Humanity: we acknowledge our capacity to sin, and make mistakes. We forgive others to appreciate our own forgiveness, by God, by ourselves, and by trusted other people.

17. Loving: considering Jesus’ two great commandments to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves, I find few people who come to me with a healthy balance of those three loves. So many love themselves much better than they love God or others, love God but dislike most people, love their neighbor instead of themselves, or love their neighbors and then themselves.

If you are called to love God and others, you have to take care of the caretaker, the one who does the loving, and that’s you. In many ways, if you don’t take care of yourself, no one else can, and then you can’t take very good care of others either.

Next time I’m going to wander into the country of sacred cows. I’ll take a meddling look atunhealthy faith, and in particular, at certain toxic religious experiences, beliefs and lifestyles. You’ll likely agree with me and with Toxic Faith that these are sick, but I don’t think you’ll have much trouble coming up with lots of examples from the people you’ve known and seen, and probably even one or two within yourself!

Think about your exposure to the news of the day—TV, newspapers, websites, radio, gossip and hearsay. What is it doing for you, or perhaps, TO you?

Just as with the food and medicine we take in, we need to examine the nutritional value and side effects of the news we get. To live the good life, we have to set healthy boundaries for ourselves, to guide what news we put into ourselves. So what kinds of filters do you use for the news?

Nutritional value: we all need to take in enough news to understand what is happening, why, what’s good and bad for the world, and what can be done to promote the good and defeat the bad.

I like to get my news by flipping through Time and Newsweek, and scanning the headlines and articles of newspapers, in hand or online. I think about what happens until I can answer the questions in the previous paragraph. Then I’ve made my peace with it, and I move on. No worries, no rehashing of bad news, no horrifying TV images. Those are my boundaries, my news filters.

Toxic side effects. Producers of news reports know how to hook us with excitement. They design their news reports to titillate us, arousing our pleasures and desires. Some of the desire and pleasure is innocent enough, like humor and gratitude, which flavor a little bit of the news. That’s good.

But to protect ourselves from psychological infection, we all need to ask ourselves with each news story we take in: What is this arousing in me? What will this do for my confidence and contentment, for my blood pressure? The news that doesn’t arouse laughter or gratitude usually arouses an attitude of arrogance: "I’m better than these other people. We should just rid of the bad guys, the foreign element, the criminals and we’d be fine."

We like to think nothing is wrong with us. Compared to the villains on the news, we feel like innocent victims, our vain virtues forever being vexed by their villainous vices.

To avoid this self-deceit, a good boundary is to realize that under their circumstances of genetics, childhood trauma and neglect, poverty, and poor role models, education and peers, we might have done the same as the worst of the newsmakers.

In addition to arrogance, beware if your news provokes envy, resentment, greed, laziness, lust, gluttony, or fear. (If the news you’re taking in doesn’t incite enough of this for you, the advertising that pays for it surely will.) These attitudes provoke behaviors that kill our bodies, bank accounts, and our relationships. So you may want to consider limiting or filtering out news that turns on these killer attitudes.

That last mindset of FEAR is clearly a favorite product of some politicians, radio personalities and news networks. I just prefer to experience faith (confidence and peace) over fear (worry and stress).

To that end, one helpful boundary to use is "so what?" When you ask "what if" you experience a tornado, earthquake, war, disease, burglar, rapist, or something tragic happen to a loved one, you can ask yourself, "So what if . . .?", and start imagining and praying for something good that could come out of such a tragedy. For extra peace of mind, imagine how you could help to create that silver lining.

In short, take care what goes into your three news gates: your eye-gate (TV, newspapers, magazines, computer), your ear-gate (radio and hearsay), and your thought-gate. That last gate is where you decide what the news means, whether you’re going to worry about it, or whether you are going to bring something good out of it. That makes all the difference.

1. Have realistic expectations. Don’t sentimentalize old memories too much. And don’t go the other way either, replaying empty, depressing memories of the past. Content yourself with reality.

2. Give to others, without expecting anything in return—especially appreciation. Let that be a pleasant surprise, and give just for the pure joy it.

3. Dust off two or three good holiday memories as annual keepers, and make at least one good new one this year.

4. Take time to slow down. Smell the candles and cookies. Look at the houses all lit up.

5. Expand your family of origin, to include a family of choice too. Invite friends over, and treat them like family should be treated.

6. Believe in holy spirit. If believe seems too strong and absolute for you, pretend that holy spirit once did take up full residence in a human being, and is still doing it. When you act like something’s true, it begins to feel true, which will get you into the Christmas spirit for real.

7. Believe in saints, not ghosts. If you think people’s spirits can hang around and affect other people after they’ve died, don’t look back at the Scrooges of Christmas past. Look at Jesus. Believe or pretend that for a week and see how it goes.

8. Act out forgiveness. Forget about trust, just wish a meanie well. It’s your gift to God and yourself even more than to the one who hurt you.

9. Go outside where it’s quiet and natural. Wrap up real good, and stay out long enough to take it in, letting it take you in too.

10. Make the New Year a new kind of year. Write down three ways you could do this, and ask three people to help you with these changes.

I believe that America here at the turn of the millennium is going to be remembered in history as a nation of gluttons. Whether it is with our calendars, our budgets, our relationships, or our palates, we can’t get enough. Just about every celebrity I can think of is known for being or doing the most something. Who is known for being the most well-rounded? Most of us try to grow our self-esteem by owning or doing more and more things, not doing a few of the better things better.

What situations do you find it most difficult to say no?

Whining, demanding children or grandchildren? Spoiled teens and young adults in your family? Adult loved ones with behavioral or chemical addictions? Your main squeeze that you’re afraid of turning off or losing altogether? Your parents or authority figures whose frowning disapproval you can’t stand to risk? Your chronically down-in-the-dumps friend who has a talent for becoming a victim? Your church or charitable organization that needs to get a job done? A party-animal or shopaholic friend who’s inviting you to have some fun? A status symbol you suddenly find on sale? A stray cat on the side of the road?

When should you say no, and how can you explain it if asked? 

1. When you believe no one could possibly do what you’re being asked as well as you can do it. The problem here is you’re probably too vain, narrow-minded and workaholic, and folks could easily take advantage of you for this stuff, resent you for it, or both. Just say, "I want to see how somebody else would do it this time. It’s somebody else’s turn—let’s see some other ways it can be done." Or, "I don’t want to make it any easier for the people who created this problem to avoid taking more responsibility for solving it."

2. When you can’t decide what you’ll give up to make the time to do it. "My calendar is full right now, and I don’t see anything I can give up to make room for this."

3. When you’re having trouble honoring the commitments you’ve already made. "I’m so overcommitted I’m doing a poor job of several things, and I wouldn’t want that to happen here."

4. When you couldn’t do it well enough to satisfy yourself and those in charge. "The best I could do at this time would neither please you, me, nor the people I’d have to answer to."

5. When your family isn’t behind it. "This isn’t something my family could get very excited about or involved in, and I don’t need anything else to take me further away from them at this time."

6. When you haven’t been respectfully asked. Don’t reward people who tell, expect, guilt, or pressure you into things, like dropping something into your lap at the last minute. "I might have considered it if I had been asked and given some time, but I don’t do my best work under pressure, especially pressure I haven’t created. It’s not good for my immune system either."

7. Here’s the best reason of all to say no, because it is often a dashboard warning light, a sign that indicates one or more of the situations above: When your heart isn’t in it. "I don’t know why, but I just can’t find a passion for doing this. I’d rather wait and say yes to something I can put my heart into." This is reason enough to say no in my book, as long as my calendar is as it should be, pretty full of things I DO have my heart in, including a healthy balance of work, rest and play.

This gets us back to where we started. Doing fewer things allows us to do them better. Taking on too much erodes the quality of our performance, and with it, our reputation and self-esteem. Maybe it’s time you took a second look at saying yes to saying no. Often the times it’s hardest to say no are actually the times you and others most need you to do it.

For most people, and especially I believe most Southerners, "Thou shalt not hurt thy neighbor’s feelings" is right up there with the Ten Commandments, except higher. They would much more freely admit to lying, coveting and idolizing than to saying or doing something they knew would hurt someone’s feelings.

The problem is that the truth hurts, especially the truth that sets us free from illusions and bad habits. So who is a good enough friend to bruise our ego, and hurt our feelings with the truth we need but do not want?

Sure a good friend is one who helps you out (a do-good friend), one who compliments you (a feel-good friend), and one who makes time for you and includes you in things (a good-times friend). These are all signs of a good friend, and we all need friends like this.

But these things are rather easy to give. You know the friend will like it, and will be more likely to make you happy by doing you the return favor down the road.

Now here are eight things a really good friend would say to you, and you, if you were a true-blue good friend, would say to them. Score yourself and your friend zero to ten to see how good a friend you both are to each other. I’d say 6 to 8 is a true blue, honest-to-goodness friend, and 0 to 2, though perhaps a do-good, feel-good, or good-times friend, is also a false-front friend.

1. If you my friend are doing something you have admitted to me isn’t good for you, something like drug/alcohol abuse or an eating or spending disorder, but you go on acting like there’s nothing wrong with it now, I’m going to tell you it confuses and concerns me, and ask you what’s up.

2. If you my friend are enabling one of your loved ones to destroy his or her life with a bad habit like those in the previous paragraph, and you are excusing, funding, provoking or covering up the loved one’s bad habits, but you act like nothing’s wrong, I’m going to tell you it confuses and concerns me, and ask you what’s up.

3. If you my friend have done something to insult me to my face but haven’t apologized for it, something you would certainly expect me to apologize for doing to you, but you act like nothing’s wrong, I’m going to tell you it confuses and concerns me, and ask you what’s up.

4. If you my friend have done something to insult one of your loved ones (child, spouse, close friend) to their face but haven’t apologized for it, something you would certainly expect someone in your position to apologize for doing to you, but you act like nothing’s wrong, I’m going to tell you it confuses and concerns me, and ask you what’s up.

5. If you my friend have cursed or degraded someone or something you know I hold dear (like taking God’s name in vain, or saying my best friend is no good), but you act like nothing’s wrong, I’m going to tell you it confuses and concerns me, and ask you what’s up.

6. If you my friend have left me out of a social event you know I would have loved to attend, inviting my friends while not inviting me and yet acting like nothing’s wrong, I’m going to tell you it confuses and concerns me, and ask you what’s up.

7. If you my friend have been confirmed for saying to someone else something that is critical of me but which you have never said to my face, yet you act like nothing’s wrong, I’m going to tell you it confuses and concerns me, and ask you what’s up.

8. If you my friend have obviously bad breath, or you have obvious food on your clothes, mouth or teeth, but you act like nothing’s wrong, I’m going to tell you about it.

So do you have a true-blue friend, and are you an honest-to-goodness friend for someone? If you don’t have a true-blue friend, and you aren’t one to anybody else, I’ll be the friend who tells you that you aren’t being a very good friend to yourself either.

Work, rest and play all affect each other. They are a spiraling interdependent cycle: doing well at one makes it easier to do the others, and doing poorly at any of them makes the others go harder. (Diet, exercise, sex and sleeping work the same way, as do praying, forgiving, and acts of kindness.)

Work includes the job you do for a living, but also child care, helping friends and family, volunteer service, and household maintenance. It usually takes up about two fifths of your time when the kids are at home and in need, and a little less after that.

Rest involves more than sleep. It includes all forms of relaxing down time, such as taking in music, pleasure reading, solitary TV or computer time, etc. We’ll include personal grooming and hygiene here. All this should take up roughly one third of your time, more if you need eight hours of sleep, or if you’re female, older, or retired.

Play is activity that leaves you recreated, refreshed. It includes things like exercise, playing sports, learning, worship, praying, lovemaking, visiting live or on the phone or the internet, and going to festivals, plays movies, concerts, ball games, etc. Shopping for clothes, tools, play equipment, or house furnishings is usually play, but solitary shopping for groceries and provisions is clearly work.

Play usually gets the leftover time, but if we give it less than one fifth of our time, we’re probably getting burned out. The quality of our work and rest is suffering, because the worker is not getting recreated by rest alone.

The quantity of time you spend in work, rest, and play is no more important than the quality of that time. Mental health requires that we change gears well, that we do only one thing at a time. Thinking about work when we should be at rest or at play, or vice-versa, is called worry—leaving the here-and-now to be there-and-then. Worry screws up whatever we should be doing at the time.

When we don’t do enough of our work, we often work on other people instead. When we have too few responsibilities, we tend to take on those of other people. This form of worry is called meddling, and it screws up the work, rest and play of both parties.

A key to being focused and efficient in our work, rest and play is how we make our transitionsfrom one into the otherWe need to mark our changing gears clearly so that we and everybody else knows which gear we are in. If you have trouble shifting into the play of your personal life, get something going like Mr. Rogers’ slippers to remind you that work is over. How?

On your way home, turn your phone off and think about family and play. When you get in the door, put your cell phone away, or change it to a different ring that reminds you it’s family first, and it’s time for everybody’s recreation. If you can help it at all, don’t take business calls during family time.

As soon as you see your spouse, make it a point and habit to kiss your spouse--not just a peck, but a good, checking-in kiss. Sit down together and ask how each other’s day has gone so far. Review plans or hopes for the evening. Once in the door, change your clothes. Take off your watch. Don’t be waiting around for a hug or try to take one, but give the kids a hug.

One last tip: don’t try to go straight from work to rest, and then think you might play. Once you numb out, your emotional heart goes to sleep, and you’re pretty much shot for the day. Work and play first, then get your rest. You’ll sleep a lot better and do better work tomorrow.

 With any activity or relationship, here are five signs you might need to take a break and give it a rest for awhile:

1.  You’re losing interest or passion.  You’re burning out, forgetting what you’re really doing here, what’s the point.

2.  You’re losing focus or concentration, so that your mind is often distracted by other things you’d rather be doing, other people you’d rather be with.

3.  You’re obsessed, preoccupied, and giving too much focus and concentration.  You’re thinking or worrying about something or someone when you can’t do anything about it.

4.  You have too much passion for it, so that your devotion and enthusiasm is giving more important activities or relationships reason to feel neglected.

5. You’re stuck in a negative, self-defeating pattern of interaction.  You know you should change, but don’t know how.  You do the same thing over and over but still stupidly expect different results.

Until now we’ve been talking about taking a break to solve problems.  The best use of breaks is to take them periodically to prevent problems, to keep the focus, passion, health and balance sharp.

Periodic preventive breaks like this are called sabbatical breaks.  They come from the Jewish tradition which sees God as taking off on the seventh day after creating the world in six.  The Old Testament God included as one of the Ten Commandments resting from all labor on the Sabbath day.  The Torah even teaches farmers to rest their fields every seven years.

Colleges have realized the wisdom of this tradition by giving tenured professors a “sabbatical” from their duties for a semester or a year every seven years.  Many churches prevent burn-out by letting their pastors take a similar sabbatical time-out for study, travel and rest every seven years.

However, most Americans do not take either periodic preventive time-outs for sabbatical rest or curative breaks for a prelude to their problem-solving.  The result is a loss of mental health, such as in the five examples above.

One interesting testimonial to value of taking long breaks is the mental health industry in Japan.  When Japanese people get anxious, depressed, explosively angry, addicted, or torn up in their relationships, the counseling wizards in Japan all prescribe morita therapy, and I’m embarrassed to say it appears to work about as well for them as psychotherapy or medication do for us Americans.  So what is it?

Morita comes from the Japanese word for sleep.  Therapy is solitary confinement from contact with the outside world.  They give a two- to four-week break from all relationships and activities except meditation and sleep.  It’s a little frustrating, frightening, and rather revealing how hard that is to do in America.

Reader: My pastor says I’m a peacemaker, a good thing. My friends and doctor say I’m a sponge for stress, a bad thing. How could making life easier for others be wrong?

Is physical pain a good thing? It doesn’t feel good, but it does good. It draws our attention to the problem that’s causing it, and motivates us to get it fixed. Without pain, we’d all die of infection.

Stress works the same way in the mental/emotional realm. Carrying stress in a relationship is like being IT in a game of Tag. Unless you can solve the problem, (and many problems you can’t solve), you have to run around exhausting yourself until you can touch somebody else with the awareness that it’s their problem.

Say a man you know has a quick and nasty temper—he gets furious at the drop of a hat. He has a problem, you’d say. Yes, but not if he can get you to feel the tension, to worry about not setting him off. Then it’s your problem, because you’ve taken it on. The feeling of stress is the tag of "IT" on whoever is carrying the problem.

Some people are masters at downloading stress. Maybe they bring it on themselves with self-generated expectations and bogus beliefs of entitlement. But if they can get others to even be silent while they bark out their complaints, they never have to solve their problems, or even realize where they came from. And whatever group or family they’re in will always be awash with distress.

Unless somebody sets a boundary, and says things like, "I’m sorry you feel that way" or "Your anger is not my problem," and walks away without blaming, worrying or stressing themselves. Then the stress stays where it can do some good, at its source.

So who needs stress? The person(s) creating the problem, because otherwise, problems will continue to be carried around by the people who didn’t cause them, and thus can never solve them. Worse still, the people generating the problems and the stress sleep like a baby so they can generate more distress again tomorrow on a full head of steam and a clear conscience.


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Dr. Paul F. Schmidt