Dear Dr. Norquist:
I could use your advice on managing my stress. My (grown) daughter has a health situation that only she can control. She has the know-how and medical support she needs, but it is up to her to implement it. Sometimes she does, and sometimes she doesn’t.
I get very anxious when she is not taking care of her condition. If I say anything it just leads to an argument between us, and then she shuts me out for awhile. I try to distract myself, I go to the gym, I talk to my friends. It helps some, but not completely. Sometimes I just can’t stop thinking of all the things that can go wrong with her health. My husband is tired of hearing about it. I have trouble sleeping and I have lots of upset stomachs. What can I do about it?
Dr. Norquist responds:
You are wise in knowing that your adult daughter’s health problem is not yours to fix. What is yours to manage is your own life, and your own internal state. I love it that you are already working on this, with exercise, distracting your mind when necessary and reaching out for interpersonal support.
Given the symptoms that you mention, it sounds like what would be helpful is a practice to help your body to settle. You are a mother who does not feel secure about her daughter’s safety. Doesn’t it make sense on an instinctual, biological level that you are on guard, constantly in a state of readiness to protect her? Instincts are geared towards survival but in this case, it is creating health problems for you, separate from the health problem that plagues your daughter. Your body is stuck in a chronic fight/flight mode, and needs help shifting back into a sense of safety and relaxation.
When you feel safe, your body can move into a relaxed state. Your goal is to move your body into this experiential state of safety and relaxation. To do this you must focus your awareness on body sensations. Start by bringing your attention into your body. It is the kinesthetic sense of relaxation that is important here. Notice how you are sitting on the chair. Are you really letting go, and sinking into that chair? Try noticing all the levels of settling into that chair that you can experience by consciously scanning your body and releasing muscular tension that you are unconsciously and habitually holding onto. Pay particular attention to habitual tension around your eyes, your jaw, the back of your neck and shoulders. When your breath spontaneously starts to deepen, your body is giving you the feedback that it is moving into a place of more safety and relaxation.
This is a body-oriented mindfulness exercise that you can easily do wherever you are. It allows you to move into a richer experience of the moment you are in, bringing about an internal sense of ease that should help with your insomnia and stomach upset. Remember, it is your life that you need to be in, not hers.
(Dr. Sallie Norquist is a licensed psychologist (NJ #2371) in private practice and is director of Chaitanya Counseling Services, a center for upliftment and enlivenment, in Hoboken.) Dr. Norquist and the staff of Chaitanya invite you to write them at Chaitanya Counseling Services, 51 Newark St., Suite 202, Hoboken, NJ 07030 or www.chaitanyacounseling.com or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Questions can address various topics, including relationships, life’s stresses, difficulties, mysteries and dilemmas, as well as questions related to managing stress or alternative ways of understanding health-related concerns. 2018 Chaitanya Counseling Services