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Acceptance Reduces Conflict

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Acceptance is a concept – a state of mind – a way of looking at life and problems. It is a way of thinking that can be applied to any circumstance. It is a pivotal point that takes us from what we can’t do to possibilities, options and choices.

Problems have a magnetic way of holding us in place. Like an insect caught on fly paper, we get stuck in the mess of it all and can’t see a way out.

Acceptance takes us out of the victim role and puts us in the administrator role.

It keeps us from playing the blame game where everything – from circumstances to people, parents, siblings, religion, God, whatever – are blamed for our inability to do anything.

Acceptance puts us in control of our responses regardless of what life throws at us.

With acceptance we can ask ourselves the following questions:

  • What isn’t working and why?
  • What am I resisting that requires a change in my thinking and habits?
  • What do I really want to have happen?
  • What is in my control? What is out of my control?
  • Am I making individual personalities the problem versus how I relate and communicate?
  • Can I do some creative brainstorming to expand my options so I can develop a plan of action with each step outlined?

Acceptance helps define and articulate any problems we have regardless of what they are.

Acceptance in our relationships

Just as not everyone sees the world as we do, not everyone will see problems the same way. One person might look at a situation and make a snap decision as to what needs to be done.

Another person might think, wait a minute, I need more time to think about this.

Or one person might see a set of circumstances as a huge problem while another doesn’t see any problem at all. If these are people in the same household, it can ignite further problems as the argument now becomes who is right and who is wrong.

When one person remains adamant about their position without a willingness to listen to another’s point of view, problems multiply, and become inflated. Now the other person becomes the problem. It no longer is acceptance of what is happening so you can resolve difficulties but trying to resolve the differences of interpretations.

When you find yourself constantly in conflict, you need to stop and ask, what am I missing here? What are we arguing about? What is the real problem?

Right vs. Wrong = Everyone Loses

Acceptance Reduces Conflict | focuswithmarlene.com

Accepting that another’s point of view may be as important as yours is sometimes hard. But when your battle is about who’s right and who’s wrong, you both have lost. Acknowledging that you may have different opinions becomes a starting point.

When you are willing to change your attitude from one of attack/defend to how can we find a way to work together, you are on your way to finding solutions. When you accept the fact that you, your coworkers, neighbors or family members will have a different way of seeing life, it allows you to search for ways to come together instead of immediately doing battle.

With acceptance, you can modify your interpretations and perceptions to include those of others. As you recognize your typical behavior patterns or typical ways of thinking and responding, you can let go of unrealistic expectations and unenforceable rules.

As you admit that neither of you are perfect, you can offer grace to others whose habits can be irritating and who love to argue.

You are able to give grace to yourself as well. You will do stupid things and make mistakes and say hurtful things when you don’t stop and think first. Grace allows you to say I’m sorry, to forgive yourself and others, and find ways to come together.

Conflict creates enormous stress

Non-acceptance will keep you in constant turmoil and anger. And when your anger is directed towards everybody else there are no winners – only losers.

Non-acceptance of differences can keep you in a fighting mood because you insist on being right while everybody else is wrong. Or you never think of yourself as having a valid point of view, which is also destructive.

Conflicts create an enormous amount of stress when they continue over long periods of time. Stop and remind yourself that you are seeing circumstances differently. Stop and listen to what the other person has to say. We want to be heard.

When people are not listened to, they begin to feel disrespected, unwanted, and unworthy of having an opinion.

Accept that you don’t have all the answers.

Accept that you are not perfect, and neither is the other person.

In accepting that you are not the greatest thing in God’s green earth, you acknowledge that you have faults and personality traits that can irritate others. It can be an important first step in learning about who you are in relation to others.

Acceptance can be humbling, but also so very freeing.

Marlene Anderson


Do you want to turn your stress into a positive force?

Make Stress Work For You by Marlene Anderson | focuswithmarlene.comMy Make Stress Work for You bundle will help you:

  • Identify the personal stressors that create high levels of distress in your life
  • Learn how to identify problems and find ways to solve them
  • Replace unhelpful thinking with constructive and practical ways to lower levels of fear, worry, and anxiety

The book bundle includes:

  • ebook
  • audio recording of each chapter’
  • companion Study Guide & Personal Application Workbook
  • Four bonus guides

Click here for details and to order

Stress Reducer: Acceptance

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast

Get caught up with all episodes in the “Make Stress Work for You” series


In February of this year I wrote a blog post titled, “Accept Your Loss and Reclaim Your Life.”

Acceptance is a necessary step in helping us recover from losses.

When we accept our circumstances, their formidable impact on our life is reduced while helping us find ways to reconcile and heal.

In many ways, we are addressing stressful events every day. We acknowledge, accept, look for options and work to find solutions instead of allowing them to create ongoing turmoil. Because acceptance is such an important concept, I want to expand on how it can help us lower stress levels in our daily lives.

We are currently living in uncommon stressful times: the pandemic, inability to go back to work; wondering whether our kids can go back to school, whether we will have enough money to pay our bills or if life will ever return to normal. Add to that the emotional stress that is generated as we try to communicate and work together to solve the escalating problems we face.

We were made for stress.

To live is to experience stress, good or bad. It helps us accomplish our goals. It energizes us to plan and build.

It is when stress comes from problems we don’t know how to fix, ongoing disagreements within our marriage, our kids getting into trouble or having that extra responsibility of caring for aging parents that we feel more and more distress.

Add to that ongoing underlying differences and arguments with in-laws and we have our own epidemic in our homes. Because we don’t know what to do, we keep responding in the same way over and over again, even when it isn’t working.

Denial, minimization, and avoidance

To reduce the consequences of the problems we face, we often deny, minimize, or avoid them. We may fight or resist and persuade ourselves that if only the other person would change, things would be better. We convince ourselves there is nothing else we can do to bring about a more positive resolution.

How can acceptance make a difference?

“I can’t get anything done. I have to do everything around here. Why can’t my spouse and the kids do more? Why don’t they understand why I need some rest too? All I want is some quiet time – is that too much to ask?”

Every time you think you are being ill-treated or abused, your emotional response gets more and more intense and soon becomes a pattern of how you approach all problems. Before you realize it, you are waking up feeling angry and frustrated waiting for the next shoe to drop.

The tension and conflict that is created when we feel we have few or no choices is enormous. And stress created by ongoing feelings of anxiety, foreboding, and anger has the same effect on our body as if we opened the door and saw a tiger snarling at us. The body quickly activates the F/F Response.

But today’s tiger is the responses we make and maintain regarding our problems. Your body is activated, but there is no place to use those F/F body preparations, and they begin to work against us.

  • Acceptance means we accept the circumstances in which we find ourselves.
  • Acceptance means acknowledging what is happening without blame, denial, or additional exaggerations.
  • Acceptance means we stop fighting and resisting.

Like the angry child Mom holds tightly in her arms until he stops fighting, we also hang on to our hurts, our disappointments, and our responses. We continue to fight because we don’t see alternatives. Without acceptance, we remain stuck in an unending spiral going nowhere. It is where we can start working on solutions.

Acceptance requires honesty and honesty can be painful.

Stress Reducer: Acceptance | Focuswithmarlene.com

  • It is much easier to blame someone or something rather than become responsible.
  • It is much easier to become defensive or complacent rather than assertive.
  • It is easier to hide behind what we or others should, must or have to do rather than make tough choices.

In the process, we become a victim and unknowingly resort to manipulation and blame to reduce conflict and tension.

Here are some typical responses people make when asked to accept their ongoing difficulties in order to find a resolution.

  • Accept? It might be easy for you to say – you didn’t have a mother like I did. Or a father who came home drunk and beat us. You didn’t have a sister who was the darling of the family. You weren’t compared to a brother who could do no wrong. Nothing I did was ever good enough.
  • Accept? I can’t be laid off. I’m a single parent. My ex doesn’t pay child support and I am struggling to survive. I’m exhausted and stressed to the max. Or, I don’t want to accept the fact that I am out of work and have to start over – again.
  • Angry? You bet I’m angry. Somebody is always telling me what to do, even when I try my hardest. It’s never good enough! Life sucks! Accept? Accept what? What choices do I have?
  • If I accept – what does that make me? A doormat?

Acceptance does not mean that we have given up or that we will become a passive participant to life. In the process of acceptance, we begin to accept all parts of who we are – our strengths and our weaknesses. We stop trying to prove ourselves and instead begin to focus on finding solutions.

Acceptance tells me I’m okay. No matter what has happened, I can begin again.

With acceptance we can better define the problem.

Letting go of our need to be right can help us come to grips with our own imperfections. Letting go of our belief that we have all the answers or have it all together allows us to see things from a new perspective. Acceptance gives us the opportunity to ask what we really want and move towards finding practical solutions.

Acceptance means a new beginning.  I start right where I am – right here – right now.

We can’t force change, but we can impact what happens by altering our attitudes, behaviors, and beliefs as we seek better solutions. Acceptance allows our energy to be used to explore what we really want instead of remaining fixated on what we don’t want.

Acceptance means I do not have to stay in this uncomfortable spot – I can learn and gain from it.

Take Charge

Acceptance allows us to gain wisdom from our past. It acknowledges that we will not have all the answers we need by ourselves. It acknowledges there is a God, a creator who is still in charge, and reaches down to help us.

Acceptance allows us to take charge and begin to problem-solve to find answers that work for everyone. We can reduce the stress by how we approach our problems and the decisions we make.

Marlene Anderson


Do you want to turn your stress into a positive force?

Make Stress Work For You by Marlene Anderson | focuswithmarlene.comMy Make Stress Work for You bundle will help you:

  • Identify the personal stressors that create high levels of distress in your life
  • Learn how to identify problems and find ways to solve them
  • Replace unhelpful thinking with constructive and practical ways to lower levels of fear, worry, and anxiety

The book bundle includes:

  • ebook
  • audio recording of each chapter’
  • companion Study Guide & Personal Application Workbook
  • Four bonus guides

Click here for details and to order

Challenge and Replace Irrational Thinking

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast

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Last week you recorded and reviewed a record of how you typically respond to circumstances throughout each day.

The purpose was to discover patterns of thinking and behavior that add unnecessary stress to your life.

Were you surprised by how your thoughts could increase or decrease the stress you had?

As we learned from Aaron Beck and Albert Ellis, we make assumptions about the world and ourselves that become unquestionable core beliefs and unbreakable rules by which everything and everyone is evaluated.

Irrational thinking influences how we think and act, how we treat others, our relationships, our attitudes, expectations, and assumptions.

Thought-Belief Distortions

Here is a modified list of thought-belief distortions or irrational thinking that Beck and Ellis developed to help us better understand how our typical responses to life can create problems.

  • Overgeneralization – a single negative event becomes a rule.
  • Mental filtering – we filter out the positive and focus on the negative.
  • Black or White – there is no in-between.
  • Mind reading – we jump to conclusions.
  • We make predictions and act as if they were factual.
  • Failures become catastrophes and successes are minimized as unimportant.
  • Emotions interpret our reality and govern how we must act.
  • Everything is personalized – we are either in control or have no control.

Do you recognize any of these thinking patterns? Remember, with every emotional reaction there is an accompanying thought.

Challenging Irrational Thoughts and Beliefs

Challenge and Replace Irrational Thinking | focuswithmarlene.com

Once we recognize our distorted thoughts and beliefs, we can start challenging them.

Challenging thoughts asks:

  • Why do I believe this is true and who says it is true?
  • How accurate is my thinking given the circumstances and what is actually happening?
  • How can I modify or expand those first initial thoughts and responses?

Here is the example I gave last week of how easy it is to get wrapped up in responses that escalate our stress levels.

Your day started with frustration, trying to get the kids up and ready for school. Those feelings of irritation continued as you battled heavy traffic on your commute to work. You continued to think about how your kids’ disobedience spoiled the remainder of your day. Later in the morning, that irritation turned into anger when you were given an unexpected project to complete before noon. By the time you got home at night, your anger had been simmering all day, and when you hear your spouse’s comments about not having dinner ready, you explode. How dare he put more demands on you?

Unchallenged, that first automatic response at the beginning of the day triggered an on-going irritation that led to more and more anger until by the end of the day you blew up.

Unenforceable rules were broken. Kids should behave and do what they are told. At work, no consideration was given for your workload. People should respect and appreciate you. Everybody is out to get you. Nobody cares. And tomorrow won’t be any different.

Any logical reasoning is filtered out and by the end of the day you were unable to let go and look for ways to relax and enjoy the rest of the evening. Instead, you continued to hang onto your anger and resentment, which then expanded to other remembered grievances you had. Any proactive thinking was eliminated.

Challenging takes us out of the typical responses that continue to escalate.

We can look for more ways to be proactive. We can roll with the punches and find ways to reverse or modify the effects of the day through laughter or humor. The goal is to return our body to a restful state.

Here is an exercise that can help you experience this difference.

Think back to a difficult situation you encountered.

Close your eyes and create a picture in your mind as vividly as possible of what took place.

Then, review the following questions and write down what you discovered.

  • What was happening?
  • What were you feeling? Example: hurt, angry, guilt, sadness, anxiety, etc.
  • What irrational thinking was involved? There is often a stream of thoughts and recollections that are attached to any event.
  • What core beliefs were affected? Were unbreakable rules broken? They typically include words such as should, must or have to.
  • What assumptions and expectations did you have of yourself or others?
  • What personal doubts or insecurities did you have?

Challenge and Replay

Now replay the situation again and challenge any irrational thinking. Could you expand or reframe the circumstances to broaden your understanding and give you a more positive interpretation?

As you repeat it from this different perspective, how does it feel? Close your eyes and visualize this different response. Allow yourself to feel the difference between the two versions.

Were you able to feel in charge of your response? Did it allow you to let go of your frustrations and irritations? Can you adopt some of this to situations in the future?

We will experience days when everything goes wrong. We will find ourselves getting irritated and upset. But we don’t have to stay in those spaces. We can choose to find a positive way to deal with life’s irritations.

Once a pattern is identified, use the challenging method to put a new one in place.

Marlene Anderson


Do you want to turn your stress into a positive force?

Make Stress Work For You by Marlene Anderson | focuswithmarlene.comMy Make Stress Work for You bundle will help you:

  • Identify the personal stressors that create high levels of distress in your life
  • Learn how to identify problems and find ways to solve them
  • Replace unhelpful thinking with constructive and practical ways to lower levels of fear, worry, and anxiety

The book bundle includes:

  • ebook
  • audio recording of each chapter’
  • companion Study Guide & Personal Application Workbook
  • Four bonus guides

Click here for details and to order

Constant Emotional Turmoil

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast

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It seems that life keeps handing us one stressful thing after another. We barely resolve one problem when ten others pop up, demanding immediate attention. Stress now becomes a constant battle, a way of life that keeps our thoughts and emotions in turmoil.

According to Aaron Beck and Albert Ellis, renowned scientists and psychologists, it isn’t situations by themselves that determine how we feel, but rather the interpretations and perceptions we make.

While it is important to pay attention to our emotional responses, we also need to pay attention to what we are saying to ourselves about these incidences. We can blow events out of proportion by how we think. These become thought distortions or irrational thinking that increases our stress levels.

Beck and Ellis compiled a list of thought-belief distortions or irrational thinking that create major problems for us and compounds our stress.

If you purchased my book, Make Stress Work for You: 12 Steps to Understanding Stress and Turning it into a Positive Force, you also received a worksheet that describes these irrational thinking patterns or thought-belief distortions.

Core Beliefs

The assumptions we make about our world and ourselves become absolute beliefs, and everything is evaluated by them. These core beliefs form unbreakable rules that everybody must or have to follow and influence how we think and act, how we treat others, and include our attitudes, expectations, and assumptions.

Before we can eliminate or reduce unnecessary stress, we need to address the thoughts directly associated with those events.

Stressful Life Events

Let’s take a look at some of the things that can create high levels of stress in our lives:

Family pressures: spousal conflict, daily chaos, lack of structure and routines, single parent household, workload imbalance, etc.

Poor time management: inability to manage personal time, establish routines and dependable schedules, set goals, and follow through.

Unhealthy lifestyle: eating on the run, lack of exercise, poor diet, lack of self-control or self-management, etc.

Psychological: unhealthy and negative thinking, consistent devaluing of your worth, biased comparisons, lack of temperance and moderation, negative outlook on life.

Inability to be assertive: passive-aggressive, aggressive instead of assertive.

Short-term coping strategies vs long-term strategies: alcohol, overeating, drugs, anger/rage, escape through the internet, fantasy, pornography.

Inability to identify and resolve problems: Continue to focus on symptoms without working on the problem, criteria not established, prioritize, problem-solve.

Ongoing conflict: problems at work, disagreements with co-workers and bosses, inability to work together, poor communication skills, family pressures, inability to negotiate.

Go over the list.

Do you recognize some of them?

Take one situation and imagine yourself working with it. What can you change that could lower stress levels?

How could you change your responses to make it more manageable?

Discovering Your Personal Patterns of Thinking

Constant Emotional Turmoil | focuswithmarlene.com

To better understand whether your responses to life’s challenges that are creating additional stress, you need to first become aware of your characteristic patterns of thinking and acting.

Keep a record for a week of your typical responses to situations. You especially want to know whether anger, anxiety, worry or fear is predominant.

Use a separate piece of paper for each day. Jot down the time of day and write next to it any intense emotions you felt and the situation that triggered it. Then record the automatic thoughts you had. What were you thinking? What did you believe about yourself and your abilities to meet that challenge? What rules did you have in place that dictated that others must or should follow?

Here is an example of what such a recording might look like.

7:30 – feeling really irritated – the kids are still not up, and I have to get to work. Why can’t they do what they are told?

9:00 – angry – the traffic is worse than ever – if the kids did what they were supposed to do, I wouldn’t be leaving home late.

10:00 – angry and upset – I was handed a project and told to complete it before noon. How am I supposed to get this done when I have other work to complete? I never get appreciated or respected for any of the time I put in and everything I accomplish.

6:00 – really angry – my husband walks in the door and wants to know why dinner isn’t ready? Really!! Doesn’t he know what a bad day I have had?

At the end of the week, review your notes and how you typically responded to circumstances throughout your day.

The purpose was to discover patterns of negative or irrational thinking that added unnecessary stress to your life. After your review, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Did you recognize a predominant or typical response pattern?
  • Why do you think certain emotions were triggered so often?
  • How accurate or rational were your thoughts in relation to what was actually happening? Did you find yourself filtering out anything positive?
  • What unbreakable rules were in place that others did not follow? They usually contain the words, must, should, or have to.
  • What did you believe about yourself and the world in relation to what was happening?
  • Was your response reasonable or helpful given the circumstance? How did it help resolve any problems? How did it add to your problems?
  • Could you have chosen a more tempered response? If you had, would you have felt less stressed with a more positive result?

Remember, initial responses can be altered. Once a negative pattern has been recognized that is not helpful, it can be changed.

Marlene Anderson


Do you want to turn your stress into a positive force?

Make Stress Work For You by Marlene Anderson | focuswithmarlene.comMy Make Stress Work for You bundle will help you:

  • Identify the personal stressors that create high levels of distress in your life
  • Learn how to identify problems and find ways to solve them
  • Replace unhelpful thinking with constructive and practical ways to lower levels of fear, worry, and anxiety

The book bundle includes:

  • ebook
  • audio recording of each chapter’
  • companion Study Guide & Personal Application Workbook
  • Four bonus guides

Click here for details and to order

Personalized Stress: The Stress we Create

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast

Get caught up with all episodes in the “Make Stress Work for You” series


We will experience stress every day. That is normal and natural. For example:

You’ve been asked to work overtime – again. The bus was late, you arrive home to kids fighting and an irritated spouse, the kitchen is a mess and you just want to throw up your hands and scream.

That is a pretty normal reaction to a string of events that were frustrating and exasperating. Who wouldn’t want to throw up their hands and scream?

However, when we remain in that agitated state, the original stress is compounded. We need our jobs, we want to have good times with our families, and we know we can adapt, but how do we keep the accumulation of expectations and demands from overwhelming us?

Good Stress

Stress is good when we use it to adapt to life in positive ways. Think about all the times when you were doing something you enjoyed, working on projects you loved, and developing plans for the future. Your stress response allowed you to stay focused, determine what needed to be done and follow through. While involved, you completely lost track of time. You could work long hours without seemingly getting tired.

When we understand that stress is a necessary part of life, both to keep us safe and to accomplish things, we can direct our attention to how we make it worse or even unnecessary.

What makes the difference? And how can we meet the demands of our life without stress escalating out of control?

Our Response to Danger

A major part of our overall stress system is alerting us of danger. When our brain receives information that we might be in danger of some kind, our Fight/Flight response is immediately activated. It is an old survival system that prepares us within seconds to either fight or flee or remain frozen in place in preparation to meet that threat. Without that quick response and interpretative system, we would not survive.

It is estimated that around 33 different hormones are released into the body. Every organ is affected in some way: heart, circulatory system, adrenal glands, stomach, intestines, kidneys, liver, brain, lungs, etc. Blood is shunted away from our extremities. Digestion is put on hold. Glucose is dumped into the blood to provide energy. Sweating helps remove excess toxins.

When the danger is past, the body returns to a restful state; our heartbeat returns to normal, our blood pressure lowers, and our digestive system continues its interrupted work.

It’s a great system. The mind interprets data, the body prepares us to act on that data, and after we have acted, the body returns to a restful state again.

When that threat isn’t a physical threat but a threat to our self-worth, integrity and esteem, the same response is also activated. Our body prepares as if it was in physical danger.

The problem with these kinds of threats is that we continue to remain in a heightened state of alert in anticipation that something terrible might happen. It becomes harder and harder to relax, there are fewer times for our bodies to return to a restorative state, and we soon become dis-stressed and exhausted.

The Distress We Create

Personalized Stress: The Stress we Create | FocusWithMarlene.com

The additional stress we create that goes beyond prevention and caution, and usually occurs through worry, anxiety, fear, or long-standing anger and resentment. When feeling stressed, we automatically assume it is the result of time pressure, overwork, and family conflicts.

While all of these generate stress, it is the additional layer of stress that we add by our thoughts and beliefs that we want to avoid. It’s not that our F/F system is constantly activated, but when that system cannot return to a normal resting stage until we let go and allow ourselves to relax.

Let’s look at the example given at the beginning of this article. It is a day of ongoing and escalating frustration and irritation. There will be many stressful times that we cannot alter. But again, we were made to adapt.

What we do have control over is how we choose to respond overall to these situations. Stress levels will continue to increase if we remain angry and resentful over long periods of time. Anger can soon become a preferred response to everything. When that happens, we have drastically increased our stress load.

To reduce any stress, physical, psychological or emotional, we need to find those ways to return our bodies to a restful state.

  • How could you modify or reduce any of the feelings and responses to the above situation?
  • What might you have done that would have reduced or replaced that increasing anger?

Sometimes we don’t want to let go of our anger and resentment because we don’t want to allow people to get away with putting us in difficult situations.

What we don’t realize is that by hanging onto that resentment, we are now hurting ourselves. Hanging onto and nursing that anger doesn’t change a thing except to make us more miserable.

What Stresses You Out?

What stressful situations are you dealing with? What is your ongoing response to them? Look at the list below and consider whether any of them create stress in your life:

  • Environment: traffic, long commutes, noisy neighbors, etc.

 

  • Social: interpersonal relationships, obligations, family expectations, etc.

 

  • Physiological: poor diets, overweight, poor self-regulation, unpredictable routines, little time management, unhealthy lifestyle.

 

  • Psychological: thought patterns, devaluing our worth, low self-esteem, constant biased comparisons, negative thinking, etc.

 

Now in the column below, write down how they may be affecting you and how you can offset the initial source of stress.

  • Environment –

 

  • Social –

 

  • Physiological –

 

  • Psychological –

 

There are many things we cannot change. But we can change our long-term responses that can lower the stress we are experiencing.

Marlene Anderson


Do you want to turn your stress into a positive force?

Make Stress Work For You by Marlene Anderson | focuswithmarlene.comMy Make Stress Work for You bundle will help you:

  • Identify the personal stressors that create high levels of distress in your life
  • Learn how to identify problems and find ways to solve them
  • Replace unhelpful thinking with constructive and practical ways to lower levels of fear, worry, and anxiety

The book bundle includes:

  • ebook
  • audio recording of each chapter’
  • companion Study Guide & Personal Application Workbook
  • Four bonus guides

Click here for details and to order

We Were Made for Stress

Listen to this episode of the Focus With Marlene podcast

During this pandemic, I have had conversations with many people. Everyone is feeling stressed due to prolonged isolation and restrictions.

But for some, that stress is far worse than for others. What makes the difference?

Make Stress Work For You by Marlene Anderson | focuswithmarlene.comIn my book, Make Stress Work for You: 12 Steps to Understanding Stress and Turning it into a Positive Force, I talk about the difference between good stress (eustress) and bad stress (distress). As you read and listen to the audio of each of the steps, you will learn how you can take charge of the stress in your life.

While stress is universal and everyone experiences it, it is also very personal. What stresses one person may be an exhilarating experience to another. Consider sky diving or swimming. In the Study Guide and Personal Application that accompanies this book, the questions presented can help you understand the sources of your personal stress.

We can’t live without stress nor do we want to. It is an essential part of living. But we can make it work for us and not against us.

What stress is and how it impacts our lives

If we use the analogy of a car and gasoline, we could say we are the vehicle and stress is the gas – the source of energy that drives that car. We are behind that wheel, and we can determine where we will go and how we will use that energy.

Cars run effectively and smoothly for long periods of time if they are properly taken care of and maintained. If they are not, your car soon breaks down. Just like your car, if you don’t take care of or maintain your mind and body, you will soon break down.

We were designed to adapt to the world around us.

Stress Without DistressAs Dr. Hans Selye, renowned scientist for his work on stress, and recipient of two honorary doctorates, wrote in his book, Stress Without Distress, “Stress is the nonspecific response of the body to any demand made upon it.”

Stress is that adaptive ability that allows us to adjust to any new situation, whether it is enjoying the grandkids, going to work, raising our families, cheering at a football game, or responding to a threat. If we couldn’t adapt, we wouldn’t be able to respond to life – mentally, emotionally, socially or physically.

Stress can be both motivating and energizing.

When it is working for us, we can set goals, plan our careers, enjoy life, solve problems, and live life to the fullest. When it is working against us, however, we soon become ill and worn down.

We are given a certain amount of adaptive ability at birth to use throughout our lifetime to make the adjustments required to live. When that storehouse of adaptive ability is used up, however, we don’t get any more.

Although we have no control over the amount of adaptive ability we are born with, we do have considerable control over how we use it.

The human body is extremely resilient and flexible.

Even when high levels of stress extend for longer periods of time, we are still able to cope and rebound. However, when we don’t find a way to resolve the cause of our stress, and we remain stressed for longer and longer periods of time without relief, we will become distressed.

When that happens, our sleep will be impacted, and we won’t get the rest we need. It becomes more and more difficult to relax, and we find ourselves on a downward spiral of stomach or gastrointestinal problems, headaches, hypertension, irritability, and looking for short-term fixes like drugs, alcohol, or food. Our heart seems to be constantly racing, our hands and feet are often cold or clammy and we use social media as a diversion or quick fix.

We were made to adapt to whatever life throws at us.

We have the ability to respond to difficult and challenging situations. But when those demands become overwhelming, we become overloaded and fatigued. Normal stress, which activates and energizes us, can gradually become dis-stress when we are constantly geared up for action of some kind but there is no way to use that energy source. Then it begins to work against us.

We Were Made for Stress | focuswithmarlene.com

Here are some things we know about the effects of stress:

  • It is estimated that around 75% of doctor’s visits are attributed to high or prolonged levels of stress.
  • Stress contributes to heart disease, high blood pressure, strokes, and other illnesses.
  • Stress contributes to the development of alcoholism, obesity, suicide, drug addiction, cigarette addiction and other harmful behaviors.
  • Tranquilizers, antidepressants, and anti-anxiety medications account for many prescriptions written in the United States each year.
  • Prolonged stress exhausts the adrenal glands, depletes the nervous system, and can cause symptoms such as ulcers, chest pains, headaches, depression and finally exhaustion. It also lowers the immune system which protects us from many serious diseases.
  • Recurring health problems of any type can be a signal that we are under high levels of stress that we need to pay attention to. When the body is highly stressed for too long, it gets out of balance and that imbalance is expressed with disease.

Stress log

Keep a stress log for a week and mark down those times when you are feeling stressed, under pressure and always tense.

  • What signs and symptoms, both physical and emotional, were you experiencing when stressed?
  • Was this an ongoing stress?
  • What patterns of thinking or responding to life kept you more stressed?

Ask yourself what you can do to reduce your stress levels.

The Relaxation ResponseThat might be as simple as refusing to let irritations ruin your day, or becoming more in charge of your thoughts, laughing off things that are really unimportant.

Even when you’re completely stressed out, you can help your body return to a normal relaxed state.

Learning to respond differently to life’s challenges can keep stress levels down and have a profound difference overall in your health and enjoyment in life.

Dr. Herbert Benson, M.D., author of The Relaxation Response, details the importance of learning how to relax to maintain your health.

Because it is often difficult to put that into practice, I have recorded a Relaxation CD (available for purchase on my website) that enables you to simply listen and allow yourself to let go of tension and relax.

We can’t avoid stress. Nor do we want to.

What we do want to do is find ways to reduce distress and activate the stress that helps us accomplish goals.

12 Steps to Aging Confidently

I was asked to speak to a group of ladies recently about aging and adjusting. I put together twelve ways we can age with confidence and decided to share it as a blog post. At any age we can take charge of our lives and step into that space with confidence.

Listen to this Episode of the Focus With Marlene Podcast


12 Steps to Aging Confidently

1. Develop a new focus – a new mindset.

Focus on what you can do; don’t dwell on what you can’t do. As we age, there will be things we no longer can do and things we struggle to do. For example, arthritis can make it difficult to pick up objects or hold onto them, and we begin to worry about our abilities declining.

Worry can become a habit that eliminates possibilities. Do what you can and do it with confidence.

2. Acknowledge and accept.

It is hard to accept that we are aging. But each day is an opportunity to begin again.

  • What interests, passions, or things have you wanted to do but never had time for?
  • Is it possible to do some of them now?

For example, travel. Most cruise ships adapt for wheelchairs, making travel with disabilities possible.

Accept the changes that are happening. It is part of life. Become comfortable with who you are at this stage in life.

3. Believe in yourself.

Think back to times when you were challenged with overwhelming situations.

  • What did you do?
  • What worked?
  • What didn’t work?
  • What did you learn about yourself?

When faced with difficult things in the moment, we often struggle with the enormity of the challenge. Yet, when we reflect on past difficult times, they felt just as enormous and impossible at that time. But when we confronted them, we were able to move through and beyond and learn something valuable in the doing. Each life event taught us something important.

12 Steps to Aging Confidently | Focuswithmarlene.com

4. Find something meaningful to do every day.

You bring to projects a maturity and a lifetime of wisdom that you didn’t have when you were younger. You are never too old to try something new. You can develop new skills.

Work on projects together with others, such as quilting or making prayer shawls.

Many organizations need volunteers that can read stories to children at the library, or volunteering at a local hospital or helping at a food bank.

For me it is writing, blogging, and speaking, finding a new way to do what I love to do, which is counseling and teaching.

There are more productive days ahead of you than you might think.

5. Let go of the past.

Let go of resentments. Let go of anything that keeps you thinking in a negative way. Come to terms or reconcile with whatever happened in the past.  It is over. It is done. Resolve any torment or heavy disapproval you may have of yourself or others.

Forgive yourself and forgive others. Forgiveness is a gift. Everyone has made mistakes. Everyone has made bad choices. Everyone has done things they wish they hadn’t done. Regurgitating the past keeps you from moving forward.

We may look back and think, I wish I had done this or that, but each new day gives us the opportunity to start fresh. Let go of what you can’t do and focus on what you can.

6. Do something pleasant each day…

…Whatever that is, even if it is only 10-to-15 minutes. That might mean going for a walk, reading a book, calling a friend, doing some crossword puzzles, baking cookies, taking an online course, working on an interesting project – anything that takes your mind off your worries or depressed mood. During that time, focus on the here and now – not the future or the past – but right now, in the moment.

7. Share your life stories.

Why do you need to share your stories? Because they contain a lifetime of learning, often gained the hard way. You have faced losses and challenges you never wanted. But within those challenges you became a better person, a stronger person.

Others want to know they can make it too. Share your doubts and fears and what you have learned along the way. Share your wisdom. Remember the uncertainties you had. Acknowledge that you don’t have all the answers, but you don’t need to. Be honest and genuine.

8. Develop a network of friends.

Connecting with others is not just a feel-good thing – it is necessary for our health and wellbeing.

For those who are widows, it is especially critical. Share and encourage one another. This network of friends becomes an extended family. You can laugh together and share your concerns. You can be honest and real. You do not have to solve everybody’s problems, but you can listen and encourage each other. You are there for one another as you lose longtime friends. You need that network of friends to help you through those tough times. Relationships are critical to our health. Get together, play games, and laugh.

9. Develop a sense of humor.

Every day, find something to laugh about. It is amazing how it changes your mood. A friend of mine sends me funny pictures, blog posts, etc. that make me roar with laughter. I pass them on. Find those funny stories – post funny pictures around the house that make you smile when you pass by. Laugh at yourself. Here again, science has shown us the powerful positive impact it has on our health.

10. Make time work for you.

We have 24 hours 7 days a week. Managing time is making time work for you.

When you develop schedules and routines, it stabilizes your life. It provides a structure and dependability for each day. Your schedule does not have to have a rigid hour-by-hour regulation. It can be very flexible, but it establishes routines that make life more predictable and offers a structure for each day. It allows you to accomplish the daily, weekly, or monthly chores that are needed, with time set aside specifically for relaxation and fun.

11. Give yourself grace.

When you struggle in the morning to get started and just want to sit down for the remainder of the day, take the day off and take care of your needs. Then when you are feeling better, resume your activities. Grace yourself extra time to do things when needed.

Grace allows you to be human. We are not perfect. It says you can be kind to yourself, giving yourself leniency and compassion.

Give yourself grace to have a day of doing nothing. Then pick up the reins the following day.

12. Celebrate your life.

Count your blessings. Every day, give thanks for what you have. Make a list of things you are grateful for. Repeat them often. It not only makes you feel better, but research shows it lowers stress levels and improves brain functioning.

When you purposefully look for things to be grateful for, it begins to reshape your situation and your outlook.

When I wake up, I begin my day by thanking God for all the things I am grateful for. It sets the tone for the day. And whenever I get down, I stop and remind myself of all the things I am grateful for. Achy bones and joints or cloudy rainy days, there are still a multitude of things to be grateful for.

10 Takeaways for Continued Success as You Heal from a Major Loss

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast

Click here to get caught up on all episodes in this series on recovering from loss


As I finish this series of blog posts and podcast episodes associated with my book, Learning to Live Again in a New World, I want to leave you with some thoughts.

Healing from a major loss is not easy and isn’t accomplished in a few months or even a year. It is a process that involves coming to terms with something you had not expected or wanted.

Taking charge of rebuilding your life will empower you to step out in confidence.

You have completed and applied the suggestions given in the last six month’s posts on recovery and rebuilding. Losses can be tricky and difficult to process, and you can become discouraged. But when you recognize your progress, you will have confidence to keep marching forward.

Acceptance and letting go started the process of rebuilding.

Taking charge of the nitty-gritty details of life and making them work for you has been another defining step. Recognizing the nuggets of blessings and gratitude have given you a new confidence.

Before we complete this series on learning to live again, I want to leave you with these final thoughts.

10 Takeaways for Continued Success as You Heal from a Major Loss | Focuswithmarlene.com

1. Be patient and loving with yourself.

It takes time to recover and rebuild. Learning and applying new skills take time.

2. Formulate realistic expectations for your future.

Temper your expectations with a reality you can work with. Don’t expect to climb Mt. Everest without learning mountain climbing. Be prepared to experience ongoing setbacks and challenges. That is life.

3. Use resistance to your advantage.

You can resist accepting and remain stuck in your grief and loss, or you can resist letting problems take control of your life. Two mantras I use whenever I get discouraged are, “yes, I can,” and “I refuse.”  I can accomplish what needs to be done and I refuse to let unwanted challenges take me down.

4. Nurture confidence in yourself.

We are made stronger in our weakness. Accept both your weaker side and your stronger side. We are a combination of both. Refuse to compare yourself with others.

Comparisons are deadly because we tend to compare our inadequacies with another’s strong points.

5. Choose your focus.

Your focus is where you decide to put your attention. It becomes the cornerstone for everything you do. It is where you put your day-to-day emphasis. You can focus on everything that isn’t working, or you can focus on all the things that are working. It’s an attitude. It’s a mindset.

6. Take one new skill at a time that you want to apply to your life and work with it.

Maybe it is better time management. Maybe it is becoming more grateful. Maybe it is learning to recognize your problems so you can work on them.

7. Become a master problem solver.

Learn to recognize underlying problems that are creating anxiety and distress. Some problems have been there awhile and may take a little time to identify the root cause.

The more you focus on resolving problems vs. focusing on symptoms, the quicker you will be able to resolve them.

8. Laugh and enjoy life.

Laugh at your inadequacies. Laugh at life – whatever it hands you. When you can accept and laugh at yourself you can appreciate and love yourself. You become honest and genuine. Having fun and enjoying life is as important as accomplishing goals.

9. Let go of resentments.

Hanging onto them and feeding them will not give you the justice or satisfaction you desire. Resentments will eat you up – they will destroy you. The justice you believe you need will never be satisfying enough. Instead, they become giant roadblocks to anything positive in your life.

10. Live your values.

It is who you are. It defines your character. It tells others what kind of person you are; trustworthy, honest, responsible, loyal, and dependable. Character is a work in progress for each of us.

You are a wonderful human being, made by our Heavenly Father, with talents and aptitudes unique to you. You are needed in this community of people. We all gain when we share our stories and challenges and resolutions with others.


Learning to Live Again in a New World, by Marlene Anderson | focuswithmarlene.comLearning to Live Again in a New World

We need validation for the turmoil of thoughts and emotions we experience. But we also need the tools necessary to create a new beginning that is both satisfying and meaningful. My new book, Learning to Live Again in a New World, offers those tools to help work through the problems you might be facing.

It is a guide to help you through the ups and downs of grieving a significant loss. And it includes a study guide at the end for use with groups.

Marlene Anderson

Yes, You Can

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast

Click here to get caught up on all episodes in this series on recovering from loss


“When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me.’”

— Erma Bombeck

You have been on a life-altering journey, a journey you had neither anticipated nor wanted.

There have been many unexpected surprises that demanded change, adjustment, a new assessment, and adaptation of plans. Your life has been forever altered.

Taking back the reins of your life requires purpose, choice, and determination.

I believe that deep within each of us lies the resources we need to meet any crisis, adversity, or unwanted change. These resources are often buried beneath doubts and old destructive messages. But we can uncover them, collect new information and alter our thinking to accommodate old models of doing things.

This is not for the faint of heart. But those willing to dig deep inside themselves will find the resolve needed to meet any challenge. And with the help of God, we can find both the strength and courage to step forward.

“The person who risks nothing, does nothing, has nothing, is nothing, and becomes nothing. He may avoid suffering and sorrow, but he simply cannot learn, feel change, grow or love. Chained by his certitude, he is a slave; he has forfeited his freedom. Only the person who risks is truly free.”

—Leo Buscaglia (1982)

Since January of this year, my blog posts have offered information on ways to heal, recover and gain a new appreciation for who you are as you developed new skills and applied them in rebuilding your life.

Sometimes we are required to do whatever is necessary in the moment until we are able to mobilize our goals. Then we often ask ourselves, what can we do as we sort out the ins and outs of beginning again?

Yes, You Can | focuswithmarlene.com

Let me share a personal story of a time when I needed to ask that question:  What can I do? While it might not fully define your circumstances, there is an important lesson here that can benefit everyone.

My husband and I had just moved into a new home we had built and were in various stages of unpacking and finding a place to put things. A vertebra in my lower back had been gradually deteriorating, putting pressure on a sciatic nerve. Without warning, it could trigger a leg spasm in my left leg, culminating in a leg cramp that locked my leg in a rigid position. Once locked, I was unable to move it until it had run its course. With enough warning, I could alter the outcome of the spasm.

If I recognized the beginning of that muscular contraction, I could push my foot down hard on the floor and break the cramping cycle. Even when asleep, there was a part of my brain on constant alert for the beginning of such a spasm. If I jumped out of bed quick enough, I could stop the process.

If I didn’t catch it in time, I would have to endure the excruciating pain until the affected nerves and muscles released me from its grip. Lifting and bending aggravated my lower back even more. Unpacking boxes was impossible.

I had to wait a week before I could see my orthopedic surgeon. Not being able to finish unpacking was frustrating. But what could I do in the interim?

Reading books or looking at magazines would be short-lived and trivial pursuits were not for me. I needed to be doing something constructive. Then, I heard that small internal voice remind me, as it had so often in the past: focus on what you can do and forget about what you can’t do.

Focus on what you can do – not what you can’t

But what could I do?

Then, I remembered all the cooking magazines I had collected over the years full of great recipes and cooking tips that I had brought with me to my new home. I was waiting for a time when I could go through them, select the ones I wanted and throw the rest away. I had been too busy until now. Now, I realized, was the perfect time to get the job done.

Before I went in for scheduled back surgery, I went through all those magazines that had been languishing in boxes, placed the saved recipes in binders and threw the rest away. I still have and use those recipes and cooking lessons.

No matter what the situation, difficulty, or limitation, there is always something of purpose we can focus our attention on.

A New Mindset: Yes, You Can!

One of the most important skills you can develop is a mindset of “yes, you can.” This mindset believes in “you” and looks for ways you can apply yourself.

It is an attitude that reflects a willingness to dig deep inside and pull out those resources waiting to be developed and used; resources such as determination and the ability to be flexible.

It incorporates what you have learned but may have forgotten or dismissed. Think about what you mastered in the past and how you did that. Add to that the resourcefulness of ingenuity and perception gained through this journey.

You will make mistakes.

You will misinterpret the data you are given. You will judge yourself harshly and have doubts and concerns. You will get discouraged. That is part of being a human being.

But granting yourself grace to make mistakes, accepting yourself with all your faults as well as your strengths, and asking for the strength and wisdom you need from God, will see you through the toughest of times.

You can make it. And you will be richly blessed in the process.

“You are never too old to set a new goal or to dream a new dream.”

– C.S. Lewis

This isn’t just about putting a positive spin on a serious situation.

It’s about looking at where you are in this moment and telling yourself, “Yes, I can.”

You may not have all the answers or resources, but you can ask and find the help you need. But the bottom line is you need to believe in yourself. With the help of God, you can strengthen your resolve, have faith in yourself, improve your life skills and accomplish.


Learning to Live Again in a New World, by Marlene Anderson | focuswithmarlene.comLearning to Live Again in a New World

We need validation for the turmoil of thoughts and emotions we experience. But we also need the tools necessary to create a new beginning that is both satisfying and meaningful. My new book, Learning to Live Again in a New World, offers those tools to help work through the problems you might be facing.

It is a guide to help you through the ups and downs of grieving a significant loss. And it includes a study guide at the end for use with groups.

Marlene Anderson

Brainstorming: How I Worked Through a Problem

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast

Click here to get caught up on all episodes in this series on recovering from loss


All successful people have a goal. No one can get anywhere unless he knows where he wants to go and what he wants to be or do.

—Norman Vincent Peale

Last week we addressed conflicts and problems that exist between more than one person, and how you can properly identify the problem, given two different perspectives.

This week I share a major problem I faced and how I was able to resolve it.

After the death of my husband, I was faced with a huge financial decline along with a house we had just built, a small mortgage and lack of immediate resources.

My basic problem: What do I do now? What are my options?

Additional problems: If I have to move, where will I move to? How much can I spend on a different home?

Brainstorming: How I Worked Through a Problem | focuswithmarlene.com

Here are some of the ways I explored my basic problem and solutions I tried.

Through this process I was able to set my final criteria for where I wanted to live with a move I needed to make.

  • I could stay in my house and rent my daylight basement. I tried that but found I was uncomfortable with that as a solution.
  • I could become even more frugal and try to make it without selling. While I can be very frugal and had a small income each month, I realized there would be increases to homeowner costs, tax increases, etc. that I needed to prepare for.
  • If I sold my house, would the sale of my home furnish me with enough money to purchase another? This created additional questions, such as: Where would I move? Do I rent or buy? Do I stay within the community or move closer to my kids? What were the pros and cons of each?
  • Should I consider going back to work even though I was retired? I did not want to return to full-time teaching. Would part-time work give me enough funds to remain in my current house and still meet increased costs and unexpected emergencies?

The possibility of having to sell the beautiful home my husband and I had just built was not something I wanted to entertain. But as I examined each of the questions and potential solutions, carefully evaluating each, I realized my options were limited.

I had to assess what I wanted for my future long-term as well as any financial restraints involved. I was not just evaluating whether I could remain in my current home, but where I could move to, whether to rent or purchase. This was a major life-changing decision. After carefully thinking through all potential options, I made my decision to sell my home and purchase another.

Then I had to decide where I wanted to move to.

Should I move closer to my kids, return to the state where we had lived before, or remain in this area? After exploring homes on the market in surrounding towns, I made my final decision. I wanted to remain in my same community.

Next, I needed to determine what I could afford.

When I looked at the homes available to me within the price range I had set, however, they required some kind of upgrade or remodeling which would then increase the total price of the home.

As I brainstormed other options, it occurred to me that I could purchase one of the available lots and move a modular home on it as there were many wonderful models available to choose from in my price range.

But when I considered the cost of the lot, building a foundation, and a move from the factory, I realized I could build a house from the ground up for the same price and I would have more square footage and design options.

Problem-solving will take you through many opportunities to increase your list of choices.

Brainstorming and evaluating as many of those options as possible is also an opportunity to refine your criteria, your wants and needs.

As I expanded my awareness of what I could work with and do, it enabled me to see many possibilities I would never have considered when I started. By exhausting all possibilities and then choosing the best, I was able to arrive at a final decision that went far beyond my dreams. I was able to build a house I could never have afforded otherwise.

As you work with your ideas, you can evaluate and discover more of what you want.

When you have enough information and evaluate the pros and cons of each, you will be able to choose one that best fits your needs and implement a plan of action. Through this process, you are allowing new ideas to surface that you might not have thought of otherwise. I ended up with a home and an asset I would not have had otherwise.

When you start problem-solving and brainstorming ideas, don’t limit yourself.

As new possibilities pop up, consider them valid considerations. In the process you will clarify your criteria.

Be open to new ideas when they present themselves.

Be willing to look at many different possibilities before making a final decision. When you have exhausted all your options, you will find one that is right for you.

I love my new home and never would have had it if I hadn’t gone through the process I did. Have faith in yourself. Talk to others, gather that information, and then go for it.


Learning to Live Again in a New World, by Marlene Anderson | focuswithmarlene.comLearning to Live Again in a New World

We need validation for the turmoil of thoughts and emotions we experience. But we also need the tools necessary to create a new beginning that is both satisfying and meaningful. My new book, Learning to Live Again in a New World, offers those tools to help work through the problems you might be facing.

It is a guide to help you through the ups and downs of grieving a significant loss. And it includes a study guide at the end for use with groups.

Marlene Anderson