THE PROBLEM: Hi Christine, my name’s Sharon. I’m 40. My husband, Gary, is 42. We don’t have children. Gary was made redundant from his IT firm recently. He got a pay-off, but obviously we’ll really have to tighten our belts if he doesn’t get another job. And I’m worried that he’s going to feel less of a man, and maybe even get depressed, if he’s at home all day while I’m working? I’m worried too about my job in the civil service. There have already been big cut-backs, and I don’t know if my position is safe. I’ve always felt in control of my life. Now I don’t. I sit at my desk and think gloomy thoughts – like we may lose our house. I feel panicky and stressed. Help!
Christine: Sharon, it’s not surprising you feel awful. With all this going on, you must feel as if your world’s been turned upside down.
Sharon: That’s it exactly.
Christine: What’s the worst thing, do you think?
Sharon: The uncertainty. I’m worried about Gary. I want to fix this for him, but don’t know if I can.
Christine: Does Gary expect you to ‘fix it’?
Sharon: Oh – I’m not sure. Probably not.
Christine: Have you sat down together and discussed how he feels about losing his job? And also about how all this uncertainty is upsetting you?
Sharon: No. I think we’ve both avoided talking about it.
Christine: But is this lack of communication helping?
Sharon: Maybe not. I’m definitely not coping well.
Christine: In a crisis-situation like this, it’s quite common for each person in the couple to try to be stoical and not admit to stress and upset. But actually this can harm a marriage. It’s a short step from not talking about anything serious, to not cuddling, and then to not having sex …
Sharon: Oh God. That’s true. I already feel as if we’re not as close as we were.
Christine: Perhaps it might be better to discuss things then? Maybe it will even help Gary if he feels he can offer support and advice to you. Perhaps the fact that you can’t ‘fix’ it might give him more of a role in the situation. That may be no bad thing.
Sharon: You could be right about that.
Christine: And, terrifying though redundancy is, maybe Gary has some ideas about the future, which may not be as negative as you fear. If you sit down and have a ‘trouble-shooting’ session, you may come up with some brilliant new options, and you’ll probably defuse some of your stress and tension. It occurs to me, for instance, that as you don’t have children, you’re freer than most couples to go and live and work somewhere entirely different …
Sharon: He did ask me the other day if I’d consider going to somewhere like Dubai … I’m afraid I said I wouldn’t. But now I wonder if I’m being too rigid. Maybe now is the time to look at a bigger picture. It might even be quite exciting.
Christine: Well, I’m not saying that you’ll opt for a completely new life. You may well stick with what you have. And Gary may get another job just like his old one. But I believe it helps people to feel more in control if they let their imagination run with some different and more proactive options: options they wouldn’t normally consider. Does that make sense?
Sharon: It does.
Christine: Let’s look now at helping you with your sense of panic. This breathing exercise should prove useful. When you’re getting anxious, breathe in through your nose to a count of three, and exhale through your mouth to a count of four. Repeat this over a two-minute period and you’ll feel calmer.
Sharon: OK, I’ll try.
Christine: I also suggest you zap some stress by doing exercise. Do you go to the gym, do yoga, have a walk at lunchtime, play any sport …?
Sharon: No, none of those.
Christine: Well, getting active can really help. How about it?
Sharon: I’ve been watching Wimbledon. Maybe Gary could teach me to play tennis. There are courts near us.
Christine: Sounds good. Might help him too!
Sharon: And my best friend is always asking me to come to a dance class with her. So perhaps I should do that.
Christine: Great idea. I know from experience that when you’re struggling with new movements and keeping up with a routine your mind clears of all normal worries. You’re too busy concentrating! I also think something called ‘mindfulness’ could help you. Do you know anything about that?
Sharon: Not really.
Christine: It’s a type of meditation which helps people to learn to live with uncomfortable feelings and become calmer about them. You see, when we’re in pain, or are distressed, we use lots of energy trying to escape from those feelings. This actually makes things worse. By learning to be with the discomfort, we actually feel more in control, and more relaxed. There’s a great technique where you look and feel and taste a raisin very, very slowly. This focuses and centres the mind. I know it sounds barmy, but could I persuade you to try it?
Sharon: I’ve got nothing to lose!
Christine: To be honest, I was personally very sceptical about ‘contemplating a raisin’ till I tried it one day with a very upset and highly-stressed client. It really helped her. We don’t have time in this session for me to explain it fully, but there’s a step-by-step description you can follow on my website http://www.christinewebber.com/mindfulness.php.
Sharon: OK. I’ll give it a go.
Christine: How do you feel now?
Sharon: Obviously my situation is still the same, but I don’t feel so helpless. If I can talk to Gary and also cope with my panic better – which I should be able to, using your suggestions – I’m sure things won’t seem so bad. Thank you.
Christine Webber is a former TV news presenter. Since 1995, she has been an award-winning health writer. She is also a psychotherapist with a practice in Harley Street. She holds diplomas in integrative psychotherapy and cognitive behaviour therapy. And she also has numerous coaching qualifications. Christine is the author of 12 self-help and therapy books. Find out more at christinewebber.com
Click here to find out more about mindfulness meditation
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