*Ifeoma was not too surprised when she received that call from the hospital. She had prayed very hard that it would not come to this. Now, she could barely withstand the fear as she looked at her husband *Charles connected to a series of machines. She knew she shouldn’t panic but her heart was beating furiously.
She had known for a long time that Charles was overdoing things. Many times she tried to tell him that he was putting himself under too much pressure, but he always accused her of nagging. He was very determined to ‘make it.’
He said he knew where he was coming from and he would never let himself return there. The voices from his past would not let him slow down. He kept hearing them say,“Useless child, you are going to turn out just like your father.”
Ifeoma remembered that when Charles asked for her hand in marriage, people told her family about Charles’ father. They said he would come home every night, drunk; he lost jobs as quickly as he got them; he was never able to cater for his family for any reasonable length of time.
Each of his children had to live with an Uncle or an Aunt just to get their school fees paid.Charles had grown up with an uncle who was not very nice to him. Uncle Bona* did not pretend that raising Charles was not a burden. He resented Charles’ father’s lifestyle and the reproach it brought to their family and he took it out on Charles most of the time.
Ifeoma knew that this was the major motivator in her husband’s life. He needed to prove to whoever cared to notice that he was not like his father. He went overboard and instead became a workaholic. He could not stop working because the difference between his father’s life and his had to be made clear.
Ifeoma visited Charles every day in hospital. For the first couple of days, he was highly sedated and couldn’t speak but when he was eventually able to communicate with her, he admitted the root cause of his problem- people’s opinion of him. For the first time, he agreed to do something about his lifestyle and stress level. He made up his mind to get in touch with me.
When Charles and I met, our primary objective was to control the stressors in his life- people’s opinions. I took him through the following programme:
1. Become aware of your stressors and your emotional and physical reactions.
• Notice your distress. Don’t ignore them and don’t gloss over them.
• Determine these events that distress you. What are you telling yourself about the meaning of these events?
• Determine how your body responds to stress. Do you become nervous or physically upset? If so, in what specific ways?
2. Recognize what you can change.
• Can you change your stressors by avoiding or eliminating them completely?
• Can you reduce their intensity (manage them over a period of time instead of on a weekly or daily basis)?
• Can you devote the time and energy necessary to making a change (goal setting, time management techniques and delayed gratification strategies may be helpful here)?
3. Reduce the intensity of your emotional reactions to stress.
• Are you viewing your stressors in exaggerated terms by taking a merely difficult situation and making it a disaster?
• Are you expecting to please everyone?
• Are you overreacting and viewing things as absolutely critical and urgent?
4.Learn to moderate your physical reactions to stress.
•Slow, deep breathing will bring your heart rate and respiration back to normal.
• Learning relaxation techniques that can reduce muscle tension.
5. Build your physical reserves.
• Exercise for cardiovascular fitness three to four times a week (moderate, prolonged rhythmic exercise is best, such as walking, swimming, cycling or jogging)
• Maintain your ideal weight.
• Avoid nicotine, excess caffeine and other stimulants.
• Mix leisure with work. Take breaks and get away when you can.
– Be as consistent with your sleep schedule as possible.
6. Maintain your emotional reserves.
• Develop some mutually supportive friendships/relationships
• Pursue realistic goals which are meaningful to you, rather than goals others have set for you.
• Expect some frustrations, failures and sorrow.
• Trust God to always make a way out for you.
Charles has had to learn how to be kind and gentle to himself. He now realizes that people’s opinion is just that –their opinion. He is not yet the best he can be yet but there has been a lot of improvement.
*No real names or identifying details
Photo Credit: blackhealthmagazine.com
Chiadi Ndu was called to the Nigerian Bar in 1987. She has a Master’s Degree in Counselling Psychology and a Diploma in Stress management. She works as a Pre- Divorce Concilliator, hosts a radio programme – Behind the Heart on Inspiration FM and also writes a relationship Counselling column – Bridges on Sunday in Sunday Thisday newspaper. She’s married and blessed with three lovely children.