Five Ways to End Job Stress

“Be happy you have a job!” That’s the phrase I love to hate. It’s also the mantra corporate America uses during this ongoing recession to work their employees into a frenzy.

Lately, I have heard increasing complaints of job stress from my clients. While those of us who have jobs are certainly grateful to be able to put food on the table, sometimes the cost is irrevocably high. We are expected to manage unreasonably large volumes of work that cause us to question our competency, stress tolerance, career choices, and priorities in life. While we strive to do quality work, we are being forced into mediocrity just to satisfy management’s bottom line. It’s no longer about quality, but quantity. The human toll is illustrated by low morale, physical illness, and emotional distress. Frequently, I see highly talented, intelligent people who are distraught, disillusioned, and questioning. Long gone are the days of appreciation and recognition for a job well done (not to mention the thank you of a gold watch at retirement).

How can we cope with this gnawing stressor and achieve a more satisfying work-life balance? Here are some alternatives to consider:

1. Talk to the boss. Yes, you heard me. Sometimes they are more receptive than you think. Chances are they are feeling just as stressed as you are due to pressure from upper management, so they can (and will) empathize. Who knows? They may be amenable to getting you help or altering your work hours.

2. Be resourceful and explore other job opportunities, but DO look before you leap. Don’t be rash and quit on impulse until you’ve secured another position. (And, yes, it can happen. More people are quitting their jobs, which means the economy is improving.)

3. Reinvent yourself. Maybe it’s time to change career objectives. Investigate starting your own business. Is there something you’ve always wanted to do that you could begin doing on the side in preparation for an eventual full-time move? Even if you’re over 50, it is possible to discover (and love) a new career.

4. Would you be happier working for a non-profit? Non-profits generally pay less, but maybe the personal satisfaction of promoting a cause instead of a corporate bottom line is worth it. Check out Idealist.org, the premiere online job search website for non-profit organizations.

5. If you work at home, be sure to take the same breaks you would be entitled to if you worked at the corporate office. Get out for lunch, take a walk, or go to the gym on your lunch hour. Socialization, even gossip, is good for you. Since you can’t walk to the next cubicle to chat, take a break and call a friend.

If you find none of the above appealing, try retraining your brain and resetting your priorities. Do the best you can to maintain quality work, but keep things in perspective. In the long run, it’s just a job. It’s not worth sacrificing your family or your physical and emotional health. Make time for things that bring you pleasure, such as spending time with friends and family, exercising, gardening, listening to music, or watching a movie. These things may seem frivolous, but if you don’t slow down and take time for yourself you may pay the price in the end. April is National Stress Awareness Month, so what better time than the present to implement a stress reduction strategy? Go forth and chill out.

Bitty (a.k.a. Linda Sussman-Swiller) is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. You may view her credentials or contact her by clicking here…

Hack My Credit, Please

Much to my dismay, my credit card has been hacked, again! This is the second time in four months. Last November I received an email from Ticketmaster thanking me for my purchase of four Bobby Brown concert tickets. I’m hardly Bobby Brown’s target audience, an unhip, middle-aged suburbanite, but I found myself in a quandary trying to prove to both Ticketmaster and my credit card company that I did not purchase these tickets. Eventually, the charges were removed and my credit card cancelled and replaced.

Last week’s hacker, named Kristen T., had the audacity to use my credit to purchase a year’s membership to Experian Credit Reporting Service to check her own credit. Oh, the irony of it all. My credit card company offered little help, telling me to call Experian myself to get it reversed (Thanks, guys. You’re ever so helpful.).

So it came as little surprise, when I heard the recent news that possibly up to ten-million MasterCard and Visa accounts had been compromised. And as far as I’m concerned, this is not one of those times when I’m comforted by the phrase, “There is strength in numbers.” Is this a result of the recession, the desperately unemployed, or just cleverly bored individuals with too much time on their hands who choose to wreak havoc on the rest of us? Maybe my elders had it right to pay cash for everything and stash the cash under the mattress.

Credit cards are not the only items one must watch diligently. I recently referred two male patients to a local kidney transplant center for evaluation, only to have the intake coordinator call me with disturbing news. Both of my patients’ social security numbers appeared, not only under other names, but in other states, and being used by women. I immediately alerted my patients and gave them the appropriate phone numbers to the government agencies responsible for tracking this sort of thing.

These are some scary times we live in so everyone needs to be “en guarde.” Check your credit card statements often for erroneous charges and give out as little personal information as possible because you never know who is on the receiving end.

Should identity theft happen to you, here are some helpful phone numbers and websites:

U. S. Federal Trade Commission 877-382-4357 www.ftc.gov
Victim Support Hotline 888-771-0676  www.identitytheftcouncil.org
Elder Financial Protection Network  www.bewiseonline.org
Social Security Administration Fraud Reporting 800-269-0271  www.ssa.gov

Bitty (a.k.a. Linda Sussman-Swiller) is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. You may view her credentials or contact her by clicking here…

Say What?

Allow me, on this Valentine’s Day, to replay a recent scene between me and my beloved: While upstairs working, my cell phone, which is downstairs, begins to ring. My partner, Aging Gal, who is also downstairs lying on the couch cocooned under a blanket in what is arguably the coldest house in the free world, refuses to move a muscle to answer my phone. I race downstairs, but to no avail, as I am too late to catch the call. I then proceed to yell at my little love muffin for not answering the phone. She lets my hostility roll off her back and says, “Look, it’s your phone, your problem.” I retold this story to an acquaintance whose response was, “Sorry you two aren’t getting along.” “Au contraire,” I said, “We’re good.”

Bitty (Mitchell) and Aging Gal (Cam)

My message to you on this day of love is that couples’ communication styles vary. Ours is reminiscent of the old radio show The Bickersons or Modern Family’s Cam and Mitchell. You may be one of those couples who don’t appear to communicate at all, hiding behind your iPads and lattés. Silence, for some, is an acceptable form of communication. Still, relationship problems can result from communication gaps or errors in perception.

Too frequently, people cling to the negative aspects of a conversation and view them as a personal affront. When in fact, the conversation’s intention is constructive criticism directed towards a behavior change, as opposed to a character assassination. I cannot tell you how many people suffer low self-esteem resulting from the repeated misinterpretation of words, facial expressions, or body language. All of these forms of communication can have lasting effects on all types of relationships, not just couples. Children and adolescents are particularly vulnerable to miscommunication or misperception.

When in doubt about one’s communicated intention, speak up and ask for clarification. Maybe the perceived strike wasn’t that at all. Moreover, the next time you utter a slur, roll your eyes, cross your arms, or storm off in a huff consider the receiver’s feelings. The two of you could be closer than you think if you would just communicate which, as defined by the American Heritage Dictionary, means “to express oneself in such a way that one is readily and clearly understood.”

Still confused? I hope not. But if you need further clarification, ask me. Lord knows the Aging Gal does. Now go out and exercise those communication muscles with your beloved on this Valentine’s Day!

Bitty (a.k.a. Linda Sussman-Swiller) is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. You may view her credentials or contact her by clicking here…

Competitive Edginess

On this, the day after America’s biggest sporting event (the Puppy Bowl… okay, the Super Bowl), I’m reflecting on my own competitive spirit. Or, more accurately, my competitive edginess.

Bet ya can't do this, Bitty!

I met Susie and Fred several years ago at our gym. They are a very nice retired couple twenty years my senior with energy levels twenty years my junior. As most of you know, I am a big proponent of both exercise and seniors, but please could you elders contain yourselves and quit making me look bad? (I’m starting to feel like Tom Brady against Eli Manning.) I have been a long distance runner for over thirty years, with several road races under my belt, and yet Susie and Fred could mop the floor with me between their snow skiing throughout the Pacific Northwest, high altitude biking in Moab, Utah, and hiking throughout Europe.

Yes, I know it is a character flaw — jealousy, envy, whatever you’d like to label it — but I am guilty as charged. When I hear of what these two have accomplished I just want to pull the sheets over my head, or hide underground like Punxsutawney Phil.  I love that my friends are the poster children for an active retirement and the picture of longevity, but please slow down. I can’t stand being passed en route to the finish line.

I'll whip the floor with you, Whippersnapper!

Susie, Fred, and the rest of you elders who are kickin’ my butt, I salute you. We should all strive to achieve half of what you do. As the old saying goes, “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.” And to a certain friend my age who is training for the Stockholm Marathon, you’re killin’ me too, but I’m proud of you! Here’s to us all being MVPs!

Bitty (a.k.a. Linda Sussman-Swiller) is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. You may view her credentials or contact her by clicking here…

A Christmas Sing-Along, plus… Who Stole My Fat Jeans?

Gangsta Jeans in Various Stages of Underwear Exposure

Lord only knows why my partner took it upon herself to return my fat jeans. You know the pair of jeans that we all keep on reserve for that time of month, or in my case, this phase of life. The pair that is forgiving after you have eaten that extra slice of apple pie that called your name. The jeans you don’t have to lie down on the floor to zip up if you decide not to run or go to the gym for a week. But, alas, my beloved fat jeans are no more.

My partner, Heather (yes, Aging Gal), felt she was doing me a service because I had been complaining that my fat jeans were in fact, TOO fat. They were falling down and if it weren’t for the fact that I’m too old to be a gangsta mama, my jeans slipping below my unmentionables could’ve been my initiation. Heather, with Kohl’s cash in hand, plus an additional 20% off, marched into the store and traded in my fat jeans for more slimming, tight ass jeans.

As you might suspect, I wasn’t a happy camper; in fact, I was furious. Now that I’ve calmed down, I see that there may be a health benefit here. I am being forced to eat better and exercise portion control. I turned down my usual Friday morning chocolate croissant opting instead for whole-wheat toast and a tangerine. This morning I walked five miles around our local lake, went to the gym, and refused a lunch invitation to Popeye’s fried chicken. So far, so good, but who are we kidding? It’s Christmas and one can only be so good at this time of year. So please Santa, bring me a pair of fat jeans for Christmas… or I’ll just go buy a pair at the mall with these folks… CLICK AND ENJOY!

Aging Gal is going on a two-week hiatus for the holidays, but will return in the New Year with evermore helpful and hilarious posts! Happy Holidays, all you Aging Gals and Guys!

Bitty (a.k.a. Linda Sussman-Swiller) is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. You may view her credentials or contact her by clicking here…

This post is sponsored by T-Mobile.

The Joy of Thoughtlessness

On a recent trip to Monterey, CA, I packed along a leather-bound journal that I had received as a birthday gift some years ago. I thought this would be a good opportunity to write down some ideas for future blog posts, possible topics for our monthly support group, marketing ideas for future seminars, and yes, my innermost thoughts.

Seals Sunbathing on the Beach

After all, what could be more inspiring than the beauty and serenity of California’s Central Coast, crashing waves against magnificent rock formations, sunbathing seals lying along the coves…you get the picture. Besides, this was a trip with a purpose, to run the Big Sur Half Marathon at Monterey Bay. I should have been filled with inspiration, right? I was, once I crossed the finish line. However, while packing up to leave at the end of the weekend, I realized I hadn’t written a thing. Truth be told, I hadn’t even removed the book from my suitcase. It was then I had an epiphany; I was thoughtless. What a joy! I was able to enjoy my surroundings unencumbered by intruding thoughts of work, or the economy, or things I “should” have been doing instead of running with the masses and savoring clam chowder in the bread bowl on Fisherman’s Wharf.

Sometimes we need to be thoughtless and enjoy the moment, look at what is in front of us and appreciate it. When we’re young, it seems that time can’t go fast enough. We are always looking to the future. We are in a hurry to get that first driver’s license, go off to college, and grow our careers. As we age, we tend to look to the past and wish for what could have been or desire to relive certain events. And while the present may seem frustrating or look bleak, try turning off the TV for a change and quit listening to the doom and gloom.

Bitty in Post-Race “Thoughtlessness”

Focus on something positive that may be right in front of your face. The author of the phrase, “Stop and smell and roses,” had it right. He must have been from the Central Coast. It (the elusive serenity, joy or excitement) is out there, just refocus your senses, your mindset, and go for it. No “shoulds” allowed!

Bitty (a.k.a. Linda Sussman-Swiller) is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker.  You may view her credentials or contact her by clicking here…

 

Crime Buster

The house around the corner has been empty for over a year and a half, thanks to this foreclosure mess.  It’s owned by a bank in Mumbai who has let it fall further into disrepair with little regard for those of us living with this eyesore.  The place looks like it was once occupied by the Addam’s Family, and as of late, it turns out it was.  A couple of weeks ago, while on my morning run, I spotted a pillow, blanket, and backpack at the house of horrors.  Then a mysterious van with blacked-out windows started appearing nightly.  Squatters in our neighborhood, no way!

My call to our illustrious homeowners’ association fell on deaf ears (so glad I pay my dues).  Needless to say, my next call was to the police dispatcher, who said she’d send a unit out to investigate.  That’s more like it… or so I thought.  When I got into work I received a call from Officer John telling me that there was nothing he could do and that I should call back if I see the owner of the van.  “Whoa there fella,” I said, conjuring my inner Wonder Woman and not backing down.  “‘Nothing you can do?’”  What happened to ‘protect and to serve?,’ I thought.  ‘Sorry, Lady, we’re on furlough, stage your own stakeout…’  But I said to him, “Tell me what we’re dealing with.  Is this guy dangerous?”

Long story short, the van was registered to a drug dealer that they’ve been trying to arrest, but, because the house is in foreclosure, the police refused to go in and get him.  I guess I made a big enough stink because within minutes I received calls from various neighbors reporting that there were four police cars on our block arresting our squatters, Crackie and his gal pal.

What, you may be asking Bitty, is your point?  It is this: We’ve all seen stories on the news about this sort of thing, but when it’s on your block it becomes all too real.  Be diligent.  If you spot unfamiliar vehicles, people, or bedrolls in your neighborhood, take action.  The banks and police may be overwhelmed, but they also don’t seem to care, unless you’re a pain in the butt (and that is something Aging Gal and I can be).  Get your neighbors involved.  It’s in everyone’s best interest to maintain pride, safety, and property values, as best we can.  The heck with “Occupy Wall Street,” I’m occupying my street.

Bitty (a.k.a. Linda Sussman-Swiller) is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker.  You may view her credentials or contact her by clicking here…

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Personal Hygiene or Times I Wish I had No Sense of Smell

As some of you know, I work in a dialysis clinic and the smells are unpleasant at best. The aroma is a concoction of blood, liquid medications, bleach, body odor and bad breath, a.k.a. Halitosis. The last two scents are the focus of today’s column. Lord knows I don’t smell like Plumeria blossoms after running thirteen miles in the West Maui sun, but I do know the health and social benefits of bathing and brushing.

Halitosis can result from poor oral hygiene, which leads to a buildup of bacteria, gum disease, and tooth decay. But Halitosis can also be a symptom of more serious health problems, such as Diabetes, kidney or liver disease, acid reflux, and respiratory infections to name a few. Ill-fitting dentures can trigger bad breath as well.

Similarly, body odor can be related to medical issues. For example, Trimethylaminuria, also known as “Fish Odor Syndrome,” has a genetic link where the body has difficulty breaking down choline concentrated foods, such as eggs and organ meats. The odor dissipates once these foods are digested. The condition can be rectified with a change in diet. I must confess that after a night of garlic overload at the Stinking Rose in San Francisco, I too was oozing stench from my pores. I could barely stand myself.

The lack of adequate teeth brushing and bathing is often times a problem for the elderly due to social isolation, depression, or dementia. Without fail some little kid during a visit with Grandma and Grandpa will ask their parents why these old folks smell like mothballs. Please explain to the little darlings that if they’re lucky enough to live as long, they too may stink. All kidding aside, these smells should be a red flag for caregivers. If you’re not elderly, infirmed, demented, depressed, or socially isolated and just suffer from Lazy-itis, please consider your friends and loved ones, who would like to remain your friends and loved ones, Brush & Bathe!

Bitty (a.k.a. Linda Sussman-Swiller) is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker.  You may view her credentials or contact her by clicking here…

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Medicare Open Enrollment is Here

The folks at Medicare have finally gotten a clue and extended Open Enrollment this year from October 15 to December 7.  For those of you unfamiliar with this, Open Enrollment is the time when Medicare beneficiaries can change their health plans to or from a Medicare Advantage plan and apply for, or change, prescription drug coverage Medicare Part D.  When considering a Medicare Advantage plan be aware that many act like traditional HMOs.  They may require prior authorizations for specialists and treatment services outside of your county.

Medicare Part A, hospitalization coverage, has a copay but no monthly premium.  Medicare Part B, which covers doctors’ visits and other outpatient services, has both copay and monthly premium. The premium is determined by your income.  In 2011, the average premium was $115.40 per month.  I have not seen a price quote for 2012 as yet.  Low income recipients may quality for programs that will eliminate the premium.

Regarding prescription plans, some pharmacies offer assistance in determining which plan will best meet your needs if you bring in your medication list.  There is a plan comparison program online at the Medicare site as well.  Most plans have monthly premiums, but again, there are exceptions for those qualifying for low income assistance.  Do not assume that your existing coverage or premium will be the same as it was last year.  I have witnessed the rude awakening when my patients find that their medications are no longer covered or their premiums have increased.

The whole process can be overwhelming, even for those of us in the business, which is why I encourage those of you affected to do your research.  The Medicare handbook, “Medicare & You,” explains program details, such as types of coverage, premiums, copays, resources, and more.  Information can also be obtained through your local Social Security Office, online at www.medicare.gov., 1-800-Medicare, or through SHIP, State Health Insurance Assistance Program, www.shiptalk.org.  SHIP is the umbrella organization with each state having an advocacy group under it.  In California, the group is HICAP, Health Insurance Counseling and Advocacy Program, 1-800-434-0222, with offices in several counties.  This is a very busy time for the counselors so contact them early.  Don’t wait until December 6 to begin comparing plans.  While it is possible to make changes at other times of the year, it can be difficult, and Medicare does not encourage it.  Knowledge is king, so do your homework and good luck!

Ask Bitty

Bitty (a.k.a. Linda Sussman-Swiller) is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker.  You may view her credentials or contact her by clicking here…

Spousal Appreciation Day or the Things We Do for Love

Ask Bitty!

Last Thursday was my ninth anniversary with Aging Gal, and as I reflect on our
history together several positive memories come to mind, such as when she bullied me into staying in my USC masters’ program, despite being plagued by self-doubt and having one foot out the door.

Or the time when we were on vacation and I got a call that my uncle had died
suddenly and Heather jumped into action rearranging our flights in order to
make it back in time for the funeral.

Or, most recently, when she cashed in her air miles so I could run the Maui Half Marathon and take a much needed break from work.  There are many, many more good times and good deeds I could site, but my point here is that during the day-to-day rat race we often tend to lose sight of why we’re with who we’re with.  We seem to take our better halves for granted or dwell on their annoying little idiosyncrasies.

Of course we are perfect and never do anything annoying.  (Okay, I confess to having followed her with a Dustbuster to vacuum up her cookie crumbs.  And I have accused her of resurrecting Thom McAn shoe stores when she leaves dozens of pairs of shoes laying around the house.)

Truth be told, the spirits of Oscar and Felix, ala “The Odd Couple,” are alive and well in our home, along with a healthy dose of Lucy and Ethel.  But if you’re like me and have a tendency to blow up when you find that your partner has eaten your most coveted leftovers, or that she forgot to tell you about the busted shower pipe until you’ve boarded the plane to Maui, try to recall those great moments in your relationship when your mate was there for you when you needed them most.

And you don’t have to wait until your anniversary or their birthday to tell them.  Positivity goes a long way in making your relationship better.

Bitty (a.k.a. Linda Sussman-Swiller) is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker.  You may view her credentials or contact her by clicking here…