Tolerations: Coping with Everyday Stressors in Gay Men’s Lives:
I recently asked my Facebook fans to suggest a topic for a blog article. The first response I got was, “Traffic and MFSAD (MuthaFuckinStupidAssDrivers)” by my handsome and charming friend Michael Smith. So, Michael, this is for you:
I decided to expand on this topic and address what we therapist/coaches often call “tolerations”. Tolerations are Life’s little annoyances that subtly but insidiously chip away at our daily quality of life. While manageable individually, taken collectively, they can make us feel tired, stressed, worn down, despondent, and contribute to a general ennui (listlessness or dissatisfaction, boredom, tedium).
One tip I give my clients is to make a list of your Tolerations. These can be anything from that door in your house that doesn’t quite close properly, to things that are ugly because they are stained and need to be cleaned, to that little thing on your car that needs to be fixed, to the correction that needs to be made on a billing statement, to clothing that needs to be repaired, to traffic, long lines, and incompetent customer service.
Once you’ve made your list, commit to fixing or somehow ameliorating them, one at a time. You call a handyman and schedule an appointment for this Saturday to have him come fix the door so it will close. You get the correct stain remover at the drug store. You schedule a morning next week to take your car in to the shop for that little repair. You call the company who made the billing error and assert your right to have it corrected. You take the clothing that needs repair to the tailor’s or dry cleaners. You research a different route to work that avoids the traffic, or you make a trip to the bookstore and get some Books on Tape or new music CDs to enhance your commute. You find another vendor to get your need met besides the one with long lines. You ask to speak to a supervisor to get better customer service, or you switch vendors to avoid the company with the bad service. You get the picture. It takes time, patience, assertiveness, and occasionally money to deal with these stressors, but it’s worth eliminating them, one by one, in specific behavioral terms.
But that’s just the first part — the “behavioral” part. There is also what I call the “cognitive” part — your thoughts, which then influence your feelings. If you get stressed out every single morning of your working life because of the aforementioned MFSADs, this where the AA “serenity prayer” comes in: ” Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.” If you live in a congested, urban traffic area, the density of traffic on a morning commute is not likely to change. You could move to a farm town, but would you still have the career you want there? Probably not. You could plan a different route to work, and maybe that’s your answer. You could assert a solution with your boss by asking to tele-commute more often, or always, and then demonstrate increased productivity that makes everybody happy. Or, you could cognitively re-interpret the morning drive from a daily tolerance to something that is just part of modern life. Maybe new CDs or a Book on Tape helps you to make better use of the time spent in slow traffic than fuming about something you can’t change. Hell, with enough books on tape, the traffic on your morning commute could make you bilingual in Spanish muy pronto.
Dealing with MFSADs involves understanding that, yes, there are stupid people in the world who don’t really absorb and apply even the most common-sense of traffic rules. They could be just plain stupid (hey, it happens), or they could be drastically under-educated and never formally learned good driving habits, despite somehow passing the Driver’s License test, or they could be arrogant, self-absorbed, entitled Narcissists who know the traffic rules full well, but feel that they are “above” the rules and the rules don’t apply to them. We have to for the most part ignore them, and understand that, thankfully, only a very small percentage of our general population has the Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Or, maybe that person usually obeys the rules, but is driving to the airport this morning distracted because they just got news this morning that their mother died. You just never know what’s going on with people. Try to give even the MFSADs a break; someday, it might be you driving to the airport distracted and you’ll need a break from others.
It’s important to identify which “little things” (which aren’t so little) are evoking feelings in you of anger, frustration, rage, helplessness, indignation, and depression. Over time, these things can contribute to a Major Depression, or an ulcer or other physical manifestation of stress. It’s important not to just live in a perpetuatual state of annoyance, as if you were completely unable to effect any change in your life for the better. That’s not self-empowerment (my favorite term in my practice, and the title of my upcoming book — as well as my podcast and e-newsletter, available for sign-ups here).
Part of the process of therapy and coaching is building a better Quality of Life through making changes in your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors over time. Your life doesn’t usually get MUCH worse or better overnight, but the continual process of learning adaptive coping skills for stress can, over time, help you feel better about a lot of things. Be patient with yourself, but also be committed to action to change the things that you “tolerate” in life. Learning adaptive coping skills for even the smallest of stressors can help you to… Have The Life You Want!
For more information or to book an appointment for therapy or coaching with Ken Howard, LCSW or others at GayTherapyLA, call/text 310-339-5778, or email Ken@GayTherapyLA.com.