BATAVIA — As a psychologist seeing clients for 35 years, Joe Langen met plenty of people with stress.
In fact, a lot of their issues seemed to be associated to some form of personal, work, relational or financial stress. When he retired in 2005, the Le Roy writer continued to learn a whole lot more on the topic. His book, “Release Your Stress and Reclaim Your Life,” debuted in November.
“There are two parts: one is understanding your stress, where does it come from and how does it affect your body, mind, emotions and soul,” he said Wednesday at his home. “The other part is what can you do to deal with it … having some tools. And they have to decide which ones are helpful to them.”
He defines stress and how it affects a person, how to avoid it, deal with it, transform it and even discover the positive, joyful aspects.
Wait a minute. Stress can be positive? It can when it prompts one to avoid danger, meet a deadline or pass a tough exam, he said.
A top stressor seems to be about money, and never having enough. It’s sometimes about one’s lifestyle and wanting to keep up with the Joneses. People often strive to make more money so that they can do more with it. Or job loss has meant figuring out how to make ends meet.
“Finances are high on the list of stressors for many people. No individual has control of the economy. Everyone is affected by its ups and downs from the rich to the poor. For some people, it is a question of survival for themselves and their families. For others, it means rethinking what is important in life and perhaps setting new priorities or even changing their standard of living.”
Another big topic is spirituality, he said. How do you make sense of life?
“We don’t always have to make sense of life,” he said, referring to the serenity prayer.
That prayer is widely known in Alcoholics Anonymous and has to do with acceptance: grant me the strength to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and wisdom to know the difference. Langen urges people to figure out if there’s something about a particular situation that can be changed or dealt with more effectively.
For example, if a loved one dies, there is no way to alter that. But one can honor that person through good memories, looking at photos and emulating the best qualities in that person.
In reviewing feelings and emotions, Langen includes fear, anxiety, worry, obsessive-compulsive disorder, disgust, anger, hate, cruelty, sadness, sorrow, grief (and the five stages), regret, frustration, envy, disappointment and shame.
As with every chapter, he asks related questions to spur more inner growth.
If you aren’t so good at figuring out things for yourself, he also suggested to solicit help from friends. They may be able to see your blind spots. Those are qualities that you don’t readily see in yourself but others do. In not recognizing them, those personal characteristics can be stumbling blocks in life.
Two other parts of a person include the open part in which you and others know things about you, and the mysterious part that renders everyone, including you, clueless.
“It’s good to know there might be some mysteries,” he said. “There are a lot of things in life you can’t explain.”
His book covers aspects of spirituality versus religion. He sees it as the big picture versus a life cookbook with specific directions and ingredients. There are also descriptions of stress that we choose and that which just happens. A death in the family is not chosen. Making purposeful choices that may add stress include getting married, having children, changing jobs or moving.
“Some things you have a choice over and some you don’t,” he said.
It just may help to undertand that, he said. A personal example is how he gets to a vacation destination. For the most part, the 71-year-old drives or takes a train. In an effort not to feel like part of the “cattle being herded” onto a plane, he has crossed flying off the list.
“Two kinds of stress appear in your life. We will explore stress which lies waiting along your life path and stress which you invite into your life for various reasons. My style is generally conversational and informal but bows to a few necessary scientific considerations. I have also included Life Lab Lessons along the way, activities to help you deal with stress.”
Perhaps some of his advice for dealing with spirituality sums up how to deal with life: be impeccable with your word, do not take anything personally, do not make assumptions and always do your best.
Langen writes a column for The Daily News on what he calls “commonsense wisdom: practical things you can do to make your life more worthwhile.” When he began a decade ago, Langen thought he may come up with topics for about a year. Not only has he surpassed that goal, but keeps adding subjects to his list of future books. He plans to cover commonsense for lovers and another about angry sex, rape and sexual abuse.
His latest book is available for purchase in paperback or as an e-book at Amazon.com.