DEAR HARRIETTE: I broke out in a terrible rash recently, and when I went to the doctor he said that it was probably triggered by nerves. He used technical language, but he said it probably started because I have been under a tremendous amount of emotional stress, and often that can wreak havoc on the body. He gave me a prescription to ease the discomfort, but he told me that in order to really keep it in check I have to reduce my stress levels. Otherwise, he said he would have to put me on meds to calm me down.
I definitely don't want to do that. It is true that this has been a rough period: One of my best friends recently passed away, it has been crazy at work and I suspect that my boyfriend is cheating on me. I could go on and on, but when I think about it my skin starts to itch. How can I change my thinking? I want to be able to handle my problems without drugs. -- Overwhelmed, Los Angeles
DEAR OVERWHELMED: It would be great for you to take a relaxation class like yoga, meditation or Pilates, something that engages your body and eases your mind.
One by one, review each issue in your life and face it. Be in touch with others who are mourning the loss of your friend. Don't grieve alone. Assess your work issues individually, and figure out what you can do to make things better. Sometimes small actions yield big results. If your boyfriend is not treating you right, let him go. Get professional help to support you through this rough period.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I just learned that a couple I really like a lot is getting divorced, and it sounds like the terms are ugly. A custody battle is underway, and all kinds of allegations are being hurled this way and that about each of them. I feel so bad for the wife, a longtime friend, because she feels powerless in this and is very concerned that she could lose her children. She is devastated. I am no lawyer, but I'm wondering what I can do to support her. -- Battle-Worn, Syracuse, N.Y.
DEAR BATTLE-WORN: Be a great listener. When your friend brings up points that sound like they need to be discussed with her attorney, remind her to speak to him/her right away. It is likely that there is a court-appointed psychologist who is speaking to both of them about their states of mind. She may want to have a separate therapist who can help her to process her thinking and help her to access an inner source of strength. If your friend is a woman of faith, now is the time to be prayerful. It would be great for her to remember the good times with her children and recount positive experiences she has had with them that illustrate her parenting skills. Gently talk to your friend about being strong. As tough as it may be at a time like this, her best chances at winning custody of her children may come from her presenting herself as a sober, solid, clear-thinking, loving mother.