Stressed out? Your problems answered

Agony Aunt Ingrid Miller takes the stress out of some modern dilemmas, including answering questions about financial strain, pressure at work, life after death, and the strain of shyness.

FINANCIAL STRAIN

My partner earns considerably less than I do. He says that this financial disparity does not worry him, but he is working longer and longer hours – often late into the night. As a result, our relationship is suffering – he rarely finds time to talk, let alone make love. I think he’s very stressed and offered to take him abroad on holiday, but his reaction to this was very negative. He said that he didn’t want me wasting vast amounts of money and that, anyway, lying in the sun is a complete waste of time. I’m very hurt – I made the offer because I’m worried about his health.

Ingrid writes: What a caring partner you are. But although your offer of support was made in good faith, it hit a sore spot – his pride. Money is still a sensitive issue for many men today. Earning less than their female counterpart can sometimes make them feel less of a man. It’s vital that you don’t take away his control. Suggest a joint pot where you can both contribute for everyday essentials like food, bills and the mortgage. As you earn more, you can contribute more. This way, he will feel it’s more of a partnership, and he can keep some of his money for pleasures like holidays. It certainly sounds like he needs one, too.

PRESSURE AT WORK

At 26, I’m lucky to have secured a fantastic job with excellent prospects. The trouble is, my direct boss has asked me out. He’s recently divorced and from what I can make out, is considered a very eligible catch. But this is a small company which seems to thrive on gossip. There is much e-mailing about people’s personal lives.

I’m afraid if I agree to this date, it could jeopardise my position in the firm. But I do find him extremely attractive and have had some sleepless nights over this dilemma.

Ingrid writes: Insufficient sleep will jeopardise your progress at work, too. Take stock before you get too wound up to see the wood from the trees. A work relationship can be an excellent foundation for an emotional involvement – because you get to know and like each other first, as friends and colleagues. Many people meet their life partner in the workplace.

The downside, as you speculate, is gossip. Some of it may be good-natured, but it can be a problem if you value your privacy. More worrying, however, is how an office affair can interfere with work relationships, and even the way you do your job.

Give yourself more time to settle in before you decide about this date. And explain your reasons to him. As a boss, he should be sensitive to the feelings of his workforce and to your current uncertainty. Time is a great leveller. Use it.

LIFE AFTER DEATH

I’m 45 and was widowed last year. My husband was only 50 and I’d nursed him through a long struggle with cancer. I thought, because he’d been ill for such a long time, I’d come to terms with losing him. But it’s nearly a year and I still miss him every day. I just don’t know what to do. I loved him so much. Our two sons live abroad and I’m not especially close to my family. He was my world really. Will I ever get over this?

Ingrid writes: You never get over the pain of losing a loved one – but you DO learn to live with it. I always say that you never lose anyone forever. They live on in your heart and your mind. And one day, when the pain and anger has subsided you will be able to look back with warmth and love at all the good things you shared.

Losing a partner is the biggest source of stress we encounter in life – and where you are now, still locked in grief, is a natural part of the mourning process. The first year is so hard and every anniversary is a painful reminder of what is gone. But once you get through that year, it does become easier. It helps to talk to others who’ve been through such a loss, too. When you feel ready, contact the National Federation of Solo Clubs (0121 236 2879). They have 150 clubs nationwide where the young widowed (under 64) can meet up and share experiences.

At 45, you have a lot of life ahead. Your husband loved you and wouldn’t have wanted you to lock yourself away forever. Just take one small step at a time.

THE STRAIN OF SHYNESS

I’m quite shy and whenever I get nervous in social situations, I blush and giggle, which I know makes me look stupid. I can’t seem to control it and it really is no laughing matter. I know I’ve lost job opportunities over it – I always laugh like a fool at interviews. It’s the same meeting new people. My GP prescribed tablets to calm me down, but they made me feel listless and tired – and that’s no use for interviews.

Ingrid writes: Nervous anxiety – which is what you are experiencing – is one of the most common side-effects of stress. Medication is not the answer; it will simply mask the symptoms, not deal with the root cause.

I think you should try role-playing with a friend. A few sessions of rehearsing job interviews will help you feel less nervous. Then you will be better prepared for the real-life situations, where you can concentrate on re-enacting your answers.

Also practise relaxation exercises, like deep breathing, before meeting new people. If you still find you are sometimes prone to blushing and giggling, then take the plunge and explain it’s a nervous reaction. Everyone values honesty – and the odd display of nervousness can be quite endearing.

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