Are You Irritable? Congratulations!

As we head into the last days of the holiday season, some people are feeling just a wee bit overloaded. Here’s a Doc Gurley questionnaire to help you decide if you too might be fraying at the edges:

Check which of these situations applies to you:

1) When another pedestrian wanders into the crosswalk just as the light turns green, do you–trophy.jpg

  • a) take deep breaths?
  • b) clench the steering wheel and feel your palms get sweaty?
  • c) roll down the window and scream, “Speed it up, slut, or I’ll give you a reason to be slow” at the wheeled walker-using grandmother?

2) When you spend all day shopping, do you–

  • a) obsess about how you’re too young to be this breathless and wonder if maybe you ought to work out once before the decade is over?
  • b) self-medicate with a cigarette every two feet until you are rushed to the hospital for tobacco poisoning?
  • c) spend way too much time with mall security after tackling a motorized scooter driver and failing to make your high-speed getaway at 0.5 miles an hour?

If you answered yes to A, B, C or D (all of the above), congratulations–you’re fed up and about to blow. Conventional health wisdom often says that you should seriously meditate (or medicate) to get rid of these emotions. At a minimum we’re all taught that we ought to suppress these signals. But Doc Gurley is here to share with you that new research shows that maybe you should be, instead, encouraged by this groundswell of irritation. Why?

Welcome, friends, to pre-contemplation. In case you’re wondering if you clicked the wrong button and ended up in a different essay (adding to your irritation), relax, you’re at the right place. The Land of Pre-contemplation is the crucial first step to any major change. There is a groundswell of new research into what is called behavior change–all the common steps that go into any of the following: stopping smoking, losing weight, exercising regularly, changing eating habits, stopping biting nails, and ending your morning combo latte habit of espresso-meth. How is it we accomplish these gargantuan human feats? The first steps to change are recognizing the problem, then finding the motivation to endure the long weeks of focus and ambivalence that enduring change requires. All that irritation and fury you’re feeling as the holiday days ramp up? That’s your wiser self trying to tell you something important. These ugly emotions are both your wake-up call for a change that’s probably overdue, and your fuel for sustaining the change once the New Year hits. I think it’s no accident that resolutions are as much a part of New Year’s as silly cone-shaped hats with thyroidectomy-tight elastic neck bands. As the heat of holiday expectations and commitments ramp up, the weaknesses in our lives (and the areas we’ve tried to ignore) get revealed. So the Doc Gurley message of the week is–recognize your irritation. For heaven’s sake, don’t give in to it. Trust me, you really don’t want to spend any more time with mall security–they’ve already added you to their mug-shot wall of fame. Instead, step outside the hideous moment and see it for what it is–a valuable signal of something you should change. Is it a tendency to overcommit? Is it that cigarette habit that keeps your running to the convenience store when you ought to be sleeping? Is it that sense of doom you get when you wake up and can’t remember in whose house you left your underwear? Keep that ugly emotion in your memory banks–you’re going to tap into it around mid-February, when you wonder why the heck your have to get up and go to the gym again. Most of all, congratulate yourself! You’ve made it to pre-contemplation–that important first (prodding) step of behavior change.


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