“Stress creep”: are you like the frog in the pot of boiling water?

Guest post, originally broadcast on WBFO Radio by Dr. Elvira Aletta:

“I’m sure you’ve heard that if you boil a pot of water and throw in a live frog, that frog will hop right out, saving his life to croak another day. If, on the other hand, you place a frog in a pot of cold water and turn the heat up slowly, that frog will stay in the pot. The frog will not jump out.

“Instead, he will slowly get used to the increasingly hot water until it boils to death. Truth or urban legend? To prove it, I’d have to cook a live frog – and that’s not going to happen! It sounds true,  so it should be because of what it teaches us.  

“As a psychologist, I meet people who come to me for help when they’re overwhelmed.

“Like the woman who came to my office feeling guilty because she thinks she can’t do enough for her kids, one of whom has a serious disability. On top of that, she’s the primary caregiver of her elderly parents, her mother has Alzheimer’s, and her father is frail and anxious.

“And there’s more. She has a full-time job she doesn’t like, and she worries about her husband getting laid off. Sleep? Forget it! She worries that she eats too much for comfort and has gained weight. Who can blame her? This woman tells me her story, sighs, and then says:

“Really, it’s not that bad.”

“Excuse me? Oh, yes, it is! This woman was sitting in a pot of very hot water. If she was dropped into her unbearable situation all of a sudden, she’d be saying:

HOLY COW! Get me out of here!”

“I know what I’m talking about. This stress creep has happened to me a couple of times.

Okay, I should say several times, once when my mother and father came to live with us. My parents lived in Kansas City, but when my mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, her doctor there couldn’t offer her any treatment. He basically sent her home to prepare to die. Until then, I had completely taken it for granted that we had one of the top rated Cancer Centers in the country right here in Western New York. So under the care of an excellent oncologist at Roswell Park Cancer Center, my mother underwent chemotherapy and palliative care which significantly extended the quality of her life.

“Meanwhile, being so focused on caring for my Mom and Dad, I didn’t notice the water in my pot getting hotter. It wasn’t like I was alone; my husband is a hands-on kind of guy, thank God, but I live with chronic illness that I need to watch, and at the time I also had a demanding full-time job, two small kids, and my brothers and sisters were hundreds of miles away.

“All four of my siblings would check in by phone, and I’d tell them:

“Really, it’s not that bad!”

“One day, my younger brother flew in from Michigan for a visit and to help out. It didn’t take him long to sit me down and say firmly:

“You’re about to drop dead and you don’t even know it.

“We need to talk about maybe taking a leave of absence from your job, and setting up a schedule so one of us is with you from now on.”

“I didn’t see what he could see clearly. He was the frog that just dropped into the boiling pot – the one that I had been in for a while.

“So please, take the temperature of your water once in awhile. If you are chronically tired, stressed, anxious or feeling low, you may be a slowly cooking frog. If you think you are, talk to friends, family, a counselor. Reach out, get a reality check, ask for help as the woman who came to my office did.

“There’s no virtue in being a martyr frog. All you get is cooked.”

Dr. Elvira Aletta is a clinical psychologist in Amherst, New York.  Visit her blog, Explore What’s Next.

© Copyright 2010, WBFO Radio

6 thoughts on ““Stress creep”: are you like the frog in the pot of boiling water?

  1. This is a fantastic post! I can totally relate to being in a pot that slowly starts to boil and all of a sudden you are in a rolling boil and can’t get out of the pot.

    That was me 3 years ago when my family and doctors sat me down and said you are killing yourself and greatly increasing your disability by continuing on the roller coaster I was on. I am so thankful that they saw what I couldn’t.

    PS, I’m out of the boiling water now! Thanks for this post!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Reblogged this on janetmae and commented:
    “This piece could not have to me any sooner! I feel like the frog that was cooked over and over since birth! Is that even possible??”

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m sad to admit that I am most definitely like the frog in the hot water, not really aware of how dangerous that water can be as time goes by and I get more used to the stress reality! This is an excellent analogy for my work and home life! Thanks for sharing this link with Dr. Aletta.

    Merry Christmas to you Carolyn – you always bring us such valuable and insightful info here week after week. Thank you for all that you do!

    Liked by 1 person

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  5. I’m going to print this article and staple it to my forehead.

    The level of stress that we expect our poor bodies to cope with can be so unrealistic, and articles like this help with getting a mental grip on it. As the psychologist says, the problem is that things add up bit by bit until it reaches boiling point, but by then we are in a sort of silent suffering stupor…

    We forget. We just forget about the important stuff.

    I remember waking up one Saturday morning when I was about 10, full of pure delight in the day that lay ahead.

    And about 15 years ago I spent an entire autumn afternoon sitting in Beacon Hill park under a tree, watching the leaves fall. Sitting for about 4 hours with my beloved dog lying by my side, both of us just watching the leaves fall. Did you know that you can actually hear a leaf hitting the ground?

    And the misty rainy mornings, when my children were small, spent on the beach listening to the surf crash on the shore; feeling my heartbeat in tune with the pounding surf while the boys played with rocks and beach wood. Haven’t done anything even remotely like that in a good 20 years or more. Why?

    The demands and stresses of life have a way of taking over and making us forget…

    Liked by 1 person

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