Dear Zelda Wisdom Fear Factor bulldog humor advice therapy dog advice column

Worry (4/26/06)

Dear Zelda,

I'm happily married with two young children, but I'm having sleepless nights worrying about taking care of my family.  I work for a large company where layoffs are common. My boss assures me that the company needs me, but I still can't sleep.  I've tried sleeping pills, meditation, and even alcohol. Dogs don't seem to have sleep problems, so can you give me some advice? How can I stop worrying and get a good night's sleep?

Sleepless in San Diego

Dear Sleepless in San Diego,

You are correct... sleeplessness is not one of my problems. But unless you have a job where you get to eat, sleep, and play 24 hours a day, I would guess my solution isn't going to work for you. Also, while I'm not going to lecture you on the possible repercussions of mixing alcohol and pills with any type of problem, I hope that isn't a combination you're testing, as the results can definitely put you to sleep... the big sleep, that is. As an adult I trust you are well aware of this. All that being said, I do understand the severe nature of your problem. When it comes to sleep, or lack there of, our bodies and our minds simply don't do very well without a good dose of it. Small problems become never-ending black holes of worry: your coworkers' quirky habits suddenly seem intolerable and abrasive, and the "to do" list appears bottomless. Without catching the proper Z's, it's easy to let little worries bog you down, and worst of all, those worries then make it even harder to sleep! So how do you get out of this cycle?

As you know, in life there are no guarantees, and unfortunately that's...guaranteed. It sounds to me like you've got a lot of anxiety built up over something that probably won't happen, and this anxiety over some imagined scenario is causing you a lot of stress. That's not to say that a workplace dealing with layoffs should not be stressful, but it sounds like you're good at your job, your boss likes you, and he's explicitly told you he needs you! I could lose sleep every day worrying about whether or not a meteorite is going to hit my dog house, but what's the point of making yourself miserable over something that's probably not going to happen?

But of course, it's easier to say that than it is to convince yourself of it at 3am, after you've been tossing and turning for four hours. So what can you do to try and catch some more satisfying shut-eye every night? First,  I'd suggest you try and change your thought process, around bedtime, to reduce the worry about falling asleep. Some people find it useful to set aside their time in bed to think about nice things and happy memories unrelated to the stresses in their lives. Even if you don't fall asleep for a long time, treat your time in bed as "bonus time:" where you are allowed to relax, read a book, and enjoy some quiet and reflection. If you have to work late, work late, but once you get into bed, set that time aside for yourself. Second, try to get out and do some physical exercise, enough to get yourself physically tired. Being physically tired at the end of the day is a great way to hit the snooze button in your brain at bedtime. Finally, if the stress is still overwhelming for you, I'd suggest going to talk with a health professional about more complete ways of dealing with your fears. This will give you some insight on your stress, and come up with a concrete game plan for how to deal constructively and collaboratively with your high-pressure life.

Woodrow Wilson once said that "peace of mind is the contentment of the man who is too busy to worry by day, and too sleepy to worry at night." Remember to relax, and catch some Z's. Most things get better by morning.


Dear Zelda,

Every morning I put my six-year-old son on the school bus. I'm a single mom who has to work so I can't take him to school. From the minute he steps on that bus till the minute he gets home, I worry. He's so little and fragile, and the thought of any harm coming to him makes me feel sick and terrified. How does a mother get past all the worrying?

Does it ever end?

Scared of the Schoolbus...any everything else.

Dear Scared of the Schoolbus,

A mother never stops worrying. . . she just learns to cope with it. Your concern for your son's safety and well-being is familiar to good mothers all around the world.  So 'take heart' the worries don't just go away, but it does get easier, and you will learn to relax. By your third child you'll be suggesting they just hitchhike.

We all have to learn to let go of our children, and unless you plan on shadowing him throughout his every school day, there's just no way of making absolutely sure that nothing will ever happen to him. Going to school, staying at a friend's house, and playing at the park are all part of the journey of growing up, and it does require leaving the nest, at least for a few hours a day. This separation helps little, fragile tykes turn into strong, independent adults. As a kid, enjoying activities without your overprotective (and I mean that in the nicest way) mother teaches you to become more outgoing, confident, and aware of your surroundings. These skills will enable your son to begin to figure out how to deal with situations on his own. This doesn't mean buying him a ticket to Vegas for next weekend, but it does mean letting him go play in the mud, get a few scrapes, and solve some problems for himself.

As a wise person once said, love with an open hand. Your strong smile and happy wave as he leaves on the bus each morning will help him feel comfortable and confident as he begins his day. Today he may seem fragile and little, but  you have to realize that someday he will be bigger, and hopefully a little less fragile. Between here and there, he's going to have to do a lot of growing on his own. The important thing as he grows up is to always keep your bond with him strong, and the lines of communication open. Knowing you trust him (even if you're secretly terrified!) will make him feel more comfortable in telling you what he's up to. You're a loving mother, and you'll always's a natural instinct! The secret is to keep reminding yourself that these fears are all part of the process of growing up, for both you and your son.

Remember that birds make small nests for a reason, and young things will let you know when they're ready for that push.  You'll be surprised how easily they can fly. "Worry" won't give your son strong wings, but love and trust will.


Dear Zelda,

My husband and I purchased an adorable puppy, Porkchop, that we love more than we ever imagined possible.  Now we worry all the time about Porkchop because we've never owned a dog before.  Summer is coming and we are worried about fleas.  What should we do to help Porkchop avoid those nasty critters? Porkchop is six months old. We'd like to try natural products or remedies.  Do you know of any that would work?

Itchin' for Information

Dear Itchin' for Information,

Personally, I myself am just itching to go to a flea market this summer! But shopping aside, your question is how to control and treat those nasty little ankle-bitiní, hitchikiní, freeloadiní squatter fleas? You bet! There are ways to treat fleas... naturally. Unfortunately you can't just rub Porkchop with granola and call it a day. Natural remedies do involve a little more work than some of the conventional methods. But hey, conventional isn't going to close that hole in the ozone layer now is it?

Fleas search for moist, humid areas to stake their claims, and nothing says home like a hot, sweaty pooch in the middle of summer (kind of like a really hairy RV that can play fetch). Of course a heavy deep-cleaning of your house is always a great place to start for getting rid of those unwanted guests, and a heavy-duty vacuuming twice weekly is highly recommended. It's important to remember to empty the waste right away if you do have fleas, or the adults will crawl back out, and then they'll smell like garbage too! Gross! In conjunction with that, you'll want to wash your puppy in a nice hot bath with a natural soap or some detergent dish soap. Be sure to comb him out well, getting rid of all those dead fleas and their hibernatin' offspring.  Follow up with a good towel dry, and avoid letting him outside until he's completely dry. To get at fleas where they live, combine a mixture of 8 parts boric acid with one part salt and sprinkle in the high traffic areas as well as the shady, damp areas of your home and garden. It will help dry out those areas that are moist, and the fleas will head for the hills. Now for the ultimate in natural remedies, try some biological warfare. Nematodes are small, flea larva-eating worms that can be purchased at one of your local garden stores and will prevent the pesky pests from pouncing on your pooch. Neither fleas nor nematodes survive in the hot sun, but as nematodes multiply rapidly and are voracious eaters, you have only to introduce a small number to have the desired effect. Finally, to eliminate fleas inside the house at night, you can place a bowl of water with a few drops of detergent on the floor with a light, and keep all other lights out. The fleas will hop toward the light and into the water. From there, it's nothing but a gory reenactment of the Titanic for your bloodsucking friends.

If that seems like too much effort, there are other alternatives that can be purchased from homeopathic, natural, and organic stores. With the ever-growing concerns about keeping the environment healthy while we keep ourselves and our pets healthy, you should have no problem finding a remedy that suits the whole family.

Licks (and scratches) to Porkchop.