Guest Blogger: Gary Klein on Stress & Stuckness

Gary Klein, LCSWBy guest blogger, Gary Klein, LCSW Note by Jonathan: Gary is a trusted colleague, dear friend and fellow miscreant. Heed him!

I would like to thank Jonathan Sherman, A.K.A. Vlad the Impaler (affectionately known to those of us fortunate enough to have worked with him) for the opportunity to share some things I have learned along the way professionally as well as personally.

Every problem I have had in the past, or am currently struggling with, and every issue I have ever heard in a therapeutic setting all have one thing in common: (Dramatic pause... Cue the organ music...) Stuckness.

What is "stuckness?" Picture a really big funnel slightly in front of and above you. Now, imagine a line of people shuffling by and emptying their personal-problem-bins into the funnel. Hold your hand out to catch what trickles out the bottom—not much. It’s always the same thing. Always.

Stuckness. That’s it. (Yeah, I know it’s not really a word, but I like it.) Often, the perception of not being able to move psychologically, emotionally or physically is based on our self-imposed constraints. When we are feeling helpless our minds often create a nutty version of reality that drives us crazy, harms our immune system and can lead to poor choices. Anxiety goes up. Rational thinking goes down. More stuckness = more nuttiness. The downward spiral can easily perpetuate itself.

Here is an extreme example if a client is headed toward the cliff of self-destruction: “Do you seriously want to be dead,” I will ask? Then, I go through a graphic, reality-based scenario of their discolored body with rigor mortis, the pungent smell of formaldehyde with thickly-sweet flower scents wafting above the open casket as loved ones check out the mortician’s make-up job. We go through the casket being lowered into the ground, buried and the mourners going home after some pleasant conversation and a few helpings of funeral potatoes.

“Do you really want to be that kind of dead?”, I inquire. "Or if there were a way out of this situation would you consider looking to see what might be behind door number two?” Everyone picks door number two. Everyone. Just asking that question is enough to open possibilities beyond a funeral parlor. Houston, we have movement.

The stuckness/movement continuum is like a big locomotive frozen to the steel train tracks in a blizzard. Until the wheels can break free that train ain’t goin’ nowheres. However, once they become un-stuck… well, that’s a different story. The train doesn’t have to take off at full-tilt, but just needs the ability to move.

There was a young man who had committed to an endeavor that he later found was not the best fit for him. He called his wise mother to vent his frustrations. Rather than encouraging him to follow through, which could have increased his stuckness factor, she adroitly said, “You really don’t have to put up with that. I’ll have a ticket waiting for you at the United Airlines counter tomorrow morning. Come on home.”

As soon as he realized he was not actually stuck, the pressure dropped below the red line marked, “Danger Will Robinson! Danger!” This pattern was repeated a few times over the next several months and allowed for the obligation to be fulfilled. When the stuckness was doing a psychological number on Junior, mom gave the pressure-release valve a few spins by allowing an exit if needed.

In a state of anxiety, the brain cranks out chemicals designed for short-term assistance needed for a fight, flight or freeze response. This is good. When stress is prolonged, these chemicals can have horrific results including weight gain, heart disease, clinical depression and actual damage to our DNA that is passed along to the next generation. This is bad.

The effects are documented well in the National Geographic DVD, “Stress: Portrait of a Killer” that can be procured from your local library, or viewed here:

(This is a ‘’Must see.’’)

If you are like me, you’ll be mortified at what we are doing to ourselves regarding stress. The good news is that we have more control over our circumstances than we realize. The trick is getting ourselves unstuck. In the next article, I will provide a magical little blueprint that helps do just this. Stay tuned. Same bat time. Same bat channel.

—Gary Klein, LCSW

So let's hear it: How do YOU get unstuck from your stress? Add your comments below...