Saturday, November 21, 2009


My new stress book recently earned a Reviewer's Choice designation from the premier online magazine, Midwest Book Review. I'm quite honored to receive this review, so - shamelessly - I have published it below.

Construction work on your home while you're living in it can be a very stressful thing. "Now We Know Why It's Called a Punch List" is a guide for the homeowner facing renovations and wants to try to get their development pushed along in the most painless way possible while having a laugh along the way. "Now We Know Why It's Called a Punch List" is a light hearted yet highly useful read. James A. Cox, Editor-in-Chief, Small Press Bookwatch

You can check-out my new book at Below you can read an interview with me about the book.

Dr. Parrino…Why did you decide to write an advice book about the stress of home renovation projects?

Every homeowner has a renovation nightmare story. Over the years, I’ve heard many of them from neighbors, family and friends, and then my wife and I had a personal experience with renovation stress. So it seemed like the perfect scenario for stress management training.

What’s the central message or piece of advice from the book?

It’s about self management: If you can’t control the people and events that hassle the heck out of you, learn to manage your internal reactions to them. Humans are naturally prone to engage in crooked thinking, especially in situations that provoke anxiety and anger. And when our emotions override logic, we react with a fight/flight response that exacerbates stress. So we must learn the very important skills of: 1) recognizing, challenging and correcting crooked thinking; mental and physical relaxation; and assertiveness training.

You mentioned crooked thinking as a stress inducer. I haven’t heard of that before. Can you give me a concrete example?

Absolutely! Expecting life events to unfold exactly as they are supposed to is an example of crooked thinking. The key words here are “expecting” and “supposed to”. This happens chronically in renovation projects. We expect goals to be met on time and costs to reflect what we were promised. When the time frame is changed and the costs have doubled, we have a “stress fit”. Believe it or not, you can learn to be much less reactive to the inevitable changes that take place in a remodeling project…and life in general . That’s what I teach in the book.

Why did you combine advice and humor?

First, there is plenty of evidence that humor and a good laugh are exceptional stress relieves, and there are very few advice books that use them as teaching devices. Secondly, the coming together of homeowners and construction crews create a very diverse group of characters, an odd coupling if you will. Take my situation. I’m a bona fide egghead who wouldn’t know a drill bit from a sledge hammer. The subs looked at me like I was from another Universe. Yet we were thrown together in one of life’s most stressful encounters. It made for some interesting dynamics and – depending on the way you think about it - a lot of humor on the way to the punch list.

The book was a quick, fun read, and the advice was easy to follow. Did you have fun writing it?

Oh yes! It is my most creative book, no doubt. And working with a talented illustrator like Susan Antinori was a blast. I would write the narrative, think of an image that accentuated it, and she quickly captured my idea in a dramatic, funny illustration. She really nailed the humor that is inherent in the wild and crazy family that is created when homeowner meets a contractor and his subs.

Friday, November 13, 2009


In my previous blog, I outlined a method for becoming a Stress Watcher; that is, someone who pays close attention to the build-up of mind and body stress in order to manage it effectively. The following is the application of this technique to help you be savvy about holiday stress.

Americans have a love/hate relationship with the holidays. We adore them as an opportunity to divert ourselves from the grind of everyday living, spend time with loved ones and indulge in fattening goodies that are forbidden the rest of the year. But we loathe the festive season when it adds stress to a mind and body already stressed to the max.

I teach my stress management clients to recognize stress by counting blocks. This exercise can be helpful for recognizing and changing the tension that many of us experience during the holidays.

Start with a scale of zero (0) to ten (10). The low end of the scale indicates total relaxation; the high end represents panic. Zero (0), for example, may be attained on a long seaside vacation. A ten (10) is appropriate if you’re visiting the zoo, a gorilla has escaped and he’s looking specifically for you.

Let’s assume you’re loaded up with five (5) blocks of stress simply from everyday living. Now observe what happens when you confront the season. Add the following stress blocks:

$ One for extra shopping.

$ One if you plan to travel to spend time with relatives.

$ One for financial distress.

$ Two for the feeling that your pants are getting tighter.

$ Five if you plan to spend time with a headstrong, stubborn, controlling or volatile relative.

Five (your regular stress level) plus 10, of course, equals 15 (maxed out). By New Years Day, you’ll be ready to run away from home to join the circus.

The solution is simple: You have to (A) start with fewer blocks of stress, and/or (B) learn to subtract stress blocks as they pile up.

The fewer-blocks-of stress solution is a reasonable option if you can do something drastic, such as take a vacation from one of the holidays. In the past five years, my family has opted for this one, and it has worked beautifully. We steal away to the beach for Thanksgiving, thus easing into December on the lower end of the scale.
To execute Option B, you have to be a bit wicked. I don’t mean wicked in the negative or amoral sense, but rather in the sense of being assertive and a little mischievous, willing to say no to events and people who demand too much, and yes to yourself.

Staying balanced can include subtracting the following stress blocks:

$ One for keeping your shopping down to a reasonable level.

$ One if you decide to stay home instead of travel.

$ One for conducting a family meeting in which you decide together to spend less this holiday.

$ Two if you give yourself permission to allow a little natural tightness in the waistline, thus avoiding the double-digit stress of gaining weight and enormous guilt at the same time.

$ Five if you manage to avoid the stress carrier relative in your family.

In sum, use the stress-blocks approach to monitor the buildup of holiday stress. Start off with less stress by radically changing your approach to one of the holidays, and make a commitment to subtract one block of stress for every one that you add. Get your family to do the same.

This little exercise may help create the happy and relaxed atmosphere you’ve always wished for during the holidays.

Saturday, November 7, 2009


The following incidents were recently reported in the news:

…A trained healer, a Physician, punches a woman in a road rage incident.
…A coach who helps manage rage on the football field assaults his assistant.
…A guy spanks a child (not his own) who disturbs him in a supermarket.

What could these - and hundreds of others incidents of anger and rage - have in common? My work in anger management suggests that stress could be a significant factor in these acts of aggression.

Stress is pervasive these days and exerts its influence on how we act and feel. And it has an especially powerful effect on the expression of potentially dangerous emotions like anger and rage. Let me show you how stress, anger and rage are connected, and how Stress and Anger Management (SAM) can help people change.

First, think of your stress potential as ten small blocks that tend to pile up in your brain and body. Your stress potential builds as soon as you experience a stressor in your daily life. If one, two or three blocks build up in your day, you’re relaxed and in pretty good shape (emotionally speaking). Five blocks represent the midpoint on this stress scale. It is the threshold point. Once you pass five, you cross into the danger zone. The closer you get to ten blocks of stress, the more apt you are to blow your top.

Okay, let’s start your day. A poor night’s sleep earns you two blocks of stress. Traffic bumps you up to four. Your bosses’ insensitivity pushes you over the threshold (five +) and into the danger zone. This stressed state primes you for emotional reactivity. You are ready to fight or flee at the slightest provocation, and you’re not even home yet. If the atmosphere at home is perfectly calm, you can subtract a couple of stress blocks, relax and enjoy your family. However, a tense home environment adds insult to injury. There’s a good chance that the minor hassles of family life will trigger irritation, hostility or full-blown anger.

Many of us race through life with chronic stress; that is, we carry between five and ten blocks of stress throughout our nervous systems on a perennial basis. I can’t be sure about the three cases mentioned above, but my suspicion is this: They were at eight, nine or even ten blocks on the stress scale. Powder kegs ready to explode.

The first step of my SAM program is to watch/monitor your stress blocks on a daily basis. You must become a good stress watcher. That means checking your stress levels three to four times per day. Stress watchers ask themselves the following questions on a regular basis: “How’s my breathing? Is it rapid or slow?” “What about muscle tension? Do I feel braced or relaxed?” And what about my mental state? Am I worried and overwhelmed by rapid-fire thoughts or am I thinking calmly and clearly?

In sum, your stress scale can build rapidly unless you learn to recognize the escalation and manage the stress before it reaches the danger zone. Through stress watching, you can begin to become keenly aware of your propensity to anger and rage. It encourages self statements such as: “I am getting awfully close to five, my danger zone, so I’d better back off, take a deep breath and deal with this situation when I’m calmer.” That slight pause prodded by self awareness is a powerful stress and anger management technique. Try it and see for yourself.

To read more about the management of stress and anger, take a look at my latest book: NOW WE KNOW WHY IT’S CALLED A PUNCH LIST: How to Cope When Your Beloved Home is Invaded by a Gang of Tool-Wielding, Tattooed, Organized-Challenged Contractors and Subs at

Future blogs will outline the other steps in my SAM program. And remember, you may discover – through your stress watching - that your anger and rage is already chronic and potentially dangerous. Please reach out for professional help. Like the three incidents mentioned at the start of this blog, there are times when stress has passed the point of self help and an expert’s advice.

As always, may your habits be calming and health-enhancing.

Sunday, November 1, 2009


The following is a model for understanding stress. It is the backbone of my stress management program, and I will return frequently to this model in future blogs.

The Stress Management System (SMS) is our primary instrument for coping with stress. It’s made up of thoughts, emotions, body reactions and actions, four of the five hardworking horses of the SMS. A simple example of how these four horses help us survive is illustrated in the fight/flight reaction to a threatening situation. You’re walking down a dark alley and a large figure confronts you. There’s no time for logical thinking. No…your brain and body go to automatic mode: an instantaneous fear response (emotions), size up the danger (reflexive thoughts), physically reactions (adrenalin rush), and take action (fight and/or flight). Logic sets in afterwards: “I’ll call the cops”.

The fifth, and frequently ignored horse, is a nurturing relationship. Yes…most of us have to whine, cry, blab, complain and spew some venom to somebody who cares.

Fortunately, our stressors don’t involve dark alleys but rather the hassles of everyday life. The five horses of stress management conduct their work in these situations as well, except in a more complex manner. Each horse has the ability to fail or triumph under stress. And, the sum of these failures and triumphs determines how well we cope with any given life stressor. You have, no doubt, experienced the following:

…Thoughts can be rational or irrational. You can worry excessively about small life events and be perfectly logical about the big ones.

…Emotions overwhelm us or help achieve a sense of relief. Expressing the right dose of anger feels good, but rage gets you into serious trouble with others.

… Body reactions are short, helpful or they stick around too long and wear out the “furniture”. An acute rise in blood pressure gets you fired up in an athletic event but chronic hypertension is a dangerous medical condition.

…Actions can be constructive or destructive. Hard work “brings home the bacon” but workaholism erodes family bonds and may be a risk factor for heart disease.

Finally, and very importantly,

…Relationships nurture or compound stress. A healthy marriage is a formula for a healthy mind and body, but marital conflict exacerbates the hassles of everyday living.

In sum, your thoughts, emotions, physical reactions, actions and relationships count. I will address each of your “stress management horses” in future blogs with an emphasis on riding each horse on a path to healthy coping.

Until then, may your habits be calming and health-inducing.