Beyond Blue

Beyond Blue

The Frog in the Pot: How Stress Creeps Up on Us


Mental-health blogger and psychologist Elvira Aletta of Psych Central writes:

Did you know that if you boil a pot of water and throw in a live frog that that frog will hop right out, saving his life to croak again another day (ha, ha)? 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. He will not jump out but slowly acclimate to the increasingly hot water until it boils to death. 


This happened to me when my mother and father came to live with us. My mother was undergoing chemotherapy for pancreatic cancer at Roswell Park Cancer Center. It wasn’t like I was alone, but at the time I had a full time job, two small kids and my brothers and sisters were hundreds of miles away. All four of my siblings would check in often and I’d tell them, “Really, it’s not that bad.”

One day my younger brother flew in for a visit. 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 in the pot that I had been in for a while.


I love this. Because I’m the cooking frog, and I didn’t realize it until reading her post. 

It started when the housing market accidentally fell into the toilet with the rest of the economy, and the world had no need for architects like my husband. I manically pursued a a handful of jobs that I have been juggling as gracefully as a Cirque du Soleil dude who got fired for tripping. Then my lips turned blue, so I went to the cardiologist and learned about my heart condition, had a fancy MRI that indicated my pituitary tumor was growing, and two days ago my internist diagnosed me with Raynaud’s syndrome! Yah! That one sounds fun!

All the while, I’ve been sitting in the pot thinking to myself, “It sure does feel warm in here. Nah, I’m probably imagining it!”


Elivra’s last paragraph is SO, SO important:

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.

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  • Angela

    I never sat down and thought about what my life probably looks like to an outsider, but after reading this blog I do. I realized I need help because if I don’t jump ou of this “slow-boiling pot” I am going to slowly dwindle away inside. Thank you so much for such an eye opening blog!

  • Kim

    I am boiling and I can’t figure a way out of the pot! I can’t get rid of my kids, my grandmother, or my husband. Between all of them there is no time left for me to get a job or do anything too help financially. I feel like i’ve been screaming for help, but everyone just tells me what a great job I am doing. “You’re so strong… you can do it!” Guess what… I can’t I’m going to lose it! Any suggestions?

  • Pat

    Dear Kim: You cannot do everything for everybody! I found that out the hard way. I was that person. My father was dying, my husband is disabled, I was working 12 hours a day at a job I hated and I was babysitting my granddaughter and doing all the housework and helping my son and daughter also. Guess what? I totally burned out and had to leave my job and take some time off for myself! I got into a terrific out-patient group therapy for six weeks. It helped tremendously. My therapist and doctor said that the human body can only take and so much. Then you get so overwhelmed and so stressed that you just quit working literally. Everything shuts down and you can do no more. If you do not take care of yourself first, then you will be worthless for anyone else. No one can take care of you but you! Do it know! Take some time for yourself! Do things that are pleasurable even if it is taking a long, hot bath with candles lit.
    Take a walk, read a book, look at a candle long and hard. Exercise by yourself. Do deep breathing exercises. Anything and everything that makes you happy. Listen to music, paint, draw or just write in a journal every day. Volunteer to do something nice for someone else worse off than you. Call a friend, go out for coffee by yourself or with someone who understands and loves you.
    I will pray for you and all the people who go through this every single day.

  • Julie

    I recently have been having trouble breathing…it feels like I need to take deep breathes every few minutes. My doctor did a chest xray that came back fine & ruled out asthma, since the inhaler did nothing to help…finally she prescribed Xanax & that has helped a lot, but not completely. I have spoken to a therapist & I am just trying to figure out how this all happened…..I have some stressors in life, just like most everyone else….I guess I’m the frog in the pot & I so desperatley want out! I keep telling myself that I control this & I can get back to normal….with some help from others of course! I know what it feels like to be overstressed, but what is up with this scarced feeling & the actual shaking of my body? Is my central nervous system that overwhelmed???

  • MM

    I am a cooking frog! And out and loud and proud!
    Seriously – I AM a cooking frog, but I had my “Come to Jesus moment” a few weeks ago, when an irritating colleague caused me to fly into a maniacal rage and beat one work manual halfway to a pulp with my phone receiver. And then become short of breath. That was a good indicator that I was ready to Pop. Currently I’m working on deflating the balloon of rage.

  • Suzanne

    Dear Julie,
    I wish I knew where to begin. You sound like me, 20 years ago. I’m not a doctor, but I’ve worked in the medical field for years
    It feels physical because it is. Panic attacks (trouble breathing, shaking, sweating, fear for no reason, etc) are the result of norepinephrine, commonly known as adrenaline, which is the “fight or flight” hormone. What confuses those who have them is their random timing and strength. You could be hanging out, relaxing, doing something you enjoy, and suddenly feel panic and fear. Conversely, your body could remain totally calm through a stressful event. That’s why it’s so hard for us to make the connection between our stress levels and how we react to them. There’s a few medical conditions that can trigger adrenaline release, but 99% of the time it’s a stress reaction. It sounds like your doctor has ruled out other causes, and confirmed it with the positive reaction to the Xanax.
    So how to deal with it? One of the earlier posters had good suggestions for stress-relieving activities. Alternative therapies can do a lot of good, also (yoga, acupuncture, homeopathy, etc). Don’t feel that you shouldn’t be having panic reactions because your stress isn’t as severe as others may be experiencing. Everyone reacts differently.
    That said, (and I may catch some grief over this), sometimes lifestyle adjustments and natural approaches aren’t enough. I won’t go into the ugly details, but I’ve seen what believing you “should be able to control this” has led. If prayer, therapy, etc doesn’t stop the physical reactions, a psychiatrist who can prescribe better anti anxiety medication may be an option. Xanax has a very short half-life in your system, which is why feeling better can be followed by a boomerang-like anxiety reaction. I don’t believe in SSRI’s (Paxil, Prozac, etc), especially for anxiety. From what I’ve seen, they seem to make it worse. But I’ve seen Xanax’s longer-acting cousins, like Klonopin, work miracles, under consistent medical supervision. I’m not a big fan of prescription meds, but there’s sometimes you have to admit they may be the best solution at the time.
    Sorry I went on so long, but I feel for what you’re going through. I don’t want you to suffer for years trying to do it all yourself.
    Good luck, and I’m praying for you.

  • Your Name

    How do you go about asking for help? I am in the pot and the boiling point is coming up quick. I know I need help but How do I go about it? When I call some one what do I say “I am in a pot of hot water but I don’t know how to escape”? We have services available through my job, I have been on the computer looking but it say “call” and I freeze because I don’t know what to say to someone answering the phone. “AAhh, Hi? Well I think I am certifiable crazy now? Can you help me? My meds aren’t working.”

  • Your Name

    My husband was very sick this past winter. In the hospital twice and had surgery to remove a large mass of infection from the right lung.
    Ever since I have be trying to do everything I can for him.(he reall appreciates it) but body is growing in the front and back. My stomach is getting larger all the time and the putt too. I really haven’t gained that much weight- about 3-5 lbs. But am so tired all the time nd really don’t want to do a lot.
    He had the TV running most of the time, which I am not use to and I hate in the day time.
    Something is going on with my mind and body, since his sickness. Is it just me or do I need to see a DR.?? Think you

  • Your Name

    Thanks Suzanne…..I appreciate the response. Hopefully talking things out with my therapist will be the 1st step in the right direction! I’ve been praying & I thank everyone, including you, for praying for me as well! I hope once I can get this through all of this I can “pay it forward” in some manner & help others.

  • MED Student

    I am a full-time student and currently looking for employment to help my fiance with the finances. He had surgery not too long ago and has a case against his employer who is trying to make him quit. He was diagnosed with bipolar disorder a while ago but since the operation on his neck it has been increasingly worse. All together we have five children so that makes the situation difficult. Last semester my grades startes slipping and I have had at least six anxiety attacks in the past 6 or 7 weeks. I cry a lot now too. I want to help him but I don’t really know what to say. We argue a lot now…mostly over money or him not thinking that I care about him. How do you help someone else if you don’t have a mind to help yourself?
    He’s done and I am boiling…someone please turn off the fire.

  • friend

    So often i feel the fog taking over…What do I do about it, Not much–take one day at a time. Perhaps I need to be more por-active.

  • sharon hoyle weber

    Boy, do I get it! I felt myself getting boiled in my corporate job which prompted me to write, “Hot in the Pot, A Survival Guide for the Real You in the Corporate World!” Great blog, thanks.

  • Leslie Holbrook

    This especially interested me because I have read Sharon Weber’s book “Hot in the Pot” and it is a must read for anyone in the business world and can be applied to your personal life as well. Gave me great insight. Leslie


    The frog example is a myth that has been proven to be wrong. I think it would be a good idea for you to use some other example.

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