helping your clients control their anxietyToday’s interview is with Erin Barbossa, LMSW. 

 Jennifer:  How might stress impact someone’s life?

Erin: First, we have to look at how there is draining stress and energizing stress.  Energizing stress is when we feel challenged and engaged but aligned with our values and growing.   I think the question is referring to draining stress.  Most of us think that draining stress comes from “not enough time” or “too many responsibilitiesor might have a habit of blaming stress on other people or external forces.  But in my work as a clinician, I see that true stress is actually that you are living or behaving in a way that somehow does not align with your values.  When we don’t routinely spend time connecting with our values, we can find ourselves in a place where we build up draining stress. 

Draining stress has an impact on our relationships and interactions, our choices, our physical health and overall wellbeing… overtime chronic draining stress just eats away at all of these sectors of our life.  Some ways to keep track of if stress is starting to eat away at your health is in your sleeping patterns, such as lack of consistent eight hours of sleep, having difficulty falling asleep or early morning waking. 

Other ways draining stress shows up are, irritability, being easily distracted or feeling keyed up or tense.  If you have a hard time relaxing or aren’t getting along with others frequently, you may have built up draining stress.

Jennifer: What are your favorite ways to teach clients to best manage stress?

Erin: I teach clients about stress by giving them a different lens to look at their life through the therapeutic process.  I engage with them in a unique relationship that allows them a space to unpack their stress, have new understanding about how they relate to others and get connected with their values.  I also love to teach about emotional digestion and how “alignment with values” and “balance” are not a set solid destination but instead constantly shifting and changing.  Balance is not stillness, it’s continual movement.

I teach them keys to emotional hygiene: dedicating time and space for self-reflection, self-growth, and connecting to their values. This can look like relaxation and mindfulness techniques, and encouraging connection with nature and engaging in creativity.  self-care strategies, or education about the psychology behind stress.

Jennifer: How do you personally cope with stress as a therapist?

Erin: Well if stress = not being aligned with your values, then coping with stress = assessing and staying connected to your values.   So I have a lot of protected space for connecting with my values.  I also believe that values are found in community with others.  So the best way I manage stress is being in community with others, so I have a whole team!  I have my own therapist, a fantastic supervisor, friends, family and colleagues where we have protected space to continually process and assess that alignment.  Overall, I practice a lot of emotional hygiene!  I have my own therapist I see regularly and feel strongly that therapists who are committed to their own personal growth work provide the best service to their clients.

Jennifer: What are some of your favorite self-care practices?

Erin: I practice yoga, gyrotonic, walk with nature and engage in creativity as much as possible. I take salt/essential oil baths, get massages and treat myself really well!  I do all this with having two kids and a two-career family.  But what keeps it working is that I try not to get myself stuck in creating a routine.  I’ve learned that my life has fluidity and my needs are constantly shifting.  One month I might do yoga twice a week, and another month goes by and I only went a handful of times. Same with baths, sometimes I’m taking them multiple times a week, and other times I go over a month without one.  I don’t get down on the fluctuation, I just try to listen to my body and keep things changing and moving. 

Jennifer: How do you keep yourself from feel burned out as a helping professional?

Erin: I’ve built a village of like-minded therapists and I’m committed to my business working for me instead of me working for it.  I set my rates and hours at what makes sense for my life and it fluctuates. I always know I can make a change if I start to feel burn out coming on and know that my career has fluidity in it.  I don’t ever get trapped in a position or a job that isn’t working for me.  There are always choices.

Jennifer: What advice would you give your younger self when it comes to better managing stress/challenges?

Erin: Don’t wait until you “need” therapy.  Get into therapy early and often.  I wish when I was younger I was more proud of my emotionality.  I wish I knew that the more emotional and engaged you are with the world, the more self-care you need to stay grounded and productive.