Jennifer: Hi Robin. Tell us a little about yourself.
Robin: I am a therapist at my private counseling practice, Balance InSight, LLC, near Seattle, Washington. I hold a Master of Social Work and am a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker Associate.
Jennifer: How might stress impact someone’s life?
Robin: Stress can cause people to remain in a constant state of fight, flight,or freeze. This means they are in their reptilian brain and less capable of rational thought, insight, problem solving, looking from different perspectives. Because of that, jobs and relationships suffer. Imagine if your boss asks you to change something you do and you hear it as a threat. You will be more likely to respond in an overly aggressive manner, for example, arguing or counter attacking (fight).
Or, you might emotionally cut ties with them taking longer breaks, sabotaging your ability to communicate effectively or take direction from them (flight). You may also just shut down by ignoring what your boss told you, effectively forgetting it entirely at some future time (freeze). Each of these is a real problem. Even if there is no immediate consequence visible to you, that boss will notice and remember.
Jennifer: What are your favorite ways to teach clients to best manage stress?
Robin: I love teaching my clients how to be mindful. This can be as simple as asking them to notice and list each thing in the room that is blue or green. Or I have them scan their bodies for any sensations, such as tickles or itches, feelings of fabric on their skin, aches, pressure, fullness or emptiness and noticing where in their bodies they feel it. And, even more beneficial is maintaining a daily mindful meditation practice such as Vipassana meditation that teaches acceptance of what is, without aversion of less desirable sensations or craving more desirable sensations. When we can accept that all sensations and states whether physical emotional are transient, we can more easily let them pass without adding to our stress. The first two of these can even be done in public, if needed, without drawing attention to themselves.
Jennifer: How do you personally cope with stress as a therapist?
Robin: Proactively, I like to practice meditation myself. I find that when I meditate daily, especially when I’m not in distress, I can easily call on that when I do feel stress. I like to spend about 30 to 45 minutes each morning in quiet meditation, setting my mood to one of acceptance and calm. Then when something comes up later that causes me to get upset, I can consciously call up that feeling of ease.
Another thing I like to do is listen to loud music in my car, and sing along just as loud. Besides distracting me from all else except the music, the act of singing regulates breathing as I hold notes. I should add that I’m quite bad at singing. Isn’t it wonderful that singing off key gives the same stress relief benefits as singing on key?
Jennifer: What are some of your favorite self-care practices?
Emily: Well, meditation in the morning, of course. For sleep I try to have what’s known as good sleep hygiene. I will set simple routines to get my body and mind in the habit of resting when it’s time. Even if I’m out of town I try to keep the same routines: at around the same time each night shower before bed, read in bed (not on electronics because of the blue light), then sleep. And I try to get up about the same time even on the weekends. That way I wind down and “wind up” and I feel like my body and mind anticipate sleep that way.
Jennifer: What advice would you give your younger self when it comes to better managing stress/challenges?
Robin: Impermanence is the key. As a younger person I believed that whatever state I was in is all there was. When we’re young it can be very hard to remember that the low wage job or the paper to be written or my family’s moving is a temporary stressor. I would advise my younger self to meditate, notice what is: sensations, feelings, states and then notice their movement and leaving. Nothing – no thing – is permanent.