Today, I had the pleasure of interviewing psychotherapist, Gary Brown, PhD, LMFT, FAPA, based out of Los Angles, California on the topic of stress management.
Jennifer: What kind of therapy do you practice and with what populations do you work?
Gary: I have an eclectic private practice using multiple therapeutic modalities based largely upon Gestalt, psychodynamic, Gottman, Rogerian, as well as additional forms of stress management including CISM, PET, and narrative therapy.
Jennifer: How do you think stress impacts people’s lives?
Gary: Stress impacts people’s lives in a variety of ways. For most of us in the general population, we experience physical, cognitive, emotional and behavioral signs and symptoms including headaches, parasomnias, muscular-skeletal problems, diminished auto-immune responses, sadness, fatigue, anxiety, social withdrawal, persistent thoughts and emotions related to the various and persistent stressors in our lives, frustration, anger, as well as feelings of helplessness, and hopelessness.
Jennifer: What are some of your favorite tools/tips to teach patients when it comes to managing stress?
* Become familiar with your own personal signs and symptoms that you are experiencing stress. I give them an information sheet with a separate list of physical, cognitive, emotional and behavioral signs and symptoms. The ability to recognize our own signs and symptoms is really the initial step to good stress management.
* Next step is to have the person talk about what are the specific people, and situations in their lives that they can identify as being typical stressors in their life: e.g. Ongoing problems with their partner; parenting issues; work issues; school challenges; and other social situations and people that are stressful for them.
* We then talk about the nature of the stressors. What current stressors can be removed or at least reduced. What stressors are not likely to go away in the foreseeable future. At this point, they may need to make a change in their lifestyle when the timing is right..We also explore whether or not their stressors are acute and short-lived or are they chronic and long-term.
* Once we identify their stressors, we then talk about any successful stress management techniques that have worked for them in the past. This process helps to promote their resilience and access their own inner strengths. If they have difficulty in this area, I provide them with a tip sheet of proven things that they can try, that have helped others manage their stress.
* We then develop a Plan of Action to help them create a proactive program to manage their stress. As they try new things, we assess and reassess what is working, what is not working and what revisions need to be made to improve the quality of their lives.
Jennifer: What are some things you do personally to manage your own stress?
Gary: There was a time earlier in my career, when I honestly did not pay enough attention to my own care. I was a classic case of burnout. I had all the signs and symptoms associated with chronic and cumulative stress. My immune system was awful, I had frequent headaches, fatigue and my sleep suffered in such a way that all of this was having a horrible impact on my ability to function.
It was then that I realized that I was experiencing what we call “compassion fatigue.” Fortunately for me, a number of people appeared in my life who helped me understand what was happening to me and offered me another way of approaching my work in the world. Here are just a few tips that have been incredibly helpful in managing my own stress:
* Over the period of a couple of years, I reduced my practice from about 40 client hours per week down to a much more manageable 23-25 hours, give or take one or two hours a week. This change alone was the single most effective means of reducing my stress.
* I love to travel and instead of just taking off one or two weeks per year, I now make sure that I have three solid weeks off each year. I always have at least two vacations to look forward to when I return from my last vacation. It is incredibly beneficial to know that when I return from one vacation that I still have more to look forward to.
* I have become more comfortable saying “no” to people and situations that are going to tax my physical and emotional reserves. A burned out therapist is of no use to anyone!