One of the first things to be affected by stress is our perception (what we tell ourselves and how we see the world). If we see our circumstances as bigger than our perceived ability to deal with them, then we go into survival mode e.g. (fight/flight/freeze). Conversely, if we view our situation from the perspective of what we “can” do, then we are able to shift with intentionality, from stress to strength. The proof of stress recovery is that you have energy.
Whether we respond stressfully to the people and situations in our life depends on our perception of the adequacy of our resources for dealing with them.
Doing stress well involves developing a Stress Resiliency System.
A stress resiliency system energizes us in a positive direction by helping us get out of the rotation of our thoughts (ex: thinking about thinking about) and places us squarely and intentionally into our lives. Doing stress poorly (worry, anxiety, & burnout), robs you of your health and happiness. We learn to habituate to the overload in our lives and convince ourselves that’s the way we must live. This is a false premise that keeps us stuck.
Another growing form of stress is caregiver stress. There is an emotional and physical cost of caring. There is a difference between caring and over-caring. Over-caring may lead to exhaustion. It can result in disconnecting from those you love. It may evoke feelings of guilt, resentment, and ultimately compassion fatigue. This in particular affects those caring for an aging parent.
Burnout among professionals is growing. This is especially true for those of you serving in helping professions: physicians, clinicians, nurses, and professional caregivers. There are ways to avoid burnout or reclaim your life if you find yourself currently in the midst of burning out.
For the professional, it is important to be able to draw close enough to the pain of others, offer help to hurting people, while maintaining your personal sense of balance and well-being.
This involves careful values clarification and the practice of psychological flexibility. Understanding risk and protective factors will help you live out your calling rather than burn-out.
There are many faces of trauma.
There are experiences that are distressful on a very deep and personal level.
They are painful.
They may disrupt our ability to function.
People respond differently to traumatic events.
Most everyone will respond with heightened arousal following a traumatic event. There may be hyper-vigilance. There may be nightmares. Frequently, people will try to distance themselves from others. Some may avoid people, places, or situations that remind them of what happened.
Trauma may lead to feelings of guilt and shame. Frequently, trauma is accompanied with feelings of grief and depression.
Traumatic experiences change us on a cellular level. It may change the way you view the world.
We have a natural response to fear designed to protect us. It is a normal response to avoid highly emotional and negative experiences. However, while avoidance of situations, thoughts and emotions that remind us of a traumatic experience may initially serve as a natural response, it can begin to work against us.
This continued response metaphorically kicks the painful “can down the road” only to find it re-emerging again at some point in our lives.
Perhaps you have chosen to work in a role that places you in the midst of suffering (e.g. First Responder, Veteran, or Emergency Response personnel). You may find you struggle from time to time with the residue of the pain you see on a daily basis. Some individuals deal with highly distressful experiences in ways that do not serve them well. It’s not unusual for experiential avoidance to set in where you begin to detach from the world and employ coping mechanisms that may interfere with you personally and professionally. You may find yourself grabbling with compassion fatigue.
There is hope for those who struggle with past hurts and highly distressful events. Remember, it takes some time for the “dust to settle” following a traumatic experience. Having a healthy support system is beneficial, as well as understanding that it is not a sign of weakness to ask for help.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM5) describes precipitating events that depending on our exposure, move us from distress to the signature disorder of traumatic stress which is Post Traumatic Stress (PTSD).
It may be difficult to understand whether what you are experiencing is a normal response to a traumatic event, or whether you have PTSD. This is why a thorough clinical interview is required to fully and properly assess whether or not clinical criteria has been met, and to get the expert evidenced-based treatment that will help you.
Grief is messy. Sometimes it is expected, and sometimes it is unpredictable, sudden and tragic. Loss can shake your sense of meaning and purpose, as well as your understanding of yourself and your role. It’s important to realize that everybody grieves differently and that’s okay. The way we express our grief is called mourning. There is a relationship between grief and mourning. Grief creates cracks in our life: physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Mourning softens us. If grief is the cracks in our life; mourning is how the ‘light gets in’. Mourning is our process and how we move toward hope, growth, and healing. Suffering has the potential of strengthening us and making us wiser. We don’t get over grief. We move through it and this is a process that takes time, work, and the intentional seeking out of people in your life who will listen and not try to fix you or tell you how to do your grief journey by comparing it to their own standard. Sometimes, loss is accompanied by a variety of feelings and responses, such as guilt, anger, resentment, and even a contributor to depression.
What’s critical is that you understand that there is a process through the pain. There is a path toward growth and learning how to move forward.
Just about everyone can relate to feeling anxious from time to time.
We are familiar with worrying and procrastination, perfectionism and sometimes questioning whether we “measure up” as students, parents, professionals (aka Imposter Syndrome).
For some, anxiety becomes a severe, pervasive and painful disorder directly impacting the ability to function at work, home, and in social situations. Some people experience abrupt surges of intense fear, combined with physiological symptoms (panic attacks), or strong fears and anxiousness regarding specific objects or social situations. Left unchecked, anxiety can be overwhelming and crippling.
The distress of day to day living with excessive anxiety and worry seeps into our lives. It drains us of valuable energy. It results in countless opportunities lost to “waiting for the proverbial shoe to drop.”
Sometimes, we tell ourselves stories constructed from fears, doubts, and worries that keep us stuck. Today, there are Evidenced-Based therapies shown to help persons experiencing anxiety. Don’t languish in your distress. There is help. There is hope.
Depression is more than feeling “down.” It doesn’t help to be told to “snap out of it” or “just get over it.” Depression doesn’t share the same face. Some people with depression may experience anxiety. Some may have thoughts of suicide. Some folks appear depressive, while others, appear “just fine” on the outside, while they are hurting desperately on the inside. In other words, the inside doesn’t match the outside. There is a major disconnect. Depression can make you feel “stuck”; helpless and hopeless. It has a voice and its voice is critical, self-defeating, irritable, and pessimistic. Good people get depressed. Successful, smart, gifted, caring people become depressed. People who appear as though their life is “perfect” become depressed.
Evidenced-based treatments such as Cognitive Behavioral therapy (CBT), Cognitive Processing therapy (CPT), Acceptance and Comittment therapy (ACT), and Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) have shown progress in helping persons with varying forms of clinical depression. Cognitive and Behavioral therapies help individuals with depression understand how to change unhelpful thoughts and patterns of behaviors that drain energy and result in feelings of isolation and detachment from life. There is hope for the hurting.
Between the known and the unknown is a gap. Transitions are how we navigate the gaps in life. Transitions mean “change” and most of us don’t like change unless we are the ones who initiate it! Life transitions show up as:
- a new career,
- a new stage of life, (“adulting”, parenting, retirement, caring for aging parents),
- the breakup of a relationship,
- shifting from military to civilian life,
- trying to adjust to the ever-increasing demands on your time and your energy
Transitions can leave you feeling confused and conflicted as to the next step. Transition times can give rise to old insecurities, fears, and doubts. Transitions in life are inevitable. Dealing with them ineffectually or with a sense of helplessness is not. What are factors that complicate life transitions? Frequent factors include ineffective reframing of disappointments, unresolved hurts, unaddressed grief, and unhelpful patterns of thinking that limit our abilities to flex and adapt to life changes. A careful identification of your values and review of how you are living them out is key to navigating the gaps in life.