Advice from a Therapist: How to Deal with Stress

It’s the end of the workday. You shut your computer off, gather your things, and head to your car. You breathe deep for the first time in the last 5 hours. Wow, what a day. What a week. What a year. What a last 10 years. The stress is gonna kill me.

You say that and laugh, but is it really funny? I mean, it’s great that you can laugh. Laughter reduces stress in your body and releases endorphins. So laugh it up. But also consider the effects on your body of long term or chronic stress.

Many of us are not even aware of the feeling in our bodies due to stress. You may find that you clench your teeth, hold your tongue against the roof of your mouth, your shoulders might be pulled up to your ears, you may have digestive issues, your sleep habits may be poor, or in extreme cases, you may find that you have high blood pressure, heart issues or other medical concerns. Stress that is unmanaged, that goes on for too long, really isn’t good for you.

The reality is that we all experience stress. We talk about reducing stress, creating less stress in your life. I am not sure how you do that, because we don’t have a lot of control over the stress that surrounds us, or the stress that others create for themselves. The only thing that we can control is how we respond to it.

Good ways to manage stress are as varied as we are. Many people develop strategies not to reduce the stress that comes at them, but how they relieve it, deflect it and reduce their body’s response to it.

The management of it starts with your mental attitude in regard to stress. I am the first to admit that I managed stress poorly. I managed it so poorly, that it really started to manifest itself in the health of my body and my mind.

What? I’m a therapist!! Not a good one you might say. Well, you know that old saying, physician heal thyself? That is what I had to do and I started with mindfulness. I asked myself the question, was the stress necessary?

We often take on a great deal of stress that is not really our own. So I started to pay attention to the stress in my body. I unhinged my jaw, pulled my tongue away from the roof of my mouth and took in some deep breaths. I also began to mentally ask myself the question, is this stress mine, and is it useful? Because sometimes it is useful, especially when there is a sense of urgency around an issue.

If the stress wasn’t mine, I gave it back. I literally visualized handing it back to the person who brought it to me. If it wasn’t useful, I shook it off, pushed it away, boxed it up and sent it out into the universe, where it might be useful, to someone else. I also started leaving work at 5 to go home and walk.

That’s right!! Exercise.

Exercise is one of the very best things you can do to reduce your stress. It releases endorphins into your body that create a happier mood. What are endorphins you might ask? Doesn’t everyone want to know? Well, endorphins are polypeptides that bind to the opiate receptors in our brain. The effect of this is that dopamine is released into our brain’s system and dopamine is responsible for making us feel good.

Once you get on the kick of exercise and the habit is created, you get kind of hooked on that feeling. I do it every day and I know several other people in our agency that do too. I encourage you to try it. Create a habit that is good for you.

Get up and leave your workspace daily. Take a short walk, eat your lunch outside, be with people who make you laugh. There is a lot of research that shows that just being out in nature, even just looking at trees outside, improves your mood, and reduces the stress response in your body. So does laughter.

It’s all about self-care. Taking time to take care of you, your body, your mind, your self. It’s not selfish, it is learning that your care is just as important as everyone else’s. If you start there, you are better able to be there for yourself and for others as well.

Stress can be a wave of epic proportions. It can be a tsunami that picks you up and pulls you under and throws you breathless on the shore. And through your own actions, you can let that happen. Or, you can be a stress surfer. You can learn to ride the wave of stress no matter how big the wave.


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