Sometimes my clients ask me: can you teach me how to never have stress again?. What I usually tell them is that I can’t teach them that because stress is inevitable and it is our body’s way of responding to situations we perceive as threatening or dangerous. But what I can teach them is how to manage stress or respond to it differently when it shows up.

Sometimes people also tell me, you must never get stressed as a therapist or you always know what to do. I usually laugh internally. Stress happens to all of us and it is not always bad. Stress can serve a good purpose–like when it mobilizes us towards meeting deadlines, to get something done, when it alerts us that something may not be right.

I love when I get to practice my own therapeutic interventions on myself. I recently had to do that. There are times where I have slow days at work but sometimes it seems like all the things that need my attention, need attention at the same time. The latter happened to me not too long ago.

I started to sense the stress in my body. I have learned to recognize stress where it shows up. It may show up in my face and my back and they both get tense. That day I also noticed how I was responding to others–short, with less patience. I realized I had so many things to do (and they all appeared important, and I didn’t really know how to move forward.)  When I noticed all of this happening, I knew I need to do something about it.

What did I do to resolve it and what would I recommend others to do?
1. Take a break. I took a small break. If we make decisions when stressed, we don’t always make the best decisions. I noticed I was making decisions out of fear or concern. When I noticed that happening, I closed my computer, drank some tea, walked around for 5 minutes and deep breathed for another 5 minutes. It was overall a 15-minute break that made a huge difference in how the rest of my day went that day.

2. Rank your worries. I ranked my worries. I wrote down the 3 things that were making me stressed. I categorized them by importance of resolving each and started to ask myself, what would be the consequences of attending to this first vs the other? What’s the worst that can happen? And if that is the worse, is that truly the worse or just my perception or assumption? Once I did that I realized not everything needed my immediate attention. It was just my perception. I had to challenge or test that perception by asking myself, whats the evidence that that will happen?

3. Ask for help. I asked for help. I used a colleague as sounding board for one of the dilemmas and worries I had. I realized I was creating this complicated scenario and I just needed to walk it through and bounce off ideas with someone else. I was too close to the problem and I needed a different perspective from a trusted person. This took 5 minutes but the impact was far reaching.

The three steps I took were simple but had a monumental impact. What I did was: I named what was happeningI stepped away from it and practiced mindfulnessI prioritized and asked for help. Then I proceeded to work on the items on the list based on its importance and was reminded that I do have control. There are a few simple things that we can do to regain control and get rerouted to the paths we were supposed to be on.

These are just a few of many other strategies that you can apply during a stressful situation, and different situations may merit other strategies. Stay tuned for more tips!

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