Don’t stress about your stress

Florence Soares-Dabalos is a licensed marriage family therapist in private practice specializing in women’s issues, parenting teens and improving relationships.

As a psychotherapist, I would like to think I manage stress well. I know all of the “right” techniques to soothe myself. But the truth is I struggle with life’s transitions just as much as the next person.

In the past year, I have had my share of change. Relatives have passed away, I lost my supplemental part-time job last summer while moving my practice into a new office, and I continue to nurture my relationships. As you can see, there has been joy and excitement as well as sadness and loss. And in the midst of it all, there has been stress.

Since May is Mental Health Awareness Month, I thought this would be a good time to write about stress and practicing healthy stress-management skills.

There are two types of stress: eustress and distress.

Eustress is the “good” kind usually found in circumstances such as graduating, having a baby, or getting a job promotion. This type of stress generally promotes emotional and/or psychological growth. One experiences joy and excitement about the possibility of a new chapter in his/her life while challenging his/her ability to master a new task.

Distress is characterized as the “bad” kind and produces negative responses. One may feel sad (or angry) if experiencing a divorce or job loss and if one gets “stuck” in this negativity, s/he runs the risk of depression and/or anxiety.

So how does stress manifest itself? Muscle tension, fatigue, irritability, trouble sleeping, strained relationships, and various health problems are all characteristics of stress. (Eustress also includes giddiness and joy.) In children, physical aggression may be a sign of stress.

Luckily, both eustress and distress can be managed in a variety of ways.

First, pay attention to your thought process. The way we react to life’s transitions appears to be more important than stress itself. Staying optimistic can help us feel better about the changes life brings. Remind yourself that stress is temporary and focus on the positive. (I find keeping a gratitude journal helps me stay focused on the positive.)

Other ways to take care of yourself include eating right, exercising regularly, learning to say no, talking to a loved one, and utilizing relaxation techniques such as yoga or meditation.

Another easy, useful technique is H.A.L.T. This works especially well with children. Find out if your child is Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired. Then act accordingly.

Finally, if the symptoms of stress persist, consult a medical or mental-health professional. I am sure you will find your time to laugh again!