We all experience stress at times, even mental health professionals who treat people with stress and anxiety for a living. There are mental stressors, such as difficulties with work or family, and physical stressors, such as illness or unhealthy diet and sleep habits. It is at those times when you are especially vulnerable to the physical symptoms of stress, including headaches, stomach issues, nervous twitching, and overeating or not eating. You can become easily overwhelmed and exhausted. It's important to keep tabs on your stress level and listen to your body's cues to prevent stress from leading to larger health and mental health problems.
What should we do when we notice stress symptoms? According to the mental health professionals I interviewed, it is helpful to find something you enjoy that helps alleviate the stress, instead of contributing to it. Something that distracts you and calms you, so you feel more relaxed throughout your day. It is important to stay present and mindful, instead of getting lost in negative thoughts, and to get out of your mind and into your body, whether that is by getting physical, finding a new hobby, or being creative.
Here is a roundup of ways mental health professionals deal with stress in their own lives.
1. Celena Martino, Clinical Psychologist & Neuropsychologist
"As a clinical psychologist, my job is to listen to my patients and help provide them with tools to alleviate their anxiety, anger, and/or depression. At the end of a long day, I find that I need to alleviate my own stress, and truthfully, the last thing I am interested in doing is talking! I need to engage in something physical that allows me to blow off some steam -- in a completely appropriate manner. Recently, I started boxing and kickboxing at my local gym, and it has been amazing on so many levels. It pushes me to work hard and leave my comfort zone, while giving me the opportunity to de-stress in a controlled environment. After I have completed a workout, I feel revitalized and ready to take on my next challenge. Life is all about finding the right balance. For me, it is the delicate balance between being fully immersed in my work and taking care of my own mental health."
2. Lissa Parsonnet, Ph.D., Licensed Clinical Social Worker
Racing for a Cause, Helping Others
"Avoiding stress is neither possible nor desirable -- managing stress is critical and requires a multifaceted approach. Fitness activities play a large role in my stress management practice. I am not an athlete, but I have run in about 15 5k races, as well as one half-marathon, cycled in an indoor spin event, and completed two sprint triathlons (and am registered for a third). I don't compete in these events -- I participate. (Competition would add to my stress, not manage it!). Each person's life and each person's career carries with it it's own unique stressors. As a psychotherapist I have spent much of my 30+ year career working with cancer patients and their families. Being with people as they combat this disease contributes to my commitment to health. This was the genesis of my fitness training. My patients have been an inspiration to me. Sharing their fight to regain their health has been a privilege -- one that has strengthened my commitment to health and wellness (physical and emotional). Most of the athletic events I've participated in have been to raise funds for and awareness of cancer and cancer-related causes. In addition to the stress-reduction benefits of aerobic fitness and strength training, combining exercise with organized efforts to combat cancer unites my mind, body and spirit. This integration may explain why exercise, and exercise with "event goals" is so effective for me in managing stress."
3. Deborah Vineberg, Clinical Psychologist
Gardening, Being Silly
"Life can sometimes get very, very messy. But I have come to realize that there is a simplicity and tranquility to gardening that enables even the most complex issues that I may be struggling with to just melt away. Planting, weeding and harvesting are extremely soothing and rewarding activities. Feeling the dirt below my knees and on my hands helps me to feel grounded. It is this connection with the earth, watching plants grow and enjoying the vegetables that started from seeds that gives me so much satisfaction. It helps to have my kids gardening with me because inevitably that leads to one of us doing something extremely silly and all of us laughing. Being outdoors in the garden is the perfect place for things to get muddy, messy and a bit out of control. Truthfully, that is the ultimate stress-reliever."
4. Laura Alper, MSW, Licensed Clinical Social Worker
"De-stressing involves anything concentrative. That runs the gamut from gardening to knitting to running to meditating. Concentration practices elicit the relaxation response changing brain waves, and lowering heart rate, breathing rate and metabolic rate producing a feeling of well-being. In addition to meditation, I love to bake. From attention to measuring, the textures of the ingredients, the smell of the baking, and the first yummy bites, my mind is enwrapped and enraptured. This is one thing that uplifts and elevates -- my mood, my spirit, my life."
5. Jessica L. Townshend, Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist
"When I need to de-stress, my first impulse is to come home and play with my cats and try to sneak in some cuddles. Playing with them gets me smiling and laughing no matter what has happened. Other times, I need solitude and creativity to de-stress, and on those occasions I'll take my camera and sit down by the water. Staring out at the vastness of the ocean calms me and I'm able to take photographs as the mood strikes. This distracts me from my stresses and refocuses my energy in a more positive way."
6. Meg Buck, Life Coach
"I have tried a lot of tactics over the years to relieve fears, anger, anxiety, frustration. To express elation, excitement, happiness, freedom. Only in the last year have I found one activity that does all of those things for me, and more. It's riding my bike. Riding my bike gives me time to think. To sing. To observe. To love. To be. There are moments when the wind stops whistling in my ears and all I hear is the whirring of my tires on the pavement. There's magic in those moments. Because I'm making that happen. That whirring. It's coming from me. My bike takes me places that I've never been before: physically, mentally, spiritually. It's the freedom that comes from making choices wrapped up with the freedom that comes from being a kid again. There's no place quite like the saddle to learn about myself and to learn about life."
Try implementing these or similar tools into your life any time you feel stress building. Get active. Get creative. Get in nature. Get mindful. You will feel more relaxed, prevent stress from negatively impacting your body and mind, and you just may have some fun along the way.