Finding Your Balance and Coping with StressBy AccentCare | April 08, 2022
The American Psychological Association defines stress as “The physiological or psychological response to internal or external stressors. Stress involves changes affecting nearly every system of the body, influencing how people feel and behave.” Stress causes mind–body changes, contributes directly to psychological and physiological disorder and disease and affects mental and physical health, and reduces quality of life.
We are living in a time of unprecedented and prolonged stress, loss, and trauma worldwide and stress is a topic with which we are all intimately familiar. As workers in the healthcare industry at all levels, we are stressed, our patients are stressed….everybody seems to be stressed! After all, we have been called to cope with a pandemic, plus regular stressors, plus balancing life outside of work!
It is expected that managing stress can sometimes be challenging. Certainly it is a difficult balance to strike, but it is crucially important that we do. With so much happening and sometimes limited resources with which to respond, it is inevitable that many stressors are faced on a daily basis. Since stress can activate our autonomic nervous system’s sympathetic responses (like fight and flight), unmanaged stress can create significant mental and physical health symptoms. Here are three considerations for moving towards finding a new balance for managing and moving through your stress.
- Are you managing “stressors” or “stress”? In their book “Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle” authors Emily and Amelia Nagoski emphasize the importance of knowing the difference between the two. Stressors are the things that create the systemic dysregulation, stress IS the dysregulation. As healthcare workers, we attend to stressors all of the time. Dealing with our stress, however requires our attention and willingness to shift our personal responses to it.
- Noticing the stress and taking action. The Nagoski’s discuss the importance of “moving through the stress cycle” and bringing it to completion. This means that we have to find ways to address the stressor situations and notice when we find ourselves having fight/flight/freeze responses. This can look like many things— saying “no” to tasks that aren’t yours to complete, setting appropriate boundaries with co-workers, and asking for help— are just a few examples of taking action.
- Complete the cycle. When you are aware that you have been dealing with stressors and noticing you own stress it is important to allow your body to complete the stress cycle. The Nagoski’s list multiple ways to do this, including exercise/physical activity, breathing, positive social interaction, laughter, affection, crying, and creative expression (like art or music).
An important note on trauma. Remember that stress and trauma live on the same continuum—however, according to Jaime Marich, “traumatic experiences are always stressful, but stressors are not always traumatic...stress is not always harmful while trauma nearly always is.” So, it is important to also notice when your stress responses, like fight, fight and freeze, are getting in the way of your being able to live, laugh, love and do your work in a healthy way over an extended period of time. If this is something you are noticing in yourself, it is a great time to work with a professional to process through your stressors so you can get back to feeling empowered and well.
About the Author
Jennifer Sokira is a Board Certified Music Therapist with 20 years of clinical experience in multiple practice areas including developmental health, hospice, trauma-informed care, disaster response and complex PTSD. Founding Director of Connecticut Music Therapy Services, LLC and former Clinical Director at the Resiliency Center of Newtown, Jen is a passionate advocate for trauma-informed awareness and training, writing and presenting on these topics regionally, nationally and internationally. As a consultant and educator, she supports professionals and organizations who are responding to trauma and community tragedy to enhance their perspective, knowledge, and systems so they can better serve their patients and clients.
American Psychological Association (n.d). Stress. Retrieved from https://dictionary.apa.org/stress
Nagoski, E. & Nagoski, A. (2021). Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle. Ballantine.
Marich, J. (n.d.) Can grief and loss be traumatic? Retrieved from https://www.gulfbend.org/poc/view_doc.php?type=doc&id=55728&cn=109