Feeling stressed is a normal part of our daily life. If we allow it, feelings of stress can take control of our mental and physical well-being. A great way to cope with feelings of stress is applying relaxation techniques when in stressful situations. To help understand common mistakes that people make that may increase their level of stress in a situation, and to learn what can be done to reduce that stress, I have interviewed clinical psychologist Harriet Yevzeroff, Ph.D.
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
“I am a clinical psychologist, and have been in private practice for over 30 years. In the course of my practice, I have dealt with a variety of issues, ranging from mood disorders such as anxiety and depression, obsessive/compulsive disorders, marital issues, relationship issues, and self-esteem issues, to name a few. While I do a great deal of cognitive behavioral work, I am also eclectic in my approaches to problems, as therapy is not always a “one size fits all” process. I currently have a private practice in Bethesda, Md.”
What are common mistakes that people make that increases the level of stress in a situation?
“One of the common mistakes people make that may contribute to increased stress is not being aware of their own personal signals that indicate they are becoming stressed in the first place! While this may seem surprising, I have often found that people are not attuned to their breathing, tightening of their muscles, clenching of teeth, etc. Having a person tune in to their body, especially during hectic or pressured times, is a great place to start in helping an individual deal with stress, and gives a person a greater sense of control over themselves from the start.”
“Another common mistake people make is thinking that they must always remain in, and deal with, a stressful situation as it is happening. While this may sometimes be true, often it is possible to take a “time-out”, allowing a person to compose themselves, think things through, and return to a situation or issue with reduced stress, leading to a better resolution of the issue.”
“A major “mistake”, however, involves what is known as “cognitive distortions.” These are the statements we tell ourselves that create the sense of stress–I should do this, I have to be perfect, I can’t say no or someone will be angry, he/she never understands, if I fail this test/project, I must be stupid, or I’ll get fired, and the list goes on and on. We can all see ourselves doing this kind of thought distortion. Getting at the distortion, and challenging it’s validity, is an important part of my work with clients, and helps to greatly reduce one’s stress levels.”
What type of impact can a high level of stress have on a person’s overall life?
“Stress can have a significant impact on both our mental and physical health. It affects our blood pressure, heart health, can cause headaches, stomach and other gastrointestinal problems, and has a negative impact on other major health problems, such as cancer. It depletes our energy, creates fatigue, and reduces our ability to fight off infection and colds. The list of the adverse effects on our body is long and well documented.”
“Mentally, it negatively impacts our work, mood, relationships, self-esteem, and general enjoyment of life. Even though some people claim to “work better” under stress, there is often fallout found in their relationships with friends, loved ones, and co-workers.”
What are some relaxation tips you can give readers to help them better deal with stressful situations?
“A simple technique that I teach my clients is the act of deep breathing. Close your eyes, and inhale to a slow count of four, hold your breath for a slow count of four, exhale to a slow count of four, and breath normally for a slow count of four, all the while focusing on the feeling in your chest. Your chest will get tighter and tighter as you inhale and hold your breath, and starts to relax as you exhale and then breathe normally. The process is repeated again (and again, if needed). My clients love this little coping technique, and even those who claim they aren’t really stressed finish this exercise loving how relaxed they feel. Along with the technique itself, I help people think about where and when to use it, often to prevent stress from developing in the first place.”
“Removing oneself from the situation, even for a short time, is another “tip” for dealing with stress. This does not mean leaving, never to return to the issue, however! Specify a time to meet again to discuss things, whether it’s five minutes or five hours. And, of course, diet and exercise are important factors for stress reduction. Whether its a Yoga class, a brisk walk, or a bike ride, any form of exercise gets the endorphins flowing and brings with it a sense of calm and well-being.”
What type of professional help is available for someone who has a difficult time handling stressful situations?
“Where stress seems to be a constant, or when it seems to be one’s “go-to” way of responding, consulting a psychologist can prove to be the best gift you can give yourself. In therapy, a person will not only be taught coping skills such as those described above, but he/she can learn why they are prone to feeling stressed. In my own work with clients, this likely involves the cognitive work (CBT) to which I referred. What do we tell ourselves, and what is the “truth” of these self-statements? Teaching a person to evaluate self-statements, and to reframe or think about things in a different way, not only helps that person to feel much less stressed, but gives the individual real tools for helping him/her deal with many other emotional difficulties. I work to empower each individual to change their own thoughts and feelings, in order to achieve their greatest potential.”
“Everyone has stress in his or her life–it’s just a part of being human, especially in today’s hectic, demanding, multi-tasking world. But while we can’t always avoid it, we can learn to manage it, and in doing so, even turn it to our advantage.”
Thank you, Dr. Yevzeroff for doing the interview on relaxation tips for stressful situations. For more information on Dr. Yevzeroff or her work you can contact her at 301-468-6178.
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