Psychologists and Stress
Monday, February 13, 2017
Written by: Nancy Duff-Boehm, PhD
As psychologists, we are well-practiced at managing stress. We are trained to advise our clients how to relax their bodies, question their negative perceptions, consider alternate views of the situation, and become aware of their habitual distortions in order to free them from believing and behaving according to them. We provide this advice with an attitude of gentle acceptance, helping them to quiet the harsh judge inside in order to effect change without humiliation. Most of us entered the field because we have always been good at advising others in this way, and we pursued our strength.
But how good are we at managing our own stress? We can’t deny that the work itself is stressful. A psychologist in full time practice walks on the edge of each client’s sanity, each hour switching scenes to don the next client’s world view. This empathic involvement is our modus operandi, and without it we are ineffective; it is as satisfying as it is challenging. Those of us working with children and adolescents, seniors needing assistance, people with drug/alcohol problems or legal offenders also need to juggle and incorporate the views (and often feelings) of other parties involved in the client’s life. On top of the clinical stressors, we have administrative responsibilities, whether we practice independently (billing, managed care, personnel problems, building space issues) or in the context of a large organization (quality assurance, billing quotas, committees). And then we go home to our families!
It is easy for psychologists to convince ourselves that we are so good at managing stress that we do not need help doing it for ourselves. If anyone else tried to say they could, we would doubt it, but it is easy to stand in our own blind spot. In truth, we need to do for ourselves what we advise others to do: have a tool box of stress-relieving activities to use regularly and especially at times of high strain. Every individual is different, but there are some general principles:
- Physical exercise helps everything. Just increasing your physical challenge a little beyond what you already do will blow off steam and bathe your heated brain in endorphins. Seem like too much effort? You deserve the kind of effort you give to others!
- Slow, deep breaths and a focus on physical sensations will bring you back to the moment and away from your worst fears (which are unlikely to become real anyway). The more you practice, the easier and more effective this becomes.
- Kicking back with friends or family eases the strain.
- Talking about your concerns, with someone you trust to understand them, helps enormously.
So easy to say; so hard to remember in the thick of a complicated situation!
We at OPA’s Colleague Assistance Program are here to help. We are psychologists, who have been there too. We know that excess stress can lead us to behave in ways that may temporarily relieve us, but are not in our best interests in the long run. We want to be sure to redirect our energies before risking any harm to ourselves or others.
To talk with someone confidentially about whether this program will work for you, call 614 224-0034. Or, see our website for ideas on how to handle different stressful situations we typically encounter. Be well, and take care of yourself!