February Blog: Combatting Stress With Mindfulness

For the initial post on our NINH website I decided to explore what February represented for national awareness and learned about the Heart.

Which is good because we tend to put our heart (and Minds) into everything we do.

And yet, working in the mental health field can carry a weighted burden. Specializing in the treatment of trauma means we are front and center with hard turns and complex tasks with individuals facing incredible vulnerabilities in their lives. Day after day, after, day.

Enter Stress.

The stress of high demands, standards of excellence and empathic personality types.

What of the ultimate impact?

I found a specific article from WebMD whose title said it all: “Stress Breaks Hearts.” (by Daniel J. DeNoon/09/20/2007).

Yep.

And what’s worse --telling someone you are “feeling stressed” loses potency, fast, because that phrase has become as common as grass. (Or more regionally appropriate: trees).

Simply put – it’s our ‘new normal’.

And, as such, just another (big chunk) of work, life, or (too often) both we have to accept.

But that standard of living is the last thing we need to just: accept.

Stress is like a two-year-old with ADHD requiring adult supervision.

At all times.

And the best strategy of all?  

Mindfulness.

There’s that word again. I know. It’s everywhere. And maybe you’re way ahead of the game with a Kale smoothie and a Yoga class after work. That’s great (if so).

Other’s see that approach as an idea too indulgent for the necessary demands. I’ve certainly resisted. Sure, I’ll “be present and watch my breath” in 2042.

Today, I need to get my paperwork done. I’ll feel less anxious and ‘more ready’ to take on that zen-balancing-what-not.

Sad, really. (And just a tinge hypocritical if we’re being honest.)

We can’t afford to dink around with our heart health at all. “People who suffer chronic anxiety are more likely than others to suffer heart attack, atrial fibrillation, and sudden heart death” (Stress Breaks Hearts; Daniel J Denoon).

Yikes.

I recently had a conversation with another colleague about how we figured the best employees for this field were the ones who have a legitimate anxiety disorder. Seriously!

Think about it.

Anxious people typically want to make sure what they do is “good enough” – they tend to overextend themselves (regularly), are hard(er) on themselves and strive for (unrealistic) perfection.

That’s great for self-starters and top achievers.

It’s certainly better than the alternative employee profile.

The deeper (and more important) consideration, however, is that if we want a life that is fulfilling and emotionally healthy -the anxious, stressed out, employee model isn’t sustainable.

We must find permission to breathe, no matter how west coast-corny it might sound; create intentional space for bringing in stress-less moments.

Which brings me to one solution our staff can look forward to this month.

We have a game planned.

Not kidding.

Right smack dab in the middle of a Monday.

We are going to invite our colleagues to park their professional seriousness and spend a second (or two) competing against fellow co-workers for the chance to win our coveted NINH trophy.

Feel free to try your own version, this month, of pushing back on anxiety, stress, the slog of work-work-work.

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Light a candle. Pet a kitty (or a puppy, should you prefer). Watch the sunset. Call your best friend. Sing along to the radio. Look at funny greeting cards. Draw a picture with your non-dominant hand. Read the book you ordered but never started. Keep a journal. Dim the lights. Make funny faces.

Whatever it takes for a chance to push Stress back out the front door.

If only for minute.

Your Heart will thank you.

(Pitter-pat).

Jennifer Nielsen, Ph.D, LICSW, Clinical Supervisor


NINH