Ironically, people in helping professions tend to be the first to neglect their own well-being. How many readers know physicians that don't exercise? How many therapists can't say no to helping "just one more" person in distress?
We say to spent caregivers, "How can you optimally help (insert person cared for) if you're not feeling well yourself?" We ask this as we chip away at our own wellness, sacrificing one more hour a week to help Betty deal with caring for her ill mother-in-law. Then Bob, then Jane. Eventually, we may hit a pace where burnout is inevitable, but shrug it off with the idea of vacation salvation.
All of a sudden, your half-hour of daily morning meditation is only a few days a week; then 10 minutes when able, then gone. Working later and thus getting to bed later, rising at 6 AM for the gym doesn't sound so good anymore. “Working out" becomes the walk to the take-out joint that replaced the healthy lunches you once so carefully prepared. Vacation? "I'll fit in a 3-day conference to finish my CEU's. I just haven't had time."
The Stress of Stress Management
The funny thing about stress management is that it can be stressful. People complain, “I hate feeling stressed, but where am I going to find the time to sit on a mountain top in the clouds with a meditation guru (or find a mountain top in the clouds, for that matter)!?”
I press the matter of self-care with new practitioners from the start. What better time to learn to work wellness into a busy routine? School, job, internship, family. It's not far off from what they'll be experiencing in their pending professional life. Being one for metaphors, I like to offer, "Just like on a flight where you're instructed to tend to your own safety first, as therapists, we have to care for ourselves first if we're going to save anyone else."
In response, some roll their eyes with attitude: "It's another thing I have to do!"
Pop culture tends to push the idea that stress management revolves around mindfulness meditation in idyllic settings (judging from magazine covers at the check-out aisle). However, there are so many easily-integrated, no-guru-required stress management approaches it could be hard to decide on which to try. Lucky for readers, I once provided “no stress, stress management” talks, and handpicked a few perennial favorites for you...
One, two, three
1) Plants: Did you ever notice that doctor offices and hospitals tend to have plants or pictures of trees and gardens, and that many surgery recovery rooms have a great outside view? Well, it’s more than just bucolic scenery. A cursory look at research (e.g. Park & Mattson, 2009; van de Berg, 2015;
Toyoda et al. 2020) tells us plants, and even pictures of them, are popular because they induce calming effects. Shoppers report less stress waiting in check out aisles where there are plants. University of Exeter (2014) researchers noticed that employees feel better and are more productive when they have a plant. Students have even been known to perform better on tests when plants are part of the testing environment (Lee et al., 2015).
If you feel you’re a black thumb and will kill anything with leaves, hang a couple of pictures of plants/trees in your work area. van de Berg (2015) discovered this alone is enough to elicit a downshift in stress. The bottom line: put plants everywhere, even desktop backgrounds.
2) Tea: Another easily-integrated stress buster is green, oolong and black teas. Green tea especially is high in L-theanine, a substance that enhances calming neurotransmitters. But be careful! It may be best to go with the decaffeinated version (Keiko et. al, 2017). 3-5 cups with the caffeine could nix the calming benefits.
Teas also provide epigallocatechins, which can clean our bodies of free radicals that cause cellular damage and inflammation. Psychologically, inflammation is correlated to poor cognition and depression. Interested readers may enjoy The Inflamed Mind by British psychiatrist Edward Bullmore.
The catch with tea is that you'll have to stock up at the wholesale club. Most experts indicate you likely need 3-5 cups a day to optimize mental rewards. Of course, check with your physician about what may be optimal for you. If it is OK for you, perhaps make a couple of gallons at home on Sunday and have them in your office for easy access during the week. Just pour and sip; no dashing to the microwave down the hall and making it a chore.
3) Exercise: You’re probably thinking, “Here it comes. I'm supposed to work out at lunch instead of catch up on documentation.” I’d never suggest such a thing! This is about fitting easy stress busters into the day’s routine, remember? Lucky for busy professionals, a rather wide body of research (e.g., Hansen et al., 2001; Chase & Hutchinson, 2015; Crush et al., 2018), has shown us that a half hour or less of moderate-intensity aerobic or resistance exercise is enough for mental benefit.
You can easily sneak in a 20-30 minutes daily, because the kicker is, it doesn’t have to be a solid 20-30 minutes! Many researchers tell us that 10-minute bursts of moderate-intensity physical activity immediately boosts cognitive ability, decreases fatigue, and improves mood. If you’re prone to working yourself silly, you may as well do it with energy, thinking clearly and with pep!
How easy is sneaking in 10 minutes of moderate intensity exercise?:
- Take the dogs on a 15-minute brisk walk before and after work.
- Speed walk to and from the take-out place instead of drive or get delivery. If it's around the corner, take the scenic route around another block.
- Have resistance bands in the office and take advantage of canceled appointments, or make a rule that you use them for 10 minutes before seeing your first client and before eating lunch. Considering the average person spends over an hour a day on social media, that’s at least six, ten-minute opportunities to trade for something more salubrious.
- In a tall building? No excuses for not walking in the winter or super-hot weather! A couple of trips bottom to top will get you what you need.
- Make a queue of brief YouTube yogalates or power yoga tutorials and try a new one each day.
There you have it! No long drives to the mountains for the benefits of nature. No sticking to fancy, de-stress diets. No 6 AM awakenings for an hour in the gym.
No more stressing about stress management. No excuses. Easy as 1,2,3!
Bullmore, E. (20180). The inflamed mind. Picador.
Chase, R., & Hutchinson, J. (2015). The Effects of Acute Aerobic Exercise versus Resistance Exercise on Mood State. Journal of Multidisciplinary Research, 7(2), 5–16.
Crush, E.A., Frith, E., & Loprinzi, P.D. (2018). Experimental effects of acute exercise duration and exercise recovery on mood state. Journal of Affective Disorders, 229, 282-287. https://doi-org.baypath.idm.oclc.org/10.1016/j.jad.2017.12.092
Hansen, C. J., Stevens, L. C., & Coast, J. R. (2001). Exercise duration and mood state: How much is enough to feel better? Health Psychology, 20(4), 267–275. https://doi-org.baypath.idm.oclc.org/10.1037/0278-6184.108.40.2067
Lee, K.E., Williams, K.J.H., Sargent, L.D., Williams, N.S.G., & Johnson, K.A. (2015). 40-second green roof views sustain attention: The role of micro-breaks in attention restoration. Journal of Environmental Science, 40, 181-189. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jenvp.2015.04.003
Park S.H., & Mattson, R.H. (2009). Ornamental indoor plants in hospital rooms enhanced health outcomes of patients recovering from surgery. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 15(9), 975-980. doi:10.1089/acm.2009.0075
Toyoda, M., Yokota, Y., Barnes, M., & Kaneko, M. (2020). Potential of a small indoor plant on the desk for reducing office workers’ stress. Hort Technology, 30(1), 55-63. https://journals.ashs.org/horttech/view/journals/horttech/30/1/article-…
University of Exeter. (2014, September 1). Why plants in the office make us more productive. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 14, 2020 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/09/140901090735.htm
Unno, K., Yamada, H., Iguchi, K., Ishida, H., Iwao, Y., Morita, A., Nakamura, Y. (2017). Anti-stress effect of green tea with lowered caffeine on humans: A pilot study. Biological and Pharmaceutical Bulletin, 40 (6), 902-909. https://doi.org/10.1248/bpb.b17-00141, https://www.jstage.jst.go.jp/article/bpb/40/6/40_b17-00141/_article/-ch…, Abstract:
van den Berg, M. M., Maas, J., Muller, R., Braun, A., Kaandorp, W., van Lien, R., van Poppel, M. N., van Mechelen, W., & van den Berg, A. E. (2015). Autonomic nervous system responses to viewing green and built settings: Differentiating between sympathetic and parasympathetic activity. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 12(12), 15860–15874. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph121215026