Do you think your work as a counselor is stressful? Most would answer a resounding “YES!” I’ve heard stress leads to memory problems and I believe it! I’ve always been so forgetful that my mom had ME hide the Easter eggs! I still have to put “hello my name is” stickers on my spouse, kids and dog from time to time to avoid mixing up their names. And, while most people have a photographic memory, mine is just plain out of film. One of my clients complained of forgetfulness. He once admitted, “At least my friends’ secrets are safe with me.” I asked him, “How long has this been happening?” He said, “How long has what been happening?”
Stress can distract you so that you’re unaware of your surroundings. It can also cause apathy and difficulty making decisions. So what’s the difference between ignorance, apathy, and ambivalence anyway? I don’t know and I don’t care one way or the other!
Stress can also cause weight problems. I used to have a weight problem…I couldn’t wait to eat. My problem was that I believed man does not live by bread alone…but by additives and preservatives as well! Oh, I exercised…my right to refuse any type of movement. And, I ran alright…from the fridge to the table. But, then I gave up pastries. They had too many calories. I gave up red meat, too much cholesterol. I gave up soda, too much sugar and caffeine. So, how did I feel, you may ask? Hungry and thirsty, of course! Now, I love jogging… mainly so that, in my current state of deprivation, I can hear heavy breathing again.
Fear, worry, and anxiety associated with our work as counselors can create a lot of stress. We encounter such fears as the fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of forgetting something, fear of neglecting some legal responsibility and the resulting liability. For example, research shows the fear of speaking in public as the #1 fear listed by most respondents. Fear of dying doesn’t even appear until #3 or #6 depending on the study! I think fear of dying while speaking in public must be #2! I get nervous when I speak. For instance, as I entered the building before one of my first presentations, I decided to go to the restroom. A voice behind me asked, “Ms. Jordan, are you always this nervous before speeches?” I responded, “No, not really, why do you ask?” The voice said, “I was just wondering what you were doing in the men’s room.” Richard Carlson says don’t sweat the small stuff- it’s all small stuff. I say don’t sweat the petty stuff, but don’t pet the sweaty stuff either!
I believe the solution to all of this fear is planning, preparation and prayer. Three P’s.
Review your clients’ charts periodically. Read and reread counseling articles and books. That preparation and planning will really melt away stress. In regards to prayer, you’ve heard of the Serenity Prayer, right? God grant me the serenity to control the things I can… Well, when I’m stressed, I find myself saying the Senility Prayer: God grant me the senility to forget the people I never liked, the good fortune to run into ones I do, and the eyesight to know the difference.
Two signs of stress are negative thinking and pessimism. And, speaking of pessimism…How many pessimists does it take to change a light bulb? Never mind. You wouldn’t get the joke anyway. I only borrow money from pessimists. They don’t expect it back.
To help you identify your personal stressors and stress relievers, I’d like to ask you two sets of questions:
What are your stressors? What really drives you crazy, stresses you out, bothers you, frustrates you, gets you mad, and saps your energy? Then,
What are your stress-relievers? What really relaxes you? What, where, with whom do you feel peace, harmony, serenity, satisfaction, and happiness?
You may notice that you feel differently depending on which set of questions you answer. What is the difference between them? One set of questions is positive whereas the other is negative. One highlights successes and solutions; the other, failures and problems. You feel better asking the second set of questions because your focus is more proactive.
You may not be able to eliminate the stress of working with people in crisis, but you can change your response to that stress by asking the right questions, recalling stress-relieving experiences or successes, and by thinking more positively. If you do a lot of negative thinking, you’re going to have a lot of stress. And, stress shortens your lifespan…which is probably good…because your life is miserable anyway. It’s like God’s way of saying, “Here’s a gift.”
Reduce the stress of unpredictability, chaos, complexity, and ambiguity related to working with people in pain by finding a support person in your life. This person should force you to look at the positive, the possibilities, your strengths, and your successes. Create a file in your file cabinet, Blackberry, or smart phone to track positive things, joys, and humor so that you can focus more on them. For example, when I first married, before kids, when life was much simpler… I could list three things that brought me joy…exercise, dancing, and making love to my husband. That was it. Those were my three main pleasures. Now, think about it… you can’t do any of that at work! At least, not legitimately. But, you should find at least some pleasure in your work. And, what if I only had those three pleasures for the rest of my life? Sooner or later, the equipment’s going to break down! Whoa, wait a minute. I mean, the exercise equipment! For example, I keep a file with notes, cards and emails I receive from gratuitous students and clients. I go through the file whenever I feel unappreciated and down. It really lifts my spirits and recharges “my batteries”.
Lastly, laugh at yourself and your work. Don’t take it so seriously. My hope is that this blog has caused you to laugh a little…albeit at my expense…and reduce your stress at the same time.
Barbara Jordan is a counselor, counselor educator, author, trainer, and leadership coach. For more information go to www.AdvantEdgeSuccessCoaching.com.