Excerpted from Mental Health, Naturally: The Family Guide To Holistic Care for a Healthy Mind and Body (American Academy of Pediatrics, March 2010) by Dr. Kathi J. Kemper
What Is Stress?
We all know what stress is because we’ve all experienced it. The famous physiologist Hans Selye defined stress as a response to any demand for change. Anything that throws us off our current course is stressful. Living with different people, having to adjust to a new detour in our usual commute, having to wait in a slow-moving line when we’re in a hurry—all of these require adaptation. Adapting to change is stressful, and rapid, negative, uncontrollable changes (eg, deaths in the family) create the most stress.
Even though we rejoice when we get something we’ve wanted, the change requires some adaptation. A new school, car, house, marriage, diet, sport or club, or travel—all of these things can be wonderful but can also demand changes in our behavior that require some adaptation. Even though they’re wonderful, they’re stressful.
Resilience and hardiness are words used in health care to describe the characteristics of people who are able to weather stressful events.
What Kinds of Mind and Body Strategies Can Help Us More Effectively Manage Stress?
Body, mind, emotions, and spirit are all just different aspects of each person. Affecting any one of them affects the others. The bad news is that stress contributes to physical disease, emotional distress, interpersonal problems and limitations in thinking, relating, and performing. The good news is physical, emotional, mental and spiritual practices can help us cope. Combining these practices or strategies is even more powerful in stopping the debilitating effects of stress.
Many effective strategies have been tested over thousands of years of human experience. Some practices have been tested in the most modern scientific settings and found to improve not just how we feel, but the actual structure and function of our brains. Just as a steady program of weight-lifting builds muscles, a steady practice of physical, emotional, mental and spiritual skills builds resilience that help us
flourish, even in the face of adversity.
Professional Guides, Therapists, or Counselors
When seeking professional assistance, look for someone with training and experience in helping others like you. Licensure ensures a certain level of professional training but doesn’t ensure a perfect fit. Do your homework. Ask for recommendations. Ask the professional what you can expect, how many sessions, how long they’ll be, what the cost is, how frequently visits will occur and whether you can work in groups, by telephone or over the Internet. Trust your intuition. Look for someone who is welcoming and warm, who shows genuine interest in you; someone who listens well and seeks to understand and empathize with your unique situation; someone who expresses hope and confidence in your innate strengths, capacities and ability to feel better. Most importantly, an effective coach, guide or therapist will offer you steadfast, unconditional acceptance or positive regard. This doesn’t mean they won’t push you a little or call your bluff; sometimes compassion offers “tough love” when it’s needed. But you will always feel their caring and belief in you underneath, and you will feel safe with them. You will feel better having spent time with them. And you will have greater confidence in your own abilities and skills to manage stress. A good coach will allow you to learn from and lean on them, but they will foster your own growth and the development of your skills and strength rather than making you feel completely dependent on them.
Mental Health, Naturally is also available at healthychildren.org
, the parenting website developed by the American Academy of Pediatrics.