Module 4 Healthy Mind, Healthy Mother

Stress and Distress

Gaining perspective on difficult and stressing problems as a way of managing issues that cause distress. Seemingly insurmountable problems can cause great stress which in turn can lead to a physical response and possibly distress.

Sometimes in life it seems you are facing an insurmountable problem that lingers on. Sometimes that situation will present as a major stress and when you think about the problem you may even experience a physical response in your body which in turn causes you distress and further anxiety.

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What is the “actual problem”? = the event or situation causing anxiety. There may be an emotional wish or desire to fix the problem but reality can’t fulfil your emotional dream.

What are “thoughts”? = everything in your head; your memories of things, visions, pictures, ideas, values, beliefs, the way those thinking processes go together, and all the emotions associated with them.

What are the “physical responses”? = feelings such as rapid heat beat, shortness of breath, nausea, sweating, a feeling of being unsure or nervous. People do things and take things to relieve or distract themselves from feeling that way , for example through alcohol, smoking, medication, drugs. The physical symptoms may be managed for a time but not the actual psychological engine that’s generating the symptoms in the first place.

How can we change the distress?We are capable of changing this distress reaction by getting perspective on the actual problem, by not getting caught up in the negative ruminating cycles of our thoughts, by learning to live and sit with the feeling of anxiety without running away from them. Sometimes we need help from others to accomplish this. Seeking professional counselling may provide you with the opportunity to get perspective on the problem, and help you moderate your thoughts and the responses occurring and thereby lessen the distress you are experiencing.

The process, in the moment, of keeping things in perspective, of having the capacity to be making an informed choice from your own perspective is empowering and energising.

However managing the distress is not necessarily about just being positive about things. It is about not being dragged down by negative ruminations and that may be as positive as it gets in certain circumstances.

By understanding that sometimes anxiety in the moment may be your child’s anxiety, not your anxiety, is gaining perspective. By standing with your child, you’re still in the moment, the anxiety is still real and you’re still feeling it but you can assess and manage the emotion. As human beings we have an inbuilt biological alarm system. A life totally without anxiety may expose you to danger. You may walk across roads in front of traffic, you may pursue dangerous perhaps life threatening activities. Thus anxiety can be a function for survival. Learning to understand the circumstances which generate our anxiety and manage them can be empowering.

Use people in your community who have expertise, such as psychologists, as a resource, as a private place where you can go to get help or perhaps let you air the issues in a way that helps you gain perspective. That can provide an infrastructure for you to deal with other feelings and thoughts that are distressing to you.

Finding ways to change your perspective on these problems can ultimately empower you to live with the situation, and live with feelings of anxiety without becoming distressed. Emotional wellbeing is important.

Words from a past participant:

I practise (mindfulness) incidentally throughout my days. I’ve found that I do have more joy in my day… I’m finding myself to be less stressed.
Because I have depression and anxiety… it’s something I have to manage every day… I have a battle with it, but I just have to be focused and perspective [taking] and the mindfulness. That’s really helped me.
School meetings were always horrible. I just get shot down to the ground…(using relaxation) really calmed me before going in… I had to really make my case and just stay calm through it… I kept getting blown off…finally at the end, when I brought it up again, the special needs director [agreed].

Listen to HMHF coordinator and counsellor Gina McAdam on the video here:

Entry last updated 21 January, 2020