Stress Out Smarter, Not Harder

When people experience stress the reports globally sound the same: sweaty palms, increase heart rate, heavy breathing, clenched muscles.

stressThere have been numerous amounts of research studies and devoted health experts that have told us that high stress levels should be avoided as it increases physical and mental illness (common cold, cardiovascular disease, anxiety, depression). We practice yoga, learn to meditate, try to breath deeply, attempt to stay in the moment and learn to say no to either prevent or circumvent our stressful experiences because nobody wants to be ill.  We have become accustomed to avoiding stress.

stressed-out-posters

 

However new research indicates that stress can be helpful to us, if we believe it can be.  We know that it is unreasonable to say “I will avoid all dramas or stressful life events forever.” That is just not possible, however what is possible is changing the way we perceive our stressful experience. We can learn to stress our smarter, not harder.

Health Psychologist, Kelly McGonigal tells us that stress can be beneficial to us IF we change our perception of how we experience it. Often times when people experience the symptoms of stress (increase heart rate) they relate it to anxiety and then start worrying about the negative impacts of this experience, which in turn increases the chances of going into a full blown anxiety attack.

It’s all mental; it starts in the brain; it begins with the awareness of a belief.

Our belief (or perception) of our stress symptoms and outcome directly impacts how our physical bodies respond to stress. This in turn impacts how resilient we are in dealing with our stressful event.  If we decide to notice our heightened breathing as a sign that there is more blood flow, then we can be set in motion to accomplish a stressful event at hand. If we say to ourselves, okay, my body is giving me signs that tell me I am stressed that are helping me to activate behaviors that will benefit my current situation, then in fact our belief will become a reality.

Basically, its our belief about our stressful experience that determines how our bodies and minds respond to it.  So, be kind and stay positive when you are feeling a heightened sense of stress…it’ll make all the difference in the world.

positive~ Jess

 

Be vulnerable – that is what it is all about

Recently, I came across a  TED talk excerpt about vulnerability and I thought “That’s what makes  group therapy work; people being vulnerable!” Later, I listened to the full talk and realized, that is only part of the equation.  The truth is,  being vulnerable is what makes LIFE work and worth living.

Brene Brown, a PhD in Social Work, was the researcher and presenter for the talk “The power of being vulnerable.”  She makes the argument from her years of research, that connection is the reason why we are here.  It is what gives us meaning and purpose in our lives.  It is what makes life worth living.  In making connections with others we must lean into the discomfort and be vulnerable.   As a result, shame is the fear of disconnection; that I am not good/smart/pretty/worthy enough to be connected.

What does vulnerability look like? In group therapy it starts with showing up, listening, speaking, admitting you need and want complete strangers to help you.  In life, it is going on an interview, asking someone out, apologizing and having the knowledge that you may fail.  By choosing to be vulnerable rejection and hurt is a likely reality.  Without the vulnerability one may never experience the positive emotions that are spawned from that risk.  In our society, Dr. Brown reminds us, people often try to numb the feeling of vulnerability and disconnection by turning to self-destructive outlets  (i.e. food, drugs, alcohol) but because one cannot selectively numb emotions we consequently numb the positive emotions of joy, gratitude and happiness.

In therapy, we often say, you get out of it what you put into it, when actually the willingness to be vulnerable is the key.  Anyone can talk, give advice or share information about themselves and put in “effort.”    However, when one person chooses to be authentic and genuine they initially feel the uncomfortable feeling of being vulnerable among strangers; that emotion quickly changes into positive emotions such as gratitude and relief  when the next person decides to be vulnerable and a connection is made.  It is a blessing to be able to see this beautiful human experience play out almost daily in a group setting.

It seems we often miss opportunities to be vulnerable, to connect in order to protect.  We end up protecting ourselves from positive emotions and miss out on our own joy and passions.  In therapy the therapist may challenge one to be authentic, but without that guide we may never be truly vulnerable.  Dr. Brown concludes by encouraging us to  “Let ourselves be seen. Love with our whole heart, even though there are no guarantees. Practice gratitude and joy. Believe you are enough.”  IMG_1554

 

When we were children we used to think that when we were grown-up we would no longer be vulnerable. But to grow up is to accept vulnerability… to be alive is to be vulnerable. – Madeleine L’Engle 

We Are A World Full of Forever Students

Without relying on the heat as a guide, summer season in Texas is now closing. Today was the first day of school for many tots, new college students and graduates of all types. They had to say goodbye to the swimming all day, picnics in the park and sleepovers on Wednesdays.

Now it is time to greet hard-back lunch boxes, fieldtrips, late night study sessions, semester long assignments and most importantly, inspirations and directions for the future.

Going back to school brings a flurry of emotions, both concrete and abstract. Anxious if you’re going to fit in with the other kids, determined to find the answer to life’s purpose and ready to embark on your clear path.

All this hustle and bad morning traffic makes me reminisce on my days as a student, particularly as an undergrad studying psychology and art.

seu

I have very fond memories of my days at  St. Edward’s University as a small but steadfast undergraduate. I stayed up late studying, perfected each sentence of each paper, worked tirelessly trying to understand the symbolism of Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, struggled through statistics so much that I became a tutor, and naively but confidently initiated programs to bridge inner city and private school university literacy.

Near the end of my 4  years, I was sure of one thing: I wanted to work with people, to counsel, to console, to help. I simultaneously studied art and decided I wanted to be an art therapist. In my pursuit of this goal I traveled around with my mom (shout out to Mom!) to all of the various schools that offered graduate degrees in art therapy and none of them took.

I’ll always remember one school wanted me to go out into the wilderness with just myself; no book, no journal, no music, no phone, no nothing. I was supposed to look for my spiritual self, but at that time I was far from connected to anything that was a higher power and this turned me off.  After a series of disappointing graduate school tours I remember being pretty down and out until Mom said to me, “Why don’t you look into social work?” I remember looking at her with a cocked head saying something eloquent, like “huh?”

I’ll admit, for humility sake, that I didn’t know what social work was, but I got on the Internet and started to google it.  The words beamed out of the screen like answers to my future…social and economic justice, make a difference, help people be the best they can, counselor, advocate. I was fairly lucky actually and was able to make the less than 2 week application deadline to both the University of Texas and Texas State.

When I received my acceptance letter to UT I knew the rest of my life had just arrived in a sealed envelope with an orange stamped longhorn on it. (I still don’t hold down my middle finger and ring finger with my thumb…don’t hold it against me, I don’t hold it against you).

Sure I have looked back and thought “what if I did this or what if I did that instead.” But truth be told, I love this profession and its endless opportunities. I am actually having a fun time over here considering going back to school again.  For what you ask, well, I’ll keep that as my gem for now and share with you if (or when) it comes to fruition.

I love the art of learning for the simple sake of understanding. Basking in lectures and philosophical debates about the end of the world or the existence of God. Finding endless satisfaction discussing human behavior. Drooling over new information about health and wellness. Becoming fixated on studies of the brain.

I like to think of the world as a constant teacher. Every person you interact with, every conversation you have, every introspective moment, each NPR news break or Radio Lab Podcast you listen to, all there to give you perspective, to teach you about the world you live in. To help you understand.

We are all forever students.

~Jess
love to learn

Social Workers Promote Social Justice!

We are fortunate to have another guest post! This time from the team at the University of New England Online MSW. Please read below and link to the helpful infographic that describes the ways in which social work furthers the ideals of social justice. 

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Social workers routinely focus on ensuring equal political, social and economic opportunities for those whose voices are often not heard. Improving the welfare of women and children is one of the many ways that social workers actualize the ideas of social justice for those in need. Social workers also work to ensure that civil rights are not violated, and that those in need get the healthcare they deserve. 

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About the Creator
This infographic was created by the University of New England Online MSW, designed to give working professionals the opportunity to earn an MSW in a more flexible format. The program is 100% online, and courses are asynchronous and taken one at a time.  The online MSW program also allows field placement to be done in the student’s local area, with the guidance and approval of their field advisor.

BREAKING NEWS: You’re not boxed in!

After a non-anticipated but very busy hiatus from this blog, we are back and excited as ever!

Andrea and I have both gone through some pretty significant professional changes in the last couple of months. We both have found ourselves in new jobs and with that we have had the pleasure of welcoming new challenges, new people, new insights, and new successes!

Back in December 2012 I wrote “Social Worker in Transition” where I talked about the take-aways of hard time unemployment (or fun-employment, depending on the day). In this post I talked about my experience with a career transition as a social worker and also offered some tips to this evolutionary process

I proposed the question: “What do we do when we know there is more we can offer the world in a different context?”

Here is my answer: keep looking, manifesting, networking and being patient.  The right opportunity will come.

Don’t roll your eyes just yet. But yes, the basics of my answer lie in the fact that dreams and intentions together can create your reality.  We are not fenced in, boxed off or limited to our current jobs. We may feel like it at times, but let’s practice some reality testing. That’s right, we are not restricted.

 
[[Side note :: Please don’t mistake my 6 month job search as a complaint.
I do realize I am very lucky and better off than a lot of my fellow Texans,
or Americans for that matter. Furthermore, as I am writing this I recognize
there is a sense of privilege that lives in the undertone of my sentences.
Unmistakably.]]
As a smart, charismatic working woman I knew I was capable of more than simply what my degree or my license categorized me as.

Like many of you out there, the label “social worker” is a broad umbrella term for communicator, mediator, advocate, educator, connector, case manager, mindfulness expert, carer and friend.

During my professional transition I was really looking for jobs that would utilize not only my social work self but the other parts of myself that I deemed significantly under appreciated and worthwhile.

For example, I am naturally skilled at talking to people, educating people and making connections. It is a gift. Nothing I was trained in, simply something I do naturally.

I wanted this part of me to be noticed and reimbursed. I wanted to use it everyday not only in my personal interactions, but my professional ones as well. What I didn’t anticipate is that this skill would provide me the perfect platform for community relations and marketing work.

That’s right, social workers, I said marketing. A part of my new role is to market in the healthcare world. I educate, advocate and provide resources to other health care providers (social workers, MDs, case managers, RNs) about the aging population (our parents and grandparents) to help sustain and/or increase their quality of life.  And, friends, I love it!

6 months later (almost to the day) I have the privilege of telling you that I have found the perfect balance between social work and community relations work. I am using my natural skills and talents along with my license to do a job I feel like I manifested.

Thanks for your patience!

keep calm- hellno!

~ Jess

Social Workers Pave The Way For A More Just World

//guest post

We are happy to welcome Jaclyn Lambert and Case Western Reserve University to the blog! Case Western Reserve University has been ranked No. 8 in the U.S. among top social work schools in May, 2012 according to  TheBestSchools.org. A dedicated team of social workers has worked together to compile and highlight some of most outstanding feats social workers have accomplished in our history. Please read on and check out the infographic created to highlight the history that has made today a better place.

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Social workers are society’s unsung heroes, working daily to better the lives of others. Case Western Reserve University’s Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences created this infographic to recognize the importance of the figures in this line of work that have paved the way for current students and molded the future of social work as a whole.

Sharing the infographic means securing each of these important social workers’ places in history and facilitating widespread awareness of their important contributions. The information presented in this infographic was mainly gathered from the National Association of Social Workers Foundation, which strives to “raise the visibility of social work and enhance public esteem for the profession.” The graphic furthers that goal in an effort to bring to light the importance and value of Social Work as a profession as well as the motivations of those who choose to pursue it.

** The below image may be difficult to see. If it is please click on The Anatomy of Social Work: Helping Those In Need, which should take you directly to the image that you can then enlarge on your computer.** 

socialworkers2

This infographic was created by Case Western Reserve University’s online Social Work program, promoting ethics, values, self-awareness, empowerment and advocacy. Connect with the school on their Facebook page.

Thank you Case Western Team! This is fantastic and we love it!

~Jess

Some days

What changes in a person or in a day that humans can go from a feeling of contentment and moving forward to sad or frustrated and stuck?

For the most part great things and bad things happen in every day, but what sends a person over the edge? What is the “tipping point” where a person just can’t take it any more. What makes a person cry, loose their cool with a client or stranger, come home and say “I just had a horrible day?”  What makes someone decide they will go through with divorce, take their own life, take someone else’s life?

I ask because I don’t know the answer. Last week I had a day where I had to come home and just cry. Nothing happened that was any more frustrating or upsetting than any other day. I just couldn’t take it any more. The next day my Husband was irritated with his work and couldn’t shake his mood for a couple of days. Towards the end of the week I thought my intern was doing well and was happy; turns out she’s overwhelmed and incredibly tired.  What brings us to the point where we can’t handle it anymore and we can’t help but wear our emotions on our sleeves?

Because we are human I don’t think there is an answer.  There is no scientific equation to tell us when enough is going to be enough for a person. There isn’t a measuring cup to tell us our plate is getting too full. Even if there was it might be difficult to stop life from moving forward. When we reach our limit we just have to take care of ourselves, take a breather (or have a good cry), and admit something might need to change in our lives so the good days outnumber the bad.

Bad-day