This past year we have witnessed how imbalances and stressors in nature may suddenly erupt producing devastating consequences. While not as cataclysmic, work-family-life imbalances and pressures may manifest in confusing, overwhelming and destructive, even life-threatening, emotions and behaviors. As one Nepali community leader articulated: “We too will erupt if our life gets out of balance, if we deplete ourselves, run ourselves to the ground, stretch ourselves thin, and live for all the wrong reasons. We will either collapse into ourselves or explode onto others.”
We need a powerful stress tool kit to manage such stressors as: a) being emotionally connected to two homelands, b) separated from significant others as well as from geographical and cultural markers, c) everyday pressures pursuing the American Dream, including adapting to new cultural values, d) the challenges of finding meaningful employment, and especially, e) being an individual new to the US, feeling like “a stranger in a strange land.”
Perhaps most critical, as a community we need to affirm that reaching out for mental and emotional health services (the mind-heart) is as natural and normal as seeking help for physical illness (the body). We must help our under-served community come out of the shadows of shame, stigma, and silence and discover a new horizon of hope!
Here is Be Well Initiative and the Stress Doc’s ™ “Top Ten” Stress Resilience Tools and Techniques for Surviving Crises and Everyday Stress:
1. Find a “Stress Buddy.” When it comes to stress, we initially may need to share our feelings outside of our immediate family, perhaps with a trusted friend or community leader. Having another help put the situation in a more reasonable or calm perspective, may reduce feelings of guilt and self-blame and make it easier to later discuss the situation with family members. If still relatively new in the US, it’s vital to have a “Stress Buddy” who understands the “trials and pressures” of immigrant stress.
2. Speak to a Professional. If you are feeling intense levels of stress, anger, and/or depression, with disrupted patterns of eating and sleeping, misusing alcohol and drugs or simply wanting to withdraw from life, it is time to speak with a person trained in providing mental health counseling. There are Crisis Hot Lines for you to call. If you are not sure where to go, contact one of the counseling/clinical members of the Be Well Initiative Team:
Bharati Devkota, Nepali Speaking, Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor (LCPC) – telephone # 443-742-2575
Anshu Basnyat, Nepali Speaking, Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor (LCPC) – telephone # 443-574-3430; call for an appointment
Mark Gorkin, the Stress Doc, Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW) – telephone # 301-875-2567
3. Join a Support Group. Share your pain, purpose, and passion with a group of like-minded community members and a qualified facilitator; talking with one another, we lean on, learn from, and then provide an ear or a shoulder to our brothers and sisters. Consider starting a Nepali/community support group. BWI will be glad to assist. Also, there are a variety of free, 12-Step Groups – from dealing with problem drinking (or being a family member of a problem drinker) to handling difficult emotions – located in schools, churches, community centers, etc., throughout the Greater DC-VA-MD area.
4. Understand Change, Loss, and the Need to Grieve. Whether it’s a devastating earthquake trauma or just a more quiet realization of missing loved ones, alive or deceased, no longer close by, or longing for our former life…we need to take time to remember. The challenge of change is omnipresent for people adapting to a new land and way of life, or just going through transition. Grief stages – shock, sadness, anger, fear, confusion, disbelief – are not just products of death and dying; grief can be stirred by the loss of a job, the loss of health and mobility, or the loss of a dream. Grieving may help you make peace with both your past and present…and open paths for a more productive future. Of course, there is not one way to grieve; each person has his or her own grief rhythm and time frame. However, if after 2-4 weeks you are not back into your routine, find a trustworthy and understanding stress buddy or, even better, consider consulting with a professional counselor.
5. Make Sleeping/Rejuvenating and Healthy Eating a Top Priority. When it comes to sleep, we often provide solid guidance with our kids, but don’t follow our own advice. Try to apply those sleep routine principles that you’ve designed for your children: turn off the gadgets, take a shower or listen to soothing sounds of nature, or do quiet reading in bed. And, limit alcohol and caffeine several hours before bedtime. Meditation or taking a ten-fifteen minute “power nap” can be an effective way to rejuvenate during the day.
As for food and fuel intake, beware of picking up some of the sloppy eating habits of too many Americans. Reduce your intake of salts, sugars, and saturated fats – those cans of soda and bags of chips. Eat more fruits, especially the berries, and green and leafy vegetables; whole grains, beans and legumes and, if not going vegan, Omega-3 fish – salmon and sardines, are heart-healthy choices. Listen to your grandmother!
6. Get Regular Exercise. Do you get thirty minutes of brisk exercise three-five times a week? Regular exercise provides both physical and psychological advantages. Thirty minutes (or even two fifteen minute segments) of vigorous, non-stop, large muscle movement activity – brisk walking, swimming, bike riding, dancing, etc. – releases brain chemicals such as endorphins and dopamine which are the mind-body's natural mood enhancers and pain relievers. It's less a runner's high and more that we can step back and see things with a calmer disposition and fresher perspective.
When stressed, everything feel’s up in the air. The answer: to feel grounded. There is nothing like a brisk thirty minute walk for creating a beginning and end point for a tangible sense of accomplishment and control. Actually, you’re developing a “success ritual.” And while I don’t always love to exercise, after my ten-minute “while still in bed” morning routine of stretching, sit-ups, push-ups, yoga positions, etc. and my early evening walk…well, I do like feeling virtuous. And if you’re having difficulty getting started…find a walking partner.
7. Learn to Say "No" and Set Limits. During my workshops, more people have said to me, “Mark until I learned how to say ‘No’…I was living on the edge of stress!” Remember, being a mature adult means that sometimes you will have to disappoint people. For friends and family, for example, let them clearly know what you cannot do (at this moment in time) but also perhaps what you can do. Give people the option to call you back in two days when your schedule might not be so busy. Naturally, expect that your initial “No” might prove upsetting. But don’t overly explain your position; excess talking undermines your own sense of control and authority. People see you as wishy-washy. Briefly remind people of your stated position.
On the other hand, when relating with an impatient or “the sky is falling down” authority figure, e.g., the big boss at work, the key is not to let this person’s false or exaggerated sense of urgency become the only reality. Remember, for something to be urgent or an emergency, it’s “life and death.” Everything else can be prioritized. So to regain some control, say to that boss, “I know this is a very important matter. Because it is important, let’s take five minutes; help me prioritize – what should I put on the backburner while I focus on this new vital priority.” Don’t let someone else’s false urgency become your anxiety!
8. Identify and Defuse Stress Triggers. We all have emotional areas in which we are especially sensitive or reactive – for example, someone questioning our honesty or intelligence, talking badly about a friend or family member, or trying to tell us how we must do something his or her way, etc. We tend to overreact emotionally and verbally when someone hits our “hot button.” To improve your capacity for self-regulation, before reacting: a) take some deep breaths, b) pay attention to those “3 B” – Brain-Body-Behavior – stress smoke signals; as I like to say: Count to ten...and check within, c) can I observe the other without making a snap judgement and if they are judging me not “shake, rattle and BLOW?,” d) learn to use assertive “I” messages instead of blaming “You” messages, for example, “I don’t agree” or “I am not comfortable with…” as opposed to “You’re wrong!” or “It’s your fault!”
Actually two of my favorite stress defusers also help set limits:
A firm “no” a day keeps the ulcers away and the hostilities, too.
Do know your limits and don’t limit your “No”s.
9. Get Organized. Chronic clutter in a room or office (or even a car) creates a messy mind. Recognize that anger, fear, boredom, or depression often contributes to ongoing procrastination. Develop an ABCD system: “A” or “top priority” items deal with promptly; “B” or important items file in a “to do” file that’s visible or easily reachable; “C” items discard whenever possible; and have a “D” box or file for future reading or reference. (Discard most items after a short period of time if not read.) Again, if this ABCD system is not working, reach out to a concerned friend or a counselor. Consider this variation of the “Serenity Prayer”: Grant me the serenity to discard the things I really do not need, to save and file the things I do, and the wisdom to know the difference (or to brazenly eviscerate 90% of my in-box)!
10. Discover a Hobby or Engage in an Art Project…Or Just Laugh. A life that completely revolves around responsibilities to family and work, with no time for mind-body-spirit nourishment and rejuvenation, is a life at-risk. Remember, burnout is less a sign of failure and more that we gave ourselves away! Hobbies or art projects, engaging in sports or physical activity that especially integrate the mental-emotional-physical, e.g., digging in a garden, walking in parks or forests, going for bike rides, trying your hand at water coloring, writing poetry, playing tennis, regular meditation, taking dance lessons (research shows this is a an especially good activity for preventing dementia as it is both mind-body spontaneous and structured)…all enable us to step back, shift gears, have fun, and rediscover the sublime in nature and our true essence. And if not quite ready for a hobby, at least read books or watch TV, videos, or movies that make you laugh. Laughing with gusto is like “inner jogging,” giving vital organs a brief but hearty internal massage!
In closing, if you begin to apply these “Top Ten” tips and techniques you will become commander of your own stress ship, being able to navigate stormy seas and eventually reach your own island or homeland of mind-body-spirit-relationship resiliency, support, and serenity. Just remember…Practice Safe Stress!