Workplace stress management.
Is it possible to manage work place stress? Yes. And practice is necessary. And what could a counselor teach about workplace stress anyway?
Based on my experience with my anger management and domestic violence folks, everyone can give lip service to the idea that stress is experienced internally, but within seconds of saying that I need to change my thoughts to change my feelings, ect, almost all of my clients begin to tell me all over again about the external world, as if once that is in order, then there will be no more stress. Incidentally, that is a very important aspect of power and control belief systems, that controlling the external world.
In order to interrupt the thinking pattern which involves controlling the uncontrollable, I will ask my clients where they see me.
Most of them are quite surprised, and will answer that they see me across the room, somewhere outside of themselves.
I tell them matter of factly that they are wrong. And they are, they see me only in the visual cortex of their brain, inside their head.
While it looks like I am outside you, the experience of vision happens only in the brain, inside you, and the processing of photons is actually separate from the interpretation placed on the experience by your brain, but that interpretation is yours and yours alone, and if that interpretation changes the inside of your body in a way that brings adrenalin and cortisol, it is your words-in-your-brain interpretation that does that, not the external world.
I then ask my clients where they hear me, and repeat the same sequence of questions.
The same for the senses of smell, and its relationship to the limbic brain, taste, and pressure and the sensory motor cortex.
We end up with a everyone acknowledging that their entire sonsory experience and reality is created in their brain, and the human next to them may have an entirely different reality.
That usually stops the story telling and external focus for awhile, and I have actually layed down the groundwork for future reminders that about trying to control the external which is impossible.
So now folks have an object lesson about where stress exists, which is inside, and what causes the stress chemistry, which is their thoughts about the sensory experience.
Now we can begin to teach some tools about changing thoughts or breathing or both to change feelings, and then the next thing that we usually run into is the short lived length of stress management tools.
Those comments run along the lines of, 'Well, I did that deep breathing stuff, and it worked while I was doing it but it went away as soon as the phone rang....' as if to say that stress management should produce a high because adrenalin and cortisol can produce a high.
There are number of approaches that I use at this moment to teach about stress management as a heart beat by heart beat process or a thought by thought process.
I like to indicate to my clients, using some data from the book FLOW by Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi,Ph.D. that the sensory nervous system processes data in packages of seven bits and that the shortest time between packages is 1/18th second, which is about twice as fast as you can blink your eyes, so this workplace stress managment is going to need to become as habitual as the stress producing thinking, then choices can be made. (Stress vs. unstress, if you will).
And then I use a metaphor of driving. If I can learn to pay attention to the inside of my body like I pay attention to changing road conditions and variables literally turn of the wheel by turn of the wheel, and make many small changes to the position and speed of the vehicle, I will get to my destination safely.
By extension, workplace stress management becomes a process of attending to my thinking and breathing and making small frequent adjustments to keep the stress chemistry in a place of eustress rather than distress.
If fact there is some excellent evidence from EEG research done by Barry Sterman with Top Gun pilots that effective relaxation can be done by switching brain wave patterns from beta to alpha, work to rest, and back in cycles per second, so folks get it that stress management does not mean that they are going to achieve nirvana and never have adrenalin or cortisol again.
Now my clients need a tool that will help them get my metaphor physically and here is where I introduce Heartmath heart rate variability biofeedback, which is a computerized program that gives clients an almost real time (very close) picture of how their thinking and breathing impact their body.
Most of my clients are pretty amazed at the changes the computer shows them about their heart rate variability coherence, which is impacted by thoughts, while the client is sitting quietly, looking at a computer screen, and that change happens heart beat by heart beat.
I have yet to have a session in over ten years of use that did not provide information to my client about the validity of changing focus from external to internal for workplace stress management.
There is lots of very interesting science that the Heartmath heart rate variability biofeedback folks have made available to buttress their product, and I will weave that into my teaching, but what really gets the attention of folks actively engaged in work/career is the impact that relaxation has on the growth of new neurons, and the opening of higher perceptual centers when relaxed for better decision making.
We did not know that we grow new neurons daily, which makes the brain bigger, which is better, in my my mind, until 10-15 years ago, and the research is saying that we can minimize that newly discovered capacity of the human brain by exposing those new neurons to excess adrenalin and cortisol.
So if you are curious about the tools I am describing the links to them are below, and I hope you will write me if you need help with them.
Very early in my personal growth experience, a wise person taught me to use the phrase "gratitude is the attitude" when I was resentful or afraid and that phrase has helped me feel better tens of thousands of times.
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