12 Apr

Good stress is still stress

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Congratulations on your new marriage! And your new house! And your promotion! And you’re having a baby too?!

Whew! That’s a lot!

Research shows that even positive life changes cause stress. When stress is unmanaged it can cause harm to the body and raise cortisol levels. Cortisol is a hormone that in normal situations helps to regulate blood pressure and blood sugar. Cortisol is commonly called “the stress hormone” because when we are in stressful situations this hormone causes an increase in blood pressure, heart rate, and glucose secretion to give our bodies energy to fight or flee the stressor. A lot of stress leads to a lot of cortisol in our blood, which while helpful in the short term, can be problematic over the long term!

When experiencing multiple transitions, even positive ones, it is important to be gentle with yourself. The human body and mind thrives on homeostasis. When balance is disrupted, it can be difficult to re-establish a sense of calm and control. This is normal. Many of the clients I work with become distressed that they are not juggling all of their demands successfully. When they are unable to keep up with all of the demands, they feel inadequate. Let’s challenge that interpretation and recognize that transition of any kind is stressful. Instead of self-criticism, take any needed space to breathe and take it all in. Appreciate the soft breath of your newborn, allow the new job to affirm your efforts throughout your career, mourn the loss of your support network now that you have moved to the house of your dreams in a new neighborhood. Positive transitions are still transitions, and transitions are hard.

The messages that we have received about change sometimes make it tougher to manage emotions. What does it mean to re-enter the workforce after staying at home with your children or caring for an aging parent? What does your culture say about how long one is allowed to mourn? Transitions can be confusing because they often bring up a number of emotions, some of which are pleasant, such as joy about new opportunities, and some of which might be more painful, like sadness about the people or opportunities that are being left behind. It can be overwhelming when we experience multiple emotions simultaneously.

Therapy is a space where we can explore what may be going on internally, and then untangle the thoughts causing dissonance. I help clients adjust to transitions, and understand the values and emotions shaping their feelings. The stress of life changes, and corresponding emotions of confusion, anxiety, and sadness do not have to last forever. You can experience peace, hope, and satisfaction again.

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