Stacy Birney Q&A

What are some common problems or stressors you have witnessed with clients lately and in light of the continuation of the pandemic? What type of support would you offer to them?

The continuation of the pandemic has not only brought new stressors to clients’ lives, but has also put clients in touch with symptoms they’ve been struggling to manage from pre-pandemic times. The pandemic for many has been a bit of a pressure-cooker, turning up the heat of life through the ever-changing, long-suffering landscape of our ‘new normal.’ It is not uncommon to face challenges of high anxiety, fear, and increased relational distress. Grief, bouts of sadness, and low motivation are big challenges—especially when paired with trouble sleeping, fatigue, and difficulty in concentration. Finally, loneliness is real. The looming threat of quarantine, combined with another flu season and cold Chicago winter ahead, is a large concern for many struggling with social relationships and/or loneliness.

For support, I will first offer encouragement: You are not alone! The last 18 months have been a hard road for so many of us, each in different ways. Next, I will share a few of my favorite therapeutic activities that can be practiced daily to combat the stress of life (offered in acronym form, of course!):

  •   A – Accept.

Practice gratitude for the good around you. Note it mentally, jot it down in a notebook, or say it to a friend or partner. Doing work to accept the day as it is—the things that can be changed and those that cannot—can open our eyes to life’s gifts.

  •   B – Breathe & Break.

Breathe– There are many breathing exercises out there, but keep it simple. Breathe in  through your nose, exhale through your mouth. Use your diaphragm, meaning your stomach will go in and out instead of your chest. Alternatively, lie down on the floor, put a pillow on your stomach, and make it move up and down while you breathe.

Break– Though staying up to date on the news is important, being consumed with it can drive up anxiety, fear and despair—not to mention anger! Taking a break from our phones/technology, particularly an hour before bedtime, is proven to help battle the effects of insomnia. Taking a break from social media and connecting face-to-face (even virtually) will combat the loneliness.

  •   C – Compassion.

Extending empathy and compassion for ourselves is vital. This means examining our   thoughts and self-talk in a non-judgmental fashion, doing work to offer ourselves the grace and love just as we would give to a good friend.

  •   D – Distress Tolerance.

I liken the art of distress tolerance to the expansion and contraction of a balloon. The goal is to ensure our elasticity, through practice, is that of a fresh balloon, and not the old balloon sitting in the junk drawer from ten years back! Adding healthy coping habits and self-care habits will let the air out of the balloon (contraction), allowing our distress to be released before a new wave of stress/change comes (expansion). Meeting regularly with a therapist to create a set of coping tools to add to your toolbox, targeting habitual patterns of stress, is an excellent way to learn distress tolerance.

-Stacy Birney, Graduate Clinical Intern

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