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How to Manage Episodic Stress

Best Prsctices Coach Clients to Manage Episodic Stress

Episodic stress is like a lot of acute stress — in other words, a lot of life changes all at once and over a period. People who suffer from episodic stress always seem to be during some tragedy. They tend to be overwrought, sometimes intense, often irritable, angry, or anxious.

If you’ve ever been through a week, a month, even a year when you seemed to suffer personal disaster after personal disaster, you know what it’s like to be in the throes of episodic stress. First, the furnace breaks down, then you bounce a check, then you get a speeding ticket, then your entire extended family decides to stay with you for four weeks, then your sister-in-law smashes into your mailbox with her car, and then you get the sick. For some people, episodic stress becomes such a drawn-out process that they become used to it; to others, the stress state is obvious. “Oh, that poor fellow.  He has just terrible luck!” “Did you hear what happened to XYZ this time?”

Episodic stress, like acute stress, can also come in more positive forms. First, a whirlwind courtship, a huge wedding, a honeymoon in Bali, buying a new home, and moving in with your new spouse for the first time, all in the same year, is an incredibly stressful sequence of events. Fun, sure. Romantic, yes. Even thrilling. But still an excellent example of episodic stress in its sunnier, though no less stressful, manifestation.

Sometimes, episodic stress comes in a subtler form — such as “worry.” Worry is like inventing stress, or change, before it happens, even when it has little chance of happening. Excessive worry could be linked to an anxiety disorder, but even when worry is less chronic than that, it saps the body’s energy, usually for no good reason.

Worry doesn’t solve problems. Worry is usually just the contemplation of horrible things that are extremely unlikely to happen. Worry puts our body under stress by creating or imagining changes in the equilibrium of life — changes that haven’t even happened!

Consider yourself before working with a client…are you a worrywart?  Furthermore, how many of the following does your client identify with?

  • You find yourself worrying about things that are extremely unlikely, such as suffering from a freak accident or developing an illness you have no reason to believe you would develop.
  • You often lose sleep worrying about what would happen to you if you lost a loved one, or what would happen to your loved ones if he or she lost you.
  • You have trouble falling asleep because you can’t slow down your frantic worrying process as you lie still in bed at night.
  • When the phone rings or the mail arrives, you immediately imagine what kind of bad news you are about to receive.
  • You feel compelled to control the behaviors of others because you worry that they can’t take care of themselves.
  • You are overly cautious about engaging in any behavior that could possible result in harm or hurt to you or to those around you, even if the risk is small (such as driving a car, flying in an airplane, or visiting a big city).

If even just one of the worrywart characteristics describes your client, you probably worry more than they must. If most or all these statements apply to them, worry is probably having a distinctly negative effect on you. Worry and the anxiety it can produce can cause specific physical, cognitive, and emotional symptoms, from heart palpitations, dry mouth, hyperventilation, muscle pain, and fatigue to fear, panic, anger, and depression. Worry is stressful.

Like many other behaviors we think we can’t control, worry is largely a matter of habit. So, how do we stop worrying? By retraining our brains!  When our client finds themselves beginning to worry, coach them to get moving. It’s hard to worry when our energy is directed toward following an exercise routine or breathing in the fresh air as one runs through the park.

If the topic of stress management is interesting to you, click over to learn more about becoming a Spencer Institute Certified Stress Management Coach and start a rewarding career.