The Best Gift You Can Give Yourself- and Everyone {Including Two Strategies to Make it Happen}

As much as we might try, there are things in this life that are beyond our control. From the weather to a 2 year-old having a meltdown in the isle of a store, there are things we cannot completely control in this life. However, we can control our reaction to them. And the best gift you could ever give yourself which will positively affect everyone in your life is to improve the way you react and manage stress. Recognizing when we are stressed and taking steps to handle our own stress rather than passing that on to those around us is the greatest gift you could give yourself and will bless the lives of those around you. There are two main keys to learn to make this gift a reality for you–recognizing your stress level and implementing a healthy stress management plan.

Key #1: Recognize when you are stressed. How do you know when you are stressed? Does it seem like you realize that you are stressed only after you have maxed out? Do you ever feel like the Hulk just emerges without much warning? It can be difficult to recognize when we don’t know what to look for.

Why isn’t is easier for everyone to identify? There are a few good reasons we all struggle sometimes to identify when we are stressed until we tend to explode. For one, stress itself is not bad–we need some stress in our lives in order to function–we couldn’t function without it. So, we are used to feeling some stress and get accustomed to it. Second, just like a frog sitting in water that slowly heats up will end up being a boiled frog–sometimes when it is a slow accumulating stress we don’t tend to recognize it. Adding one more guest to a party– even adding one every few days over the week isn’t going to alarm us as much as the same number added the day before the party which can then be absolutely overwhelming. And finally it is sometimes difficult to identify because we all feel stress differently. We can’t always look to our parents, partners or even kids to see how they experience stress because it is completely unique and their experience for themselves will be different from ours but they are a great source to ask when they know we are stressed. My daughter says, “oh no–mom is getting her stressed eyes!” My eyes tend to get large when I am stressed so it has become a good indicator for me.

While we all experience stress differently, there are some things we all have in common. We all will feel stress in our bodies. While some people might have their breathing quicken, others actually unconsciously hold their breath and don’t breath as often. Some people’s muscles tighten while other’s get lightheaded. Some people’s heart race and blood pressure rises and they can feel chest pain. Some people feel stress in their stomach and can feel nauseous. Some people’s appetite changes where they have little appetite or tend to overeat. Stress can trigger headaches and migraines. It can make you feel fatigued or cause you not to be able to sleep. Most of the time, we feel it in more that one way in our bodies. What is important to note is that we can recognize the signals our body is telling us when we feel stress so that we can manage the stress level before it manages us.

Strategy: Implement stress self checks. Knowing that it is difficult to always recognize the stress level we are feeling in our lives, doing a stress check throughout the day is a great way of being able to manage our stress. Check your body and how you are feeling and assign it a number between 1-10 and then you can implement strategies needed to keep you in the optimal stress performance zone.

Key #2: Implementing a Healthy Stress Management Plan. I think that one of the greatest myths is that we only need a stress management plan when we are stressed, but in reality this plan is needed when we aren’t necessarily in a state of stress trying to troubleshoot what to do. Everyone will experience stress in this life. You make better choices and can control your reaction better when you have plan. So, what do you do to handle your stress? We all have ways of coping when we are stressed out–some more healthy than others. Here is a link to my favorites:

It is also important to recognize the coping methods or cards that we use and to increase the cards as they can’t be played every time. For instance, obviously taking a nap is not an option when you are stuck in traffic, so you are going to need to play a different card like deep breathing or listening to uplifting music etc. The more healthier cards you know and can have in your card deck, the better.

There is a game I will play with young clients to help them understand this concept. The game is called UNO Attack and it takes UNO to a whole new level and instead of drawing from the deck when you don’t have a card or have to “draw two”, you actually hit a button and sometimes you get no cards and then sometimes a whole bunch of cards are popped out at you. This simulates how life is–sometimes things happen and you end up with a lot of extra cards or stress in your life but knowing how to manage that is the key to winning UNO attack and to be successful in life.

Strategy: Create a Stress Management Plan. Make a conscious effort to figure out how you are handling your stress and take a step to add a healthier card to your deck. For instance, if you are finding that you are often stressed in the car, add some healthy snacks or chocolate or create a cool playlist of music. A stress management plan is key whether you are currently stressed or not.

So get to know yourself and ask yourself these two pivotal questions: How do I know when I am stressed and what do I do to handle my stress? Implement a stress management plan. There really is no greater gift that you can give yourself and managing your stress becomes a gift for everyone.

If you found this helpful, please like and share. Thanks!

How to Find a Good Therapist: Five Tips to Finding the Right Therapist For You

Question: I’m looking into finding a therapist. How do I find a good therapist?

Research over the past 60 years has demonstrated that there is one factor—more than any other—that is associated with successful therapy: the quality of the relationship between the client and the therapist.

Sadly, the mental health field is saturated with therapists, and like most professions, there are therapists that are good and those that are not.

Finding the right therapist is a daunting task especially when you are entering into a world you are unfamiliar with.  So how do you find a good therapist and how do you know if they are a good fit for you? There are a few good tips for finding a good therapist.

Tip #1: Know that it might take more time to find the therapist that is right for you. Similar to the advice from the weatherman during a winter storm advisory, (or the advice from a traffic report) it is helpful to remember to plan ahead and give yourself more time to reach your destination– in this case more time to find the right therapist for you.  Although it is difficult to be patient when you or a loved one are in the angst of making the decision to seek out a therapist, it is worth finding a good therapist and is essential for success. Getting an appointment can take time. Many good therapists have wait lists-which can actually be a positive indicator. Therapists with a high client turn over (an indicator they are not very good) often have more appointments available, so know that patience might be required.

Tip #2: Reach out to trusted friends and family members for referrals. Anyone who has completed or started their journey in mental health has had to begin walking the same path in finding a therapist. Their recommendations for therapists can be a useful starting point as you can learn from their experiences (positive or negative) and can help lead you to find a therapist that is right for your situation.

Tip #3: Online Research. All therapists should have an online bio which will tell you several  key pieces of information.

First, it will tell you their gender, which can be a determining factor for a good fit for you. Although this may not be a factor for everyone, some people feel more comfortable discussing their thoughts and feelings with a particular gender.

Another thing you can learn from their bio is their education. Where did the therapist go to school? While the best schools don’t necessarily make for the best therapists, you are going to want to make sure they went to an accredited school and not an online coaching certificate. You will want to know that they have invested in their education, as you will be the beneficiary of that investment.

The online bio will also tell you whether or not they are licensed. If they are an associate, (an intern who has graduated with their required educational requirements and is working on hours towards their licensure), that doesn’t mean you should discount them. The benefit of working with an intern or associate is that they would need to be working under their supervisor’s license and so you would be getting a potential two for one deal. If they do not disclose that they are an associate, or what being an associate means, then that is a good indicator that you should continue your search to find a therapist. Honesty is key in a working therapeutic relationship.

You should also be able to find online information regarding cost. When it comes to therapy, there is no set industry standard. The cost of therapy can vary widely depending on a number of factors including experience, level of education, degree of expertise and specialized training. The average session is between $80-$150 per 50 minute session.  Some therapists will work with a sliding scale fee schedule, which means their fee will depend on your income level. You cannot take cost out of the equation, but it also is not the best idea to bargain shop for your mental health.

If you would like to use your insurance to help cover the cost of therapy you are going to want to make sure you consult with your insurance. Insurance companies will often have a list of in network therapists for you to select from.  While the coverage with each insurance plan varies, the industry standard is between 6 and 8 sessions. Some other factors to consider if you are going through insurance is that the insurance will require information including a ‘covered’ diagnosis to be shared by your therapist with your insurance. Some insurance companies will also only provide coverage if a certain modality is used, such as cognitive behavioral therapy. 

Finally, the online bio will also tell you about their training, experience, specialities, additional certifications and their modality or their method of therapy. The more you know about what you are looking for in your personal journey, the easier it will be for you to identify therapists with the experience and training that will most help you. Seek out a specialist in that area where possible.

Tip #4 : Call for a Consultation. After evaluating the information you found online, the final key step in finding a good therapist would be to call and consult with the therapist. Consultations are free and are a great way of being able to get a sense of whether or not they would be a good fit for you. Share a little about your presenting issue and see how the therapist responds. Have they worked with anyone else with similar issues? If after consulting with the therapist you do not think it will be a good fit for you and your situation, you can always ask them for a referral for someone they would recommend to address your specific issues.  I often would refer out to other colleagues that would better meet their needs.

Tip #5: Trust Your Feelings. Searching for the key information online and consulting with potential therapists are key steps in finding a good therapist, but how can you know if you have found the right therapist fit for you?  The key to knowing if you have aligned with someone who can assist you in your journey really is a feeling that only you can recognize during your first couple sessions. It is not that you feel necessarily feel comfortable- therapy can often bring up uncomfortable feelings- but you should feel safe to be able to share your thoughts and feelings in a place that you can process them. Do you feel heard when you speak? Do you feel like they are invested in you? Do you feel like they have a plan that meets your goals?  The latest research indicates that this feeling, called ‘joining’ in the mental health world, should occur by the third session but the feelings often start during the second and can begin during the first session.  If you do not feel this by the 3rd session, you should seek a different therapist as this is not likely to be the right fit for you.