Article: Therapists treating patients stressed out about presidential election

Fox News (which I’m afraid I view as a major source of stress) reports that therapists are seeing a lot of people stressed about the presidential election.  Not surprising, since there’s a widespread sense that things have gone out of control – a sure indicator of high stress.

“I’ve never seen this level of stress and anxiety over an impending election in my 26 years (of practicing),” said Nancy Molitor, a clinical psychologist from just outside Chicago.

What do counselors suggest? Yoga. And turn off the news.

The benefits of practices like yoga are clear, but I see it as a partial solution. When things feel out of control, we also need to reconnect with people and values. We need to build and nurture relationships in three dimensions – people, practices and values. Research suggests that social support actually has the strongest correlation to resistance and resilience under pressure.

This is a bad time to try to carry it all by yourself. My advice is to set politics aside much of the time and seek to find common ground with friends. The election is important, but there are more important matters, after all.

Article: How Transformative Tech Can Bring Out the Best in Us All

Nichol Bradford, CEO of Willow, published an insightful article today on SingularityHub advocating for “inner wellbeing” and the ability of a new generation of sensors and data analysis to bring harder science to the formerly touchy-feely world of studying emotion.

“Too often, the tools for developing mental and emotional wellbeing are mistakenly thought to be solely subjective, shrouded in mystery or religion, or dependent only on luck or human willpower,” she writes.  “This blind spot is dangerous. The lag between our inner well-being and outer abilities results in tremendous social and individual stress. Worldwide you can see people who are overwhelmed by the change.”


Mindfulness Reduces Texting While Driving

I titled an earlier post “We are so desperate to connect with others that we will risk our own lives and those around us to exchange 140 characters while driving.” (which the observant reader will have noticed is 136 characters).

If texting while driving is an indication of hunger for connection, driven by stress-induced mind/body imbalance, then we should expect stress management techniques to reduce the urge to text at inappropriate times. Sure enough, a study of 231 undergraduates at at Simmons College showed that those who scored higher on a mindfulness scale were less inclined to text while driving.

However, to be fair to the researchers, they didn’t see the problem entirely as one of disconnectedness. Their focus was on self-regulation of emotions and attention, which mindfulness has been shown to improve. However, two of the study’s three emotion-regulation questions were clearly relational:

  • “When I am feeling upset, I send or read text messages to distract myself.”
  • “If I am bored or annoyed with the people I am with, I will text someone else.”

Another study, which looked at the social influence on texting while driving among teens and young adults, found that “the more a person believes that their friends and peers approve of and engage in texting while driving, the greater their intention to engage in these behaviours .” Social pressure matters. And so do values, the same study concluded – those who believed it is morally wrong to text while driving are less likely to do so – and the moral influence against texting seemed to be stronger than the social one in favor.


We are so desperate to connect with others that we will risk our own lives and those around us to exchange 140 characters while driving.

Although technology connects us in some ways, it has done much more to disconnect us over the last half-century or so. Freeways, commuting, school busing, television and most recently, handheld devices – all of these have resulted in a society unlike anything in history. Most of us don’t know many of our neighbors, we don’t often see our own families face to face. Most of our co-workers become strangers when the work day is over. Commuter churches are disconnected from their neighborhood.

I’m not a Luddite. Decades ago, when the Web was brand-new, I began to write about how access to more points of view was becoming a positive force in the world. I still believe that, even as Internet


Face-to-face communication is essential sometimes. Photo from the Loma Fire, where I’ve spent most of this week.

gossip also does so much damage. Media domination by a handful of mega-corporations whose mission is to sell eyeballs to advertisers is not good for anyone. Diversity in viewpoints can drive creativity.

Research is uncovering fascinating insights into how our tone of voice, facial expression and eye contact – and even eating together – can act below our awareness to calm our automatic stress responses. Yet those means of communication, which are so important, are almost completely missing from social media. It is no wonder we are desperately eager to stay superficially engaged, even when we know how dangerous distracted driving is.

I myself don’t feel a great need to pay attention to text messages and so forth while driving. Don’t get me wrong – I feel the urge. But I rarely have trouble resisting it. So I’ve asked myself why this might be. The answer from my gut is that I have a good social support network – people I meet with regularly, face-to-face. These are people I trust deeply, from church, work, and our crisis intervention team. Social support has a very strong correlation to resistance and resilience under pressure. My intuition is that for people who build and maintain that kind of support, it is far easier to resist the urge to see and respond to every text, email or posting.

When we don’t have strong social support, we often buy into the myth that just getting away from the sources of stress will give real relief.  However, what really happens is that our “fight-or-flight” response just changes into different kinds of fighting (seen any online political fighting lately?) or fleeing (noticed anybody who is emotionally checked out around you?).

Building Gratefulness

A few years ago, my spiritual director challenged me to list three things I was grateful for, daily, for 30 days. There were a couple of other parts to this exercise, but it was aimed at helping build an “attitude of gratitude.” I’m happy to report that it stuck with me. One of the instructions that helped overcome my perfectionist and self-criticism tendencies was the instruction to not worry about missing a day – just pick it up again. The 30 days didn’t have to be consecutive. gratitude

Psychologists have only recently begun to look into the benefits of cultivating gratitude, but early findings are encouraging, confirming traditional teachings. In two long-term studies of college students and gratitude, researchers in England found that the more often and intensely people feel grateful, the more social support and lowered stress and depression they believe they have. This makes sense because anything that builds social support will almost surely help us cope with stress and do better overall.

Rejoice always, pray continuously, give thanks in all circumstances – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18.

When we are more grateful, we tend to see the world in a more positive light, which protects against stress and depression. We also make our own world better by thanking helpful people – expressing gratitude – because they become more likely to offer us more support.

Does making gratefulness lists work? Yes, says a recent study titled, “Counting Blessings Versus Burdens.” Across three groups who either kept lists of hassles, things they were grateful for or ways in which they were better off than others, the people who tracked gratitude ended up with a more positive outlook. The gratitude list-makers were also more likely to offer emotional support to others – another example of gratitude encouraging social support. They also spent more time exercising, slept better, had fewer physical complaints and were more optimistic. Daily gratitude tracking was more powerful than weekly.

I will not be afraid, Lord, for you are with me – Psalm 23:4

Another study, on religious involvement and gratitude, showed that attending church more often leads to more gratefulness. The increase was greater for people who believed that God works with them to overcome difficulties and challenges.  This makes perfect sense through the lens of stress as a threat or challenge. When we feel ill-equipped to deal with a situation, our bodies have a “threat” stress response, raising the levels of hormones and neural pathways that cause long-term health problems. On the other hand, if we see the same situation as a challenge – because, in this study, we believe God is with us – our bodies react differently, in a way that doesn’t jeopardize long-term health.

Some other studies on the effects of greater gratitude:

  • Daily well-being increased with daily gratitude practices for Vietnam veterans with PTSD.
  • Gratefulness helps people stick with self-directed interventions to improve their body image.
  • Gratitude in children was related to positive functioning after the 9/11 attacks.
  • People who are more grateful tend to recall more positive life events, which helps make them more positive.
  • Writing about how a good thing, such as finding a romantic partner, might never have happened, increased their positive outlook – to the surprise of the writers.
  • Writing a letter of gratitude, about a time you were at your person best, identifying character strengths all contributed to happiness and positivity, while reducing depression.


Algoe, S. B., & Way, B. M. (2014). Evidence for a role of the oxytocin system, indexed by genetic variation in CD38, in the social bonding effects of expressed gratitude. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 9(12), 1855–1861.
Emmons, R. A., & McCullough, M. E. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(2), 377–389.
Fredrickson, B. L., Tugade, M. M., Waugh, C. E., & Larkin, G. R. (2003). What Good Are Positive Emotions in Crises? A Prospective Study of Resilience and Emotions Following the Terrorist Attacks on the United States on September 11th, 2001. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(2), 365–376.
Geraghty, A. W. A., Wood, A. M., & Hyland, M. E. (2010). Attrition from self-directed interventions: Investigating the relationship between psychological predictors, intervention content and dropout from a body dissatisfaction intervention. Social Science & Medicine, 71(1), 30–37.
Gordon, A. K., Musher-Eizenman, D. R., Holub, S. C., & Dalrymple, J. (2004). What are children thankful for? An archival analysis of gratitude before and after the attacks of September 11. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 25(5), 541–553.
Kashdan, T. B., Uswatte, G., & Julian, T. (2006). Gratitude and hedonic and eudaimonic well-being in Vietnam war veterans. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 44(2), 177–199.
Koo, M., Algoe, S. B., Wilson, T. D., & Gilbert, D. T. (2008). It’s a Wonderful Life: Mentally Subtracting Positive Events Improves People’s Affective States, Contrary to Their Affective Forecasts. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95(5), 1217–1224.
Krause, N. (2009). Religious Involvement, Gratitude, and Change in Depressive Symptoms Over Time. The International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 19(3), 155–172.
Park, N., & Peterson, C. (n.d.). Positive Psychology Progress: Empirical Validation of Interventions Martin EP Seligman & Tracy A. Steen University of Pennsylvania. Retrieved from
Watkins, P. C., Grimm, D. L., & Kolts, R. (2004). Counting your blessings: Positive memories among grateful persons. Current Psychology, 23(1), 52–67.
Wood, A. M., Froh, J. J., & Geraghty, A. W. A. (2010). Gratitude and well-being: A review and theoretical integration. Clinical Psychology Review, 30(7), 890–905.
Wood, A. M., Maltby, J., Gillett, R., Linley, P. A., & Joseph, S. (2008). The role of gratitude in the development of social support, stress, and depression: Two longitudinal studies. Journal of Research in Personality, 42(4), 854–871.



Yoga, one of these days!

I recently met Shannon McQuaide, director of Fireflex Yoga, which leads first responder on-duty yoga classes. Meeting her may finally get me to actually try yoga, even though I have believed for a long time that it would be good for me. In fact, I became absolutely convinced of its benefit when I read Bessel van der Kolk’s book, The Body Keeps the Score

Fireflex Yoga

Fireflex Yoga

He devotes an entire chapter, Learning to Inhabit your Body, to yoga and its benefits.

Van der Kolk describes how he heard about Heart Rate Variability (HRV, a big topic of Stress, Science, Spirit) as a measure of how well your brain and body are connected.  Activities that increase your HRV will help quiet the fight-or-flight instinct that is responsible for the negative health consequences of carrying too much stress too long. Remember that, as I wrote in You cannot starve the evil wolf, escaping or avoiding stress usually backfires. You have to “feed the good wolf” through attitudes and activities – anything that increases your HRV will accomplish that. Yoga is a powerful way to “feed the good wolf,” in part because of its emphasis on breathing techniques. HRV essentially measures how well synchronized your heart and breathing are.

Van der Kolk’s research showed that traumatized people, including marines at Camp Lejeune, indicate that yoga is effective for helping people with ordinary or highly traumatic stress heal and grow.

I will admit that I’m a lot like “Annie,” van der Kolk’s patient who said, “I don’t know all of the reasons that yoga terrifies me so much, but I do know that it will be an incredible source of healing for me and that is why I am working on myself to try it.

After the earthquake

After the earthquake

Yoga is about looking inward instead of outward and listening to my body, and a lot of my survival has been geared around never doing those things.” I’m not quite “terrified,” but whenever I think about trying something like yoga, part of me seems to resist, strongly.


In 1990, I passed up an opportunity to try yoga in post-earthquake Haiti. I was with a Jordan International Aid medical relief team, traveling in and around Port-au-Prince putting on clinics. It was an overwhelming task – every day, far more people were lined up for care than we could possibly see. Women and children were especially hard hit- poor sanitation always hits them harder.

JIA Yoga

JIA medical team doing yoga in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

Most evenings when we returned to the house where we operated from, some of the medical team would lead a yoga session. Even our Haitian national policemen were joining in, but somehow I just couldn’t bring myself to try it. I can’t claim to know why we sometimes are so resistant to things that we know would be good for us. I do know that it is related to stress and trauma. Shannon has invited me to join one of her classes at a fire station. Somehow, that seems safer than going to a classroom of strangers whose life experiences are unlikely to resemble mine. It seems to be important to start journeys of healing with people who understand, at a level beyond words, where we are coming from.

Oxytocin enhances men’s spirituality

Patty Van Cappellen, a social psychologist at Duke University, took a look at what happens when you give men oxytocin, a hormone associated with social engagement (sometimes mis-labeled the “moral hormone” because it can promote trust, altruism, generosity and intimacy). Men were studied because oxytocin is known to have different effects in men and women.

Two previous studies had suggested that oxytocin – which is released when we connect with others – is connected with spirituality. Oxytocin levels in HIV patients correlated to how spiritual they considered themselves to be. The same correlation was found in a study of devout American Christians.

In Van Cappellen’s study, some men were given oxytocin, others received a placebo. Then they were taught to meditate, a spiritual practice that the researchers believed would help reveal any effect the oxytocin produced.

The men who were given oxytocin were more likely to say afterwards that spirituality was important and that life has meaning and purpose – whether they reported belonging to an organized religion or not. The effects were still present a week later when the men were re-tested.

Oxytocin is just one of several hormones that have been connected to spirituality, but it has many pro-social and other effects that help balance stress. More than any of the others, it has been found to have many psychological effects that are similar to spiritual beliefs and practices – that’s why some were tempted to label it the “moral” hormone.

See the full study here.


Connecting Out

The central teaching in Stress, Spirit, Science is that when we are well connected out, in and up, we can thrive under pressure. Connecting out means social support; connecting in refers to ourselves and creation; connecting up has to do with ethics, values and the divine. Many years ago, I had a powerful connecting out experience when I decided to take a risk by sharing a painful story.

My friend and roommate, Dave Land, and I had started attending Bethel Lutheran Church in Cupertino, in the heart of Silicon Valley. For an upcoming young adult retreat, I had decided to tell about my friend John Heidish Jr., the popular president of the Penn Hills, Pennsylvania, volunteer fire department. He was a fellow volunteer with the Salvation Army Emergency Disaster Services  and was burned to death in a flashover at a house fire just days before his 21st birthday, a year before I moved to California.

I created a “multimedia” presentation, which in those days meant a slide projector triggered by tones in a sound track on a reel-to-reel tape recorder. I used James Taylor’s Fire and Rain as background music. The images were from my fire photos, with “rain” from firehoses.

The Methodist church where John’s memorial took place had pew Bibles and so, with nothing else to do, I picked one up and opened it. I like to read. It opened to John, chapter 13. The first words I read were verse 15, “Greater love has no one than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” They struck me as terribly, terribly appropriate. At Bethel, I had begun to realize that John’s funeral had affected me deeply. I drove the Sally Wagon (the Salvation Army’s mobile canteen) to the service and arrived early because we knew it was going to be heavily attended – fire companies were traveling long distances, even coming from surrounding states, to pay their respects.

The pastor used John 15:13 as the theme of his message. At the cemetery, he read the verse again as John’s coffin was lowered into the ground.

Those words came back to me in California during Bethel’s young adult group Bible study, when we read Luke 24, the story of grieving disciples on the road to Emmaus, who meet a stranger who turns out to be heidish-plaqueJesus. “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” echoed how John 13:15 had touched me. I call that my “Emmaus experience,” when I realized that I was no longer just curious to know more about Christianity, but I had come to believe that its stories and teachings are deeply true, offering a path that leads away from death and toward life. At the retreat that day, with my slide projector and tape recorder, this was the story I told my new friends.

When the tape ended, I shut off the projector. The room was completely silent. For a moment I thought that they had all fallen asleep. Then I realized that some were quietly crying. I had experienced my own strong, uncomfortable emotions while creating the story, but I had no idea it might also deeply touch others. More than anything else, I found it intimidating, even scary, to provoke such strong feelings. As a radio and newspaper reporter, I had sought to be provocative, but this was so different – I was “reporting” about myself and receiving tears of empathy. In the safety of that church retreat, I felt new and unexpected connections to my friends.

I shared that story more than 30 years ago and I’m still a member of Bethel Lutheran. Although the people and pastors have changed over the decades, it continues to be a refuge where we lift one another up and share burdens.

In telling my story about John Heidish, I had begun to see how I could revise the past. His story was no longer just a tragic line-of-duty death; my friends and the Bible had given new meaning to his spirit of service, his life and death.

My story about John’s life and death touches the three spiritual themes of Stress, Spirit, Science – metanoia (often poorly translated as “repentance”), redemption and creation. Writing a new story helped me think differently about John’s life and death (metanoia); I discovered spiritual meaning in his sacrifice (redemption); and the retreat itself was a gift of presence and grounding, soil for new growth (creation) as we left behind day-to-day distractions.

You cannot starve the evil wolf

Have you heard the Native American legend of the two wolves?

An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.

“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

As the legend says, you need to feed the good wolf. But just as important, it is impossible to starve the evil wolf. That’s why simplistic “stress reduction” usually fails. If you don’t also feed the good wolf, escaping and avoiding stress backfires and you actually end up feeding the evil wolf.

Plopping in front of the TV, mindlessly surfing the Internet, shopping for stuff you don’t need, avoiding decisions (“What do you want for dinner?” “Whatever.”) and other ways of emotionally checking out or withdrawing do not deactivate your fight-or-flight instinct. Fight-or-flight is the protective response from your nervous system and hormones, which can become stuck “on” when you have chronic or acute stress. When your fight-or-flight system stays activated through psychological flight, you may not even notice it any more, but your health is still at risk.

Fleeing, like fighting, backfires because it feeds the evil wolf. You won’t truly relax unless you feed the good wolf. In biological terms, if all you do is escape and withdraw, your sympathetic nervous system will remain aroused. That’s what leads to sleep problems, belly fat, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, stroke and other health issues. When stress becomes a problem, you cannot directly turn down your sympathetic nervous system; you need to adopt attitudes and activities that turn up its counterpart, the parasympathetic nervous system –  nurturing the good wolf.

You feed the good wolf through attitudes and activities that grow connections with people, creation (including yourself) and your values. Social connections are a powerful way to feed your good wolf. A hike in nature or doing yoga feed him. Spiritual practices like meditation, worship and compassion also feed the good wolf. You don’t need to wait for somebody else’s help – the most powerful ways to feed the good wolf are through your own acts of generosity, kindness and trust. What you give away matters far more than what you receive. But don’t make the mistake of just getting away from the things that stress you. You cannot starve the evil wolf.

Stress advice (mostly bad) from business websites

I’m  developing workshops and seminars for public safety and business, related to my upcoming book. I’ve been struck by similarities in the stressors experienced by Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and public safety. The primary risk in any high-pressure career is that you lose your identity in your work, which can leave you disconnected from essential sources of resilience – your social support network (outward disconnection), yourself and creation (inward disconnection) and your values, ethics and spirituality (upward disconnection). The big difference is that in business the stress tends to be chronic, while public safety workers regularly face life-and-death acute stresses. In Silicon Valley business, people sometimes (often, in some companies) act as if their work is life-and-death!

I thought I’d take a look at what kind of advice businesses are getting about stress. I know there’s a lot of bad information out there.

First, let me tell you my point of view. “Stress reduction” is largely a myth – most of us have little power to remove the sources of stress in our lives (families and jobs are big stressors – get rid of them???). Advice about “fighting stress” or “combating stress” is even worse, since it treats stress as an enemy that must be defeated, activating the very neurophysiological systems that stress balancing will help calm down. The good news is that methods of balancing stressors, unlike trying to reduce or eradicate them, actually work, allowing us to take on enormous challenges without doing damage to our health.

Let’s see what the business publications have to say.

5 Tips for Coping With Stress at Work Starting First Thing in the Morning(Entrepreneur, 12/8/2014)

This article is in trouble and I haven’t even read past the headline. Although there are ways to balance work-related stress while you are at work, if your job is truly challenging, you don’t want to lower your performance by turning off the positive aspects of your stress response. They help you rise to the challenge. However, when you are done with the day’s duties, your body’s ability to leave them behind, to turn down the stress response, is critical. When that system stays “on duty,” health problems inevitably follow.

The Yahoo article suggest a “morning mantra” and “enter smiling,” which encourage positive thinking. Research does show that optimists cope with stress better… but studies also indicate that your optimism is largely a matter of genetics. It’s not clear that you can force yourself to become an optimist.

The article has a warning against coffee. It’s true that caffeine, like any other stimulant, will increase anxiety. But it is okay in moderation – a cup in the morning and another one when the afternoon sleepies hit won’t hurt. There’s also a recommendation here to have a “caffeine-free warm beverage that counteracts stress.” I’m not aware of any evidence to support this idea.

Finally, Yahoo says “Allow honesty.” Here, they’re onto something, suggesting that if you find yourself in a toxic situation, “extend compassion or remove yourself.” Self-compassion is the antidote to the perfectionism that pervades entrepreneurs and public safety workers – they are a lot alike in imposing unreasonable performance on themselves.

How Successful People Handle Stress (Forbes, 12/9/2014)

Travis Bradberry writes that “90% percent of top performers are skilled at managing their emotions in times of stress in order to remain calm and in control.”

Huh? Suppressing your emotions will not balance your stress one bit. In fact, holding onto unexpressed emotions is a stressor.

Moderate stress can be good for you, this article says, citing research at U.C. Berkeley. It’s only a problem when it is chronic and sustained. So we’re back to stress reduction. A list of techniques follows.

Learn to say no. I hear this advice quite a bit in the context of stress management. It raises the question of where the wisdom and strength to say “no” come from. We say “yes” too much because we want to be liked, or are stuck in perfectionism or ambition. Where’s the instruction manual for how to turn those personality traits down? Not here.

Avoid asking “what if?” Like the previous advice, this is missing the how-to information. The goal is wonderful – we absolutely need to stay present and grounded to be able to let go of the “what ifs.”

Disconnect. Take regular time off the grid. This is another item I see frequently. Turn off your cell phone and all the other electronics and take a break. However, disconnecting is emptiness unless you also choose what you will connect with instead – friends, yourself, causes bigger than yourself.

Sleep. Yes, yes, yes. Sleep and stress are deeply related. Disrupted sleep adds increases the hormone levels that you want to turn down when you don’t need their energy-giving effects. It aggravates post-traumatic stress But again where are the instructions? “You should sleep more” is impractical advice for the person who is so keyed up that they don’t want to or can’t get to sleep, or they keep waking up early. Luckily, the next bit of advice, Exercise, is one of the activities that can help with sleep. But there is much, much more.

Don’t Hold Grudges. “Learning to let go of a grudge will not only make you feel better now but it can improve your health.” Unfortunately, that sentence is the last one in this section. It needs to be the starting point for advice on how to let go of grudges and resentments. The best work I’ve ever seen on this subject is Frederic Luskin’s Forgive for Good. People who are holding onto grudges are doing so because they don’t know how to let go – telling them “Let go” is not a solution.

Don’t Die in the Fight. This has something to do with “unchecked emotions,” but how it relates to stress is a mystery.

Mindfulness. Yes, indeed, mindfulness is the latest name for practices that help us remain present and grounded. However, it is not, as this article claims, “an effective way to gain control of unruly thoughts and behaviors.” It is about accepting things we cannot control, not controlling them!

Squash Negative Self-Talk. Similar to the positive thinking above, this bit of counsel suggests that you just stop ruminating on negative things. Just stop it. The author suggests writing down the negative thoughts and examine them for truth, which seems to be a sort of self-guided cognitive behavior therapy. Okay, but the fact is, our brains sometimes ruminate for a good reason – trying to learn from experience. My preference is to remember that it is earning its paycheck, which helps me to accept and view rumination positively – and that helps me let go of it. The danger in labeling any stress reaction as “bad” is that it blocks us from having compassion for ourselves, which as I mentioned previously, is the antidote to poisonous perfectionism.

Those articles are typical, so here are a few other tidbits of terrible and so-so advice from the business press.

Mentally strong people are aware of their stressors, and “they’re aware of the warning signs that they’re becoming stressed out.” Because of their self-awareness, they are able to “adjust their activities and their lifestyle accordingly so they can combat stress effectively.”

“Combat stress effectively.” Shall we fight stress? Wrestle with it? Do battle? No!!!

Stress is not an enemy that threatens your health and well-being. This reminds me of President Merkin Muffley’s wonderfully ironic line in Stanley Kubrick’s film Dr. Strangelove, “Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here! This is the War Room!”

“One of the best ways to combat stress is to engage in leisure activities.” It can be anything — hanging with family, engaging in a hobby, watching TV. As long as it relaxes you and improves your mental state, it will be beneficial.

Not necessarily. Kevin Gilmartin, author of Emotional Survival for Law Enforcement, like other psychologists, recommends hobbies and engagement with family and friends – the kinds of activities that can become lost when the job takes over. But there is a huge difference between truly connecting with family and hobbies, versus “hanging out” or mindlessly watching TV. Gilmartin calls this using “The Magic Chair.” To someone watching, the person in the Magic Chair seems relaxed, but inside they are still vigilant for the dangers the workday held. Don’t confuse “checking out” (disengagement, withdrawal) with relaxation.

Balancing stress is not about physical relaxation, it is about maintaining caring and compassionate connections with yourself, others, nature and values. If you are disconnected from these, you will never really relax – that’s the way we are wired. If you do maintain these kinds of relationships, you won’t need any other advice about how to manage stress.

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