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Still Stressed in January

» Mental Health Library » Disorders & Conditions » Stress » Featured Article

By Michelle Miller Bohls, MA, LMFT

Michelle Miller Bohls, MA, LMFT

Twenty minutes earlier than Joan expected, the doorbell rang. As she took a brief survey of the situation her heart rate sped up. Her adrenals went to work shooting adrenaline into her blood stream while a checklist ran through her mind: dinner was almost ready, the wine is breathing, guestroom and bathrooms are clean…. The list suddenly stopped when she noticed the long, white dog hair on the dark couch. Moving quickly from a sense of accomplishment and pride to a self-abusive shame, Joan could feel the panic in her stomach spread quickly up to her flushed face. She may have noticed her muscles tense and her pupils dilate, but she was completely unaware of her adrenal glands exhaustive work to keep up with her demands for perfection. Would her guests judge the cleanliness of the house? Her cooking? Will they like the gifts she chose? As she was reminded of spending too much money she closed her eyes with a sigh. "Here we go again," she thought as she said her silent prayer…. If I can just make it until January. She opened her eyes and broke into a tense smile just before she swung open the front door and sang out to her guests, "Happy Holidays!"

Although our professional work lives may slow down for the holidays, the stress does not. Stress levels remain high as the source of stress shifts to other kinds of deadlines and performance expectations. Seeing family, spending time back at home, or just more time alone can trigger uncomfortable feelings. They may range from unease to deep insecurity or rage. Some experience this discomfort as anxiety while others feel drained of all energy. Painful memories or thoughts that we avoided all year come knocking and nagging at the corners of our mind.

January often finds us needing a holiday from the holiday. We may consider counseling for a moment, but more often we make plans to better manage the feelings with personal or professional goals (sometimes called New Years Resolutions). This focus on "doing" to manage distressful feelings tends to add more stress to our lives, and unfortunately for our adrenal glands, maintains the stressful drive to be "better."

Psychotherapy often feels unproductive to high achievers. We have grown up with messages that say we should work harder and smarter to get what we want. These myths are reinforced with the media and our own fantasies of a "perfect" life or self. Rather than doing more, psychotherapy encourages you to "just notice" and talk about your experiences. Counselors listen and reflect your thoughts and feelings in order to help you connect to your truest desires and better know your own needs. And knowing about needs (particularly those that may never be met) is what we have been avoiding with our overly productive lives.

People's perceptions of counseling may be changing as it is seen as a means of personal development rather than a source of stigma. Despite this openness, many people still hesitate to consider counseling for themselves.

Americans in general can hold false or outdated impressions about therapy fueled by Freud's couch and the media. Psychology is often associated with extreme mental illness while ‘Analysis' is reserved for the wealthy as a luxury service, somewhat like a personal chef. In the past what happened in therapists offices were shrouded in mystery. Fortunately, options for affordable therapy have expanded and alternative forms of the traditional "talk therapy" version are rapidly growing, blending talk with mind-body strategies.

Mind-body therapies are gaining popularity with the therapy-savvy as much for their effectiveness as for their eclectic appeal. DMT (Dance Movement Therapy) and EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) are examples of such approaches. These processes work with the body to remove emotional blocks and core negative beliefs. Beliefs such as, "I'm not enough" or "I'm not smart enough" are often outside of our awareness, and yet drive a need to perform, succeed, and achieve. However they developed, these blocks are tough to remove on our own. Part of our mind knows better and yet emotionally we cannot break out of our destructive patterns. No matter what job or degree we obtain, we can never quite integrate the external sense of worth or think our way out. Like Joan, we work to perfect every element of our life only to notice the one flaw that sends us crashing down.

The good news is that much of what made therapy intimidating is changing. Many psychotherapists have fees under $250 a month and these rates may be negotiated. With the large number of counseling professionals you are likely to find one that fits your preferences. There are many licensed professionals who work as a life coach and others who work to connect emotionally to the client whilst other therapists resemble the more traditional analyst, one often portrayed in the media. With the addition of the Internet, you can read up on these uniquely named theories (transpersonal, psychodynamic, object relations, cognitive-behavioral, etc…) taking some of the mystery out of what you are getting. Databases like the one offered by even offer a picture and a personal statement to further decrease the unknowns. And many modern therapies often get significant results in less than six months rather than several years. A warning should be made here: once you start, you may find your self not wanting to leave. It's a unique place in this modern world where you can be heard and understood.

Removing emotional debris can free you to relax and enjoy your success. Distressful feelings can be resolved rather than avoided. A sense of wholeness can be reclaimed from earlier times. Do you need therapy? Maybe need is too strong a word. But do you deserve therapy? Do you deserve to be happy? Whatever your answer, your therapist will understand.

About the Author...

Michelle Miller Bohls has a private practice in Austin, Texas. A Nationally Certified Counselor and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Michelle is fully trained in EMDR with a Masters degree in Marriage and Family Therapy. She specializes in working with both Artists and Business Professionals around creativity and performance.

Last Update: 12/10/2006

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