SEMO mental health professional offers ways to cope with stress

Tips from a licensed psychologist on National Stress Awareness Day
National Stress Awareness Day feat. Shawn Guiling
Published: Nov. 1, 2023 at 4:38 PM CDT|Updated: Nov. 1, 2023 at 6:01 PM CDT
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CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. (KFVS) - Shawn Guiling, Ph.D., is an instructor of psychology and counseling at Southeast Missouri State University. He appeared on Heartland Afternoon on National Stress Awareness Day, November 1.

Guiling says stress comes in many forms, two of which are internal stress, which we put on ourselves, and external stress, which results from outside pressures like a job or to-do list.

According to Guiling, the things that may cause stress for people today are the same as what caused people stress in the past:

  • Feeling disconnected or lonely
  • Interpersonal relationships/caring for loved ones
  • Fears and phobias
  • Sense of inadequacy
  • Taking on the burden of someone else’s stress

One coping strategy Guiling suggested is called mind-to-muscle, or muscle-to-mind. It’s about the mind-body connection, and how calming one will help to soothe the other.

“Calming the body might be a progressive muscle relaxation where you might tense your fist and count to 10, feel that as tension, and then let that release, and so acknowledge that feeling of tension releasing,” said Guiling.

People can use the muscle-to-mind strategy with multiple parts of the body. Breathing exercises may also help.

Guiling said the mind-to-muscle strategy can involve thought stoppage or thought replacement, which includes interrupting negative thoughts when they happen.

“People say so many negative things to themselves,” said Guiling. “Something happens, and they immediately blame themselves, they think of the past 10 things that they didn’t do well, and that just compounds the stress.”

To fight that reaction, Guiling said to replace those thoughts by reminding yourself you did the best you could in the moment, or what happened may not have been your responsibility to take care of, meaning it was not your fault.

“Those are statements that we make that disrupt that cycle of thinking,” said Guiling.

National Stress Awareness Day

With the holidays coming, many take on even more stress than they normally would, whether the source of that stress be upcoming visits from relatives, cooking or cleaning the house, or going through holiday traditions without the company of a deceased loved one.

“The holidays give you time to reflect on what you may have, but also what you don’t have this year,” said Guiling.

For people dealing with heavy stress that feels all-consuming, Guiling said there comes a point when stronger medicine is needed.

“We need to remind ourselves that we cannot control everything,” said Guiling. “If it’s to the point where we can’t get away from that, we should seek help.”

When looking for a professional to talk to, Guiling recommended finding someone compassionate who will truly listen, without blaming you for what causes you stress.