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Stress Management,Resilience Skills

How to manage distress

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00:15 min

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27 February 2021

Life can change dramatically.We can experience a crisis, fall ill or be haunted by a traumatic past

How to manage distress

Life can change dramatically. We can experience a crisis, fall ill or be haunted by a traumatic past. Whether our low self-esteem is causing difficult feelings, whether shame and guilt persistently get to us - life can be challenging. We want that pain to go away immediately, and at all costs. We don’t want to be exposed or subjected to any of these experiences helplessly. What is it you want to manage?

What does ‘to manage’ actually mean?

The word ‘manage’ in deeper introspection can be replaced with control, direct, lead or handle. What they all have in common is that we stay on top of our thoughts, actions and behaviours, which is a process that might be complicated, overwhelming and possibly even distressing or anxiety-provoking. While this understanding of ‘to manage’ is quite clear and obvious, to manage, we need to draw upon skills, knowledge and a framework which is often less spoken about.

Managing means exploring

If you think about our working life, we might have worked with managers who seemed to have little skills, perhaps their skills appeared to be irrelevant to the job, and they showed little expertise. We may have felt their impact on our working lives and how much they avoided managing any of the problems which arose. And we might have thought how much better we could do their job, and how things need to change. We all remember lousy management…

Allow me to stop us there and, for a moment, invite us to honestly reflect on our managing skills in what is the most important domain of our lives: living a valued life. How accurate is our knowledge around the life experience we want to manage for ourselves? Are we our experts in the field of the menopause? Do we know what triggers our difficult emotions? Do we know how we react when we have no control – and whether this reaction is nurturing or depleting? Have we investigated what our guilt wants to tell us? What would your answer be?

Managing starts with awareness of what is

Here is something interesting. I know some of these questions asked are intensely personal; perhaps these are questions we avoid asking ourselves? I feared they might be interpreted as blaming or negative judgement. But this is far from the case. If you answered with ‘no’, then you are in good company. Let’s be honest; it can be so tough to engage with what feels difficult. A part of our human nature is to avoid difficulties, avoid managing the problems we are facing in life, and even avoid asking questions.

How to manage?

The first step when working with you is to demystify the unknown. What can we learn about (for example) your shame? If we could pop it on the table if you and I could observe and analyse it – what do we see? And instead, turn it around and see how could this empower us? Moreover, how would your relationship to shame change when we allow ourselves to become curious around it?

As you can see, ‘managing’ difficulties goes hand-in-hand with discovering what they mean, what they tell us and how we can relate to them. All of this therapeutic work is in the service of reducing the depleting power that they might have over us.