Many doctors tell us to find a way to cut stress out of our lives. New research suggests this isn’t practical advice.
The Stress Paradox
Pursuing happiness takes work. The process of building healthy relationships or attaining any worthwhile goal involves enduring ‘stressful’ situations. Stress serves an important evolutionary purpose: to prepare the mind and body to perform in difficult times. Today our overactive stress responses prevent us from thriving–unless we can learn to look at stress in a different way.
We can seek out and cultivate this stress in our lives, and help our friends and family do the same. Interestingly, distress/eustress is defined not by the stressor type, but rather by how a stressor is perceived (e.g. as a threat or a challenge). This can be most easily seen in ‘play’ behaviors–meant to mimic real-life stressors in a safe, controlled setting. Exposure to stress and eustress in childhood years can help kids develop skills and coping strategies for dealing with distress.
The Therapeutic Powers of Play explains that “The interplay between our thoughts, individualized biological and neurological reactions, and environment results in large variations in our responses to situations perceived as stressful.” On the other hand, ‘toxic stress’ is the result is the result of strong, frequent or prolonged activation of the body’s stress responses systems in the absence of the buffering protection of a positive relationship with a friend, coach, teacher, counselor, or family member.
Next time your doctor tells you to cut the stress out of your life, show them this article! Stress within the appropriate parameters is healthy, but like anything else in life–this outlook requires practice!
“The enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being without distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition.” — Constitution of the World Health Organization
The pursuit of wellness is one of the most important and rewarding endeavors a person can embark upon. Living in a state of wellness can dramatically improve a person’s life, providing them with fulfilling relationships, happiness and a sense of meaning.
But what exactly is wellness, and more importantly, how can someone work toward achieving it?
The Connection between Health and Wellness
We should start by distinguishing between wellness and health, which are related but distinct concepts.
The World Health Organization defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” By contrast, the National Wellness Institute defines wellness as “an active process through which people become aware of, and make choices toward, a more successful existence.”
Breaking down that definition can help us more fully understand the concept of wellness:
“An active process” means wellness is an ongoing effort that a person must invest themselves in, not something that can be granted to them. It also means improvement of a person’s wellness is always possible.
“Through which people become aware of” means that wellness is dependent upon a person seeking out and discovering new ways to improve their lives. People don’t always know how they can improve until they learn new information that can help them.
“And make choices toward” means that a person can and should consider a variety of options for improving their life and attempt to select the best ones for their circumstances. It also means the person must act on their own behalf to achieve desired outcomes.
“A more successful existence” means a life filled with well-being, happiness, accomplishments and purpose. Every person must decide what these things mean for them.
In some ways, then, wellness is a method by which we can achieve complete physical, mental and social health.
The Eight Dimensions of Wellness
Even though we’ve defined wellness, it may be difficult to know how to start practicing wellness in your life. After all, a wide variety of factors contribute to a person’s happiness and well-being.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) divides wellness into eight separate dimensions that take all the major aspects of life into consideration. Understanding these dimensions can help a person evaluate their wellness in each category and form plans for improving their life.
Physical wellness means recognizing the need for physical activity, diet, sleep and nutrition. To be physically well, you should strive to stay active, even if it’s only through small actions like taking the stairs instead of the elevator. You should also do your best to make healthy choices when eating and get plenty of sleep each night.
Emotional wellness means coping effectively with life and creating meaningful relationships. An important part of emotional wellness is being aware of your feelings and sharing them with people you trust. Pay attention to what you’re feeling and why you’re feeling that way, and reach out to people who are close to you when you’re struggling with upsetting emotions.
Social wellness means developing a sense of connection, belonging, and a well-developed support system. To develop and maintain your personal relationships, try calling, e-mailing or visiting an acquaintance at least once a day. If you’d like to make new friends and relationships, consider joining a club or volunteer group.
Occupational wellness means getting personal satisfaction and enrichment from one’s work and hobbies. In order to find satisfaction in your work, you should try to pursue career or volunteer opportunities that align with your interests and passions. When at work, take breaks to avoid becoming overwhelmed, and try not to set unrealistic performance expectations on yourself.
Intellectual wellness means recognizing creative abilities and finding ways to expand knowledge and skills. Reading books, whether they are informational or for entertainment, is a wonderful way to stimulate your mind. You might also consider attending community events that interest you or enrolling in skills training classes at your local library.
Financial wellness means finding satisfaction with current and future financial situations. Make an effort to learn about finances so you understand which financial behaviors are wise and unwise. Then work toward creating financial stability by following a budget that allows you to save for your future. You can also seek out advice from financial experts if needed.
Environmental wellness means achieving good health by occupying pleasant, stimulating environments that support well-being. In general, you should spend as much time as possible in calming or uplifting places. Take the time to go outside and appreciate nature, and donate or recycle things you don’t need to make your home a less stressful environment.
Spiritual wellness means expanding your sense of purpose and meaning in life. Practicing a religion can improve spiritual wellness for many people, but any activity that enhances your sense of connection to yourself, nature and other people is also good. Discover what values, principles and beliefs are most important to you, and do your best to help others when they’re in need.
If you regularly work on maintaining and improving these eight dimensions of wellness, you’ll be better able to create a life full of health, happiness and purpose.
Time to talk about the elephant in the room. It’s uncomfortable for most professionals to acknowledge, but everyone working in the field of mental health has a deep personal connection to mental health issues. The few who are brave enough to embrace their personal stories offer special insights, and help others in our community find recovery as well.
In “The Power of Vulnerability“, Brené Brown makes a powerful (if paradoxical) point about embracing what we’re most ashamed of, rather than running from it. In Indiana, peer recovery specialists have learned to help others by exposing their own vulnerabilities. On a crusade against stigma, peer specialists like (Cummins’ own) Debbie Roman, Justin Beattey, Jason Grant Padgett, and Brandon George exemplify the power of humility and servant leadership in our community by sharing their own personal stories of recovery. What exactly makes peers so effective–and why aren’t they used more in Indiana?
“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable.” ―Brené Brown
A Peer serves as a companion and mentor in the early stages of recovery, identifying and connecting with local recovery mutual-aid societies in an effort to facilitate a self-directed shift from formal to informal supports and relationships. At this time, Medicaid funding for credentialed specialists with lived experience is extremely limited, despite research proving their increased efficacy.
Debbie Roman: In The Know
“It isn’t work to me”, Debbie shrugs with a modest smile. “It’s my passion.” Debbie is a great example of a peer recovery specialist, whose humility and openness makes recovery much more accessible for countless others. She explains,
“We simply meet people where they’re at. I see what we do as holding their hand and walking with them until they are strong enough to walk the rest of their journey on their own. Peer Support is about empowering people to find their own healing, their way. This is why people like peer programs in the first place.
For a long time, Peer Recovery Specialists were rare in Indiana. Thanks partly to Justin Beattey, that is starting to change. He and a few others have had some great ideas and have been pioneering increased utilization of peer specialists across the state.”
Justin Beattey, Jason Grant Padgett on Embracing Vulnerability
Justin Beattey is project manager for the Indiana Association of Peer Recovery Support Services (IAPRSS). Justin explains, “The first immediate barrier for those of us with substance use problems is the argument that ‘you don’t understand’. Peer supports provide non-clinical services based on our own personal experiences. Working with us, that initial barrier is torn down right away–Simply put, I DO understand because I’ve been there myself“. Justin also works with the IAIC to advocate statewide for peer-based recovery services.
“What I would like to see personally–if you look back through the seventies, most treatment centers were once staffed entirely with people in recovery themselves. That said, I think the clinical/academic side is definitely needed in this field as well. A major barrier is the Medicaid billing issue, but the biggest obstacle is the stigma around mental health issues like these in the first place. People with substance use disorders tend to wear it like a badge of honor, while the mental health side of the field is more shy and apprehensive. Ultimately we need both sides to really address stigma.
The Upcoming Key Consumer Conference will be able to show some of the mounting evidence in support of the efficacy of peer recovery services.”
KEY Consumer Organization’s Annual Consumer Conference: April 19th!
KEY Consumers’ Executive Director Sarah Gunther explains their peer-oriented nature, “We’re a consumer-run organization, we are all consumers of mental health services here.” Cummins Behavioral Health Systems is pleased to announce it has partnered with KEY Consumer Organization to present their experience with the employment of peer recovery specialists through a series of workshops.
The keynote speaker at this year’s Key Consumer Conference is Brandon George, Director of Indiana Addiction Issues Coalition (IAIC). As a person in long-term recovery himself, Brandon has dedicated his life (both personally and professionally) to fighting addiction and promoting recovery. His personal experience, education and professional accomplishments give him the perspective to see both sides of recovery. The KEY Consumer OrganizationAnnual Consumer Conference is coming up April 19, 2019. Call the office at 317-550-0060oremail firstname.lastname@example.org to request a registration packet.
The provider/administrative track will have break-out sessions focused on peer-providers working in mental health programs. This track will cover a host of material, including information about peer-providers in agency settings and management and supervision of peer-providers. The sessions will include Engagement and Connection: The Ultimate Value of Peer Support; Hiring Practices: Finding A Peer Support Specialist; Effective Supervision of the Peer Recovery Specialist: Support and Development to retain the Peer Workforce; and Ethics of Peer Recovery Services.
“Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”
Do you know a mental health professional who openly embraces personal experience with mental health struggles? When we come together in the spirit of peer fellowship (to talk about the elephant in the room) we help make recovery possible for everyone in our community. Please acknowledge their efforts and bravery with your support by sharing this article!
How Indianapolis Police Officer Chase Lyday Is Fighting Teenage Substance Abuse
For many people, the temptations of tobacco, drugs and alcohol first rear their ugly heads during adolescence. Unfortunately, this is precisely when we are most susceptible to falling under their influence. Although teenage drug use and substance abuse have seen encouraging downward trends in recent years, they remain serious health risks for high-school aged children in America.
58.5% had used alcohol at some point in their life, and 30% used alcohol in the past month
24% had ever smoked a cigarette, and 30% reported consuming nicotine via vaping
6% used marijuana daily, and 7.5% consumed marijuana via vaping in the past month
12.4% used illicit drugs other than marijuana in the past year
In response to the threat tobacco, drugs and alcohol pose to young people, a number of central Indiana organizations are working to combat teenage substance abuse and help set youth down a better path in life. One such organization is doing this by nurturing strong community and familial ties and providing drug users with treatment instead of punishment.
Strengthening Families with the Decatur Township Drug-Free Coalition
“Our mission is to prevent and reduce drug use among youth by strengthening families and collaborating with community resources,” Lyday says. A large part of this mission is accomplished through free community events, which give students and parents the opportunity to learn about drug use prevention and grow together as a family.
The Coalition also leverages its presence in schools to provide drug prevention education in the classroom. Students are then asked to discuss what they learned with their parents, providing another opportunity to develop family bonds.
“The last program that we have kicked off this year is a social/emotional learning curriculum for all of our kids in kindergarten through eighth grade. That is a tremendous tool that we have to teach kids how to have social competencies to repel drug use. But also, we partner with parents in that initiative by sending home discussion guides for the parents to be able to engage in some of those discussions with their kids,” Lyday says.
Emphasizing Treatment, Not Punishment
Too often, a child or teen who admits to struggling with substance abuse is faced with punishment. They may be kicked off their sports team, suspended from school or even expelled. This encourages students to keep quiet, which only prevents them from receiving the help they need.
The fact is that substance abuse is frequently the result of underlying emotional problems. In a recent survey, the Decatur Township Drug-Free Coalition asked 564 students what they thought was the biggest reason some high school students abuse drugs, and the results were telling: 64% said to escape their mood or feelings, and another 56% said to deal with anxiety.
“With our coalition, we’ve even started an alternative to arrest program,” Lyday says. “Some of our kids that have mental health needs or social and emotional needs, instead of arresting them, we send them to a program where they can serve with us, get connected with the communities and school social workers that we have, and get connected with some of our school resource officers. We really try to come around them and build them up rather than shun them or punitively arrest them, or kick them out of school.”
“We provide behavioral health services,” explains Stephanie Whiteside, Director of School-Based Operations for Marion County. “Within the schools, the home, and the community, we provide traditional therapy services for a wide range of mental health needs. We also provide skills training like coaching and modeling so kids can develop better skills for decision making.”
Like Lyday’s Coalition, Cummins strives to involve parents in their children’s mental health issues and treatment. This includes providing education about mental health disorders and access to resources for families strapped by time or money. “A lot of the areas we work in are families that are stretched to the limit,” Whiteside says.
Together, the Decatur Township Drug-Free Coalition and Cummins Behavioral Health Systems are working to empower families, build supportive communities and reduce substance abuse among our youth. If you’d like to help, you can get in contact with the Coalition through its website or its increasingly popular Facebook page.