CONTACT-Vol.2,  No.1
Montreal, Que..
November 24/87-Topic: stress/distress
Guest Speaker: Frances Kucharsky, psychotherapist and lecturer

As part of Tel-Aide's On Going Training series, Group #3 organized a most stimulating and informative evening at Concordia University on the timely topic of stress management. Frances Kucharsky, a self professed optimist, shared her belief in people's capacity to grow and change. She gave us some practical hints on how to minimize pain and anxiety in life while maximizing harmony through the "perpetual process of self-re-creation."

Frances began by outlining the four intertwined stages of stress management: awareness, acceptance, affirmation and action. The first stage, awareness, involves recognition of stress symptoms as well as the external threat in the environment. How do we feel physically? Do we tend to hold our breath, breathe rapidly or tense our stomachs?

And what is it we're afraid of? Often it's not the situation or stimulus, but how we respond to it-the individual perception--that counts. We may even be creating the stress ourselves through "automatic thinking" or thought processes that tend to be self-punishing or  self-defeating. The first step, then, in reducing stress is to become aware of how we feel and how we often unconsciously make ourselves worried, anxious or depressed.

The second stage in stress management is to be unconditionally accepting of ourselves, even when we are our own worst enemies. Just as we attempt to relate to our callers, we must try to understand ourselves without judgment. This means accepting where we are now, realizing we did the best we could, and moving on from there if we so desire.

The third and fourth steps- affirmation and action, involve new ways of thinking and behaving in order to make changes. This is a gradual process in which we become our own most encouraging and supportive persons through the use of thoughts and images that buoy us up.

CONTACT-vol.2, No.1

Breaking the cycle of self-defeat begins with catching ourselves when our own thoughts work against us, accepting non - judgmentally that we've done it again,  regulating the tension response (through relaxation and breathing exercises), and finally, substituting for the "old tapes" more encouraging thoughts or phrases.

Examples of "interfering  beliefs that  may discourage us include the following: striving for perfection- in order to be acceptable, I must never make a mistake"; believing we're doomed to failure--"I'm never good enough"; being constantly disappointed in ourselves--"I could have done better "; procrastinating (in order to avoid failure).

Positive substitutes for the above include recognizing the learning value in making mistakes and having the courage to be imperfect (i.e., human); focusing on the effort not the outcome, on what we are doing rather than how we are doing (i.e., task centered not self-centered); and concentrating on past triumphs rather than on what we've failed to  accomplish.

Since, according to Frances, we not only create our own realities but also reinforce what we believe, it is important to create a positive outlook for both ourselves and our callers. In the case of callers this does not mean we should try to interpret or change their feelings. As Frances herself pointed out, awareness and acceptance are a big part of our role at Tel-Aide (in addition decreasing social isolation)

What can do is focus on the positive by encouraging the caller to have faith in him/herself--"I'll bet you can do it. Why not give it a try?"--and by exploring alternatives to self-defeating patterns of thought--"Is there another way in which you could think of this?"; "What are some of your strengths and assets?"

While we cannot take away a caller's pain, we can be with that person during difficult times and help serve as a buffer against the inevitable stresses of life. And by taking a positive, encouraging approach that respects the caller's feelings, we can help foster optimism and hope for the future.