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Stress Test

Susan Brauner-TatumSusan Brauner-Tatum, LCSW,
assistant manager of Outpatient
Behavioral Health Services at
Community Hospital

Susan Brauner-Tatum has a friend who, by all observations, lives an ideal, stress-free life. She has a close family, a wide circle of friends, healthy children, money, a well-ordered home, and a regimen of self-care that includes regular yoga practice. And yet she confesses to feeling significant stress in her life.

“I don’t believe there is such a thing as a stress-free existence,” says Brauner-Tatum, assistant manager of Outpatient Behavioral Health Services at Community Hospital and a licensed clinical social worker.

“People talk about stress in terms of the things theyneed to do, the things that demand their attention, that pull at them and require them to do, to achieve, to respond. When we ask people about their stressors, they don’t talk about their feelings; they go down the list of what’s competing for their time and attention.

“As long as there are carpools and traffic jams, deadlines and to-do lists, there will be stress.”

Your emotional response to something, Brauner-Tatum says, is what fuels your feeling of stress. It’s not so much what happens, but how you deal with it.

So paying attention to your feelings, what they are and what’s driving them, is important.

You may notice that some days, when the highway is clogged with traffic, stretching your drive time and threatening your expected arrival time, you feel frustrated, anxious. Your stomach and your fists tighten, while your mind races in 12 different directions as you sit, waiting impatiently to move forward. Yet on other days, you may find yourself curious about the cause of the traffic jam and simply turn up the the radio, take a deep breath, and relax. The difference in stress is not the event, but your emotional response to it.

Stress Test

Stress does exist, with both positive and negative effects,” Brauner-Tatum says. “It can serve as a catalyst for accomplishment, motivating you to get things done, or it can overwhelm you, if you let it, causing a kind of paralysis that keeps you from doing anything.

It’s important to learn how to assess when the stress is too much and how to bring yourself back into balance, so your life can feel reasonable, even enjoyable most of the time.”

It begins, she says, by slowing down and breathing so you can get to a place of clarity, where you can evaluate what you’re trying to do and whether your agenda is reasonable. When we scramble through life, always trying to catch up to others or to our own demands and expectations, we don’t get to enjoy any of it.

Dealing with stress requires awareness, attitude, and action, Brauner-Tatum says. It means taking time to understand the situation, learning to manage reactions, seeking to control not the event but your attitude toward it. It means paying attention, she continues, to where in your body you carry your stress, and focusing on relaxing it. It means taking a time-out, taking care of yourself and remembering to eat, sleep, exercise, prioritize, set limits, say no, and get professional help when you need it.

And, by all means, Brauner-Tatum says, it means taking time to breathe. 

Group classes and individual assistance for dealing with stress are available through Outpatient Behavioral Health Services. Find more information at www.chomp.org or by calling 625-4600.