How to Adapt to Stress When You Can’t Avoid It


Most people would rather avoid stress if possible, rather than lean into it. Unfortunately, most of the time stress can’t be avoided. So how do you deal with stressful situations and/or stressed out feelings?

The Upside and Downside of Stress

First, let’s define stress. I think of stress as a pressure or challenge to a person or system. A stressor can be positive, such as planning a vacation or wedding. Or a stressor can be negative, such as job loss, death, or family illness. As you can see, some stressors are self-made while others are externally created.

So unless you had a part in creating your stressful situation, you really can’t avoid stress. And it really doesn’t do any good to start throwing around blame. Your energy will be better spent deciding how to deal with the stressor.

“Stress activates adaptive responses…Adaptive responses are described by the term ‘allostasis’ which means maintaining stability, or homeostasis, through change. The body actively copes with a challenge by expending energy and attempting to put things right.” ~Bruce McEwen, PhD, neuroscientist/author of The End of Stress As We Know It

Initially, our stress response revs us up, so we can have enhanced memory, focus, and energy to deal with the problem. When we adapt to the stressful situation, we are using just the right amount of energy to deal with the problem, not over or under-responding.

“When exposure to stress disrupt the body’s internal balance (‘homeostasis’), it can go one of three general ways: the body can regain its normal equilibrium once stress has passed or it can become stuck in over- or under- aroused state.” ~ Bruce McEwen, PhD, neuroscientist, and Dean Krahn, MD, psychiatrist: The Response to Stress

How do you typically deal with stress? Do you over-react, expending more energy than the problem needs? Or, do you under-respond, by avoiding dealing with the situation or secretly hoping someone else will fix it for you?

Anxious people typically over-respond like a race horse busting through barriers. An over-responder will try to solve the problem as fast as possible and do all the research themselves, never considering help from others. While depressed individuals may under-respond, feeling like they are to blame, and possibly  retreating to the bedroom to sleep.

5 Resouces for Adapting to Stress

I think stress management is more complex than taking deep breaths, reading a book, and attending a yoga class. While these techniques are relaxing and comforting, the effects are often short lived.

So how does one adapt to the stressor without over of under-responding? By definition, to adapt means to modify or adjust to new conditions. Here are 5  resources I think help individuals adapt to stress:

Resource #1. Make a Realistic Assessment: Instead of letting fear direct your response, make a more objective assessment about the situation or problem. For example, fear tells you that you will lose your business when you lose a major referral source. Reality says you still have a business, but will need to modify your referral sources or expenses.

Resource #2. Practice Self-Care: The last thing many of us want to do when we are stressed is exercise or eat healthy. Instead most people turn to substances, such as sugar, alcohol, and drugs to comfort themselves. But practicing good self-care under high stress times, will prevent you from putting more stress on your body.

Resource #3. Focus on Goals More Than Discomfort : Most people don’t stop to think about their goals when under stress. It can be calming to focus more on your goals in the situation, however big or small, more than the anxiety or discomfort you are feeling. Then how do you get focused on goals even though you feel miserable.

Resource #4. Identify Psychological/Social Add On Stress: How people think about how they can handle stress will have an impact on how they handle it. If you are pre-occupied with others acceptance, approval, and expectations of you, then you will add more stress to the challenge you are facing. Or people in your family/organization can also add more stress by criticizing or pressuring you to think, feel, or act in a certain way. Instead of worrying about what others want you to do, focus on what’s best for you.

Resource #5. Recognize Social Support Opportunities: Often people withdraw and isolate when dealing with stress to avoid more stress. In doing so, you miss out on opportunities for support. Loneliness and social isolation is another add on stress. You are not as alone as you think you are. People may get amped up, but they may also support your desire to find the solution that’s best for you.

While stress can be helpful to give us energy to deal with a problem, the stress response can also get stuck on. When the stress response becomes chronic, it’s important to evaluate how we are dealing with the stress and whether or not we are adding to the stress load we are already carrying. Then lean into the stress, doing what’s best for you, and accept support along the way.

“Think of stress as a signal of meaning, not that you’re inadequate to the challenges in life.” ~ Kelly McGonigal, psychologist/author of Upside of Stress

What helps you deal with stress, challenges, and pressure?


Schedule a mental health stress check up today either face to face or online with Marci.

Photo Credit: “Stressed” by Jenisse Decker

Questions to Bring You Out of Burnout


“Burnout comes from trying to give what I do not possess.” ~ Parker Palmer

Do you move through your day, running on empty, until you crash? There isn’t a drop of energy left at the end of your day, not for you or your loved ones.

As a parent, I find it’s natural to give of ourselves. We want the best for our kids, so we give, get, and do for them without even thinking about it. And if we aren’t careful, we take on their problems as our own or give of ourselves until we are completely drained.

Of course, giving more of yourself than you give to yourself doesn’t just happen in parenting, it can also be true for the workplace, in your marriage, and with your extended family.  If you are taking on others problems, you probably feel overwhelmed, because you feel responsible without any authority to change the problem.

I think this leads to getting burned out on your life. Meaning if you are giving more of yourself than you reserve for yourself, you will probably end up irritable, tired, and simple things will stress you out.

Stress in the Context of Family Relationships

It’s so important to not just think about reserving time for yourself, but also to think about the challenges you are up against in your family. How do others get you to do more for them? Do they convince you that they can’t do it without you, or is a reality need that they can’t do it for themselves? Or maybe you think no one will do it as well as you will. There are so many possible ideas and behaviors that would fuel taking on more than is our responsibility.


Of course eating well, exercising, and meeting your social needs will help you deal with stress. But if you don’t figure out how you get depleted in the first place, you will keep having to relearn this lesson again and again. Good self care can be drained once you go home and start overdoing it again.

People, biochemicals, and hormones aren’t the only thing that can get out of balance, so can relationships. What goes on inside a person impacts what goes on between people, and vice versa. Meaning what goes on between people also impacts what goes on inside a person.

This is why it’s not enough to just carve out time for yourself, you also have to think about how you get yourself in a spot where you are revved up and others around you are stalled or idling. If you are doing it all, no one else has to think for themselves, nor experience consequences.

Questions to Spark Your Burnout Awareness

The first step in any change is to increase your awareness. So stop, slow down, and ask yourself these questions:

  1. How much do I want to be in service to others, and how much energy do I want to reserve for myself?
  2. How do others get me to do more for them (even when they can do it for his/herself)?
  3. What would it take for me to begin shifting this pattern (doing less even when others don’t do more)?

Realizing you have more choices than you originally thought can be just the jump start you need to move from burnt out to thriving.


Relationships and emotions are complex. Schedule a consult today to discuss what you are learning about yourself and how your relationships impact your health.

Photo Credit: “Universe in a Drop” by Hartwig Koppdelaney

How to Reconnect By Being Emotionally Intimate


Have you ever felt like your soul mate turned into your roommate?

You used to be able to tell your spouse everything. But over time, you learned what upsets your partner and you started avoiding those topics. Now  you aren’t as open as when you first started dating. And some of you are shutting down positive feelings that used to come naturally. Your left feeling uncertain about how to connect with the person you once couldn’t stop thinking about.

Every couple develops some emotional distance the longer they are together. And conflict erupts over feeling like your partner is too close or not close enough. Then most people try to work on their spouse’s distancing behaviors instead of their own. The more you try to get your spouse to understand your point, the more you end up pushing them away. At this point, emotional distance in a marriage is co-created.

While you will never return to the butterflies and spark you had at the beginning of your relationship, you can develop a new level of emotional intimacy with your spouse. You do this by working on your own reactions and behaviors that are distancing, so you are more present and available emotionally.

Define Emotional Intimacy

First, let’s identify what you are striving to develop when you relate to your spouse.  Dr. Dan Papero, family therapist and international speaker, said it best when he defined intimacy as:

“…the ability to have a relationship with another human being in which I can be myself. And you can listen without correcting me or backing away. You can stay connected to me, and I can do the same for you.” ~ Dr. Papero, Divorce Video

Openness isn’t just expressing every thought and emotion you feel, it’s getting calm enough to keep learning about each other. Often we listen to our assumptions, expectations, hurt feelings more than keeping open to learning about each other.

Next, identify what gets in the way of you being able to stay connected especially when you disagree. What thoughts or feelings contribute to you distancing when talking or relating to your spouse?

Understand Emotional Distance

Many couples get emotional distance confused with marriage differences. Having a different goal or interest than your spouse doesn’t mean you have emotional distance. People can have different interests and ideas, yet still have a great connection and intimacy.

Emotional distance is a pattern of interactions. It is an emotional response to a perceived emotional threat, and doesn’t occur without conflict either internally or externally. In other words, emotional distance is co-crated in an attempt to avoid conflict or feelings of hurt and rejection.

Almost everyone enjoys a little distance from time to time. It only becomes a problem when it erodes the marriage friendship between a couple. To this extreme, you may feel little or no positive feelings for your partner. But once you realize you play a part in creating your own misery, you can do something about your own distancing.

Address Your Own Emotional Distance

Recognize when you are distancing, whether it’s pulling away internally or behaviorally. Some examples of emotional distance are:

  • Taking differences personally or feeling hurt easily
  • Being critical of spouse
  • Giving advice or telling your spouse what to do
  • Trying to prove your point
  • Agreeing to keep the peace even when you don’t
  • Using work/hobbies/substances to avoid conflict with spouse
  • Turning to kids more than spouse
  • Pretending to agree and doing what you want behind spouse back
  • Avoiding topics that upset your spouse
  • Being present physically but tuning your spouse out

If you recognize any of these ways of distancing, then you are probably having a hard time staying calm in your spouse’s presence. Kathleen Cauley, licensed marriage and family therapist, emphasizes that communication is less about getting your point heard, and more about calming down to hear. In this way, openness is “staying interested in your spouse without assuming: 1) it has something to do with you, 2) it hurts your feelings, or 3) it will get in your way.” (Video: Myths about Communication.)

Our assumptions fuel our distance, and emotional separateness creates intimacy and openness. Meaning his emotions are separate from how he feels about you. If you don’t take your spouse’s busyness, tension, or unavailability as a threat to your own emotional well being, then you are free to be available. You don’t have to distance too. So when your spouse is available, you will be too.

Challenge Your Own Negative Assumptions

So how do you get yourself calm enough to not shut down? Find a new way to think when you interact with your spouse that makes you or your happiness feel less threatened. Challenge your assumptions, because your spouse’s behavior and/or response does not define your happiness nor your value!

For example, if your spouse is emotionally unavailable to you on occasion, it doesn’t mean that you can’t be happy without his/her response. Nor does it mean that your spouse don’t care about you or you aren’t important to him/her. But when you make these assumptions, you probably start pulling away to protect yourself.

Developing a new level of emotional intimacy is developing a new way of thinking, so you can create a new way of being with your spouse. 

How do you define emotional intimacy?


 Hire Marci one-on-one for counseling/coaching and discover more choices than you thought possible.

Photo Credit: “Come Together” by Hartwig HKD