Stress Spoken
with Psychotherapist Maria Bruce

by Julieta Miquelarena

 According to The American Institute of Stress, stress is "physical, mental, or emotional strain or tension," or "a condition or feeling experienced when a person perceives that demands exceed the personal and social resources the individual is able to mobilize."

For World Health Organization (WHO) "stress can be defined as any type of change that causes physical, emotional or psychological strain. Stress is your body's response to anything that requires attention or action. Everyone experiences stress to some degree. How you respond to stress, however, makes a big difference to your overall well-being." 

Despite several months of acclimating to a new reality and societal upheaval spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic, Americans are struggling to cope with the disruptions it has caused.

 

Nearly 8 in 10 adults (78%) say the coronavirus pandemic is a significant source of strife.

 

2 in 3 adults (67%) say they have experienced increased stress over the course of the pandemic," according to APA American Physiological Association, from their 2022 nationwide survey, the 'fruit' of their "Mind and Body Health" campaign, that is to examine the state of stress across the USA, and understanding what it means.

"Many people live with chronic high-stress levels, underestimating its magnitude and impact," said Psychotherapist Maria Bruce, an Argentine coach and consultant based in NYC. who specializes in high-performance individuals. 

J.M: Which stressors could 'we' be having?

 

M.B: Many stressors affect us daily. Work issues like deadlines, meetings, public speaking, demanding hours, tense work environment, housing issues like roommates, building matters, expenses, finances, etc. Our friends and family experience relationship issues directly and indirectly, and we get affected to a degree.

Stress is usually an accumulation of small triggers, not just an isolated event.

J.M: How can we boost awareness?

 

M.B: We are not always cognizant of how many different things impact us and, thus, how much our body works extra to adjust and manage. For example, we don't realize how stressed we are until we experience more severe symptoms, like anxiety and depression.

We feel "normal," but our body is working hard to keep up; many internal mechanisms get activated when the body encounters worries or difficult situations.

In addition, many internal "filters" are no longer able to cope even in everyday situations: Some people lash out against family, peers, or bosses in ways they wish they could take back. Some others have an opposite reaction and "blank out" in an exam, a meeting, or a presentation. Some experience anxiety to the degree that symptoms mimic stomach, cardiac, or respiratory issues.

Think of it like this; You are a cup. Stress is water. Every time you experience a stressor, your cup fills up a little bit, and your capacity to hold any more diminishes. Everything is fine until you hit your ability. Then, no matter how big or small, the next stressor causes a spill, which might manifest as an outburst, a panic attack, or an overwhelming need to eat a donut.

J.M: How do we reduce our overall stress level?

M.B: The first step is to become more aware of how your body copes with everyday activities and situations (relationships, work, finances, etc.) and proactively restore that internal balance.

One of the most efficient ways is using a paced breathing technique— breathing being the first body regulator.

Another way is trying activities that improve your mood to balance out the negative impact of stressors.

And as powerful: not letting things bottle up inside you, talking to family and friends, and exploring and processing feelings and situations by journaling about them.

J.M: On social media use and its impact on stress levels:

M.B: Social media has become a double edge sword. It can be inspiring and motivating, a place to share joy, admire beauty, travel, explore new hobbies, and connect with friends and family. But some people don't realize they don't distinguish between fantasy of utopic standards of lifestyle, beauty, and finances from reality, and how this devolves into negative self-judgment, unfair comparisons, regrets, and despair.

If we think about the impact on teenagers: They are at an age where their minds and bodies are still developing and not fully mature to handle and process their own emotions or fully understand how they are being affected. From a psychological perspective, these are teens still developing their own emotional and cognitive resilience, sense of identity, and life skills.

Many will develop suitable coping mechanisms, but many could be overwhelmed and unable to manage the perceived —which social media could amplify— peer pressure to meet a 'standard' or handle different situations a certain way. This may result in negative consequences to their psyche, for example, maladaptive behaviors that they could carry throughout life.

The expectation to check all the boxes can become overwhelming or inspiring, depending on the lens used to look at it. However, not everything is negative, and like with most things: There is always a positive side to the equation if there is a conscious awareness of the choice we decide to make. 

 

Maria C. Bruce is a former Argentine medical Doctor with a master's degree in mental health and wellness from the University of New York. She became a licensed Psychotherapist, Coach, and Consultant, exercising at a private practice in New York City.

She focused her training and practice on positive cognitive-behavioral therapy, solution-focused brief therapy, and biofeedback.

 

As a coach and consultant, she helps individuals, teams, and companies to optimize their performance, manage stress, problem-solve, boost productivity, improve communication skills, and enhance relationship interactions.

As a Doctor, Maria began her specialization in sports medicine in Buenos Aires with Argentine athletes. Then, with Italian Olympic athletes at the Comitato Olimpico Nazionale Italiano (CONI) in Rome.

Her experience working with Olympic and professional athletes, as being involved with the music, fashion, beauty, technology, and financial industries, has given her a unique perspective and understanding of the challenges and struggles faced by high-achieving and multitasking individuals.

Before pursuing her career in applied psychology, Maria worked as a label manager for Universal Music Group International and as an artist manager.

As a coach and consultant, she helps individuals, teams, and companies to optimize their performance, manage stress, problem-solve, boost productivity, improve communication skills, and enhance relationship interactions.

She is the founder of Thanksyoumademyday.com: A thriving online community on different platforms with more than 35000 followers, fostering daily positivity and wellness.

This year, Dr. Maria Bruce has also developed an app called Optimalist, which reads Heart Rate Variability (HRV). HVR analysis shows the state of the autonomic nervous system (ANS). The heart is regulated by two branches of the ANS, the sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous systems. When these two systems are balanced, the body works optimally.

The more balanced, the more variable the heart rate is. A decline in HRV indicates that the body has trouble adapting to external demands and situations, resulting in stress.

You can download the app on your phone to check your stress level: OPTIMALIST.

 Follow or contact Dr. Maria Bruce at:

Dr. Bruce's LinkedIn profile / Dr. Bruce's Instagram. 

 

This story was initially published at DLAREZMAG on November 2021.

Special thanks to Maria Bruce.

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