Many clients I see here in private practice in the Midwestern area of Illinois are often very stressed. They come in appearing very calm and as soon as I get to the point on my questionnaire about what brings them their they tell me, often with tears and a sense of shame about how long they have been struggling due to their busy lives, lack of self-care and fears of the judgement might have about them. We talk about the stressors they have been having throughout their lives and although they often say none at first, the more we talk the more profoundly amazed I am that they are doing so well holding all their emotions in for so long.

I often find myself asking, “why didn’t you come to talk about all your stress earlier?” … and “why now?” They often give me a list of reasons for not coming in sooner are: that they believed that God could get rid of their anxiety if they prayed more and or their fears if they truly admitted they were stressed/anxious it might get a lot worse.

The truth it is the coming to therapy that makes people truly beautiful. In a Ted Talk, Brene Brown talks about the need for people to be vulnerable with their emotions, after all being vulnerable helps us become innovators, creative and create change in our lives and in the world. I know personally, when I am stuck in my own stress of being a busy mom and wife I often struggle with opening to others and asking myself important questions such as what would make me a more well-rounded and fulfilled person.  

Throughout my time in private practice and as a social worker I have thought about how can we get people in earlier to seek counsel. There is profound research on the connection between our physical health and mental health/stress yet this research appears to be slow to either be believed or acknowledged both within the church and in most arenas.

Here is a list about how we can hopefully inspire people to come into talk therapy early:

  1. Teach people about the connection between how we feel emotionally and physical. When people say, “my stomach is in knots” and “I have the weight of the world on my shoulders” they are often very sad or stressed. Prolonged feeling of stress/anxiety and sadness cause our bodies to be more likely to develop cancer, be addicted to smoking and even have cardiology issues.  Our bodies tell us when our mental health and stress needs to be dealt with. It’s imperative that providers work together to support individuals that are having physical and or mental health issues (Bessel Van Der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score).
  2. Look for warning signs of anger in men and boys. Many men are taught that their only emotion they can show and or feel is anger. This may impact their relationships at work, in the home and throughout their lives. Often, I see teenage boys coming in with what looks like “anger issues” and we quickly find out that it has never been taught to them by their families or in the media that it is okay for them to feel anything other than anger.  
  3. Have couples come in yearly for communication checkup. Couples face a variety of stressors throughout their relationships and many often seek help from those people in their lives that struggle to be neutral parties to them. The truth I always say is, if I know the person can be completely neutral and I admire the life they have it is okay to seek advice on your relationship from that person. Also, communication is often a struggle for couples and counselors have wonderful tips on how to help clients know what things such as personality and values that can’t be changed versus minor annoyances.
  4. Have all persons talk to someone each time they seek a yearly physical. As many of you would agree, American social is often very stressful, whether it be hearing the buzz of an alarm clock or the need to be connected to electronics constantly. This stress can cause people to become in an auto-pilot like state. What I learned recently in a conference on secondary trauma is that if you’re in a bath tub and you continue to turn the heat up every minute, how do you know when it’s too hot and it’s time to get out? This is exactly how stress is, often we get used to the stress of our daily lives so much that our bodies are rarely experience complete calm, which is a state of mindfulness. Working with your therapist to find your calm and peace can give you years of being present with yourself and those around you that are important.