Health

People Asked A Stress Psychologist Just About Everything On Reddit

NPR | July 12, 2014 8:31 p.m.

Contributed By:

Nicholas St. Fleur

We’ve been asking Americans about stress in their lives.

On Friday, the tables were turned when Dr. Lynn Bufka, a licensed psychologist with expertise in treating anxiety, stress and related problems, came to NPR to take questions on Reddit about coping with stress.

Bufka, who works at the American Psychology Association in Washington, D.C., is on Twitter: @DrBufka.

She said that the questions during the “Ask Me Anything” session were common issues that her patients ask about all the time. “We’re all going to experience stress,” she told Shots. “It’s a normal part of our day, but we have a choice in how we respond to it.”

When asked if doing the AMA was stressful for her, she responded, “No, not really.” Besides, she said, “It was fun and a little challenging — but I like to be challenged. If one person learned something helpful then that’s great.”

Here are some of the highlights from Reddit, edited for length and clarity. You can find the full set of questions and answers here.

How much can stress affect my ability to make small talk? What do you recommend I do to avoid/reduce stress most effectively?

Stress can interfere with many things we try to do. Some people can be very anxious about being evaluated socially and therefore are reluctant to make small talk because they are concerned about how other people will perceive their comments. In those situations, try to focus on the other person and draw him or her out- once he or she is chatting, you may start to feel more comfortable too.

Lots of strategies can reduce stress — try to maintain regular sleep/ eat/ exercise habits as much as possible, say “no” when overwhelmed with tasks, turn off news/information for some mental downtime, spend time with people who make you feel good, participate in something with others (a sport, volunteering, religious services) or maybe find your own quiet rituals to take some slow breaths and let go of the day’s pressures. These are only a start in trying to reduce stress.

What small steps do I have to overcome when dealing with social anxiety? It has come to the point where I can barely go out and find a job, I barely socialise with people and I stay at home, that is where my comfort zone ends, which I understand is extreme. So any advice on how to deal with social anxiety?

Try to identify situations that make you a little anxious but you think you can do. Maybe making small talk with a family member, or making eye contact with the person you are buying items from, and practice those. Make yourself mini practice assignments that seem doable, track how you do and as you practice them they will become easier.

Here’s something many people find very surprising- most people are paying more attention to themselves, not you. You might feel anxious and might be concerned that you look nervous- but the person next to you might feel the same way about himself, or she might be looking at the time and wondering if she’ll catch her bus, or they might be thinking about what to cook for dinner! …

Is it normal for family to be a very large source of stress in my life? (No abuse, just trying to live up to their expectations)

Family can be stressful for a variety of reasons, even if that same family is a source of love and support. Sometimes, it is just the busyness of lives- lots of people with different activities and different ideas and just trying to stay connected can be a challenge.

However, if it is about trying to live up to expectations, part of the challenge is helping your family understand who you are and what motivates and interest you so that they can be supportive of your aims and goals. Families, no matter how much they love us, sometimes have ideas about who we are supposed to be that don’t match up with who we really are- and navigating that is tricky. Trying to have an open conversation is a good first step.

Is it possible to be totally stress-free in society nowadays?

I’m not sure we want to be totally stress free. Sometimes stress makes us work harder, get more prepared for tasks we are facing, or perform better. Stress sometimes results from good things — like getting married or bringing a new pet into the home!

However, we want to be aware of those situations in which we feel overwhelmed by demands. That is when we want to try and reduce our stress, by doing things like changing the demands (when possible), or changing how we think about situations. Sometimes the situations are stressful and sometimes we make them more stressful because we pile on expectations or mental demands or perfectionism even beyond whatever the situation is.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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