This week, NYC therapist Richard Handibode, Jr. shares how your mindset affects your reactions to stress. Learn how to use Insight, Grace, and Power to reduce stress in your day-to-day.
To compete in the real world and to perform at our personal best, it is important that we have a resilient mindset to help control our reaction to the stress that will inevitably come our way.
The mindset, or established set of attitudes, that I utilize in my life and my clinical practice is called Insight, Grace and Power. I would like to discuss how this mindset supports us when we find ourselves in heart-pounding moments of personal or professional stress with important decisions to make (more on the vital role of decisions later).
In my clinical work with clients, I have seen how unmanaged chronic stress can be debilitating for someone who has had his or her willpower drained time and time again. This willpower drain leaves them more vulnerable to making counterproductive, and sometimes self-destructive decisions in order to cope. To stay strong, take control and make better decisions, we need the force of our willpower, our energetic determination, readily available to us.
If not controlled properly, our adverse reactions to stress can also leave us feeling emotionally, physically and existentially exhausted. I say existentially because chronic stress that is left unmanaged can eventually sap our desire and passion for life. I have witnessed highly motivated and successful people lose their internal fire, and with it, the purpose and meaning of their work.
Insight, Grace and Power is a mindset that I have consistently observed in clients who are able to control their reactions to chronic stress, exhibit resilience, and experience posttraumatic growth.
We work in therapy to gain Insight to understand ourselves, and why we do what we do. Being able to “see into” our subjective experience is profoundly important to gaining Insight. Part of this practice is to exhibit curiosity about your thoughts, feelings and behaviors. I encourage clients to look at themselves and their behaviors with benevolent, or well-meaning, curiosity. For many of us, this takes a great amount of practice.
After creating a therapeutic environment that feels safe and nonjudgmental, we explore how your life experiences, both past and present, have helped shape the person you are today. With this Insight, we can discern which ego-defenses, coping strategies and attitudes you utilize (both consciously and unconsciously) that are helpful, and which ones are causing you more harm than good.
Insight can reduce and help control our reactions to chronic stress by helping us gain understanding into how we cope, or fail to cope with it. We gain Insight to better understand ourselves, and how we perceive the world around us. I have seen the profound impact of Insight with clients who are able to become more patient, forgiving and compassionate towards the most important person in their lives, themselves.
We can practice Grace to accept ourselves, our lives, and those around us. People, who are graceful, demonstrate patience, humor, tact, dignity and respect among many other positive and helpful character traits. Practicing acts of grace, or being graceful, in our most challenging moments, can literally transform a situation, a person, or a family.
For example, I have a client who had been virtually at war with his parents for years. Hardened by their harsh criticisms and demands growing up, this intelligent and compassionate man would lash out at them, unconsciously hoping to protect himself, and project his psychic torment and emotional pain onto them.
In his therapy sessions, he explored his life experiences; he also began to imagine what his parents’ experience might have been like, as young immigrants coming to the United States from Europe, alone with a newborn baby. He imagined their fear of failing, with no other options, and the frightening responsibility of being young parents in an uncertain world.
My client began to have meaningful conversations with his father about how he experienced his life. My client was often moved by stories of sacrifice, hard work and struggle, of learning to speak a new language, of personal fortitude, and building a successful business from nothing.
My client is a confident, hard working young man, who began to practice and experience moments of Grace when sitting with his father; he stopped fighting and listened; he stayed quiet and reflected on what he heard. Our sessions became emotional, as my client’s anger gave way to respect and greater understanding of his parents. Grace had helped him find a voice to share his complex feelings with them. As a family, they are still a work in progress, but one that has a new dynamic of practicing Grace and listening.
You can feel so much better when you practice Grace in a moment of frustration and anger, and try to simply accept others and yourself. It can be as big as reconciling with your parents, or as small as accepting the crush of the train at rush hour, a slow elevator ride, or a bump from a hurried, and probably stressed-out, fellow pedestrian on the street.
Chronic stress gets under your control in moments when you find the Grace to accept. With practice, you can start to bring a better part of yourself to any situation.
You use your Power to decide when you respond to the moment-to-moment challenges in your life. In his remarkable book, “Man’s Search for Meaning,” Dr. Viktor Frankl states that you should not ask what the meaning of your life is, but rather you must recognize that it is you who is asked by life; and he reasons that you answer for your life by taking responsibility for it. That is what gives your life unconditional meaning in every moment, the ability to decide how to respond to your challenges, how to take a stand against them. That is awesome Power! The Power to make your own decisions in every moment!
A client of mine is a young professional who is motivated and determined to be successful in her field. She works in a high-stress, competitive and demanding office. She has experienced daily anxiety that grips her at times, literally stealing away her voice by constricting her throat and tightening her chest. Her mind races and at times, she even finds it hard to think or speak.
During the course of our work, we gained Insight into the genesis of her symptoms – a nervous system fight response that she used as a child to defend herself and her mother from the verbal and emotional abuse of her father, who suffers from alcoholism. As a young adult, this fight response has now become a part of her reaction to everyday, chronic stress. Realizing that she cannot project rage at her boss or co-workers, the biological fight response now becomes thwarted, or subdued.
This un-discharged, frustrated fight response results in the somatic symptoms of a tightening jaw, shortness of breath, tightening chest and the tensing of her muscles. When triggered by stress, she finds it hard to think because the executive functioning part of her brain is going off-line, making way for the more primitive, reptilian-survival part of her brain. It is like a false alarm being pulled in her body and mind everyday, and there is no true emergency.
To help her calm in the moment, we practiced a breathing exercise. She could breathe in for a few seconds; hold for a few seconds and then release a long, slow breath. After a few rounds of this process, her body calms her by activating a parasympathetic nervous system response; she is able to think more clearly and articulate because her prefrontal cortex is now operating more efficiently. This breathing exercise helps calm her reptilian survival brain.
Obviously, she is a strong, powerful woman who wants to take control. After practicing this exercise she said, “I love using my Power to stay calm.” She uses this breathing exercise to take control of her nervous system. She made a decision to use her Power to take control.
If recovery is to take place, if positive change is to happen in your life, decisions MUST be made, and action MUST be taken. This takes using your Power to be decisive. A seemingly small decision can begin a process of positive transformation. YOU have the Power to accomplish positive change. Deciding to interrupt a destructive habit by trying a better one, reaching out to a friend to talk, speaking your truth, calling a therapist for help, or breathing through a moment of anxiety—these are all very Powerful moments.
I believe that practicing a mindset of Insight, Grace and Power can transform your reaction to stress when they are called upon during challenging moments. Through practice, you can harness these forces of human nature to feel better, experience growth, and cultivate increased inner strength and wisdom.
Thank you, Richard, for sharing your expertise and knowledge with us today, helping us to understand how practicing an Insight, Grace, and Power mindset can help us to change our reaction to stress in a very positive way.
To contact Richard, you can email him at [email protected].
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Richard is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) and Somatic Experiencing (SE) practitioner. He blends the methods of psychoanalytic psychotherapy and Somatic Experiencing to work in a way that allows for a client’s physical, mental and emotional experiences to emerge.
Before becoming a somatic psychotherapist, Richard served 21 years in the New York City Police Department. His belief is that this life experience informs his clinical practice in meaningful ways, giving him a unique vantage point on the human condition.
Richard has a private practice in midtown Manhattan, where he specializes in trauma resolution. To contact Richard, you can email him at [email protected].