Victim of Stress? – Managing Stress not Defeating It

Victim of Stress?

You hear it from your patients over and over again. They feel powerless against the stress in their lives. They are fighting what seems like a never ending battle in which they are always losing and the enemy is encroaching on every area of their life.

We’re all told to ‘manage’ our stress better. Heck, they know that…but then wonder, “now what? How do I DO it, exactly? What does managing stress actually look like?”

Here’s a way to help them (and yourself). This article is aimed to help you change the perspective on what stress is, strategies to change your relationship to it, and in turn help others do the same.

Reversing Stress Victimhood

Patients come to you with ideas and notions that they need to “conquer” or “tame” their stress. Face it head on to get “it” to stop attacking them. 

While this is a noble pursuit, this way of thinking is based on a belief that stress is something outside of you that you cannot control. Maybe even something that is out to get you. This turns a stress into a storybook villain. It also makes people feel like a victim. Or that they are a failure for being unable to “cope” with their stress. Truly managing stress takes you out of feeling like a victim to feeling empowered.

The Symptoms of Stress Disorder

Burning the candle at both ends leads to a host of health problems. This is DISTRESS. Here is a list from the Mayo Clinic listing the common effects of stress on the physical body, mood, and behavior. No wonder we all can feel attacked. 

Victim of Stress?

As a health practitioner, people will come into your office with these symptoms thinking there is only something physically wrong that needs changing. We do want to support symptom care, but the main course of action is to change the stress response; the root of the ill.

I’ve got 3 direct tools you can use with your patients starting today to begin the practical process of changing their stress response. 

Distress versus Eustress

Stress has gotten a bad wrap.

Holistic medicine looks at two sides to every story. There is a benefit to pressure and strain. This is called, “eustress”, or good-stress. Without it, we wouldn’t be here. Try to make a diamond without it, keep the earth spinning in its orbit, or get a butterfly out of its chrysalis – it won’t happen.

What determines which type your patients are experiencing? Distress or eustress?

What lies in the center of these two sides is their viewpoint. Their viewpoint determines their choices and determines how they take action to change their relationship to the stressor. Managing stress is largely about managing the relationship to the stressor.

The viewpoint is that big of a deal.

Just to amplify the two-sided-ness of this topic, when you look it up in the dictionary, you find the word “stress” is both a noun and a verb. It is a state of being and it is an action. 

It is the reaction (stress response) and it is the pressure (stressor).

Remove the stress, remove the cause?

When a patient tells us they feel stressed out, they mean they feel under the thumb of a stressor, of being “under stress”. 

Question; the cause of the stress might not move or change, but if we change our viewpoint, are we still “under” it?

Let me clarify this important principle. It is the reaction to this pressure that causes the symptoms.

Here’s what you are dealing with:

Their internal stress response

(what they can control)


the external stressor

(what they cannot control)

“If only they would change, I would be OK”!

This is the theme song of the chronically unhappy person. Remember, “You’re stressing me out” is a blame statement and blame never ends well.

This may be hard for many patients to hear. They may rationalize or have a knee-jerk response to keep believing it’s the stressor’s “fault”. It may take a while for them to see where their power lies.

At first, it is a load when they realize they have the power to change their relationship to the stressor, then a joy.  Encourage them to shake it up to change their perspective.

The goal is not to change the stressor to suit your patient, but to encourage them to focus on their state of being and what they have power over as the key to dropping the victim role only then can they truly get to the point of managing stress.

Selective Interference and the Tools of Managing Stress

Let me introduce a big principle in my coaching style. Selective interference is based on knowing where and when to apply the right amount of pressure to create desired change. It’s basically physics.


Here’s an example, your patient’s workplace is a large stressor they respond poorly to. They have several choices laid in front of them to change or not to change. Complain, quit, take yoga at lunch, set a boundary with the boss, go to night school, apply for the job they really want; all of these are choices.

Have them write down a list of ideas. Everything that comes up, even if there is fear of consequence. This opens the door to new possibilities. Then each small step is a step toward realizing they are not a victim. This highlights their personal power of choice.

Just by realizing they can choose, they have accessed self-authority. Even if they can’t change the stressor, they are free to change their mind. When you change your mind, your circumstances will follow.

Much of what we do is help people go through this gradient. Get out of suffering, move up to good coping skills, then on up to a huge shift in perspective and ease where the rules have changed and the playing field is fun.

Understand they may be in the “suffer” part of the choice gradient, or in the “fight”. It can be hard to see clearly at that point, I know. The best you can do for your patients is to support both their physical symptoms while moving them across the choice gradient to the point of thriving.

Managing stress comes down to the choices they make. They need to shift their perspective until they can see that allowing stressors to affect them is a choice.


When we take care of the system that keeps extremes in check, body, mind, and spirit, the ability to withstand or transform obstacles is astounding. 

We optimize health to unearth the diamond at the core of our being.

Know Yourself

Line up five people and put them under a stress test. You will get five different reactions. Why?

Because we are all wired a little differently.

What one person needs to be resilient may not be the same as the next. The first key is for your patient to know themself and their self care needs and work with that.

The second key is consistency. Resiliency through self-care only works when done regularly. Help them set up a schedule that works. Managing stress is a long term solution so getting them setup to follow through consistently is key.

Here are a few ideas of resiliency tools you can suggest. Encourage them to try out something new once in a while, but ultimately keep those that resound with them the most. These are behaviors that feed needs on many levels.

What works?

  • Jogging
  • Meditation techniques
  • Supplements
  • Quilting circle
  • Tai Ji/Qi Gong
  • Temple/Church
  • Dancing
  • Regular mealtime
  • Herbal Medicine
  • Yoga
  • Mindful Coloring
  • Bodywork
  • Help around the house
  • Walk in the woods
  • Prayer
  • Breathing exercise
  • Group singing
  • Audio relaxation guide
  • Journaling
  • Baths
  • Movie night
  • Video game battles

Remember the key is to pre-empt. You are guiding your patient to interfere with their normal routine by creating the structure for this in their life. Apply the pressure at the right time in the right amount and they gain the benefits of regular self-care and become resilient instead of distressed.


Nature is EFFICIENT. It uses a system of checks and balances. It is a wise counselor to show us how to behave.

When incorporating Chinese medical philosophy into care (that’s my jam), we consider “five elements” that represent natural phenomena, wood, metal, earth, fire, and water.

When counseling patients in ‘managing’ their stress (aka building resiliency), use this construct of Wood and Water to explain the overarching goal of rediscovering personal power.


The “wood element” houses the energy of choice making and forward progress. By inviting flexibility and rooted, upward growth they can begin to make small decisions that will make big changes in their perception of what is possible.


The “water element” is the home of wisdom and the source of your adrenal energy (the fuel of the stress response). It is the reflection of beliefs and the power to react.

Water can change its form, it can give off power or it can be deep and still. If allowed to flow, it will wear down all obstacles over time.

The goal is to move our patients to be like water; to embody these three attitudes:

Be still enough to see beneath the surface.

Allow and absorb to go around obstacles and change without struggle.

Store energy for deep resources to bank on.

Managing Stress based on what you can control in life.

Teaching the Tools of Change to make a positive impact in your care




To build confidence and gain ability to move across the spectrum of choice gives your patients the chance to serve the world to their full potential. This is great work to do in the world! 

Ushering in small changes causes growth! 

If you’d like support to buoy your ability to serve your patients and make the most out of your healing arts practice, I’d LOVE to serve you in doing just that!

Contact me and let me know your biggest challenge right now and let’s see if I’ve got some resources that match your needs.

Helpful Resources

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