There is always a balance to be maintained in life. We have stressors and we have resources. Stressors are easily described as anything that causes stress. This could be school, work, finances, relationships, or health concerns to name a few. Resources are anything that help us manage the stress we are experiencing. Resources are made up of our support systems, coping skills, hobbies, pets, medication, and many other things that help us deal.
Stress is important. Without it, we don’t grow. I’m sure you’ve heard the story about the butterfly breaking his chrysalis. When someone else does the work for him, his wings don’t develop properly and he is unable to fly. There must be some stress to motivate growth and stay healthy, but if stress outweighs our resources, we end up in crisis. This is often where I meet the people I work with.
One of my previous posts discusses how stress outside of our resources leaves us with a psychological injury—meaning we are less capable of handling future stressors. The moment the scale tips is crisis. Perhaps it is the experiencing of a traumatic event, or a small annoyance or trigger that has pushed you over the edge after holding it together for so long. At the moment of crisis, we look for our resources—most often in the form of connection to others. If no connection is available, we go into “survival mode” and our nervous system is engaged. This results in fight/flight or freeze responses. Getting stuck in survival mode depletes our resources and keeps our baseline of stress high, often manifesting as anxiety, depression, addiction, physical pain or other health concerns.
Many people come to counseling because they are in crisis or crisis is near. To get back in balance requires that we either decrease stressors or increase resources. I grew up learning that when you go to counseling, the goal is to address the underlying issue, dig up the “root problem” so that you can leave feeling better. This is still true, but it is incomplete and irresponsible on its own.
I had the honor of attending one of Ana Gomez’s EMDR trainings a few years back. She presented a metaphor I’ll never forget. Your trauma or “root issue” is like a swimming pool. If I only focus on drawing out your stuff, then I am essentially throwing you into the pool without floaties and without teaching you to swim. If you have stuff—and we all do—the goal of counseling is not to only become aware of and understand your stuff. The goal is to teach you skills and empower you to swim through your stuff. Yes, if you have unresolved trauma or grief we need to go there—but the goal is to go there AFTER you have the resources to tolerate the feelings we might uncover—OR ELSE YOU MIGHT DROWN. We are masters at figuring out how to keep our stuff at bay and dragging it out WILL cause more stress.
Resourcing is ESSENTIAL to counseling and really to any change. Because as I have said before, CHANGE IS HARD. Resourcing includes increasing self-awareness which often leads to self-compassion and validation. It includes learning coping skills and actually putting them to use in a way that makes sense. Resourcing is connecting to others because people need people and let’s face it, we survive in a herd. Resourcing is figuring out how to feel hard feelings without numbing or distracting. After all, we are human and we were created to feel. No feeling lasts forever—good or bad. So grab your floaties and get ready to swim, even if we only look at the water for a while.