Managing emotional distress

By Erika Pedroza | Published Saturday, January 19, 2013

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My job as a community reporter inevitably includes covering stories that unearth a heart-wrenching reality – perhaps about programs organized to help babies who would otherwise go without a full meal or warm blanket on a cold night – and tragedies – families who lose all they have in fires or loved ones in car accidents.

Erika Pedroza

Erika Pedroza

As journalists, you learn ways to cope. For example, in the midst of a heart-wrenching reality I’m motivated to write to the best of my abilities to raise awareness and aid the cause. And as I head out to cover breaking news, I say a prayer for those involved and then focus on the facts of the situation.

As heartless as that may make me sound, it’s necessary. I would be a mess at all times. My very patient and loving mother is probably throwing her hands in the air and calling that a reality, as she reads this.

In the past few weeks I’ve had to swallow a couple of harsh realities associated with the pains and struggles of people I care about. And it wasn’t easy.

But I guess that’s part of that whole growing-up gig I didn’t subscribe to. Alas, life.

While I’d like to think my predicament with other people’s situations is because I care about them and want to see them happy and not hurting, I’ve come to realize my “work coping” strategies might have a hand in it as well.

I emotionally remove myself from the stories I cover for the paper so far that when “bad news” happens to the people I know and care for, I overly compensate. And I find myself downtrodden and curled up next to my mom with a box of Kleenex in hand (for which I am immensely grateful).

The past two editions of the Messenger contained one of two parts of a story on mental health, shining a light on an unspoken yet all-too-common reality.

Jan Scott of Decatur and Barb Clingan of Roanoke shared the stories of their bouts with mental illness in the hopes of consoling anyone who finds themselves in a similar situation and encouraging them to seek the help they knew they needed but didn’t receive until going to extremes.

The story of their journey included the coping mechanisms they learned as part of the therapy they received through the Behavioral Health Services at Wise Regional Health System.

Through both inpatient and outpatient therapy, Jan and Barb found hope in newfound gratitude for blessings they now realize they had before but didn’t embrace because they focused on the bad.

“When I wake up in the morning, I say thanks to God for letting me see another day,” Barb said. “I never used to be like that. I’d just get up and go, not think about of all that I have … I don’t take anything for granted anymore.”

Jan added: “Each day is a new start. I tell myself I have 24 hours to make this a good day, and that’s all I’ve got. That reminder helps me make it a good day.”

The two have also learned strategies to help them manage tension to avoid the onset of an episode and to preserve that optimism. For Jan that includes keeping multiple calendars for work, her budget, etc. to “feel in control.” She also displays around her house cards and pictures and notes that make her smile and has thrown out the things that brought back bad memories.

“I took down the obituaries I had hanging around the house and put them in a drawer, that way I still have them, but I don’t have to see them over and over and over,” she said. “I cried a lot of tears, but once it was gone and the house was clean, it was like a breath of fresh air.”

Jan also finds accord in compliments to herself and inspirational quotes.

“You have to validate yourself, too,” she said. “Tell yourself, ‘I’m worth it; I don’t deserve to feel like this.’ I read an inspirational quote, and I have a package of compliments the other members in group wrote, and I keep them in an envelope and read them every morning. It gets me started – that, and that first cup of coffee.

Barb has learned the importance of keeping a to-do list to stay busy and following a simple routine to maintain a sort of control.

“The first thing I do when I get up is turn the alarm off,” she said. “Then I say good morning to the man upstairs; then I say good morning to Harry. And I get up, take my shower and get on with my day. And I do that every night when I go to bed.”

She finds solace in a book, television show, word search puzzle or walk and in keeping a journal.

“It really does help,” she said. “It’s like you’re talking to yourself. You don’t suppress anything, and you remind yourself of all that you have to be happy, all that you have to make the best of this life.”

So instead of “emotionally overcompensating” through gloomy moods, I’ll pour myself a glass of wine, pick up that uplifting book tucked under my night stand and swap out the hand under the nail polish dryer – and do what I can to elicit the same contentment for the people I care about – whether it’s with a sentimental trinket, a nice conversation or a hug.

Erika Pedroza is a Messenger reporter.

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