As Latinas we are always facing all kinds of challenges, and we don’t always cope with them in the best manner. This can lead to ailments and chronic illnesses that end up affecting every aspect of our lives, and everyone around us, whatever our careers or lifestyles may be. In this holiday season when stress can be high, and emotions can easily take over, we have the opportunity to share with you the advice of three experts in the fields of clinical psychology, family medicine and career success. These women deal with patients and clients who face stress and anxiety on a daily basis. Latinas in the Law, a non-profit organization that focuses on providing support to Latinas in the field of law, invited us to their standing-room-only Fall program where the panel addressed in-depth how we can understand stress and anxiety and how to cope with it. We hope their expertise helps you not only get through the holiday season and beyond.
Life circumstances can be challenging and overwhelming, the right tools to deal with them in the short and long term can make the difference.
Meet the Panelists
Dr. Veronica Palomino, MD., received her medical degree from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School. Dual board certified in family and preventive medicine currently practicing at Family Health Centers. Founder of Veronica Palomino MD Coaching.
Judy Gonzalez, licensed clinical worker, private practice of psychotherapy in Santa Cruz, California. Formerly clinical supervisor at UC Santa Cruz, has worked closely with the low income Latino community and deals with issues ranging from domestic violence to sexual abuse, and addictions.
Kiyana Kiel, Assistant Dean of Academic Achievement, California Western School of Law.
Why is this issue personal to you?
Dr. Palomino: “At the age of 15 I was diagnosed with depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive syndrome, and ADHD. For 25 years I was looking for any modality to be functional in this world. Recently I discovered coaching as the modality to help me, I am the most effective person I can be and I want others to have access to that too.”
LCSW Gonzalez: “I am one of 7 children so growing up, I needed to figure out how to survive, I had to learn from my older siblings what I should avoid, and mentor my younger siblings. Helping others came naturally to me.”
“When I got to law school we didn’t have any kind of support, after I graduated I always found myself coming back to school helping students. I realized then, as I realize now with a toddler, that you are always balancing something, we need a support network to maintain balance. That is life, you push through.”
Defining stress and anxiety
LCSW Gonzalez: Stress is a normal physical, emotional and mental response to change, everybody has stress, sometimes it’s good- it motivates us to do things. We consider stress as external factors, or internally perceived factors that cause unease or discomfort. That same stress that we face becomes problematic when the perceived threat ends and we are unable to get back to the relaxed state. Anxiety is a result of stress, it is more of an emotion. It can be good if it is temporary and functional, however if it continues or becomes chronic you need to seek help.
Dr. Palomino: Some of the physical manifestations of stress can be that your heart rate goes up, because you need your heart to pump blood to your organs and extremities. As a primeval reaction we direct blood from our center out to our extremities so we can run fast or fight- (fight or flight response). What happens to your mind once your heart rate goes over 100 is that you cannot tap into your higher order thinking skills, you are only on your primitive brain, so you are not on your best decision making state, but you are definitely on your best life-or-death decision making state. It’s about survival under acute stress.
In the long term, chronic stress and anxiety diverge- long term manifestations vary, you release cortisol and your immune system goes down, you begin to deposit fat around your belly, some people have somatization that leads to physical manifestations like diarrhea- you can have that long term, sweaty palms, and insomnia. You need to understand that it’s not made up, there are physiological and somatic changes due to stress and anxiety.
Dean Kiel: One of the common responses is withdrawal and avoidance- that is, not being able to focus on what is actually happening, lack of sleep, eating habits change and weight gain. It is an internal response to stress. The quest is to manage stress in our lives, and there are many ways, we cannot give up on ourselves.
Dr. Palomino: Life happens, triggers happen, that is what life is about, sometimes you have to eliminate people or situations that are toxic for you. You can’t always eliminate them, but when you are truly healed you can manage stress no matter what is going around you. You can stay balanced and focused.
LCSW Gonzalez: We use defense mechanisms subconsciously to cope with the stress in our lives, so for example, denial is like picking up the rug and sweeping your problems right under. And if we do that over and over again, pretty soon you have a lot under the rug and at one point you will need to pick up the rug and face the issues. We are going to have stressors throughout our lives, and we can regress to old habits and not succeed.
Dean Kiel: The main stressor that we face is the unknown, it is nothing like you’ve ever experienced. If you feel like you have a need to always be right and not make mistakes can be a very big challenge to overcome because we will always make mistakes. Balancing family, friends, school, community work, extra curricular activities and your health is the goal. Working to have some balance most of the time. there is no perfect balance, so you just keep trying to get there. It is important to identify and recognize diagnosed mental or physical conditions, acknowledging that if something is happening at these levels, you need to work with your medical partners.
LCSW Gonzalez: Counseling can be very helpful, finding the right help can guide you to identify the most common stressors and how to deal with them. What’s going on with your past family history, and your social supports? You may think you live it behind, but under a lot of stress it comes back, it is an obstacle for you to function well. I recommend support groups, even if you feel like there is no time, we have to make time. When you are not prioritizing yourself and you really need to do that. If at high risk, get a psych evaluation, refer to a physician. You need to work in teams, go to your support group, don’t hesitate to ask for help.
Dr. Palomino: Take into account the body, the mind and the soul. Used by behavioral clinics, your breathing is of utmost importance, it is tied to your body, your mind and your soul and it doesn’t cost anything. If you do nothing else but this, you will be at a much better place. Slow deep breaths, 6 counts, 10 times- your thoughts will calm down, your heart rate goes down, you will be able to think better and think more clearly, so take deep breaths.
Some other things your health professional can do is refer you to a specialist or prescribe medication. On your own you can meditate every day, practice yoga, do work on personal development, attend seminars, attend workshops, retreats. Tap into your peer group, friends, a support group, and your girlfriends. There is a lot out there but you have to reach out. Be willing to try anything, don’t give up.
Dean Kiel: Make time to yourself, be meaningful on how you cope. Your space needs to be peaceful, tangible reminders that help you calm down like pictures of loved ones and plants. You don’t have to take time away, but any time you look around as you are dealing with stressful situations, there is something to remind you that everything is going to be ok.
Dr. Palomino: The theme for 2018 for me and my husband was boundaries, especially as minority women we feel a lot of pressure to satisfy a lot of people it is very hard to say no, learn to say it powerfully, without any apologies and without regret. Learning how to say no is just the beginning of understanding boundaries and being in integrity with yourself, it is key for self-care. Saying no is like a muscle, you have to practice.
LCSW Gonzalez: With boundaries is important to use them with family too, sometimes you have to say no to your family. We have to establish boundaries for our well being.
What to do when we are paralyzed?
Dr. Palomino: You have to be with the fact that you are stressed, allow it to happen, be with it, and that is what gets you through it. The more you resist it, the more that it persists. Allowing yourself to be where you are, forgiving yourself for being where you are is natural. Don’t forget to breathe
Dean Kiel: In that moment of being frozen, go out, take a break, come back. You do have to experience it, but you can put yourself out of it. Walk out, come back and do whatever you have to do.
LCSW Gonzalez: Break it into smaller steps and do one step at a time.
Can you have stress without stressors?
LCSW Gonzalez: Yes, it could be biological, physical, or from your past- look under the rug. What have you not addressed? When you have to balance your work, your family, kids, your parents, your friends and your health it can be a lot. Identify the things that are causing you anxiety. Stop and breathe and identify when you get stuck, irritable, notice the signals that are saying something is wrong.
- Find a phrase that works for you. A mantra can be powerful.
- Remember: this too shall pass.
- Know that you are trying the best you can.
- Be kind to yourself. Be intentional about taking care of yourself consistently.
- Turn off your brain and breathe, the mind is a beautiful thing, but don’t let it beat you up or try to kill you.