Take care of your mental health. Feeling down and stressed may affect your motivation and connection to your partner, as well as how patient and attentive you are toward your partner. To eliminate stress from your relationship, you first need to manage your stress by talking with a therapist, practicing mindfulness, and building a support system.
With all that’s going on in our country, our economy, the world, and on social media, it feels like so many of us are under a great deal of stress. Relationships, in particular, can be stress-inducing. We know chronic stress can be as unhealthy as smoking a quarter of a pack a day. What are stress management strategies that people use to become “Stress-Proof? What are some great tweaks, hacks, and tips that help reduce or even eliminate stress? In this interview series, we are talking to authors, and mental health experts, who can share their strategies for reducing or eliminating stress. As a part of this series, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Parisa Ghanbari of Parisa Counselling.
Parisa Ghanbari is a BIPOC registered psychotherapist in Ontario and the clinical director at Parisa Counselling. As a relationship therapist, Parisa provides psychotherapy services to women of colour who want to improve their relationships and self-esteem. Learn more about Parisa and her services at https://parisacounselling.com
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to know how you got from “there to here.” Inspire us with your backstory!
I immigrated to Canada from Iran at the age of 14. Integrating into a new culture was challenging because I had to adopt new values and norms and go through a shift in my cultural and individual identity. In addition, feeling caught between two cultures, I had to overcome considerable self-doubt when making important life decisions and navigating relationships. Luckily I met a therapist who helped me work through these challenges and become more confident and in tune with myself.
Nowadays, I am happy that in my clinical practice, I can do the same for my clients who come from South Asian, Middle Eastern, and East Asian backgrounds.
Given my experience as an immigrant in Canada, I bring a deeper cultural understanding to my sessions when working with clients. As a result, I now predominantly support women who want to become more confident, have better relationships, and work with a therapist who understands their culture.
What lessons would you share with yourself if you had the opportunity to meet your younger self?
I would comfort my younger self by telling her there is a purpose behind the challenges you are going through. The challenges prepare you for what’s next, helping you grow in empathy, relationships and self-trust. Don’t worry; you’ll be able to use these experiences later to serve people who want to overcome similar challenges.
None of us are able to experience success without support along the way. Is there a particular person for whom you are grateful because of the support they gave you to grow you from “there to here?” Can you share that story and why you are grateful for them?
Going into the world and making personal life and business decisions without guarantees of success can be stressful. After working for three years as a therapist in a community setting, I was ready to start my remote clinical practice. I wanted to serve a clientele that I felt passionate about helping but also be able to travel and learn about other cultures. At the time, I had no mentor or colleagues who echoed this line of thinking, so I felt alone and worried about taking action.
What helped me push through, though, was having my family’s support. A secure base is critical when we want to take a risk and leave our comfort zone. My parents were that secure base in my early twenties, allowing me to take risks and action even when I was scared of the outcome.
Also, some households often have a lot of self-criticism toward youth. Growing up in a family with minimal criticism allowed me to accept the setbacks I experienced in establishing my practice and not be self-critical when something didn’t work out. I’m grateful because I have learned to take a more self-compassionate stance, which will help me stay resilient in the ups and downs ahead.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think it might help people?
I’m working on creating an online course to help people overcome emotional distress and overwhelm without therapy. To work through emotional difficulty, we need to have practical emotion-regulation skills. This course will help people feel more confident in handling their emotions and learn how to work through emotional challenges independently.
Ok, thank you for sharing your inspired life. Let’s now talk about stress. How would you define stress?
Stress is our nervous system’s response to feeling overwhelmed in response to day-to-day events. When we are in our “Window of Tolerance” (Ogden et al. (2006); Siegel, 1999), we can respond to day-to-day events without getting flustered. The Window of Tolerance refers to the space within which our nervous system feels calm and grounded. When we are within our window of tolerance, we can emotionally manage situations without getting anxious and overwhelmed.
When we are outside our window of tolerance, our nervous system responds by going into hyper-arousal, and we start feeling overwhelmed and stressed.
So stress is more about how our nervous system responds to life situations. Some people can tolerate much more distress than others. As a result, they reportedly have higher distress tolerance levels. The good news is we can all learn emotion-regulation strategies that help us increase our distress tolerance levels and offset stressors.
In the Western world, humans typically have their shelter, food, and survival needs met. So what has led to this chronic stress? Why are so many of us always stressed out?
Stress can have many sources. Even though the conditions of our lives may be going well, how we perceive our life and our expectations of ourselves determine how much stress we feel.
Many high-functioning individuals, such as lawyers and CEOs of big companies, are financially well off and yet feel overwhelmingly stressed. An example would be Elon Musk, who has admitted to feeling overwhelmed, stressed and overworked, sometimes even sleeping at work. Yet, I’m sure someone like him is meeting all his basic needs.
In my clinical practice, clients who are high achievers often experience the most stress because they have incredibly high expectations and standards regarding their personal goals. In addition, they expect much from themselves regarding working performance and being a good partner or parent.
Similarly, most of us work hard to achieve our personal goals and start to feel stressed if we sense a gap between where we are and where we would like to be. As we work hard to avoid failure, we experience significant pressure. The mental strain that stems from our standards and values causes us to be constantly in a chronic state of stress.
What are some of the physical manifestations of being under a lot of stress? How does the human body react to stress?
When our body and nervous system are hyperaroused, we experience different physical symptoms. Sometimes the stress feels like a big knot and tension in our chest. Other symptoms may include:
- Heart palpitations.
- Body aches and pain.
- Clenched jaws and feasts.
- Leg tremors.
- Shakiness and pins and needles in arms and legs.
When the stress is too high, we may also experience panic symptoms and even numbing of body parts. In addition, experiencing psychosomatic symptoms such as upset stomach and skin conditions is expected. The more we become aware of our physical sensations and develop body mindfulness, the more effectively we can regulate our stress.
Is stress necessarily a bad thing? Can stress ever be good for us?
It’s common to believe that a little bit of stress can help motivate us to push through. However, after years of clinical practice, I think it’s a mistake to think this way. There’s no reason why we should put our nervous system under pressure to get extra motivation. I don’t think there’s any benefit from our nervous system being in hyperarousal, and there’s no need for it. We can still feel motivated and go about achieving our goals in a mindful rather than rushed, stressed way.
Is there a difference between being in a short-term stressful situation versus an ongoing stress? Are there long-term ramifications to living in a constant state of stress?
In a short-term stressful situation, our body and nervous system have more resources to bounce back from the stress. So it’s often easier to recover from situational versus prolonged stress. However, prolonged stress depletes our inner resources over time. So the longer we stay stressed, the harder it will be to recover. This will gradually negatively affect our functioning in work, personal, and love lives.
There are several long-term ramifications to living in a constant state of stress. First, individuals who have experienced anxiety for an extended time can start to experience symptoms of trauma and PTSD. Long after the sources of stress are gone, they can still feel waves of anxiety that seem to come out of nowhere. Finally, the physical symptoms of anxiety, such as tingling and numbing, may stay long after the source of stress is eliminated. To avoid this, as soon as you start noticing things are not feeling right, you should slow down, take a step back, and prioritize taking care of yourself.
Let’s now focus more on the stress of relationships. This feels intuitive, but it is helpful to spell it out in order to address it. Can you help articulate why relationships can be so stressful?
Healthy relationships are not stressful. People in healthy relationships don’t experience significant stress. If they do, it’s temporary and situational, and they can bounce back.
When relationships are unhealthy, partners may experience stress for long periods, from weeks to months and sometimes even years. The sources of stress in relationships vary.
The most common reason couples experience stress is when they have frequent arguments that they cannot resolve. Not feeling heard and understood by a partner can make us feel lonely, unimportant and hopeless. Not being able to get our emotional needs met and feeling invalided and dismissed by our partner can also lead to significant stress.
When attempts at communication fail, anger, contempt, and resentment build up. These unpleasant emotions make our nervous system hyperaroused and overwhelm us. Unfortunately, distressed couples can not eliminate and find a proper outlet for these unpleasant feelings. Instead, they feel stressed and frustrated when their efforts at communication and re-connection fail.
When one partner feels stressed due to outside pressures such as work, this can also increase relationship stress. This type of stress happens because the stressed partner fails to respond and attend to their partner’s needs effectively.
Can you help spell out some of the problems that come with the stress caused by relationships?
Relationship stress can negatively affect our work performance and social life, as well as our physical health and mental health. Due to low concentration, we may experience reduced functioning when we go through relationship stress. We may even start to experience symptoms of depression and become socially withdrawn. In addition, as parents, we may find that we are not as patient with our children. Instead, we may lash out and quickly get frustrated with them since we are emotionally dysregulated.
In terms of physical health, we may experience panic symptoms and difficulty sleeping. Other psychosomatic symptoms include stress-induced skin rashes, tingling and numbing of different body parts.
Here is the main question of our interview: Can you share with our readers your “5 stress management strategies that you can use to eliminate stress from your relationships?” Please share a story or example for each.
1. Take care of your mental health. Feeling down and stressed may affect your motivation and connection to your partner, as well as how patient and attentive you are toward your partner. To eliminate stress from your relationship, you first need to manage your stress by talking with a therapist, practicing mindfulness, and building a support system.
It’s a mistake to think our relationships will thrive and maintain themselves if we don’t work to preserve our mental health. Likewise, we should never take our relationship for granted, expecting our partner to tolerate our mood and inattentiveness.
2. Make time to connect. Be intentional about setting time aside to connect with your partner emotionally. You are adding to your emotional savings as a couple by making time for each other. Try to focus on hearing what’s been going on with your partner and checking in with them. You can invite your partner to share more by asking simple questions like “Just want to check in to see how you are doing?”. Don’t discuss tense subjects during this time. Over time this will help you have fewer arguments and repair faster because you have invested in building a stronger bond over time.
3. Recognize when conflict resolution is not working. Recognize the signs that tell you, you and your partner are not resolving a conflict effectively. Especially notice when you get angry and defensive. When we are angry, we don’t hear our partner. Instead, we may start criticizing and attacking our partner, causing more stress in the relationship. That’s when it’s time to take a time-out to de-escalate and revisit the issue later.
4. Don’t be afraid to have uncomfortable conversations with your partner. Some couples go out of their way to avoid confrontations and awkward conversations. However, when we do not express what’s bothering us nor allow our partner to express themselves, that leads to more stress, internalized anger and resentment. Instead, express your unmet relational needs in a non-blaming manner. Direct communication prevents relationship problems from becoming bigger in future.
5. Empathize with your partner. We all deserve to have our realistic relational needs met by our partners. However, we also need to regularly take a step back and look at things from our partner’s point of view. Put ourselves in their shoes to understand how they are experiencing us and the relationship. Being overly focused on our own needs can sometimes add to relationship stress. Instead, empathizing with our partner can help us reframe our relationship problems and how we view our partner, thus creating more connection.
Do you have any favorite books, podcasts, or resources that have inspired you to live with more joy in life?
A few online applications help me practice emotion self-regulation and self-compassion daily. “Tapping solutions” is an application that enables you to start your day calmly using simple, practical exercises. Also, books and videos by Eckart Tolle give me the perspective I need to stop overthinking. The website Self-compassion.org is also an excellent resource for those who want to practice self-compassion using simple exercises.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I want to start a movement raising awareness about improving emotional intelligence. Our emotions act as an internal compass that guides us in the right direction. However, as a society, we undervalue our emotions. Most people usually don’t know how to deal with their emotions, so they avoid them. We must improve how we relate to our emotions and thus enhance our emotional intelligence.
Not being in touch with our feelings robs us of the wealth of information our emotions provide us. This information can help us in making decisions and navigating relationships. We can improve professionally and personally by learning to attend to and listen to our feelings effectively.
What is the best way for our readers to continue to follow your work online?
I regularly write on my blog, so the best place to follow me would be through my website!
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent on this. We wish you only continued success.