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Episode 3: Managing Stress & Expectations 


 

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Show Notes

Welcome back Burn Pod listeners. Now today's episode is all about managing stress and expectations, particularly coming into the silly season. And on today's episode, we are really lucky to be joined by Allison Wells. She's the director and clinical psychologist at the Psyche Mental Health Centre, which is a Tasmanian-based mental health clinic that offers a high quality evidence-based psychological services to Tasmanians of all ages. So welcome, Allison.

Allison Wells:

Hello. Thank you for having me.

Hannah:

Thank you for being on. And our wonderful instructor Nina actually introduced us. So for those of you that comes to Nina's classes, you can give her a big high five for that one now. Now, so our listeners get to know you a little more. Tell me a little bit about yourself and your business. What got you started in this area, what your business is about, and if there's any passions you've got as well.

Allison Wells:

Okay. So I am a clinical psychologist. I've been working in the psychology field for probably about 15 years now in a variety of guises. So I'm actually not a Hobart girl, originally. I moved down here to go to uni. I had no idea what I wanted to do and then really fell into psychology and developed a huge love for it. And after leaving uni, I worked predominantly in the government sector. So I have in a previous life, worked at Risdon prison, and I've also worked for adult community mental health teams. And that was very rewarding. I'm very lucky to have those experiences because it really developed my interest in trauma and trauma intervention.

Allison Wells:

However, after so many years working for government, also, I have a family as well. I have two small children, so it got to the point where I decided that I was in need of being my own boss, a better way of putting it. I take direction from myself better than other people. A friend of mine, who's still based on the Eastern shore, I'll give a shout out to Sarah. We've been friends for quite a long time and she came to my house one day and said, "Hey, I'm thinking about starting up a private practice, would you be interested in renting a room from me?" And I said, "Give me six months. Absolutely. I'll sort myself out." And within a week she'd found a spot.

Allison Wells:

So it was like rodeo, better get my skates on. I threw myself into the deep end and started working between both the public and private sector and decided that I really had to make a decision. And I was really enjoying the private practice work. So I stayed there with her for a little bit. And then the opportunity came up to purchase a Hobart-based psychology practise towards the end of last year. So I made the decision along with my husband to do that. And it was absolutely crazy timing. Like, if I became a business coach, I would really recommend not buying a business during a pandemic.

Allison Wells:

I think the lockdowns all started around about the 22nd of March. And we took over ownership of the business on the third of April this year.

Hannah:

Perfect timing.

Allison Wells:

Absolutely perfect timing because I guess if you're not going to coach during a pandemic, when are you going to come? It was a very interesting time. It's been a very interesting seven months now. So we're based in Salamanca where we are in allied health centre. So we're not just psychologists here. We've got counsellors. We've also got a mental health OT, and there's a number of clinicians here who have a really interest in trauma, whether or not it be PTSD, single incident trauma, or more complex presentations of trauma.

Allison Wells:

So that's one of my loves that's hoping to develop the business to focus on that a bit more moving forward, but also at the end of the day, as I said, I'm also a mum, I love my kids to bits. So if I'm not here working, I'm generally at some sporting event or extracurricular activity. So when it comes to stress, I've got it in bucket lines.

Allison Wells:

So that's just a little bit about me. I really love working in private practise. So I am passionate though about developing a greater understanding of mental health. This idea that you go, you see a mental health worker for an hour and then you go back out into the world, I think is a tricky one. I'm very much about connecting with the community. It's not just what happens between these four walls for that hour. It's about how can we continue to promote our own mental health outside of those walls. How can we add a community level also be fostering good mental health?

Allison Wells:

We're really on collaborating with community-based services, whether or not it's in the world of fitness, other areas of health, junior sport, all of that thing. How can we help you to promote good mental health?

HANNAH:

Yeah. That seems pretty self-explanatory, but it's not really happening in this day and age just yet. Is it really? Mental health is becoming a big topic and particularly since the COVID pandemic, I think has become a lot more prevalent or a lot more talked about, that it is taking that taboo subject away and opening up the conversation in all facets of that.

Allison Wells:

Yeah, absolutely. And I think there has been some really good movements in this area in the past couple of years, and there's a really great Hobart-based organisations that are out there promoting mental health and suicide awareness and prevention and all of that thing. And I know those national days are really important too. Like, are you okay? And really getting the conversation going, but I want to keep the conversation going after those days. I want people to be skilled, equipped to know how to help themselves, how to help others and to be proactive rather than reactive.

Hannah:

Yeah, exactly. Well, on that topic, let's talk about some of the main reasons for stress and particularly whether you see if there's a relationship between expectations and stress, and I'm sure there is.

Allison Wells:

Absolutely.

Hannah:

Obviously COVID, as we've mentioned a couple of times already on this podcast has caused one of the biggest stresses and destroyed a lot of our routines in our lifestyles more than anything has recently, but in your experience, what do you see as some of the main causes of stress in our lifestyle?

Allison Wells:

Yeah, the expectations are one of those big things that contribute to stress and I've actually lost track of how many people I have heard in the last six, seven months saying, "I should be coping. I should be okay." And I keep wanting to say, There is a pandemic, people. There are no shortens about this. There is no expectations about how you should be coping at the moment. Expectations are a bit of a tricky one. So basically, we use expectations to predict the future and how we want things to go. And that's the expectations, give us a sense of control over a lot of uncertainty in our lives. And they can actually be really helpful.

Allison Wells:

So now, if we don't have any expectations or our expectations are too low, we tend to end up underachieving in life. We're not striving for things and we just become satisfied with the average. So having high expectations or maybe helpful expectations is a better way of thinking about it for ourselves can be really motivating and they can keep us on track to keep achieving in life or keep us task-focused and goal-oriented. But they become really unhelpful when they're out of touch with reality. So when we're expecting more than what is really stick in a given situation.

Allison Wells:

So there is that fine line. And as a society, I think we value high expectations of ourselves because, in workplaces, high performance is valued, sporting organisations, high performance is valued. So to think about it in that way, you can understand why we do develop these really high expectations for ourselves, but they really can create significant stress for us when they don't match up to reality.

Allison Wells:

So how should one be coping during a pandemic? There's no guidelines. There's absolutely no understanding of how someone should react. And just because the person next to you looks like they've got it all together, doesn't mean that you necessarily are going to. So then, when we're thinking about stress, we can think about stress in the same way, it is helpful stress and unhelpful stress. I know it probably sounds really weird to say that stress can be helpful and I don't think anyone ever in the history of anything has ever been heard to say, "I'm so glad I'm so stressed. I'm so glad I had that stress in my life. Stresses are awesome."

Hannah:

Children at first can up the ante, you spike a little bit with your motivation and the receptors in your brain. There's something that goes on there. Isn't that when you have a little bit of a heightened good stress, that it does actually allow you to work at a higher level.

Allison Wells:

Absolutely. Yeah. We actually do need some level of stress in our lives. Otherwise, we'd just be lying face down on the floor not doing anything. when we're talking about stress, we're talking about two things. We're referring to both psychological perception of pressure as well as how our body responds to it. So, if we didn't have a certain level of stress, we'd really feel very directionless and rudderless, for one of a better word. We just be caught adrift and quite unhappy.

Allison Wells:

So helpful stress is really stimulating. It keeps us motivated. It helps enhance attention, concentration, and all of those things. But I guess the thing we have to remember is there is no uniform right amount of stress. So everyone has their own different thresholds in terms of stress. So basically, when we're talking about expectations and stress, expectations can cause significant stress when they're not matching up with reality.

Hannah:

So, I guess to put it in super laymen terms, if your expectations are so high that it's not actually realistic, usually that results in a not good level of stress or a bad stress compared to, if you can have higher expectation and there may be a little bit of stress associated with but can potentially be a good stress to propel us to that goal along that journey.

Allison Wells:

Oh yeah, absolutely. And there is actually a chart that, I think it's the Yerkes-Dodson law, but don't quote me on that because I'm not very good at pronouncing things. I'm famous for making up words, but there is a diagram that there is a certain level of peak stress, which will then correlate with peak performance. But then, when we go down the other side and there's too much stress, then we do start to notice an impact on how we're behaving, how we are functioning with tasks and all of that stuff.

Allison Wells:

And I think the thing we need to think about with our expectations is we're looking out for words like should, and you'll hear me talk about should have, could have, would have, if you've spent more than five minutes with me. Should have, could have, would have is like if I should have done that or I should be able to do that or that really rigid thinking. So when there's that rigidity, there's not a lot of wiggle room. And so, if we should get all A's on our exams, then what happens when we get a B plus?

Hannah:

Yeah. And we say a lot of these high expectations or these unrealistic expectations when it comes to getting healthy or are getting fit or maybe losing a few extra kilos that you didn't want there. I think a lot of the time we expect to go from maybe slightly couch potato weeks to running or to exercise five times a week. And I should do this or I have to do this or I must do this to be able to be considered healthy or fit or to get to my goal weight which possibly is unreasonable anyway. And then as soon as someone doesn't meet that expectation and they don't quite get to their five sessions, maybe they only do three, which is way better than they did before, they throw in the towel and their motivation completely plummets and they're back to the couch.

Allison Wells:

Yeah. Absolutely, it's that all or nothing thinking. And also, a lot of comparison is going on with, well, if they can exercise five times a week, then I should be able to.

Hannah:

Yes. You may be able to, after a period of time of build up to that, if that's what you want to do, but take off the crazy expectations and be realistic, not only just because of what you can achieve right now and where your fitness level is right now, but also in relation to your busy life and your busy schedule as well.

Allison Wells:

Yeah, absolutely.

Hannah:

Awesome. I feel more pressure and probably more stress around Christmas time and the silly season. And I know it sounds really stupid and I know a lot of us have done this and a lot of my friends have talked about this, but it's like, I try desperately to catch up with everyone and to finish everything because apparently, according to me, my world ends on the 31st of December, it doesn't continue on. And I'm sure you've heard this before is when you probably feel that pressure. But do you know if there's a reason why this time of year can be more stressful than other times and why there's more expectations we place in ourselves?

Allison Wells:

Yeah. I'm a shocker for doing that as well. In fact, though my work year finishes on the 24th. So I have one week less than you before everything. It does come down to two things, all the competing demands that we have, all the stresses that we are juggling at this time of the year. So that really ups the antes up to there. But also, there is a degree of conditioning that does go on for a lot of us. And we're generally coming from a place of having this sense of duty. We feel like we need to make the Christmas period the best we can for ourselves and our families.

Allison Wells:

And if you think about it, that's really how Christmas is always portrayed. That it's about happy families getting together. Everyone's having a really lovely time. You look at all of those. I shouldn't say terrible, but Disney movies [crosstalk 00:16:47] but the midday movies that show, I'll be coming home for Christmas and all of that stuff.

Allison Wells:

And on top of that, the more recent phenomenon of social media, and I'm absolutely guilty of doing this. I'm sure many people are that promotion of perfection, letting people have a sneaker, there are a snapshot of your perfect life. So I'll share something from my family where we've gone on a lovely excursion for the day, or the kids have done well at school or something like that. And I've missed out the other 95% of my day, which involved tripping over toys and dirty undies being left on the floor. And when was the washing up supposed to have been done and why can't I find any of my clothes and all of that stuff.

Allison Wells:

We put out there what we want people to see, but then we forget when we're looking at other people's social media accounts that they're also doing the same.

Hannah:

It's that whole concept of like finishing the year with a bang as well that we put on ourselves. And we've got to remember also that social media is people's highlight reels.

Allison Wells:

Yeah, absolutely. We feel like something's missing or there's some deficit there if we don't go out on that bang. So yeah, Christmas, that conditioning process, that idea that it's supposed to be a Holly jolly time to quote Michael Bublé. [inaudible 00:18:28] is somewhere. So that's generally what's happening and those competing demands.

Allison Wells:

So you've touched on those really quickly. And I think the most common reasons for stress and expectations that we see at this time of the year, and we've got all these environmental stresses, like you were saying, all the social events, that expectation that we should be catching up with family. We should go to the work dinner, family is out there, the kids should be going to their end of year sporting functions, and all of that stuff, and all of the activities that we should be doing around Christmas. So the baking and all the crafting and all of that stuff.

Allison Wells:

And also, just other stresses like trying to get to the shops and organise presents and all of that stuff. So that's one area that can cause real stress. And then there's financial stresses and the expectations around getting gifts for absolutely everyone that's ever entered into your life ever. Just feeling this obligation to buy gifts from people that you may not have had very much to do with, or who probably don't even want a gift anyway. And that's on top of then, budgets, particularly around Christmas. People aren't always necessarily getting their usual wages.

Allison Wells:

So if you're working in hospitality or you're a casual staff, and you don't work over the Christmas period, then the impact of the expectations around gift-giving and all of that can have a real toll. And then we get to the relationship stresses as well, which is those expectations, feeling obliged to spend time with people you wouldn't know [crosstalk 00:20:22] you generally try to avoid, yeah. There's those expectations, it's Christmas, I should hang out with uncle such and such who holds a very different political view to myself and I haven't seen him for 364 days this year because it's Christmas I'm now obliged to.

Allison Wells:

And then, the other thing is, is that Christmas can actually be a really lonely time for some people. They can be a time of loss and grief and also regret. And there is such a big focus on spending time with family and friends that, if you have lost a loved one or say even families have separated and you're having to organise a visa to who goes where on Christmas day.

Allison Wells:

It can be a little guilt and things associated with that too that, it shouldn't be like these and what impact am I having on the kids and all of that stuff. So that's why we tend to see more stress at Christmas time. We've got all of those stresses and the expectations that are behind a lot of those.

Hannah:

So we look at some of the common causes of stress and expectations around Christmas, but, in general as well, what are some simple ways that we can help to manage stress and expectations?

Allison Wells:

So we'll speak probably a bit more specifically to Christmas time because there is, and I know I guess talked about a lot, but coming back to health, trying to keep up exercise and movement, trying not to overindulge, trying to still eat relatively well, it's not easy, but trying to avoid overindulging. If you're anything like me, chocolate always gets me at Christmas time. Apparently, chocolate doesn't have calories at Christmas time, so I tell myself. So you have to try to be as disciplined as you can, try and keep up your exercise or [inaudible 00:22:42] eat well, try and drink water, and try to stay away from the alcohol as much as possible because that just doesn't help anything.

Allison Wells:

So there's that side of things so we can really exert control over that, those can come down to choices that we make. In terms of managing expectations, first of all, we need to be aware of what our expectations are. So we really need to stop and think, what is it that I'm expecting of this situation? And then we need to tap into, how really sick is that. There is a lot of self-checking that goes with that. And if it is apparent that it's not realistic, we need to modify these as much as we can. So giving ourselves a little bit of wiggle room.

Allison Wells:

So maybe, and I was just, sorry, thinking back to your example of I should go to the gym five days a week, or maybe just get, well, what is really stick? I've got this function here, I've got this function here, the kids might need to be here. So it's probably going to be more really stick that I try for three times this week. And even then, if I don't get there three times, it's not the worst thing in the world. So just making sure that everything lines up and we also have to be really mindful of the expectations that we hold for ourselves. They don't always translate to others.

Allison Wells:

So it's not always a bad thing to have high expectations of others, but at the end of the day, we can't actually control the thoughts, feelings, and behaviours of others. So it's probably best just to really stick to what our own expectations are because when we hold high expectations for others that are really rigid and whatnot, then we tend to end up feeling frustrated and resentful and disappointed, which all seem to be emotions that like to rear their head at Christmas time.

Allison Wells:

So coming back to what our own expectations are for ourselves, and then moving, other than that, around time management and things like that, we just want to prioritise and plan, what is important? What do I really strictly have to do at this time? And this is a really hard one, what can I say no to?

Allison Wells:

Is it important that I go to the work or can I not bother going today? is it something that I actually really want to do or am I feeling like I'm going out of obligation? And so, if any of my staff are listening, that they want to actually go into our work. So it's not obligation in our case. Yeah. So that side of things, prioritising planning, and it's sometimes, like I said, it can be really hard to say no. So sometimes we actually just have to practise Rehearsing saying no, thinking up a scenario, what is it that I need to say no to? And how can I do that in a way that is assertive and it's not going to upset people, but also, can I practise on somebody else? Running these things by a close friend or a confidant that we know we can trust can be really helpful.

Hannah:

It’s self-care and self-love as well. Isn't it?

Allison Wells:

Absolutely. We're very good at putting our own needs behind everybody else's needs. We're very good at putting other people first.

Hannah:

I'm worrying about what people think more than really what they actually are going to care about. And I'm a sucker for this one as well. I don't want to let that person down and I build it up to be much bigger than it really is. Whereas, if I was just truthful or if that person just said to me, "Look, I'm just feeling really run off my feet." I just need to say no to this one. I'll catch at a different time. I'd be like, "Oh, that's fine." It's always like, yeah, I'm coming back to that expectation or that pressure, take the pressure off yourself a little bit, but also put yourself in someone else's shoes and if they said no to you, would you be really upset? Probably not.

Allison Wells:

Yeah, absolutely. I like to call that the best friend test. So if your best friend came to you and said, "Look, I'm feeling all of these things. I'm really tired, I'm really run down. I need to have a bit of a break." What would you say to them? You'd say it's okay.

Allison Wells:

It's all good. We'll catch up in all the time, but we're never that kind and compassionate to ourselves. And that [crosstalk 00:27:20] It is something you have to work on.

Allison Wells:

And the other thing to remember is if we're spending all of our time worrying what other people are thinking about us then chances are, they're worrying about what everybody else is thinking about them.

Allison Wells:

So, yeah. Look, it's not easy to say no, but where possible, really try to listening to what your needs are, recognise what your needs are, and be compassionate that it's not the worst thing in the world if you don't go. In fact, if you've got family or you've got deadlines to meet, it's probably in the best interests of everybody else, if you're recharging yourself now.

Hannah:

Exactly.

Allison Wells:

So I don't think I've ever seen anyone get to the end of Christmas and turn around and say, "You know what, thanks for running yourself ragged and cranky until our Christmas is fabulous. And we also tend to suffer in silence. So the people don't know, they don't know how tired and stretched you are unless you actually say. And the other one is delegate. We don't have to do all of these all on our own.

Allison Wells:

Okay. There are plenty of very competent people in our lives. They can help us out. That's also probably a difficult one to sometimes swallow as well because as well as saying, no, we don't often like to ask for help, but there's nothing wrong with delegating. And again, it's about expectations. So maybe, for example, my husband's not going to mesh the potatoes as I would like them, but that's okay because it's been 20 minutes of my life, I haven't had to stress about potatoes. So again, letting go of those expectations.

Hannah:

Kids aren't going to notice the difference.

Allison Wells:

Oh, mine did the other day, but that's so [crosstalk 00:29:26]. I was very appreciative of all of the effort that he went to, [crosstalk 00:29:33] but probably more astound, what is he doing? But yeah. Letting go of their expectations. So it doesn't have to be perfect. It's better to delegate and not be a hundred percent perfect than to run yourself ragged.

Allison Wells:

Trying to be in control of everything. And then I guess the other one probably around the relationship stresses is when we are focusing on saying no and putting our needs first. But if it's not a situation where you feel that you can say no, having some good boundaries in place. So if you have to go to that family function and you know that it's going to end up in fighting and angst and all of those things. Because let's be honest, if you're in say a family or a social network where there is fighting and angst during the year, then it's unrealistic to expect that's going to go away at Christmas time.

Allison Wells:

So, having good boundaries, like if you have to go, set a time limit that you're going to stay, trying to avoid alcohol again, realising that everybody is under pressure, but being prepared. Obviously, things like politics and all of that can be a real stressors and cause a lot of arguments. So even going prepared with a mental list of neutral topics and knowing who to talk to and who does make that superficial conversation with, that's also a good one to do as well.

Allison Wells:

So those are probably a bit more Christmas specific, but you can translate a lot of those into real life anyway.

Hannah:

Exactly. And how do listeners get in contact with you?

Allison Wells:

Okay. So as I said, we're based in Salamanca, so you can always pop in, Galleria Salamanca, come up to level three, suite 16. Our email is [email protected], which is P-S-Y-C-H-E mentalhealthcenter. So it's all one word, psychementalhealthcenter.com.au. And our phone number is 62232122. I had to remember that, but you can also look us up on Facebook and also on Instagram.

Allison Wells:

I run personal business accounts, if that makes sense. So you may find Psyche Mental Health Centre has its own Facebook page, but you can also lookup Allison Wells clinical psychologist. I have those pages because I guess one of the things that's really important to me in amongst all of this, I've talked a bit about community and collaboration, but authenticity is also really important.

Allison Wells:

So websites are great and Facebook pages are great, but I want to take that clinical feel out of mental health. There's a lot about my work that comes from a place of authenticity. So I want to convey that to the world out there. So if you just find me randomly, Allison Wells clinical psychologist, you'll find all of the crazy, amusing, and things that make me laugh that I celebrate in life on those pages too because at the end of the day we may be mental health clinicians, but we're also people.

Allison Wells:

And that's one thing that I think we bring to this space here is a sense of familiarity and people feel comfortable because there's no bills and resource. We are who we are, yes, we've got the training in mental health, but our clients are the experts in their own lives. So we're not going to be intimidating and scary, just come on in even if you just want to have a chat and have a look at what a psychology practise looks like on the inside, feel free to drop by.

Hannah:

Well, thank you so much for joining us on the Burn Pod, Allison, it was incredibly insightful. I learnt an absolute heap. I really hope we can get you back on to dig into some other important mental health and mindset topics down the track. So thank you so much for your time.

Allison Wells:

Thank you. And I'd love to, yes, anytime back to get the word about mental health out there.

Hannah:

And remember guys, if you or anyone close to you are struggling with mental health or just needing someone to talk to reach out to a friend, reach out to a family member, or seek help from your local GP or a medical health professional.

Hannah:

We're going to wrap up for today's episode and I'll catch you on the next episode. Guys, have a wonderful rest of your week.

Speaker 1:

Thank you for listening to the Burn Pod, real-life tips for helping real-world women like you live healthier, happier, and thrive from the inside out. If you'd like to learn more about our incredible fitness and health culture, head to burntheory.com.au, where you can join a class, sign up to one of our online programmes, and find out more. If you felt like this was the breath of fresh air you needed, share this podcast with another real-world woman and leave us a five-star review. Until next time, go get your thrive on.

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