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Coping with stress is a challenge in the best of times. Licensed counselor Samantha Steinmacher knows these are not the best of times, but she has some excellent ideas to share. (Photo courtesy of Samantha Steinmacher )
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Samantha Steinmacher knows stress. In fact, stress is her business and with all the complications of COVID-19, stress has not been in short supply. Samantha, who is a licensed counselor, has a private practice in Essex; she also works with Old Saybrook Youth & Family Services.
How are people coping with the unusual challenges the current situation presents: working from home, schooling from home, doing everything from home?
“We have lots of systems to meet challenges; socializing, meeting friends, our jobs,” Samantha says.
But she points out that in the present situation, many of them are not available.
“Now we are removed from many of those strategies. Anybody can find it challenging,” she says. “Even for people who enjoy being alone, this can be too much.”
She adds that this can be an especially trying time for teens, a time of life replete with challenges without the added pressure of COVID-19.
“There are no jobs, no internships; those are the kinds of challenges that help people grow,” Samantha says.
Still, the effects do not necessarily have to be adverse.
“The impact [for teens] doesn’t need to be negative, but we just don’t know,” she says.
Not all is gloomy. Samantha says she has seen positive effects as well. There is more time for self-reflection, and the opportunity to rebalance family and career.
There are ways, moreover, to combat the pandemic pessimism, and Samantha emphasizes they are easy and available.
“Get outside,” she says. “Take a walk.”
And she suggests consciously focusing on eating healthy food rather than eating out of boredom. She also suggests a break from watching the constant drone of disturbing news on television.
“Keep positive; be healthy,” she says.
She adds that it is important to be realistic and keep a balance—don’t make your expectations too high.
“You don’t need to make homemade bread—unless you want to,” she says. “Think balance; think about doing enough, but not having your expectations unreasonably high.”
She has some advice that is good anytime: laugh.
“Be able to laugh; have fun. That’s an important kind of resilience,” she says.
Samantha thinks the techniques of meditation and mindfulness, which she teaches, can be helpful in keeping a perspective and emotional balance. Mindfulness, she explains, is a sense of being connected, of focusing on what a person wishes to focus on rather than letting one’s mind roam over increasingly unpleasant scenarios. That roaming is what Samantha calls “monkey mind,” racing from subject to subject, idea to idea, like a monkey swinging from branch to branch on a tree.
“Monkey mind,” she says “is like a runaway train and it never goes anywhere pleasant.”
There are techniques, Samantha points out, to calm monkey mind and refocus on the present. Practicing the techniques helps.
“The more you practice, the better you can manage. It’s like a muscle. The more you practice, the stronger it gets,” she says.
One refocusing technique is what Samantha calls rainbow walk. The idea is to think about each of the colors of the rainbow and look around and try to find each color in sequence.
“While you’re doing it, you can’t think of stressful things. It can refocus your attention in a moment of panic,” she says.
Focusing on an individual color also can work, she points out; look for 10 red things, then focus on finding the same number in another color.
Samantha herself uses her refocusing techniques throughout the day. She says small amounts of mindfulness refocusing can have a greater impact than a longer session.
Samantha, who grew up in New Jersey, didn’t start out to be a counselor. She dreamed of a career in theater. She had not only studied acting but also had classical voice training. When she graduated as a theater major from the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University, however, she discovered that there were many aspects of theater that she wasn’t enthusiastic about.
“I loved acting, but I didn’t like what came with the career. I didn’t like the business of it,” she recalls.
What’s more she had a young son, making a theater career even more difficult.
Samantha says what she found absorbing about acting was an interest in people that she could readily transfer.
“I find human beings fascinating,” she says.
She went to Seton Hall University in New Jersey for a Master’s Degree to qualify as a licensed professional counselor.
Living in the small towns along the shoreline means that Samantha sometimes sees clients in other situations than consultation, but, as professional ethics demand, she observes strict confidentiality. She doesn’t greet them unless they chose to say “Hello.” Only then will she say “Hello” back.
At the moment, Samantha says it is important for people to recognize the strengths they have and emphasize what is working well for them.
“Give yourself a break; nobody is perfect,” she says.
Samantha Steinmacher will lead an online series in mindfulness through Old Saybrook Youth & Family Services starting on Thursday, July 30. See “Stress Management Via Zoom” on page 8 or visit osyfs.org for details.
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