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Relieving Stress in Life- Interview with Dr. Ilene Cohen

Life is never easy; there are always problems and stressors that constantly appear in our lives in a daily rate. We all have ways to solve such difficulties, some may be good and others may be ineffective. Dr. Ilene Cohen specializes in counseling others making their lives meaningful through alleviating stress through effective methods. She offers significant lessons and messages through her blog and articles, making sure that those who wishes to lead a good life can do so.

*Please note that this interview was quite extensive so some of what Dr. Cohen has told me during the interview may be compressed*

What interested you in the field of stress psychology/counseling?

I really enjoyed studying about the mind and human behavior, what makes people do what they do. I always write up on it and once I started going to school for it, I became more engaged. So seeing that I enjoyed that, I studied it more and then when it comes to stress and anxiety, I saw how important it is and for our culture and people when it comes to suffering with being anxious and stressed in daily life. I really got interested in it more and the more I wrote about it, the more feedback I got from people and I studied it further.

A lot of your tips to handling stress involves knowing who you are and what you can do with your life. What are some of the limitations/challenges do you see during your career and/or with people who have little to no resources to cope?

One thing is that we live in a culture where life is quick and has fast-bandaid solutions, which makes sense if people feel stressed and they want to alleviate it quickly. However, that is not necessarily helpful to the situation. So when coming in contact with people, they’re already under medication from whatever they’re suffering from or they’re seeking out medication or techniques/quick ways to alleviate their problems. When working with people, I take a different approach and I like to go into what could be done with them, to talk about their family origin since their anxiety and stress are passed down generation to generation. The way we deal with stress comes from how we see our family deal with similar problems. So I kind of go into things that people rarely think about before they seek a therapist, but when we unravel those things, it makes more sense to them.

Much of your article offers the advice of acknowledging your anxiety/emotions stemming from problems you face. Why do you think people focus on trying to fix their anxiety rather than the problem itself?

I don’t think that people are necessarily doing that on purpose. They may not realize that there are other things going on when going through anxiety. There is anxiety where its acute, where people may know that there is a stressor and there is a solution (like getting a flat tire and replacing), so it helps us survive. However, with chronic stressors and/or panic attacks, its very uncomfortable for people and people want an immediate fix for that. Some of our solutions/fixes can be unfortunately bad and ineffective and, in turn, contribute to the chronic anxiety. Since we live in a culture where most doctors and healthcare practitioners try and heal the symptom rather than the problem, which solidifies the idea that anxiety is the problem rather than a sign.

They might not understand that they may feel anxious that there is an underlying problem, something that is not right in front of them. This contributes to the belief that the anxiety is a problem in its own self. If people took a step back and assessed that their body is responding to a threat and avoiding those avoidance behaviors/coping, they are able to understand what is really going on. Then those changes will take place, but you do need that awareness piece and you need to know that anxiety isn’t just the issue.

Another thing that I think is that people are busy! They don’t have the time to figure it all out. They can’t find what’s making them anxious and what they can do to fix it now. We have jobs, families, and bills and we don’t have the time or think that it is helpful to truly solve their problems. They just do what they can do to keep their minds off of what is going on with them.

You say that being sad is normal, to allow pain to enter your life. What are the importance of having meaningful times of negativity?

We live in a pop culture of happiness, which is great. But if you are just being happy for the sake of avoiding things that are happening in your life, that when it becomes an issue. You’re not dealing with the sadness and emotions that comes with the process taking place. It’s more about accepting, for example accepting a harsh breakup is difficult and takes time to heal. Once again, we live in a culture where we buffer it out by being positive (“it didn’t work out for a reason, be positive!”) rather than processing what went wrong in the relationship and how you can consider what happened there. If we just jump back to being positive, it may not seem genuine in suppressing an actual reaction. It’s not necessary that I want people to feel bad or upset, but to accept the natural reactions to the stressors, try and get through it, understand what happens. Once you’ve done that, you can say that you’re ready and think what is out there for me.

With college students finding their calling in life and values, what are the important factors that are crucial to the values that truly matter to us?

That’s a good question. It’s going to be hard, it’s going to be a balancing act. Something that is important to know about your values is building a strong sense of self. Really knowing who you are and what you want and you do this with each experience you face. For college students, you’re still young and you feel like you need to know the answers [to what you want to do in your life/career/major]. When you’re so anxious from making big decisions, people can go with the flow, do what their peers are doing, follow the fad, because in the moment you are reducing your anxiety about answering in such big questions. You really don’t need to have the answers now or what fits for you. You may not know until you make a mistake, you follow a path you may end up regretting and you change such decisions. Just think of the difference of feeling and thinking and what you want in terms of your future/long-term goals compared to what you are doing now that fits with said goals and values. The decisions you make in college: your friends, majors, classes, fraternities, etc. will help you decide to make your values.

There are other factors that comes into our values, our families, our religions, etc. It’s ok to question those values and to take a second look at those if they fit you or not. As we grow to think more, you can look into that and if it works for you on who you are and what you want to be in the future.

Where do you think social support fits in making life stress-free? Do you think that unconditional love can foster self-acceptance, happiness, and high quality of life?

It’s less of a challenge to love yourself if you are surrounded by people who accept you of who you are. You can still love yourself and be with people who disapprove of you, although I don’t want you to be surrounded by people who do not appreciate who you are. You may have a family member who is critical of your life, but you find strength in that depending on how you look at it, especially if it helps you develop a sense of self-love. You don’t take their criticisms very personally and those criticisms could be more about themselves. People are seeing you through their own perspectives and possibly involving their own personal problems. Self-love is having the freedom of being with people who may not be happy with you entirely, but still having the ability to love yourself.

Although you are a psychologist that specializes in stress, do you ever fall in pitfalls caused by your own stress and anxiety?

Of course, I’d be lying if I didn’t. Anxiety is always existent in our lives. As a psychologist, its important for us to perform the techniques that I would provide to my clients. Something that I like to do is that I try to be more objective to the situation and pay attention to the processes that is going on. I take a moment to be aware of my bodily process and natural reactions, such as my shoulders being tense when I’m anxious, rather than necessarily fixing it. It brings more thinking to the emotional process.

I would say that I have an easier time alleviating my anxiety, not only in having the knowledge of how to, but the ability to apply these techniques. Some clients come in and would surprise me if they are able to solve these problems easier than I did , but they may had a better starting point.

What are some of the stress intervention strategies do you think have potency in the future?

Meditation is big, which makes sense. What we have to understand is that some techniques may not be solutions to our problems. Meditation is useful for managing our emotions and acute stress. When it comes to chronic anxiety, it could be just another avoidance technique. You have to beaware that meditation is very useful if it helps you have clear head on what is going on and how to respond. But my fear is that there could be new things that are more of a quick fix, only managing the anxiety for a moment and makes you feel better just for a second (like taking drugs, be it xanax or something else). You have to be very careful with what you choose, see if it serves your purpose and helps diffuse a problem.

Another thing that I’ve seen is that people jump from relationship to relationship. People don’t feel secure when they’re not happy with somebody.

For the last question, are there any messages you would want to offer to the readers?

I’d say, anything with your life and the situations you face, move towards managing your anxiety rather than solving it immediately. Learn to manage yourself in certain situations and to remain present in those situations versus trying to get rid of your anxiety.

 

As someone who is very passionate about the topic of stress psychology, I always look forward on finding ways that I can help make my life easier by dealing with my problems more effectively. With the help of Dr. Cohen, I am sure I am able to.

If you’d like to know more about how to live a stress-free life, feel free to visit Dr. Cohen’s website where you can find her articles detailing what you can do to make better of your life.

15 Comments

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  1. I completely agree that anxiety in most cases should be treated as a symptom and that the patient should try to fix the underlying cause rather than the symptom. However, that would depend on the case and the biopsychology of the illness. Sometimes, it is a symptom and other times it might be a psychopathology.
    You mentioned people being too busy to think about where their anxiety comes from. Do you think being busy or overworked is related to anxiety?

    • Absolutely, work stress is very important to know about. There are jobs that are potentially dangerous careers (construction workers, soldiers, policemen, etc.) that can easily engender stress on a daily basis. Even the Japanese created a term for being overworked to death: Karōshi.

  2. I find this article very comforting. The past few days I think my anxiety was up. I even took an anxiety test online to know how anxious am I. I started to feel this loads of stress during college. I didn’t even know such thing exist. I only knew about being sad, but being sad to the point where it just takes up your mind whatever distraction you make… it’s driving me insane!! But little did I know that the stressed I’d encounter post-college is time three than during college days. I agree with Dr. Cohen said about people dealing with the anxiety being the main problem rather than the problem itself, and knowing yourself. After reading the interview I’ve become much aware of how I deal with my anxiety. Sometimes, The first thing i do is try to let it go and distract myself with other things. But if it still doesn’t help, i just let myself be sad and cry it out. Once my professor in psychiatry class told us, that if you are sad, then listen to sad songs. Because sometimes we have a tendency to listen to happy songs as a defense mechanism. Accept the emotion your mind is giving you. When people tell you not to be sad, we all know it’s easier said than done but truly, there’s no other way out than to acknowledge your emotions. And know that nothing’s permanent. All of these emotions are temporary. That something good will happen.

  3. Focusing on the root of the problem is something that’s not brought up very often. Dr. Cohen is right- most solutions presented are temporary. I’ve never heard of meditation not helping to alleviate long-term anxiety before, and would like to look into that some more.

  4. As a college student, suffering from depression, and a psychology major, this article resonated with me. Being that I already went to school for one thing and now have switched career paths I am always anxious of getting my life together because I feel like I am not where my peers are. Most of the people that I went to high school with are now in graduate programs or graduating from them. Whereas I have an associates in culinary arts and will only be graduating with a bachelors in psychology this spring 2018. I’ve been suffering from depression and anxiety for quite some time now. Choosing a career in the food industry I thought would bring me out of my shell. While I have made major improvements I still feel as if I chose a career that is the opposite of my personality. I always held a strong interest in psychology, but felt like I wasn’t “strong” enough to pursue a career in it. Even now when I have my periods of sadness I still think “how will I be able to help anyone when I can’t always help myself”. But I have learned that it is a process and that the drive and motivation I feel from wanting to help people who feel like I do: that is my strength.

    Thanks for the motivating article! The questions were great and gave me answers that will keep me going.

  5. An immediate red flag was the low quality of your header graphic. You should NEVER use a low-quality image, especially as the dominant element in the article. I would have included citations and references to studies by Dr. Cohen. However, I enjoyed how in depth the conversation between you two became and the different insights and perspectives you provided.

  6. The article does an excellent job of discussing not only how to relieve stress, but also how to get to the root of what is causing that stress in the first place, as well as how to deal with these stressors. Dr. Cohen’s advice regarding not relying solely on fast-band aid stress relievers they do not really alleviate the problem, but rather delay its inevitability, is something that a lot of people need to hear and understand. Especially in this modern age where it’s easy for people to turn towards the internet and social media to try and get away from the problems. Dr. Cohen emphasizes the importance of confronting the problem causing the anxiety and stress instead of trying to escape from those feelings.
    Furthermore, it was nice to read that it’s alright to feel sometimes, and that it’s valid to be upset with things every once in a while. People tend to add on more to their anxiety by forcing themselves to be happy when they actually aren’t. Additionally, Dr. Cohen talks about the importance of having people to support them whenever they are under stress to remind them that they are valued and loved regardless of what they are going through. The article says that seeking help and comfort from others is not something to be ashamed of, and that piece of advice could help a lot of people who have trouble turning to others during their time of need.
    Overall, a very in formative article that is well written and discusses an important topic a lot of people could benefit from. There are a few grammatical errors in the introduction of the article, but nothing a quick revision can’t fix.

  7. I found the interview very interesting and I think I learned a lot. As a person dealing with anxiety, I’m interested in this topic and I always search for tips and techniques that would work for me the best. Dr. Cohen emphasized the importance of not letting your mechanisms become avoidant and I strongly agree. This is how I developed an avoidant personality disorder. Distracting yourself from problems may bring you peace for a short period of time, but on a long run, it doesn’t make your issues go away. I believe that anxiety is the language of the body; our brain is working hard to show us that something is wrong and needs to be fixed. So we shouldn’t treat anxiety as a bad thing, but rather appreciate it as a warning sign.
    I also have a suggestion: “making their lives meaningful through alleviating stress through effective methods. She offers significant lessons and messages through her blog and articles” a little too much of the word “through” 🙂
    Have an awesome day!

  8. Off the bat, this interview interested me because the title was about relieving stress in life. Especially because of anxiety and other issues, I find myself to be constantly stressed. As a college student I need to continuously meet deadlines and lack sleep and nutrition a lot of the time. Anything involving steps to relieve stress will reel me in. I agree with Dr. Cohen greatly when she says that we expect to alleviate stress quickly. If it is acute stress, people want to get rid of it quickly, but if it is chronic stress, I feel like people are more willing to spend more time assessing their issues. I think a big issue is that not being able to relieve stress in turn, stresses people out. We all have this cycle of stress that we cannot break from and do not put enough effort to help ourselves even tho we claim that it is extremely important that we get better. I think we first need to change our mindsets and then we will be more open to bettering ourselves and our body. Through my Health Psychology course, I have learned that stress and stress moderators can directly negatively impact our health. This is very worrisome and I hope that it becomes an issue that we all focus on. It is interesting to hear that mediation is a stress intervention strategy. I really appreciated the portion when Dr. Cohen says that she also becomes stressed because it shows that we all have our issues and we just need to work toward bettering ourselves.

  9. Instant gratification as discussed in interview was exceptionally interesting. The answer discloses a huge emphasis on cultural influences and norms, which is easy to forget. The counsel to college students for managing stress including evasive practice to avoid it, was particularly useful to start off on the right foot.
    I thought the interview was deep and plumb full of information, instead of skimming the surface of a subject as many interviews. I appreciated this.

  10. Very nice interview. As someone who is exploring various methods of anxiety management, I’ve found meditation to be the most useful. Typically I’ll meditate on a single word which is both positive and resonates with me, or on an affirmation.

    I have a few suggestions, as follows:

    – Considering moving the beginning two sentences of your introduction to the beginning of the second to last paragraph, where you mention your passion for psychology.

    Revision suggestions for the Q&A

    First response:
    * “So seeing that I enjoy that, I studied it more[.]”
    * Begin new sentence “When it comes to stress and anxiety…”
    * ” I saw how important it is for our culture…” ; remove, “and” from this sentence

    Second Question:
    * “A lot of your tips [on/for] handling stress…”
    * “…with the limitations/challenges [that] you see…”
    * Choose either, “techniques” or “quick ways”
    Second Response:
    * “When working with people I take a different approach[.]”; omit “and” from this sentence.
    * Begin new sentence “I like to go…”

    Third Question:
    * ” Much of your article offers the advice of acknowledging anxiety stemming from problems that [we] face…”
    Third Response:
    * choose either “solutions” or “fixes”
    * End sentence after the word, “ineffective”.
    * Begin new sentence “In turn, they contribute to the chronic anxiety…”
    * “practitioners try [to] heal the symptom…” or remove “Since” from the beginning of the sentence.
    * “…behaviors, [then] they are able”
    * Omit “then” from the beginning of the last sentence.

    Fourth Response:
    * Omit “But” from the beginning of the second sentence.
    * “…happening in your life, [that’s] when…”
    * “It’s not [necessarily] that I want…”

    Fifth Response:
    * There are other factors that come into our values [such as] our families, …”

    Sixth Question:
    * ” Do you ever [experience] pitfalls…”

    Seventh Question Revision:
    * “What are some stress intervention strategies that you think could have potency in the future?”

    Hope this is useful!

  11. This particular article itself gave a calming effect. I liked how it focused on the point of targeting the root of the problem rather than the symptoms. Dr. Ilene Cohen provided great context to every answer she gave and the order by which the questions were placed also allowed for a natural flow of ideas. Additionally, the questions hit a lot of areas that are largely relatable to millennials experiencing anxiety including the pressure to find our own values and direction in college, the emphasis on positivity rather than being “allowed” to feel negativity, and the need to cope with things quickly in order to move on. However, it would have been interesting to know of other types of coping mechanisms aside form the already well-known and popular meditation method or what meditation really entails. It would have also been more helpful if there were suggestions of how people dealing with stress and anxiety in a fast-paced world could find a suitable direction to move forward, as well as the proper time and space to start thinking about these problems.

    The one main issue I do have with the structure is as another commentator mentioned: to pay attention to tense agreement and other grammatical errors. It did prove distracting when I was reading the article and it gave an air of not-quite-there professionalism.

  12. Hi Hana! Thank you for your comment! I am happy that you think the interview touches a very important topic. Thanks for your input and your thoughts on the grammar I felt the same way about it. It was an over the phone interview, so it might have been a little difficult to write up. 🙂

  13. This article touches on a very important subject, one that is very important to me as I continue with college and learn to live with an anxiety disorder. I like Dr. Cohen’s approach to anxiety, that anxiety is not always a problem to be solved. Anxiety is a natural response to a lot of situations, and recognizing that and learning to manage and respond to this feeling is extremely important. Doing so in a healthy way is key, and this is more of what needs to be taught rather than how to “cure” anxiety.

    Kudos to this author writing about this important subject. The ideas presented were very clear and the questions made sense and were thought provoking. My only critique is that verb-tense was off in places and comma usuage was not utilized enough. Both of these issues could prove to be distracting from the content. This subject is so important to talk about and the ideas were presented clearly, and with some grammar changes, this article would be even stronger than it already is.

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Written by Justin

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Hey there!

As you may have already known, my name is Justin Acosta. I am a psychology major at California State University, Long Beach. My main focus here is to find ways to improve our quality of life at a holistic level.

Apart from my studies, I enjoy playing video games. My passion for this has extended to where I would dedicate finding promising research studies with using video games as means of improving our quality of life.

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Relieving Stress in Life- Interview with Dr. Ilene Cohen