Stress: synonymous with strain, pressure, tension, worry. The root of stress looks different for all of us, but for some illustrates a reality of quality-of-life needs that are not easily met due to the challenges of poverty, inequality, trauma, or violence. Little stressors that impact all of us might include train delays, a late paycheck, or overcooking the dinner in the oven. Bigger stressors that impact only some of us include rebuilding a life in the wake of domestic violence, getting food on the table for four children as a single grandparent while working full-time, or educating young ones about ways to stay safe from gun violence. For the 15% of adult New Yorkers and 22% of children who are living below the poverty line, stress is so deeply woven into the realities of their days, it may be difficult to imagine life without it.
How can we reconcile these statistics, and gain a deeper awareness that, although stress impacts all of us, the creature comforts that some of us may be accustomed to are a distant thought for so many other Americans? Now that we know that stress is a major contributor of high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer, obesity and diabetes, what “stress medicine” should we prescribe to aid in this crisis? And in learning that stress is often at the root of depression, anxiety, and suicidality, how can we aid in improving the mental health of our fellow New Yorkers, and address the social inequalities that are an inarguable reality?
Today is #StressAwarenessDay 2017, and in attempting to answer these questions as a mental health counselor in NYC, I look towards existing models that work to reduce stress for individuals and families every single day. I have experienced the inner workings of a variety of mental health clinics in my time as a psychotherapist, and it is rare to find an organization that honors, serves, and truly values its clients as much as The Family Center in Brooklyn. Although there is only one day annually to raise awareness around the impacts of stress, the mission of The Family Center sheds light on how we can all work towards eliminating stress for New Yorkers in need, 365 days a year.
Much of the medical model in this country has moved towards fixes for what has already happened – antibiotics for infection, blood pressure medication to aid in symptoms related to obesity, or psychotropic medications to alleviate PTSD. Sometimes, these solutions are all we have to help an individual – the problem has compounded and the root is buried deeply below. But when it comes to stress and helping our community, we also have this moment right now – making life easier on the day-to-day for those who are in desperate need of a pause in the avalanche of difficulties they must fend off for themselves and their children as a daily reality.
It is the choosing to operate in the “here and now” that makes The Family Center a true asset to New York City, and sets them apart from so many other organizations who utilize “band-aid fixes” rather than focusing on how to truly serve the ongoing needs of a community facing social inequalities. The Family Center offers clients family law and lifetime planning services so that parents can make informed choices now, rather than later. They provide preventative programming for youth, such as mentoring services and trauma-informed care, to help at-risk youth feel supported today, rather than tomorrow. The Family Center consistently adds new programming to adapt to the needs of their client families, such as financial literacy initiatives and increased requests for grant funding to keep their services accessible for clients. They work tirelessly to evolve as an organization by listening to the needs of their clients daily, rather than waiting for annual reports that may show the numbers but lack the voices of those they intend to serve.
And it is with this model that The Family Center upholds as their daily mission that we all might learn something about coping with stress: The best preparation for tomorrow is doing our best today. Stress may be a daily occurrence, but what can we do today to work towards a more peaceful tomorrow, for ourselves and our communities? We may start by getting involved with an organization that gives back in the way that The Family Center does, and by strengthening our understanding of how we might alleviate stressors not only for ourselves, but others, too. May we all find ways to help reduce the load on #StressAwarenessDay 2017 – after all, a shared burden is a lighter burden.
To find out more about the Family Center and how to get involved, check out www.thefamilycenter.org.