Stress therapy in a nutshell

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Meet Your Instructor

Hi, I’m Emma McAdam


I’m a licensed marriage and family therapist, and I love helping people change. I know that understanding mental health can be confusing and stressful. I also know that there’s hope! Your brain is wired to change, and deep healing is possible. My mission is to walk with people through that process. 

I make mental health skills more accessible through YouTube videos and online courses. Therapy in a Nutshell is built around the idea that small and simple steps can turn into massive change and growth. I don’t just help people get feeling better; I help people get better at feeling. 

I’ve been working in the field of change and growth since 2004. I got my Master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy from Utah State University, and I’m currently licensed in the state of Utah. I’ve worked in settings like juvenile corrections, wilderness therapy programs, residential treatment centers, and outpatient therapy.

The stress response is supposed to help you. It’s about performance and taking action, but it’s also supposed to be a short term reaction. It’s healthy for bursts of speed, but it becomes unhealthy when it’s chronic and the stress remains unresolved.

Take The Little house on the prairie story- they worried, they didn’t sleep, they took action, they did what they could to save the corn, some plants lived, some died, then they relaxed. Our body has a natural balancing reaction to the stress response- the parasympathetic response. But most of us don’t know how to turn it on. You can turn it on through grounding exercises or breathing exercises, but the most natural way is to simply complete a task. You feel worried about an assignment, then you turn it in. ahhhh.

This is one reason why coping skills can only go so far in helping anxiety- because anxiety is best Resolved by doing one of two things, either taking action to resolve the problem or threat or whatever it is or to practicing active acceptance letting go of the things you can’t change.

But in our virtual world, Even when we do complete a task or resolve a problem it can be hard to see the results, so find a way to acknowledge when you can “set a task down”. Make it concrete. I really like checklists, but there are lots of ways to Mark something off when you’ve completed it. You could use a physical button like Mike Boyd or Simone Giertz or give yourself some other physical, tangible way to celebrate your success.

This can be hard to do with long running stress or long term projects. But you can practice little skills to turn off stress. Something I learned from Michael Barrett, The director of the center for change-an ED tx center. Every day when I drive home from work I say a little prayer- Lord, I’ve done the best I can-they are now in your hands.

There are many ways to do this, but the basic idea is choosing when to carry something mentally heavy and when to set it down. So it could be as simple as turning off notifications on your phone or setting boundaries at work about when they can and can’t contact you.

When your job is mostly mental, emotional or virtual I also really find it helpful to choose something manual to complete. It can be really nice and relieving to see physical progress on a task.. So clean something, mow the lawn, fix something physical, there’s something about physical tasks and completion that seems to just click that aaahhh button, that parasympathetic response in our brain.

Managing stress involves a lot of things: a healthy work-life balance, good boundaries, sleep, exercise. But changing what you eat can also have a big impact on your stress levels. And that’s because what you eat impacts cortisol levels. 

Now, cortisol is known as the stress hormone. It’s part of the activating, energizing response in your body, and it triggers the fight-or-flight response, but it plays a lot of other important roles in your body too. Cortisol helps regulate everything from sleep cycles and inflammation to blood pressure and blood-sugar levels. 

Cortisol is released by the adrenal gland in response to a physical threat like an injury or a mental threat like a deadline. 

And cortisol isn’t inherently bad; it’s helpful in the short term. But being exposed to it for too long can lead to a chronic stress response, which can contribute to more anxiety, depression, fatigue, inflammation, weight gain, higher blood pressure, a decreased immune system, a higher chance of diabetes and heart disease. 

So you can see how decreasing cortisol can have a big impact on both physical and mental health. 

The idea of repressed memories goes all the way back to Freud, through the 90’s when therapists accidentally implanted people with false memories, through the courtrooms, and into today where the idea of repressed memories is still popular among lay people and controversial among therapists and researchers. So today you’ll learn three skills for better understanding lost memories, aka dissociative amnesia or repressed memories (or at least my opinion about it). The idea of repressed memories goes all the way back to Freud, one of his first patients, Anna O had all sorts of unexplained physical symptoms, when she began talking with her doctor about her life, previously forgotten memories of trauma came back and as she talked about them, her physical symptoms went away. Freud developed the concept of repression, that current symptoms are all related to something that happened in the past, that we repress the memories to protect ourselves, and that we must analyze our psyche in order to uncover it, integrate it and then be freed from it. So that’s where the whole process of psychoanalysis came from, the idea of patients laying on a couch, talking about their childhood. But this concept of repressed memories has become very controversial, because of the way memory works. Most people assume that memory is like a video, your memory records things as they actually happened and stores those memories away, permanently. But memory doesn’t work like that, memories are highly influenced by our biases and how we’re feeling during or after an event. Even Freud learned that many of the things that his patients “remembered” weren’t actual events. Memories can be altered, implanted, influenced, and straight up created under suggestion. Lot’s of laboratory experiments have demonstrated that our memories are terribly fickle. If you want to see for yourself how this can work, watch this YouTube video “Take This Test and Experience How False Memories Are Made”. After I filmed this video on repressed memories and dissociative amnesia, the NYT published a very relevant article and two strong opinions on it: Looking for affordable online counseling? My sponsor, BetterHelp, connects you to a licensed professional from the comfort of your own home. Try it now for 10% off your first month: Learn more in one of my in-depth mental health courses: Support my mission on Patreon: Sign up for my newsletter: Check out my favorite self-help books: Therapy in a Nutshell and the information provided by Emma McAdam are solely intended for informational and entertainment purposes and are not a substitute for advice, diagnosis, or treatment regarding medical or mental health conditions. Although Emma McAdam is a licensed marriage and family therapist, the views expressed on this site or any related content should not be taken for medical or psychiatric advice. Always consult your physician before making any decisions related to your physical or mental health. In therapy I use a combination of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Systems Theory, positive psychology, and a bio-psycho-social approach to treating mental illness and other challenges we all face in life. The ideas from my videos are frequently adapted from multiple sources. Many of them come from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, especially the work of Steven Hayes, Jason Luoma, and Russ Harris. The sections on stress and the mind-body connection derive from the work of Stephen Porges (the Polyvagal theory), Peter Levine (Somatic Experiencing) Francine Shapiro (EMDR), and Bessel Van Der Kolk. I also rely heavily on the work of the Arbinger institute for my overall understanding of our ability to choose our life’s direction. And deeper than all of that, the Gospel of Jesus Christ orients my personal worldview and sense of security, peace, hope, and love If you are in crisis, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at or 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or your local emergency services. Copyright Therapy in a Nutshell, LLC

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