The NSTEP Blog

A cartoon image of a smiling female with the text "stress with Kayla Pearen, MA"
Illustration by Quinn

Greetings NSTEPpers! 😄

We are grateful to have had a conversation with Kayla Pearen, a registered provisional psychologist, on the topic of stress. Below👇 are some highlights from our chat!

We hope you enjoy ❤️


Hi Kayla! 👋 Can you tell us a little bit about you and what you do?

I work as a Registered Provisional Psychologist in Calgary, AB. I work at a private practice called Serenity Now Wellness Centre located in Inglewood, where the focus is on both physical and mental healing through counselling, massage, acupuncture, and naturopathic treatments.

In my role, I support kids, teens, and adults with general life stressors such as grief and loss, anxiety, depression, work or school difficulties, low self-esteem, navigating family dynamics, and exploring gender identity and sexual identity.

This month at NSTEP, we are talking about stress. From the perspective of a mental health professional, what is stress and what sort of impact does it have on people (physical, social, emotional health wise)?

I love Brene Brown’s definition of stress:

“We feel stressed when we evaluate environmental demand as beyond our ability to cope successfully. This includes elements of unpredictability, uncontrollability, and feeling overloaded.” – Brene Brown, Atlas of the Heart, 2021

As such, stress is our reaction to a variety of things, and we can hold stress both mentally and physically. 

An example could be a student experiencing stress leading up to an exam, they may feel stressed about not having as much time to study as they hoped (mentally) while also experiencing an increased heart rate, inability to relax, or trouble sleeping leading up to the exam. 

The thing about stress is that it shows up differently in everyone… so a different student writing that exact same exam may feel confident, calm, and neutral in those days leading up to the exam. In this case, the second student would likely report that they do have the ability to cope with the demands of the exam. This isn’t to say that the second student wouldn’t experience any stress, just less stress than the first student.

What are the different types of stress one can experience?

Because stress can be triggered by many things, there are many “types” out there! This in itself really normalizes that stress is a part of being human. 

For some people, looking at stress from an acute vs. chronic point of view can be helpful. Typically speaking, acute stress is short-lived, so it doesn’t take long to return to our regular physical and mental functioning (i.e. after an exam, a student feels relieved and is no longer experiencing symptoms of stress). 

On the other hand, chronic stress tends to stick around long-term, often because the thing triggering the stress is repeated or has a lasting effect on the person. This could be the case for someone experiencing continued bullying at school or someone with past trauma, in which both cases would make it extra stressful to study for an exam! 

What are some suggestions or tips you might have? Either for someone experiencing stress or from a preemptive management perspective.

The first thing that comes to mind is mindfulness/reflective practice. This doesn’t have to be an hour-long yoga class or the purchase of a meditation app – it can be quick and simple ways to foster inner reflection to better understand oneself – via a journal, talking things out with a friend, pausing and paying attention to one’s own breathing, going for a walk to clear one’s head, etc. The reason this reflective piece is so crucial when it comes to stress is because without self-awareness of our own mental and physical state, it’s possible we won’t even notice that we are stressed until someone else points it out, or we become completely burnt out. 

Once we are aware that stress is lingering around, OR to proactively reduce our chances of feeling its effects we can also try things like:

    • trying to eliminate the stressor, if possible 
    • changing our perspective on the stressor to a more helpful one, if possible 
    • spending more time doing small and intentional things for self-care 
    • doing things we enjoy often 
    • taking good care of our physical health, even as simple as drinking water 
    • surrounding ourselves with social support from friends, family members, or community groups 
    • reflecting on successes or remembering times we survived stress in the past to help us cope with future stressors 

What do you think is important for people to know when it comes to stress?

It’s completely okay and normal to experience stress! And it’s also okay to make changes in our lives to reduce stress, even if it means saying no to requests from others, or limiting how much we will our schedules. Working hard and pushing through stress can be very glamorized nowadays, and it’s important to take a step back and reflect on whether we are okay with our own level of stress or if we are in need of new strategies to manage it.

Speaking with a mental health counsellor or any professional in the realm of physical health services (doctor, nutritionist, naturopath, massage therapist, etc.) regarding stress is also very normal! Reaching out for support can be a difficult first step for some, but it can lead to relief and a plan to support you with your unique needs for managing stress!

A big thank you to Kayla for taking the time to talk with us about stress! To learn more about Kayla and Serenity Now Wellness, visit their website here:

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