20 Minutes with Paula

20 Minutes with Paula Kommor on stress reduction

by UofL Today —  Dec 04, 2009


Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Cyber Monday have passed. The holiday season is in full swing with Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa fast approaching.

For many people, the holidays bring not only a time for fun and reflection, but also a time of increased stress.

UofL Today talked to Paula Kommor, a member of the Get Healthy Now staff, about ways people can reduce the stress they feel this time of year.

Kommor received training at the Harvard Mind/Body Medical Institute and, among other things, facilitates the GHN "Stress: Manage It!" workshop.

Tell me what you do with the Get Healthy Now program.

My official title is support and enhancement for Get Healthy Now, but in reality I wear many hats. First off, I teach stress management classes for faculty and staff on both Belknap and Health Sciences campuses. Right now these are four-week classes where I teach easy-to-integrate stress management techniques. They're open to all UofL employees who participate in Get Healthy Now.

In addition, I offer faculty and staff one-on-one wellness coaching and group wellness coaching. Wellness coaching involves prompting a client to create a wellness vision -- a picture of their ideal life -- and helping them make their dreams more a reality by setting up realistic goals.

In addition to that, I teach wellness coaching through the Department of Health and Sport Science to UofL students.

Finally I am heading up an initiative to create an interdisciplinary minor in wellness coaching. This initiative involves a collaboration with Wellcoaches, the American College of Sports Medicine partnered organization. Wellcoaches is considered the platinum standard in wellness coaching.

So you have a lot going on.

Yes, I'm busy.

How do you keep from being stressed?

I actually practice what I preach. I have a good friend that I partnered with for many years, Susan Miller, who's an energizing motivational speaker. She has a wonderful wake-up call. No matter how stressed I am or how bad I feel, when I first wake up in the morning and my eyes are still closed, I smile really big -- even if it feels like it's fake. I thank God I'm alive and that I'm healthy and I think of something positive that's going to happen that day.

It works when you're still in that relaxed alpha state when you first wake up. Your brain is very impressionable and this wake up routine sets the tone for the entire day. You'll create a nice, calm baseline for your day and it helps a lot.

The Zumba Fitness classes are another way I manage my stress (Kommor is a Zumba Fitness instructor). Physical exercise is a proven way to rid your body of the stress hormone. I also have a strong support system of friends and family.

You just got out of a group wellness coaching session. This time of year do you see an increase in stress in the people in your classes or in people generally?

I think it's in general in our society, with our economy and just with the way American culture is. A lot of people don't stop and look at the big picture. They just try to put out fires and get through their days. They haven't stepped back and looked at the big picture of what's really important to them.

So when the holidays come around and you have people descending on your house or you're traveling, presents to buy and money is tight, it just adds to the stress that's already there?


With all the increased stressors, what's the best way for people to avoid overload and stressing out entirely?

One key way is to schedule time for yourself. Think about your passions. What do you love to do? I know everyone is super, super busy and it's hard to do that, but all of us have time wasters. Think about the time that you waste -- whether it is on the computer or the two-hour phone call or watching TV for three hours. Try to reduce that just a little bit and incorporate the things that will counterbalance your stress. This could be doing your passion -- playing a musical instrument, dancing, exercising, horseback riding, getting a manicure, a massage. Integrate that activity into every week.

As I said before, physical exercise is a proven way to rid your body of the stress hormone. So if you feel yourself starting to become stressed, go out for a 10-minute walk. It doesn't even have to be outside. It could be around your office if you're at work.

If you notice that your mind is racing and you're feeling anxious and stressed out, there's actually a saying that one of my student's says, which is 'Be here. Be now.' Come back to the present. Stop. Imagine a stop sign in your brain and stop worrying and be present to the moment. That's really a hard thing to do. It's hard to realize and interrupt when your mind is racing and you're worried and concerned and obsessing, but it's important to start becoming aware of when you're in that state and do something to intercept that stress cycle.

And take a deep breath. That can interrupt the stress cycle.

You said 'Take just a little bit of time.' How much is enough?

It's all individual. It's what works for you. I suggest baby steps for our clients in our wellness coaching class. Rather than setting up a goal like 'Next week I'm going to run a marathon,' say 'Next week I'm going to walk for five minutes twice a week' and have success. And go, 'That felt good. Next week I think I'll go for 10 minutes.' Start out with really manageable steps and have success with those.

A lot of stress is self-imposed.

Eighty-five percent of stress is what goes on between our ears, how we see things.

How we see things or maybe how we feel at the holidays. It can be overwhelming to run around buying gifts for our entire families on top of everything else we have to do, for instance.

I would step back and look at the big picture. If that's creating a lot of stress for you, I might even engage in conversation with your family and ask, 'What can we do to make this less demanding physically and money wise?' The whole symbolism underneath the holidays -- Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa whatever it might be -- is not the presents. Focus on the holiday's symbolism.

The first step is to open up the communication and learn how to communicate our needs and wants. A lot of us are feeling it's too much.

Is there anything you'd like to add?

I think a lot of holiday stress comes from our expectations. You have in your mind how you expect family and friends to act. Families revert back to their old coping styles. It's scary how we subconsciously revert to back to how we were as a kid. We go back to the same roles.

My suggestion is to clear your mind. Be here, be now, and if you notice yourself going back to a pattern, just snap yourself back to the present.