Learning to Cope
A hairdresser arrives at home, plops down on the sofa, clicks on the TV and barely acknowledges her husband. "Aren't you happy to see me?" her husband asks. “I’ve just spent 12 hours telling people I was happy to see them,” the stylist replies without breaking her blank stare at the screen.
Stephen Moody, dean of the Wella Global Education Academy, tells this story to hold up a mirror for stylists to see themselves as the people they care about might see them. Being all things to all clients should not deplete your energy to the point that you have nothing left for family and friends. When it does, as the saying goes, something’s gotta give. The trick is to catch it before the stress damages your personal relationships, your health or your career.
Signs you’re not managing range from subtle clues such as increased irritability and unprovoked crying to more obvious red flags such as nightmares, wanting to be alone, experiencing a loss of interest in usual activities or feeling unable to work. You might seek comfort in food or have no appetite at all.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) offers strategies for managing stress in a healthy way:
- Take care of yourself. Eat well-balanced meals, exercise regularly and get sufficient sleep.
- Talk to others. Share your problems with a family member, friend, medical professional or clergy. Explain your feelings and how you’re coping.
- Avoid drugs and alcohol. Although drugs and alcohol might seem to help with the stress, in the long run they create additional problems and increase stress.
The American Heart Association lists four categories of healthy coping:
- Positive self-talk. The narrative in your head can aggravate or even initiate stress. Replace thoughts of, “I can’t do this” or, “This always happens to me” with, “I’ll try my best” and, “Things will work out.”
- Emergency stress-stoppers. Sometimes you need a quick save! Break a negative pattern or avoid making a small situation worse by counting to 10 before you speak, walking away from the negativity, going out for fresh air, getting into the slow lane while driving or tackling one little piece of an overwhelming project. If being late stresses you out, set your watch 10 minutes ahead—and don’t look at your phone!
- Enjoyable activities. Although it’s great if you love doing something physical, such as taking a bike ride or going on a hike, for you the joy might be found in reading a book, cooking, painting, hanging out with friends or listening to music.
- Daily relaxation. Practice deep breathing and positive visualization and engage in meditation or yoga.
Immersing yourself in yet more hair is the last thing you might consider as a stress-breaker, but that’s exactly what Moody advises to avoid burnout. Awaken your creativity by going to a hair show or just doing someone's hair, but there's a catch: You can't get paid for it.
“Our batteries need to recharge,” Moody says. “Like poets, musicians or any artists, at some point we have to get back on the charger. We can do that by offering someone a free hair service. It’s a different process to do hair because you want to rather than because you have to. Maybe you have that client who works in a bar, who’s gorgeous and wears the latest street fashions but has no money. Do her hair! Do a killer gray or blue and give her a wicked haircut. It will also help your business, because she sees 200 people a night and will be a walking billboard for you.”
Deb Gavin knows all about the need to recharge and stay healthy in order to pursue a long, successful career. Co-owner with Laurie Haney of Fresh Hair Studio in Southampton, Pennsylvania, Gavin deals with both the well-documented stress created by a heavy travel schedule and the ordinary stress that comes with business ownership, as well as being an international artistic director for a major product brand. Married with two children, she also has family obligations. Boxing is Gavin’s workout of choice to channel all of that stress productively. Boxing not only burns calories, builds muscle and sharpens reflexes, but Gavin says it also provides a mental release and boosts her confidence.
And until July 2014, Gavin had another not-so-secret weapon for managing stress: She drank.
“I thought I needed alcohol to be me,” Gavin says. “It would help me to loosen up and connect to people. As an artist, I would let myself be vulnerable and emotional, and the alcohol helped get me past my insecurities. It woke me up, shifted gears and relieved me of worry. I looked forward to that drink as a way to decompress.”
Arriving home, the bottle was the first thing she’d grab. On the road, she relied on drinking to wind down.
“Alcohol is acceptable, and it’s always around,” Gavin says. “For me, it was part of the party and part of the escape. I was not someone who could have one or two drinks and walk away. Just the opposite—it was easy for me to get into a conversation at the bar until it was very late. I enjoyed sitting with the people who had been part of my day.”
Hangovers became a routine part of waking up. “I’d put on some lipstick and, no matter how tired I was, I could put myself together,” Gavin says. When the intervention came, Gavin wasn’t surprised or angry or even resistant. She was relieved. Family members approached her during a vacation.
“I knew I needed help,” Gavin says. “I was starting to feel that I just wanted to disappear. I’d been living a secret life that had started to swallow me up, and I was ashamed of it but couldn’t picture what getting out of it would look like. At that point, even when I didn’t want to have a drink, my body was so physically addicted that I’d have one.”
Gavin entered rehab and learned that the salon and the platform could survive a month without her. “One of the first parts of healing was understanding I could take that time for myself,” she says. “Taking 30 days out of my life had been an insane thought to me! I was afraid to miss one event or one day at the salon in case people wouldn’t need me anymore.”
The official line to clients was that Gavin had broken her foot, but Haney and the other people she worked with knew the truth. Everyone was supportive.
“They told me to take all the time I needed,” Gavin says. “I finally felt I could breathe. I’d never given myself the opportunity to believe it would be okay if I tried to fix this.”
Gavin feels lucky that she came out on the other side with her life and health still intact. “People say you have to hit bottom, but it’s more of an internal thing,” Gavin says. “Your body can take only so much alcohol before you start to have serious problems. I want to share my experience to let people know you don’t have to lose everything before getting help.”
Gavin says it’s easy for this crisis to sneak up on you. “I still struggle with trying to be all things to all people, but that black cloud that was with me for so long is no longer there,” she says. “And I know that no matter what happens, I’m not going to have a drink to celebrate, I’m not going to have a drink to make me less sad, and I’m not going to have a drink to make people like me. I’m OK with being me.”