Stress to Strength Adventure Series (SSAS) No. 1


Adversity happens, and it can hit harder when you’re already stressed. That was the case last weekend when I pulled into my home parking space with a smoking car engine. Wait a minute universe! Next week is our first Colorado family wedding!! Bad timing MF.

Cars are important, perhaps too important, as the world attempts to survive the global hot seat. I have gone carless before, but this wouldn’t be the week to return to that practice. The wedding is ninety minutes away, and I’d have to travel through the belly of the beast – Denver.


I had already sidestepped some chaos by saying no to a road trip to NM before the wedding. At least I would not have dealt with a broken clutch on the road and in unvetted hands. (I love my mechanic!)

Part of what made me say no to the road trip was realizing that family time – though very cool – would involve higher stress alongside a busy work life. Some family history colored things too – big events sometimes went south. I wanted to do what I could to ensure a positive experience for my sister’s family, my nephew, and my kin.

NM sure, would have been lovely – but trips take time and energy and yes, the prep of getting out of town can increase stress before lowering it. I could tell it was the right decision when I felt physical relief when I made that decision. Listening to clues like this and taking the time to consider things (active coping) put me in a better position. I could better handle the clutch surprise after using step one of the Stress to Strength tools.


Inconvenience, bad timing – surprise adversity often has these qualities. The clutch started smoking after 5 pm on a Friday. I would not be able to talk to my mechanic until Monday to ask if the car is drivable or get an idea of what might be happening. Such timing can make you smile later – (the clutch is now fixed; it’s easier to make jokes now).

This is where using the Stress to Strength tool of step 2 was a lifesaver. First, I defined the problem – Wishing to support my family and attend this big event but the car’s on the blink! Then, with step 2, I look at what’s in my control, and what’s not, about this problem.

What’s not in my control – family history, my current heavy workload causing higher stress, car breakdown timing, the distance to the wedding, the belly of the beast driving stress (rushhour in Denver is no fun), etc.

What’s in control about this – taking care of the next things to be ready for the wedding (pedi, coordinating with logistics – travel directions, friend accompaniment, hotel check-in being later than expected). Stress management is always in my control – using the tools reminded me I’d be more empowered if I focused on the side of the problem in my control. Communication is in my control – I left a message for my mechanic Friday night. Self-care is always on this side of the problem – I went swimming, ah.

Though my stress was increased by the clutch surprise, it was helpful to focus on the next steps that needed to happen. Then when a friend offered me the use of their second car – I could say yes. Though I’d been prepared to go carless – borrowing the car enabled the swim in addition to handling some logistics like the pedi the next morning. It was also a blessing and stress reducer to know that friends had my back. Thanks A & B!


With situations like these, it’s easy to add more stress to the stress that’s already going on. I felt the pressure of the little T trauma of the family history in the background – but I could revisit that later. I also knew about my tendency to worry. Taking care of logistics gave me a good focus for the current moment.

With anxiety about the unexpected side of life, negative beliefs surface. You want to feel you are supported and life is good. With adversity, you might start to wonder if that support is there. You might question the goodness of life, and revert to older views like Murphy’s law. Or, “Just when I think I’m getting ahead, the other shoe drops.”

I had just been paid for a training course I delivered in May which provided extra income. That will fund a week of vacation, I had thought. Now, it will fund a new clutch. OK, fine. What’s important? To show up well for my dear sis and crew. Was I supported? Short story, yes. Can more money come in without me worrying or gnashing my teeth on this one? Quite possibly, and we will see.

Meanwhile, when worry or skeptical thoughts arose, I could chop wood and carry water. Or in this case, iron the wedding dress and check the wedding deets. Take action to research my car warranty and look into a backup mechanic, just in case. When Monday arrived I was ready for my mechanic and was able to drive to the shop.


I dropped the car off and then was on my bike. I stopped for coffee. Then I got a text from a lovely friend who had dropped off soup when I had covid – she saved my ass! She was now moving – I’d told her to keep me in mind if she needed help. She needed some this morning. I wasn’t far – plus it was downhill. This was a case where I could say YES vs. no. She was thrilled.

The next day, the car was ready to be picked up. I took up another friend’s offer to let her know if I needed a lift to the shop. That was a busy work day and stress was higher. Yes, I could ride my bike, but … why not say yes to this extra support?

That next night I finally slept better and woke up for the first wedding event calm and centered. Positive events can include stress – counterintuitive yes, but clear to me this week.

Takeaways from this Stress to Strength Adventure?

The system of 4 steps and 5 tools that dance well to make the most of human stress management are part of my new book, Stress to Strength: A Therapist’s Guide to Empower Clients. This stuff works! Here are the takeaways from SSAS #1:

1) Say No more often, especially with a higher stress palette (step 1)
2) With unexpected challenges, focus on what’s in your control to keep moving (step 2)
3) You can note deeper work (beliefs, old history) that could use a review – for a later time
4) Amidst it all, you can remember your priorities and what’s important – in this case, love

Have you had any Stress to Strength Adventures lately (SSAS)? June seems to be starting on a lively foot.

Do you like these adventures? Join us on our Substack Newsletter, Intuition Builder, to explore the intersection of how good mental health builds more accurate intuition.

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