Everyone from Greenwich knows it’s a lovely town with many amenities and much beauty. But also, a certain level of success is both the norm and expectation.
Isabelle Shook, a licensed professional counselor in Connecticut and Arizona via telehealth, grew up in Greenwich and sees the town as having its own unique culture.
“I grew up in that culture and I can really relate to the pressure and wanting to succeed,” she said. “It’s really a culture within the culture of New England.”
And while some stress is healthy, and the internet is full of admirable instances of compassion and empathy, living in constant stress can rob a person of positive emotions, especially self-compassion and joy.
“When we live in heightened stress consistently or chronically, it can be foreign and uncomfortable to our nervous system to be in joyful, connected states and even be present in the moment,” she explained.
“When we live in constant stress, what our neurobiology naturally does is keep us out of the present and keep our mind in either the past or the future. That’s how we miss the opportunity to enjoy the present and experience joy now.”
She explained that when something is so overwhelming to a person’s nervous system that they’re stressed for days, weeks or years at a time, that experience can be over generalized into all areas of their lives and nothing is fun any more.
But Shook is optimistic.
“People have a baseline of happiness that’s natural to their systems, but happiness, like anything else can be grown and developed and increased,” Shook said.
Before starting her own tele-therapy private practice, Shook worked for 15 years in residential treatment centers, the highest level of mental health care short of a mental health hospital. She has a great deal of experience working with teens from places like Greenwich.
“It’s important to focus on the good,” she said. “Practice self-compassion. It’s one of the best tools available. It’s the remedy for addressing shame and perfectionism.”
Shook shared some of her favorite techniques for self-compassion.
A technique you can practice is to put your hand on your heart area and breath in for two seconds and breath out for four seconds.
“That’s really essential for calming the sympathetic nervous system: which is the fight, flight and freeze response, or chronic stress,” she said.
Two. Focus on something pleasing.
“Next, look around the space you’re in, whether it’s your office or home, and let your eyes wander and gaze around the room, and find something that feels pleasing. Keep your focus on that object or animal, and it will start to calm your nervous system.”
“I have a plant on the other side of my room I look at all the time. Now it’s become a cue to calm my system,” she said. “But it could be anything: the trees outside the window, a photograph of someone, or a piece of art in your house.”
Two. Talk to yourself like you would talk to your best friend.
“Look at yourself in the mirror when you’re washing your hands and say kind words. Or spend a moment with your hands on your chest and give yourself healthy, nice touch from you to you.”
Three. Practice gratitude.
Focus on the positive, no matter how small.
“If you’re wanting something more in your life, maybe more kind people or to become better at something, every time you have a success with it, no matter how small it is, keep track of the positives,” she suggested. “Write it down in a journal. It amplifies what’s going right.”
In addition to teletherapy, Shook also does horse work in Arizona’s Sedona Verde Valley area. At Equine Guidance she offers an innovative equine therapy experience with her three horses, Mimi, Penny and Salsa. She explained the horses get results, turning insight into action, in a way that talk therapy sometimes cannot.
“Sometimes trauma is not caught in our mind – it’s caught in our nervous system,” she said. “The horses are able to help the stuck energy.”
“A lot of my clients are adults who have had a lot of success and are world traveled, but then they wonder what’s next. You’ve gotten everything you’re worked hard for, there can be a ‘success crash.'”
“With my equine therapy business most of my people are on their 60s, they fly to me and are so grateful afterward. They say, ‘Wow, you really gave me the gift of my joy again.'”
At Equine Guidance the idea is not about making the horse do anything, and it’s not traditional equine therapy either.
“It’s about being with the horse and moving into ‘horse time’ and allowing the horse to support and guide not only insight, but nervous system balancing and restoration from trauma and stress,” Shook explained.
“It looks as exciting as watching paint dry,” Shook laughed. “It would look like a horse and a client standing together.”
In her Equine Guidance business, Shook incorporates the work of Dr. Peter Levine whose national best seller is Waking the Tiger, and her years of trauma training.
“Trauma and stress get caught in our body and sometimes there’s not enough insight to help,” she said. “You can’t heal trauma and stress with more trauma and stress: you need a safe, calm relationship. That’s the space that the horses and I create.”
Shook said that what horses want more than anything is harmony. The states of fight, flight and freeze – for all mammals – are supposed to be short lived.
“Horses want harmony with whomever is in the herd. Clients working with me are in the herd that day.”
More information on Isabelle Shook MC, NCC, LPC, SEP, NARM, BCC is available on her website. She offers individual, couples and teen counseling. Tel. 203-660-0827