Reviewed by Elizabeth Putfark
It’s OK to admit it – we don’t always have control over the stress in our lives. Whether it comes from work, relationships or uncertainty about the future, we all carry some anxieties which, left unmanaged, can drive us into destructive habits.
With their new book, From Stressed to Centered, Dr. Dana Gionta and Dr. Dan Guerra set out to deliver a practical, comprehensible guide to stress management through what they term “selfcare”: that is, how you monitor and improve your own emotions, actions and responses as they
relate to the various stress stimuli in your life. “Self-Care is a gift we give ourselves and others,” they explain in the accessible 172 page volume. “Good self-care is the foundation of, and the
starting point for, transformative change in one’s life.”
The central shift of the self-care system is one of perspective: that we throw out the crippling, sometimes subconscious assumption that paying attention to our needs is “selfish” in a negative sense. Instead, Gionta and Guerra suggest that by raising our awareness of our own health and wellbeing – and the way that stress effects both –we have the opportunity to proactively influence the way we experience life and respond to the people around us.
Although both licensed clinical psychologists, Gionta and Guerra’s approach to self-care evolved from their own experiences, not from clinical trials. Gionta’s journey with self-care and stress management began following the traumatic death of her father and culminated in 2004 when she was diagnosed with cancer. Guerra, as a serious high school athlete, discovered his need for selfcare upon realizing the connection between mental stress and physical performance.
Through different experiences, each author came to believe the central tenant of their new release: “Stress management and self-care create the foundation for good health and well-being.”
Their interactive guide to self-care begins with quizzes that identify sources of stress in our lives, both internal and external. Once the primary sources of stress are identified, two tools are introduced for helping readers identify when stress (which can arise from positive and negative experiences) escalates to the point of “distress”: stress which exceeds our optimal functioning levels and interferes with our health and happiness. Combining the results of each test gives readers a picture of how they’re responding to the stress in their lives, and where they need help improving.
After self-diagnosis comes practical solutions: the book’s primary focus and strength. For stress management, Guerra and Gionta offer exercises and practices in three fundamental areas: breath, body and thought. Each practice is geared toward gaining understanding, perspective and control over each component of stress management.
From stress management, the book transitions seamlessly to compiling your self-care toolkit – your stock of realistic, everyday necessities for keeping yourself on track to effectively identify and handle stress when it begins to mount in your life. As with stress managements, there are three pillars to the self-care toolkit: healthy nutrition, regular exercise and consistent and sufficient sleep. Although the pillars themselves may not seem revolutionary, the Guerra-Gionta approach to them is: If we stop seeing diet, exercise and sleep as a bother and a burden, we can view them for what they really are – the truest lasting ways that we can love and care for ourselves.
Gionta and Guerra explain that maintaining your toolkit may require overcoming the obstacles, attitudes and belief systems which can disrupt meaningful self-care programs (hint: they’re probably the same ones that make you hesitant to read about self-care in the first place, or even finish this article!). Gionta and Guerra detail how to defend your self-care system and make sure it sticks by setting and maintaining boundaries, communicating assertively and integrating selfcare into your routine so that it’s both practical and a priority.
Throughout the book, readers are invited to engage in reflective exercises, often through fill-in-the-blanks, that keep them actively engaged as they go. Designed to be read in any order, each section offers theoretical background, real-life examples and interactive questionnaires, each of which guides readers closer towards an understanding of self-care that is both practical and sustainable. By the end of the short volume, they’ve already completed enough guided self-care exercises to be on-track for transformative change, even as they begin their new stress management and self-care routines.
With evidence-based strategies and practical tools, Gionta and Guerra can bring even the most skeptical readers into a better understanding of their current stress management system and how to improve it for the future. Whatever stage you’re at in your life, this new release has something to offer – be it inventories for now, understanding for the past or exercises for a healthier, happier future.
Dr. Dana Gionta is a clinical psychologist, executive coach and organizational consultant with expertise in self-care, stress management and organizational health. Dr. Gionta works with high potential managers, senior executives and teams in small to larger Fortune 500 and nonprofit organizations in various industries, including health, law and hospitality. In her life coaching and psychology practice, she helps individuals make courageous changes in their personal and professional lives. Dr. Gionta is also an author, national speaker and trainer on topics related to stress management, self-care, boundaries and emotional health. Find out more at danagionta.com.
Dr. Dan Guerra is a licensed clinical psychologist and an executive coach with expertise in stress management and behavioral change. His innovative treatments help people emerge better versions of themselves, so they’re more fulfilled in their personal relationships, successful in their careers and enjoy overall improvement in the quality of their lives. His tireless pursuit of healing and freeing people from negative behavioral patterns has led him down many different avenues. Dr. Guerra is a psychologist, psychotherapist, mindfulness meditation teacher, educator, executive coach, Playback Theatre actor, author, and international public speaker. For more, visit dan-guerra.com