Peggy Farmer teaches stress management at Center for Teaching

By Colton Williams

In an event primarily for faculty and staff, Dr. Peggy Farmer, a speaker, therapist and wellness consultant, engaged with the audience to learn strategies for managing stress. The interactive event, titled “The Art of Managing Stress Before it Manages You,” was held in the Center for Teaching and featured many different people from the Sewanee community.

Farmer was making a return to the Mountain, after having previously served as a wellness consultant at Sewanee for the 2014-15 academic year. In the workshop, participants were first asked to identify themselves along with an alliterative positive adjective, then to identify what was stressing them out the most at the moment. Responses ran the gamut, from work, school, family, and other internal and external pressures. 

Farmer created a relaxed atmosphere for the participants, and after learning about every individual, moved on to discussing the biological and psychological aspects of stress responses. 

“Let’s say there’s a call this afternoon and you experience a stress response from this thing,” Farmer said as an example. “Your brain hears this information, it perceives it as stressful, it takes that information and sends it right to the amygdala… When you go through a stress response, there are so many things that happen that we often think we aren’t good at managing stress, but with the biology of stress, I want you to feel more comfortable with yourself and know it’s not just me, but there’s some biochemistry going on here.”

After helping the participants gain a better understanding of how stress works in their own bodies and how they can be more aware of their own stress-inducing stimuli, Farmer allowed the room to break into small groups to discuss how to better implement coping mechanisms for stress.

Participants came up with new strategies that they already practiced and learned from their partners: taking breaks from stress-inducing situations, taking walks, making lists and prioritizing stressful items, living more in the present and letting anticipatory stress take a back seat to more pressing concerns, and the ability to make light of certain situations.

“A huge thing for stress,” Farmer said, “is to have a sense of humor, don’t take ourselves too seriously… a huge piece of our emotional well-being is the capacity to find levity in things and try to be a little easier on ourselves and our loved ones.”

Farmer emphasized that when managing stress it is important to get out of familiar detrimental patterns of negative self-talk. She recommended cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) in order to change unhelpful or harmful thoughts, behaviors, and attitudes and create better emotional regulation.

After ending the workshop with a guided meditation, Farmer told the participants that for managing stress, “the first step toward change is to become more aware of the problem. You probably don’t realize how often you say negative things in your head. As you notice yourself saying something negative in your mind, stop the thought… and say something more powerful.”