Dan Trathen DMin, PhD Clinical Psychologist & Certified Business & Life Coach

Stop! Look! And Listen!

By Daniel W. Trathen, D. Min. Ph. D.

When I was in 5th grade I remember getting my first responsible job with a uniform. My parents accompanied me to school for an orientation after which I received a “safety patrol belt”. My duties were to protect school children from cars as they passed by my assigned street corner. We practiced extending our arms and saying in unison, “Stop, Look, and Listen.” Upon receiving my belt and assigned corner, I entered the ranks of “the few and the proud.” In conjunction with protecting the public, I was to arrive at my post early to await the crowds of children walking to our neighborhood school. I kept that belt clean and wore it proudly in the service of my school for two years. Now, I don’t wear a “safety belt”, but I do assist people to have safer and healthier thoughts, emotions and relationships.

Understanding the warning signs of stress is important in diverting a personal or relational accident. When these signs are present we need to stop, look, and listen. The first symptoms are physical ones that are often experienced through frequent headaches, chest pains, or stomach trouble. These may be compounded with either sleep or appetite issues. A second symptom is anxiety. People under extreme stress report being emotionally paralyzed by fear to the point that they find it hard to participate in their normal daily activities. Some say that they become preoccupied with a single problem for weeks on end. A third warning sign is relational difficulties. Distressed people are more susceptible to frequent and sudden arguments with their partners, children, friends, co-workers or supervisors.

What can we do after we stop, look, and listen to these symptoms? First, make an appointment with our physician to check out the physical symptoms. Second, begin to either write about our feelings and situations in a notebook or talk over your troubles with a trusted friend or competent counselor. This can be reassuring and comforting as we discover that everyone has strengths and limitations. Third, balance work with play. Seek a healthy diversion like an interesting hobby, or a class in something totally different than what you are used to doing. A leisurely walk with a change of scenery can bring inner peace and help us put things in perspective.

My tour of duty on the “safety patrol” was one of my very first life lessons. When I’m experiencing stress and feel overwhelmed today, I remember myself wearing that white “safety belt”, while extending my arms and say to myself, “Stop, Look, Listen.” This gives me a few moments to make sure I’m not heading for a collision with some aspect of my life so that I can proceed with clarity and caution.