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Stanley "Stosh" Comisiak - Head Counselor for Relaxation
June 28, 2013

According to Stanley “Stosh” Comisiak, Employee Assistance Program consultant and counselor, the best way to reduce stress is to view any given situation as realistically as possible, with the hope of either changing it or adapting to it.

Name: Stanley (Stosh) Comisiak, MA, Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor (LCPC) in Maryland

Title: Employee Assistance Program (EAP) Consultant and Counselor

Organization: Code 250, Office of Health and Safety, Medical and Environmental Management Division, Management Operations Directorate

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What do you do and what is most interesting about your role here at Goddard? How do you help support Goddard’s mission?

I am the only EAP consultant and counselor based at Goddard. Our services are completely confidential. However, they are only available to civil servant employees, not contractors.

We provide psychological counseling for any kind of personal or job-related issues. We can offer up to six sessions of individual, couples or family counseling for free, which can be held on-center with me. In addition, we offer offsite counseling through our affiliates.

To contact a local counselor through our affiliates, please call 800-222-0364. If more sessions are suggested, counseling can be continued with our affiliates or with another therapist, either at your own expense or if covered by your insurance. In addition, our 800 number can provide employees access to free, unlimited financial counseling plus one, free legal consultation per year.

Our office also offers presentations open to employees and contractors. Some of our topics include stress management, dealing with difficult people, parenting skills, depression and communication skills, among others. We also work with a lot of advisory committees.

What are some of the more common issues you see?

Over the past year, I have seen an increase in family and personal counseling. About half of my clients come in for job-related issues, primarily stress. Everything is stress–communications issues, people feeling bullied or strained interpersonal relations. The other half involve family issues, such as raising teenagers or young adults, combined with mental health issues including anxiety or depression.

Do you think that we are living in a time of accelerated change, which some are calling the digital revolution?

Yes, absolutely. In this digital age, we are all connected, but nobody truly communicates. We hadn’t even learned how to write a good email when we had to learn how to text. People do not call each other as much. People don’t even email often. Now the latest form of communication is to text and who knows what the next new thing will be. We are electronically connected, but not personally connected. We are interacting more with machines than with people. All of this isolation increases our stress loads on top of regular stressors. There is very little face-to-face contact, which is a basic human need. The key is making personal connections as well as electronic ones.

What are some other big, stress producers and how can we reduce stress from them?

I often wonder what is normal because depression, stress and anxiety are major issues all over the country. We have downsizing and other economic issues. Most of us who are paying attention are concerned about our future–whether or not we will be able to retire due to decreasing house values and dwindling retirement savings. To me, 24/7 news and 403(k)’s are some of the worst things that ever happened to our society because the problems never go away. I tell many people, to only watch thirty minutes of news every evening or, better yet, just read the news. Still better, read a book. Seeing the images over and over again on the news provokes stress and heightens our emotions. There is almost no place we can go to avoid stress.

Another big stress producer is our inactivity. We sit in the car, we sit in the office and we sit in our recliners watching TV. Stress is a “fight or flight” response. Moving around is a great stress reliever. Go outside and move around and exercise thirty minutes every day.

I also recommend calming techniques such as meditation. Goddard’s meditation club offers lunchtime meditation sessions. Take time to stop, back away from your keyboard and listen to your breath. If you are having intrusive thoughts, count your breaths. Your breath controls your body’s emotional reaction, so when you count your breath it is almost impossible to worry.

What are some other good ways to stay emotionally balanced?

Make friends and be a good friend. It is very important to connect with other people. People who cope the best with stress are those who make a point to be part of a community.

Is there a key to stress management?

Absolutely. We create a lot of our stresses in our minds by how we perceive our situation. To paraphrase John Milton, “The mind is a wonderful place and in itself can make a heaven out of hell and a hell out of heaven.” That’s the key–how your mind perceives any given situation. For example, if you are stuck in rush hour traffic, you can either fret or you can sit back and enjoy the radio. You can choose to perceive the situation as not stressful and even relaxing.

Are you involved with any disaster response teams?

Yes, I am part of the Federal Occupational Health Disaster Response Team. At Goddard, we have a version as well called the Goddard Incident Peer Support Team. When disaster strikes and we are called, we provide onsite psychological first aid. We take the lessons learned from fireman, police and military first responders and apply them to what could occur in any work place.

What was the last national disaster you assisted?

Two years ago, the U.S. Courts in Phoenix and Tucson called me to assist with the aftermath of the Rep. Gabby Gifford shooting in which a federal judge, among others, was killed. For two weeks, I worked with the state Supreme Court staff of each city to help them cope. You never really know what to say, you just have to go there with an open mind and pay attention to their needs. As long as you are well intended, whatever you say is good, but the victims are so overwhelmed that they may not always take it that way. Sometimes you just sit with people and offer them coffee. Sometimes you just hug them. You have to respect their space.

If you weren’t in your current profession, what would you be doing?

I would love to be a park ranger so that I could spend all day outside. I love to hike, backpack and garden. At night, I would be a folk or rock guitarist. I am always taking guitar lessons to learn to pluck better, but I’ll never earn a living at it.

If you could meet and talk to anybody, living or dead, who would it be and what’s the first thing you’d ask them?

I would like to meet Gandhi and ask him how to create peace in the world. I’d also ask him how he maintained his inner peace.

> More Conversations with Goddard

Elizabeth M. Jarrell
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

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Photo of Stanley "Stosh" Comisiak
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Credit: NASA/W.Hrybyk
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Page Last Updated: July 28th, 2013
Page Editor: Lynn Jenner