The United States of Stress Report

A new report from Everyday Health provides us with even more insight on our serious stress situation. I am delighted to have been asked to serve as an advisor for Everyday Health in the review and interpretation of the report, and even more excited to help develop integrative tools to help readers transform stress for good. 

If you’re interested in reading the full report, you can access it here.

To read the announcement of my role as a scientific advisor, check this out.

And, if you want to learn more about your own Stress Style, take this short quiz.  

Report Highlights

  • Almost one-third of those surveyed say they visited a doctor about something stress-related.
  • 57% of the survey respondents say they are paralyzed by stress; 43% say they are invigorated by stress.
  • 51% of the women surveyed say they don’t see friends at all in an average week.
  • 59% of baby boomers have never been diagnosed with a mental health issue; 52% of Gen Zers already have been.
  • Just over a third of all respondents say their job or career is a regular source of stress. Among millennials and Gen Zers, the chronically work-stressed rises to 44%.
  • More than half of women (51%) say they feel bad about their appearance weekly, and 28% say their appearance regularly causes them stress. Only 34% of men say they feel bad about their appearance weekly.
  • 52% of respondents say financial issues regularly stress them out, well above the 35% who cited jobs and careers as the next most common stressor.
  • 47% of all respondents — with women and men almost evenly matched — say that their response to stress is to take it out on themselves.

 

 

 

 

What’s Wealth Without Health?

You know that successfully managing money is more than just increasing numbers in a portfolio. Within those numbers is a unique life story for every client. For some, the goal may be to accumulate enough wealth to fulfill their wildest dreams. For others, it may be making a positive impact on their community and changing lives, or even creating a lasting philanthropic legacy for themselves. And for most, those numbers represent the essential and universal desire to be good providers, ensuring a comfortable life for their families.

Helping clients reach those goals is what drives us, and it’s the ultimate form of job satisfaction. But all too often, we see clients who achieve those goals at a significant and unexpected cost. They’re the ones who are so driven to succeed financially that they wind up losing sight of everything else. We see it all the time – that slippery slope between being a “success” and being a workaholic. Unfortunately, too often the price paid for extraordinary financial wealth can be fractured relationships, personal dissatisfaction, and even compromised physical health.

Be in the Service of Total Life Wealth

As a financial advisor, you have the power to influence. Not just in financial decisions, but in important life choices. Your client relationship requires an extraordinary level of energy and engagement, as well as trust, which puts you in a unique position of being able to help guide them in the critical areas of life itself.

 

I call this the “Total Life Wealth” approach. It doesn’t mean you have to trade in your FA creds for a Ph.D. in psychiatry. It simply involves taking on a slightly different perspective. Yes, you are helping your clients reach a financial end goal. But you are also committed to helping them enjoy the journey, and ensuring that they are happy and healthy when they arrive at their destination.

 

In practice, “Total Life Wealth” can manifest in myriad ways. All it takes is some creative thinking. For example, when talking about retirement plans, expand the topic by discussing ways your client can strategically manage his/her own health and wellness in order to fully enjoy what they’ve been working so hard to build in their financial portfolio. When, in the course of your practice, you acknowledge life events and business or financial milestones, instead of the usual card and flowers, try sending a fruit basket with a note about the ‘power of the nutrients within to fuel further successes. Or, consider sending out pedometers as holiday gifts, with a heartfelt note about taking steps together for a happy, healthy and wealthy future.

Happy Client, Happy Practice

When you shift your focus from financial wealth to total life wealth, you are expanding your service from normative to stellar. You’re going beyond somewhat meager client expectations and contributing to their lives in a positive and very significant way. That makes them feel good – not just about their investments but about you. And when clients begin to rely on you in this way, and you realize that you’re making a big difference in the lives of your clients, as well as their families and everyone around them, that’s the true definition of total life wealth – for you and your clients.

 

Stress, Anxiety and Panic Disorder: What’s the Difference and What Can I Do About It?

It seems like many people nowadays are willing to share that they’re “having a panic attack”, from reality TV moments (Ari on the Bachelor and most of the Kardashians at some point), to media personalities (Dan Harris on GMA or Carson Daly sharing with People magazine) and athletes (thank you Kevin Love). Which is great. Helping to reduce the stigma of mental health challenges is a critical part in boosting our ability to provide more people the quality help they need.

We also need to be cautious about how we proceed with this new found sharing as over-generalization and often times flippant ways some people throw down the concept that they’re “having a panic attack” can also minimize the severity of what’s going on. Non-celebs who are struggling and isolated may feel like what they’re dealing with is different or “crazy” or should be easier to overcome, making their loneliness and anxiety even worse.

I know, because I silently suffered from panic attacks and other related conditions for the majority of my life, and it’s still something I have to keep a close eye on every day so that they’re not triggered.  Some situations still aggravate my nervous system enough to cause an issue (for me it’s usually most of the symptoms listed below, plus I will actually pass out – a little known and seldom understood condition called anxiety induced vasovagal syndrome).

People who are highly sensitive to light, noise, crowds and easily pick up other’s emotions may be at higher risk of developing an anxiety or panic disorder, especially when their sensitivity is not appreciated or supported early in childhood. (You can take a free quiz at www.stresssensitive.com to find out more).

So, what exactly is a panic attack? And how’s it different from stress or anxiety?

Simply put, stress is what happens when demand exceeds capacity. It’s not good or bad, but you can think about it as being like energy potential that can be used in positive or negative ways. There are several stress reactions that happen that help us with short term solutions – fight, flight, freeze or faint. If stress is too intense or continues for too long, this helpful energy can quickly turn against us causing inflammation and internal wear and tear.

If stress is energy, anxiety is what happens when that energy gets stuck in the body. Anxiety can linger well after the stress is gone and can be triggered when no real stress is around, but we worry that it might come back again. If left unresolved, anxiety can become chronic and lead to other conditions like depression, substance abuse, compulsive or aggressive behavior.

According to the American Psychological Association (www.apa.org) a panic attack is “a sudden surge of overwhelming fear that comes without warning and without any obvious reason. It is far more intense than the feeling of being “stressed out” that most people experience.”

Depending on your source, to qualify as a panic attack, the episode may need to include up to four or more of the following symptoms:

  • Heart palpitations, or rapid heart rate
  • Hot flashes, or sudden chills
  • Sweating
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Tingling in the fingers or toes
  • Sensations of shortness of breath or smothering
  • Feelings of choking
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Nausea or abdominal distress
  • Feeling dizzy, unsteady, light-headed, or faint
  • Derealization (feelings of unreality) or depersonalization (being detached from oneself)
  • Fear of losing control or “going crazy”
  • Fear of dying

What separates a panic attack from a more general anxiety response is the intensity and duration of the symptoms. Panic attacks tend to escalate quickly and have more extreme highs and lows, returning back to normal within about 10 minutes or so. But, everyone experiences panic attacks differently, so it’s important not to minimize your experience or feel bad if you’re symptoms don’t seem to line up with the norm.

In addition to the above symptoms, a panic attack is typically marked by the following conditions:

  • it occurs suddenly, without any warning and without any way to stop it.
  • the level of fear is way out of proportion to the actual situation; often, in fact, it’s completely unrelated.
  • it passes in a few minutes; the body cannot sustain the “fight or flight” response for longer than that. However, repeated attacks can continue to recur for hours.

While panic attacks may seem to pop up out of the blue, many people experience more subtle warning signs leading up to an actual panic episode. Mood changes, nervousness, irritability, lack of sleep or too much sleep, changes in appetite or sex drive may all be signs that stress and anxiety are starting to impact your ability to regulate your nervous system effectively. The quicker you can identify these gentler symptoms, the easier it will be to adjust your lifestyle to manage stress more effectively.

Most importantly, be kind to yourself.  Know that your stress, anxiety and even panic-related experiences are just trying to be helpful, even if they feel like they’re turning against you. Do your best to create daily habits that nurture and nourish your nervous system like deep breathing, meditation, physical exercise, time in nature, social support, humor appreciation, laughter, massage, music and gratitude journaling – all of which have been scientifically proven to help you soothe stress and boost resilience.

I’ll share a few more techniques along with a bit more about my personal journey with panic disorder on a short vlog here: https://youtu.be/8v_fbNZo2qg.

For more information, visit these helpful resources: ADAA Anxiety and Depression Association of America www.aada.org; American Psychological Association www.apa.org

Beware of the Energy Vampires

Having worked with financial advisors for nearly a decade, I’ve seen a lot of stress and burnout. Sometimes, in the daily grind of being an advisor, bad habits can sneak up on us. Fortunately, with the right mind-set, even the worst habits can be overcome.

As part of my practice in integrative neuroscience and holistic wellness, I’ve identified the top five energy pitfalls among top performers – and what you can do to avoid them.

1. Flatlining

Those days when you’re doing back-to-back meetings in an “always-on” state? You may think all that adrenaline is your best friend. But, it turns out it’s a fickle friendship. Just as the name implies, flatlining occurs when the body operates in a continuous state of energy with no intervals of recovery or recharging.

 

THE SOLUTION:

Take breaks! At regular intervals, schedule time to relax. On high-performance days with a lot of client interaction, take 5-10 minutes of alone time between meetings for quiet reflection and deep breathing. These short periods of down time will recharge your body for better balance and endurance.

2. Second-hand Stress


The most successful financial advisors share a common trait: empathic personalities. Being able to listen and truly understand another’s perspective, to intuitively know how to negotiate with any person in any situation – those are winning skills for any sales person. But there’s a downside to all that empathy: it can also make you sensitive to the stress and other negative emotions in those around you.

 

THE SOLUTION:
There will always be moments when our clients, colleagues and even family will bring stressful energy into your world – that’s just part of life. And while we can be sympathetic, we don’t have to take it on. Learn where to draw boundaries. Stay focused on the things you can control, and the things that fulfill you. By maintaining a positive mind-set, you’ll demonstrate strong leadership and, very likely, bring calm and comfort to the “stressors” among you.

3. Faulty Fuel

Fueling your body with food is essential. But overdoing – or underdoing – it can obliterate your reserves of energy.

 

THE SOLUTION:
Be strategic in how you eat. Several small meals and snacks throughout the day maintain consistent energy and metabolism. Watch your beverage consumption as well. A little coffee may kick-start your day and a glass of wine may wind you down at the end of it, but too much of either one can have a crash and burn after-effect. And of course, drink plenty of water. Being dehydrated is the number one cause of feeling tired.

4. Lack of Movement


Today they say sitting is the new smoking, and the science is there to prove it. The average U.S. adult sits for nearly eight hours per day, leading to everything from heart disease to back problems to a foggy brain.

 

THE SOLUTION:
Plan to move regularly throughout the day. Sitting may be a hard habit to break since it’s so ingrained in every part of our lives, but building in alternatives will have extraordinary effects. Use an app that reminds you to stand and walk around every 60 minutes. Add a standing desk to your office, so you can alternate how you work. Or promise yourself to start standing and pacing with every phone call you take, so you’ll get blood pumping to your brain and stay sharp while you talk.

5. Brain Fatigue


Just like your body, the brain is an organ that uses different parts to execute various functions. And it needs a regular “total workout” to stay in shape. Overtaxing certain parts of your brain, like the logical/analytical portion, while undertraining others (creative/reflexive) can leave you feeling out of balance and losing steam. And multitasking, once a badge of honor, is really leading to decreased productivity, leaving you feeling frustrated and stressed.

 

THE SOLUTION:
Variety. Obviously, doing the same thing all day every day, can leave you drained. Build in small steps that can help you stretch in ways you’re not accustomed to. Start your day by writing a few sentences in a journal about gratitude. Rather than saving up for one big vacation a year, take several long weekends throughout the year. Allow your brain to open up to discovery and experience on a regular basis. Make something – anything – with your hands. Before long, you’ll achieve the overall cognitive fitness you need to maintain a healthy and happy life.

The Power is Yours

Whether it’s how you plan your day, construct your life or how you react to events around you, never forget that you are in control. And the key to keeping that control is planning ahead and always having a strategy for maintaining a healthy balance

Three Tips to Turn Holiday Stressing into a Blessing

Seasonal stress is hotter than ever this year, with more people reporting symptoms of fatigue, burnout and depression. So, if you’re feeling blue or out of sorts, you’re not alone. According to polls from the American Psychological Association, the most commonly used terms to describe negative emotions during the holiday include fatigue (68%), stress (61%), irritability (52%), sadness (36%), anger (35%), and loneliness (26%).

 

End of year fatigue may be partly to blame, but experts agree that it’s often our unrealistic expectations that drive people to feel overwhelmed and exhausted this time of year. Expectations we place on ourselves and each other, schedules that get too packed, financial strain that gets spread too thin, and the constant rush we feel to get more things done in less time, even as we’re supposedly slowing down.

 

So, what’s a busy body and mind to do to chill out and enjoy the blessings of the season?

Tip 1: Slow Down

Recognize that we train our brains to be in a constant rush all year long, and slowing to a screeching halt never works. Any time you notice yourself rushing, stop and ask yourself if it’s really necessary.

 

Oftentimes I catch myself barely breathing, heart pounding, rushing to the car to get to an appointment that I don’t want to be late for, only to realize that I’m just running an errand with no one waiting for me and no deadline at all. Because we’re so programmed to race against the clock these days, we easily slip into patterns of disruptive stress just because it’s the status quo. So, practice slowing down and just noticing your state of mind and body, and then ask yourself if it’s helpful or hurtful.

Tip 2: Set Yourself Up for Success

I can’t emphasize enough how incredibly important it is to start being intentional about how you want to show up for the time that you have. Again, past mental programming has us rushing to get more done in less time, so we drift through life with this focus even when we want to be more present in the moment. If we’re not careful, we’ll rush right through the season of giving thanks and celebrating what’s good in life, missing out on opportunities to connect, reflect and recharge.

 

To set yourself up for success, plan time each morning to consider what’s most important for you that day. Try to avoid being task-focused, and ask yourself WHO you want to be before you think about WHAT you need to do. This isn’t our normal focus of attention, so it’s critical to set aside time to reflect on these ideas, with your brain and body in a calm, relaxed state.

 

For practice, try this 10-minute Holiday Intention Meditation I created just for this purpose. In time, you’ll be able to breathe, feel and focus your mind in just a matter of moments, training your brain and body to quickly engage your best energy in the time that you have.

Tip 3: Soak in the Good

Similar to your prep time each morning and throughout the day as needed, it’s important to set aside time and space to reflect on what’s good in life at the end of the day. Bedtime is a perfect opportunity to practice a Reflection Meditation in order to soak in the positive experiences of the day and shift your brain and body into a more relaxed and nourishing state to improve your quality of sleep.

 

If you find yourself tired and wired at night, you likely have stress hormones trying to keep your brain on high alert even as your body is desperate for rest. Building in time to unwind from the events of the day, you decrease cortisol and boost positive endorphins like serotonin and oxytocin, to quiet your busy mind.

 

For practice, you can try this 13-min Evening Reflection Meditation, which will guide you through noticing the positive events of the day, considering people you interacted with and shared meaningful moments with, soaking your brain and body in nourishing chemicals to restore, repair, and recharge for the day ahead.

 

As we start to unwind from another busy year, celebrate what’s good in life and prepare for opportunities ahead, we can use the holiday season as an opportunity to start implementing strategic brain recharge practices that can become habits to support long-term energy, creativity and resilience.

 

Aim to start each day with a Prime Time ritual like the Brain Recharge Practice to align your energy and attention with what matters most to you. Book end your day with a Reflection Meditation to quiet and nourish your brain and body for restorative sleep, and then Recharge regularly with tools like meditation, music, and mirth (humor!) to keep yourself on track.

 

And remember, it’s not about the time we have but the energy we bring to that time that gives us the opportunity to have the greatest impact on those we love. So, please take time to recharge your brain regularly. If we all take responsibility for the energy we bring to the time that we have, we can shift the state of our collective stress for the good of us all.

 

If you’d like more free tools to help you recharge, check out my free Recharge Toolkit where I’ll be adding new tools regularly throughout the year and soon providing live guided recharge practices to share together. Bless your stress!

Please Press Pause for Mental Health

Look up the term “mental health”, and you’ll likely find definitions that refer to emotional, psychological and social wellbeing. Which of course is true, but it’s only part of the story. When we fail to include the brain — the physical structure responsible for what we think, feel and do — we limit our ability to integrate mind-body health effectively.

 

The reason I’m asking you to think about this right now is we are in the midst of a mental health epidemic like we’ve never seen before, and it’s only getting worse. As we continue to have more and more access to information and knowledge, we are failing miserably in the application of what we know to how we live our lives.

 

We are spread way too thin, constantly multitasking, addicted to technology, driven to distraction, and trying to seize every moment as if it were our last. Our brains are hard-wired to crave new, novel information and sensitive to potential sources of stress in an effort to protect us from harm. But being on high-alert and triggered by our chaotic environment non-stop has caused our brains and bodies to turn against us.

 

We know what to do, but we can’t seem to do it. Our heart is begging us to slow down, take a breath, ditch the drama, focus on what’s most important to us including spending face time (not the app) with the people we love. But our hijacked brains are telling us we can’t — we don’t have enough, we aren’t enough, and only through constant striving can we even attempt to keep up.

 

And the result of all of this noise? 

 

Pressure has become painful. Brains have re-organized in an attempt to keep us safe, becoming hypersensitive to stress and stimulation. Which means that, like a drug, when we try to quiet down or slow down it feels terrible. Like detox. In our discomfort, we slip back into old patterns that give us temporary relief, all while causing long-term damage.

 

I don’t want to minimize the severity of mental health, or try to place blame on technology, work, or chaotic political or environmental circumstances. But I do want to bring the brain into the mental health picture where it belongs.

 

What do our daily routines and habits have to do with our mental health?

  • We multitask constantly and then are surprised when symptoms of attention deficit appear.
  • We are surrounded by fear-based programming on our 24/7 news cycle and are surprised that we feel anxious.
  • We see the horrendous, painful ways that we treat each other just by noticing what’s happening as strangers pass by each other, bump into each other, road rage at each other and are surprised that we feel irritable, impatient or alone.
  • We see people starving and living in poverty and are surprised that we feel sad.

Many times, the way we feel is actually perfectly aligned with the information the brain is processing. The patterns and non-conscious cues we pick up in a broken world shift the lens through which we experience life to be stressful, overwhelming and out of control. Instead of seeing these feelings and emotions as information to guide us in a new direction, we want them to go away. We minimize them, push them down, and are surprised when they pop back up to our attention without our permission.

I’ve been saying for a while now that stress is going to save the world, with or without us. I don’t mean to be dismissive about this, but if we don’t start paying attention to what’s causing collective stress, our brains and bodies will continue to breakdown, burn out, and turn against us.

Please, pause for a few minutes to think about your own mental health. 

 

What’s the status of your psychological, emotional and well-being? Notice where you feel stress in your own life, and instead of pushing it down or hoping it goes away, ask it questions so you can use the information to fuel change.

 

 

Pause: What do I really need right now?

Pause: Why am I feeling this way?

Pause: What small adjustment could I make to feel more aligned with what matters most to me?

Pause: How am I spending and investing in my own energy so that I can show up for the people who matter most to me?

Pause: How can I serve others to help them have better mental health?

 

Some final thoughts and resources, for now.

 

I’ve just finished reading an insightful and emotional book that has re-ignited my passion for speaking out about mental health. Without going into the details of my own story, I could relate in many ways to the challenges described in the book, What Made Maddy Run: The Secret Struggles and Tragic Death of an All-American Teen, by ESPN commentator and journalist Kate Fagan. I highly recommend this book, especially for parents.

 

I am also grateful to be participating in the Free Mental Wellness Summit 2.0, broadcasting September 25th through October 2nd, to share insights on how stress plays a role in mental health and brain imbalances.

Three Quick Mindset Shifts for Better Mental Health

Challenges with mental health continue to increase as our brains receive messages of insufficient funds across multiple dimensions. Simply put, the brain’s primary responsibility is to sustain an energy balance that ensures safety and survival. When we think or feel that we do not have enough –whether it be time, energy, social support or other internal and external resources -the brain will shift us into conservation mode, which over time can wear us out or break us down.

 

We can train our brain to shift our mind into a more optimal state of health and performance through simple “neural nudges”, mantras, or focus phrases we use throughout the day. The more often we practice, the more quickly we can shift from surviving to thriving.

 

Here are three short scripts that can bring more balance to your brain chemistry, focus to your attention, and peace to your state of mind by reducing the stimulation of anxiety and increasing the nourishment of positivity, gratitude, and curiosity.

1) I have enough, I am enough.

As you breathe in say the words “I have enough”. With this breath, with the new oxygen you bring into your body and brain, you have what you need in this moment. Simply be. And as you breathe out, remind yourself that you are enough, just as you are. You don’t need to do more or be more in this moment. Just rest in knowing you are enough, right here and now. Relax.

2) Let go, let in.

As you breathe out say the words “let go”, as you release any tension or worries you might feel in the moment. As you breathe in, say the words “let in”, allowing yourself to appreciate this moment of stillness. Breathe in comfort, peace, and safety. If you want, you can also start to consider the positive things that have happened so far today and really soak in the simple blessings of what’s good in life.

3) Life is a journey/adventure/trip.

Depending on how you want to feel in this moment, allow yourself to nudge your brain in the direction of flexibility, creativity, and curiosity. Remind yourself that life is about what happens along the way, not the destination. By opening up your perspective to the possibilities that exist, you shift to a less perfectionistic state of mind. As you breathe in, say to yourself “Life is…” and as you breathe out, use the word that resonates most with the energy you’d like to feel. If you feel extra challenged and need a greater shift, use some humor to add playful expansion to your perspective. Life is…a trip, after all.

 

For more tools to master mindfulness, check out the FREE Global Stress Summit online April 24 — May 1, 2017: http://bit.ly/stresssummit or my Recharge Toolkit with guided meditations to tame your monkey mind: http://ebrain.heidihanna.com/p/rechargetoolkit.

3 Quick Steps to Spring Clean Your Stress Mess

Although the weather may still be dreary, the calendar suggests that spring is right around the corner. What better time to clear up the elements of your life that contribute to a sense of stress.  Remember, stress is not good or bad – it’s just a feeling you get when demands are greater than capacity. Even the concepts of eustress (good) and distress (bad) do little to help us truly understand the stress dynamic, as we’ve all experienced something positive leading to overwhelm if we’re not fully prepared or something negative bringing about glorious growth and change when we have what it takes to effectively adapt.

When we are caught in a stressful experience, it’s important to first stop and ask the question: what am I really feeling right now? Feeling stressed provides us with no helpful information, but simply a bucket in which to temporarily dump our mess. Unfortunately, that stress bucket becomes heavier and heavier throughout the day, and we carry it around putting unnecessary wear and tear on our brains and bodies. By sorting through the clutter and unpacking the stress mess, we start the critical cleaning up and clearing out process that enables us to better manage our most valuable resources of time, energy, health, and happiness.

Step 1: Clearly Identify the Source (Awareness)

If your stress bucket over-floweth, don’t try to unpack it all at once. Give yourself 3 minutes to do this exercise daily over the next week or two so that you can chip away slowly. Begin by asking yourself, what in my life is causing me to feel stressed and start to unpack the components until you get to the root cause. Is it the demands you feel are being asked of you? Or is your current capacity leaving you feeling tapped out? For now just clear away the noise, the excuses, the old stories you tell yourself about why you’re in this situation, and focus in on what your brain and body are trying to tell you in this moment. What’s causing the pressure or tension you feel? Spend a few minutes writing down your stress mess, and identify one aspect that feels most realistic to clean up right now.

Step 2: Get Your Miracle Clean Chemicals Ready (Appreciation)

This next step is critical, although most people skip it and find themselves in more of a mess as a result. It turns out, when it comes to cleaning up the mind you have access to the most powerful chemical cocktail within your own internal regulation system and that is your own connection to positivity, curiosity, and gratitude.  When you shift your attention for just a few moments to something uplifting, you actual trigger a chemical cascade in the brain and body that modifies approximately 1,200 known expressions inside your system.  Brainwaves, neurotransmitters, hormones, heart rate variability, inflammatory and restorative markers start to dance in a more rhythmic way to help recharge our energy and see things in a new light.  The lens through which you see the world is dramatically altered, and suddenly possibilities you never thought possible begin to show up. Resources you didn’t realize you had are now accessible, and stress can be transformed into simply a stimulus for change.

 

So before you start scrubbing the stress mess, trigger the release of this awesome sauce of positivity, curiosity, and gratitude by reflecting on something or someone your appreciate now or have had an enjoyable experience with in the past. Close your eyes and physically feel the sensations of this more positive state, soak in it for a few minutes, and then you’ll be geared up for the final step.  (If you’d like to listen to a guided audio for this process, you can listen to this free 3-minute recharge break here.)

Step 3: Organize, Prioritize, and Toss Out the Junk (Adjustment)

The most important predictor of the stress response is one’s sense of personal control. When we feel victim to our circumstances, the brain triggers a stress response designed to protect us short term but one that ultimately turns on us when we don’t take action. Looking at the two elements you uncovered in step 1, where are you able to take a small step of personal control towards moving the demand/capacity balance in a better direction? If there really is too much on your plate right now, what can be eliminated? Is there someone in your life who can take an item off your to-do list or offer support to share the burden? You might be surprised to find that someone in your group of friends actually has strength in solving the same challenges you find a threat, and that by engaging with them for a better solution you not only reduce the stress in your life but you also help build their capacity and resilience.

 

You may also notice that what you’re focusing on really doesn’t carry the weight that you initially gave it. Ask the question: does this really matter? Am I magnifying the mess by making it bigger than it really is, or does it truly need my attention right now? Get curious about stress. Will this matter in 5 years? Is there another way of looking at this? What’s the lesson here? By shifting to a curiosity mindset without judging ourselves in the process we actually open up the neural pathways in the brain to support more creative and innovative ways to problem solve. If it turns out the stress does require some adjustment, we’ll have more solutions available to use from a state of curiosity than from a state of self-criticism or blame.

 

If capacity is the issue, what could you do right now to refill your tank and have more energy to tackle the challenges that lie ahead? What do you do to recharge regularly? And if you’re not sure, spend some extra time right now creating a recharge toolkit with the strategies and techniques that give you energy. Perhaps a recharge playlist with music that’s encouraging or inspiring. A beyond funny folder with images, audio clips, or funny videos you can watch to lift your spirit. Places in nature where you like to spend time but don’t make the effort to visit because you are locked in survival mode. Take time to be proactive with your stress solutions so that when you’re feeling low on time or energy you’ll have options at your fingertips.

 

Sometimes your stress mess takes more time to sift through, so you may decided to dedicate more time to your initial awareness, appreciation, adjustment process. My Stress360 assessment can help you get an initial read on where the stress sensation is coming from. But over time, and with regular maintenance, you can quickly reset each morning and again throughout the day to better align your energy with the things that matter most. When you notice the dis-ease of stress, don’t just dump it in the stress bucket but take a look at what it’s trying to tell you. Shine your internal GPS right in its face and ask the question: what clean up or course corrections are required in this moment to get me back on track. By spending a few minutes to tidy each time stress shows up, you keep your stress load light and your energy charged to make stress an opportunity for positive change.

 

For information on our free upcoming Global Stress Summit, please visit www.stress.org/events.

 

Change is in the Air

Change is in the air, and regardless of your political position you are likely going to feel the impact of change today. We know that change is constant, and yet certain moments bring about a visceral sensation that tides are turning, a new ship has sailed. Today is one of those days.

Watching the process of change unfold in the upcoming transition of power in our country I became deeply emotional, recognizing the impact of what’s happening in this moment in time. I also quickly discovered my compassion for those who might be struggling through this change process, desperate to hold on to what they had hoped to be their plan A.  Perhaps ironically, I was simultaneously watching a video of an upcoming speaker for our Global Stress Summit, Dr. Ken Druck, who was addressing an international hope and healing conference where he talked about this very notion. That when we experience loss we “stand in the ashes of plan A as we consider how we might imagine our plan B.”

 

For many of us, the election process never even offered up a plan A, which meant we’ve already been working on plan B or burying our heads in the sand hoping that it will all just figure itself out somehow. For others, you worked hard at your plan A, devoting your time, energy and passion to a cause you believed in only to have the foundation of hope knocked out from underneath you. For many still, you fight – even just inside your own mind – for plan A to some how become resurrected out of the ashes, holding onto hope for what your best plans should have manifested.

 

Regardless, change is stressful. Plans aside. There is so much uncertainty, laced with fear that has been hardwired by what we’ve known to be true in the past. Our expectations and judgments can get the best of us, creating even greater anxiety and worry that we become unable to move through the change process in a healthy way. More than anything on this day of incredible change, I want to encourage all of us that change is required for growth. It doesn’t mean it will be easy. In fact, if you consider the times you’ve personally experienced tremendous growth, wisdom and understanding you’ll likely notice it was throughout a difficult experience.

 

Last year was one of my worst, and yet looking back I see how every moment of that experience was chipping away at what I had held onto as my plan A in order to force my hand and heart to consider another, better way. In all of the interviews I have conducted on radical resilience, the story always follows a path of rebuilding: a serious change of plans. I am eager to share these stories of resilience with you over the next few months. Until then, I want to encourage you to consider any change-induced stress as an opportunity for growth. And remember that in our toolkit for building resilience, the most important tools we have are each other.

 

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The Global Stress Summit will broadcast for free April 24 – May 1, 2017. For more information, you can sign up to be notified when the summit page is available for registration by signing up here

My Break-up Letter to Stress

Dear Stress,

Let me start by saying how grateful I am for the time we’ve spent together. And that this is not about you, but about me. You’ve been there to pick me up more often than I can remember. So many mornings when I wanted to stay in bed to rest, you reminded me that I didn’t have a moment to waste. “Live life to the fullest.” “You only live once.” “You can rest when you’re in the ground.” The jolt of energy I needed to get out there and make my mark on the world. To reach for the stars. To strive to be more, and do more, and have more.

 

And yet, I see now how my path is taking me in a different direction. One that requires me to let go of my dependence on your driving force. While the chronic anxiety and endless striving for perfection feels comforting and familiar, it has become clear to me that the fear of life without you cripples my ability to truly become my best self. Logically I know that if I let you go my natural wisdom will take over to guide progress well beyond my stress-filled perspective can see. I’ve read the decades of research demonstrating that although we feel more energized temporarily, stress as fuel only adds to the deterioration process, breaking down our bodies and minds at a faster speed and hijacking our ability to be truly extraordinary. But stepping into the abyss of bliss feels disconnected, and I fear I’ll become nothing at all.

 

Then suddenly I remember. We don’t have to say good-bye at all. I’m not leaving you behind, I’m inviting you on a new journey with me. A better path and a smoother ride that takes us where we want to go without resistance. Accepting that we can co-exist and lift each other up by redefining what it means to face life together. Perhaps by seeing each other for who we really are — me, a work in progress and you, a bright light shining into the broken parts to show me where healing must take place — perhaps then we can evolve and adapt to become our best selves. 

 

To do this, we must create a new relationship. Let’s appreciate the past and what brought us this far, and then let’s consider how to work together in harmony to reach our most important goals of health, happiness, and love. Moving forward, I choose to see you as an adventure, an opportunity, and an experiment in this extraordinary gift called life. All I ask of you is that you allow me to make mistakes, continue to be a work in progress, and hit the snooze button from time to time. 

 


If you’d like to learn more about your relationship with stress and receive tips to ditch it for good, check out my free Stress360 assessment