Thank you Michael!
Letting go is a beautiful practice! I actually have a guided meditation on this specifically that I find helpful — breathing in, “letting in” and breathing out “letting go”. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZVARg9FxSYQ&t=15s
Great question, and yes…that does happen. Often. I think the key is to always try to build our capacity, while minimizing demands that aren’t necessary (if we look at stress as what happens when demand exceeds capacity). In this case, minimizing how much time we spend with energy drainers, and preparing ourselves the best we can to be present and grounded so we don’t take on their bad juju is helpful…plus trying to spend more time with those who do energize us, inspire us, more often.
3 Simple Steps from Ah-Ha to Action
Despite rapid advances in our understanding of stress patterns and processes, we continue to suffer from the hazardous effects of stress mismanagement.
Well-intentioned stress management efforts ranging from healthcare systems to workplace wellness programs have only fueled the ever-increasing gap between what we know and what we do (what I call the “know-do/no-do gap”). It seems we have over-educated and overwhelmed end users, resulting in even more fear, worry and stress, which is reflected in the increasing financial and physical toll it commands.
Experts estimate that up to 90% of all medical visits are stress related and that the consequences of chronic stress place an economic burden of approximately $600 billion annually on the United States alone (www.stress.org).
We are overdue to for an update in how we talk about and transform our individual and collective relationship with stress.
Perhaps the most confusing and often stressful part of our journey so far has been the lack of clarity and certainty regarding the definition of stress. Considering we can never fully manage (let alone master) what we can’t measure, getting crystal clear about what it is and how it shows up for real people in the real world is a critical first step.
Rather than worry about how the word came about or what it was initially intended to mean, it may be most helpful to evaluate what it means in this moment in time. Simply put, considering all of its clinical and common-sense uses, stress is what happens when demand exceeds capacity. This could refer to the stress on an object when too much pressure or strain occurs, or the gap between our physical strength in the gym when we lift weights to stimulate new muscle growth.
It can be the stimulation of our minds when we try to learn a new language, the tension on our emotions when we engage in a disagreement with our spouse, or the fiscal strain of charging yet another item to a credit card piling on debt.
Whether we are aware of it or not, too much stress can cause serious problems across all walks of life, and all dimensions of energy. When we choose to explore the root cause of stress, we are provided with valuable insight that can help us navigate life more successfully. This includes improved health, happiness, performance, productivity and so much more.
But, when we “manage” our stress but minimizing it, pushing it down or pushing it away, the demand-capacity gap we call stress load grows stronger and wider in an effort to steal our attention away from the busyness of our daily lives. When we offer individuals stress “management” solutions without providing guidance on how to know which will be most effective for their unique relationship with stress, we run the risk of continued failed attempts; dwindling motivation, lost self-esteem, a perception of hopelessness and even more added stress.
A new paradigm is needed to save us from our current stress mess.
Shifting to a framework of mastery instead of management offers a personalized, targeted approach to using the energy and information stress provides us to fuel positive change and effective adaptation. From here, we learn from the lessons stress seeks to provide, and literally use stress as it was intended — first to help us survive and then to help us to thrive.
Moving from Management to Mastery
Here we provide a simple, practical, evidence-based framework that can be used to guide individuals and organizations in the Stress Mastery process: assess, appreciate and adjust. This is not a groundbreaking idea, but its simplicity has the potential to radically transform how we communicate about and provide support for stress-induced (or inspired) growth.
Author note: Two personal mantras that have shaped my Stress Mastery approach are “common sense is not common practice”, and we must “simplify it to apply it”.
Step 1: Assess
It is always a good idea before making a plan to determine what is required and why.
Similarly, with stress, we cannot determine a proper solution until we know the root cause of our experience in the moment. Of course, as simple as this sounds in theory it can be quite difficult to clearly and accurately determine the root cause when there are so many confounding factors. Anytime the human system is involved we must consider the integration of body, mind and spirit; or the 5 primary domains of physical, emotional, mental, spiritual and social energy.
Current clinically-validated measures tend to focus on one domain at a time, or a lengthy process that in itself provides too costly (time, money, energy) and therefore is abandoned before it begins. By simplifying the first step of assessment to the point an individual can quickly check in with their own common-sense or intuition, we can highlight areas worthy of further exploration or expertise.
A simple Stress 360 Survey has been developed (currently undergoing validation study after 30,000 users took it the free survey in 2018) to assist with this process. The more thorough Stress 360 Assessment (included in the Stress Mastery online course) provides an integrative platform for using a variety of indicators from multiple validated reports. These short-form assessments offer a more complete picture of an individual or group’s unique relationship with stress.
The next step in this process, part of our Stress 20/20 Initiative (www.stress2020.com coming soon), is the creation of a Clinical Stress 360, which will add another layer of exploration through the addition of genetic factors and other biomarkers.
Step 2: Appreciate
Seldom do stress management strategies emphasize the magnitude of benefit that comes from gratitude and appreciation. Although it may be counterintuitive to the untrained mind, the perspective of mastery requires us to see the value of our experience, no matter how challenging.
Solid research supports the neurological impact of shifting to a sense of appreciation in the midst of difficult circumstances (see Crum and Achor re-thinking stress, Dweck growth mindset, work on post-traumatic growth and more).
By teaching a “stress-is-enhancing” mindset and the specific techniques required to actually facilitate this change in the brain, we dramatically improve the opportunity for a successful transformation.
Step 3: Adjust
With the brain and body in a more optimal state for positive (vantage) neuroplasticity to take place, we can now provide specific, customized recommendations for each individual, group and/or organization to implement. Experience and evidence strongly suggest that to create sustainable change in our habits of both thought and behavior it’s important to have two key elements: education and experience (or information and transformation).
Information can only take us so far, and most stress management programs focus too much of their time and energy on content. We recommend that approximately 20% of training time and effort be spent sharing simple scientific frameworks that support basic understanding and then 80% used to target the commitment and consistency of application. In our experience, this is best done in a way that integrates a strong connection with community of some sort, ideally in-person, but when necessary through a virtual solution where people are truly accountable to each other (and not allowed to pass through or tempted to scroll to other tempting distractions).
When we start to apply the incredible knowledge we’ve acquired over the past 20 years (and beyond) in a way that is practical, applicable and sustainable, we will finally see the stress epidemic shift from something that breaks us down and burns us out to something that provides information and transformation for good.
To learn more about Dr. Heidi Hanna’s Stress 20/20 Initiative, join her free Webinar airing LIVE for National Stress Awareness Month on Tuesday, April 16th at 6pm PST (registrants will also have access to the recording for 24 hours). Sign up free at: https://heidihanna.com/stress2020-webinar/
The Stress Mastery Solution provides an educational framework for basic knowledge www.heidihanna.com/smp and a professional development platform for optimal connection, repetition, and resulting transformation www.heidihanna.com/smpro2.
Stress 20/20: A Critical Shift From Stress Management to Stress Mastery was originally published in Thrive Global on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.
7 Steps to Train Your Brain to Release Tension and Receive Gratitude
If life were a Hallmark card, we’d all be energetically bounding into the holiday season with grace and joy. Unfortunately, decades of marketing the magic of the season has elevated our expectations to unreachable heights, making feelings of overwhelm even worse.
Studies show that despite all the reminders to appreciate what we have, the constant focus on needing to get and give more with less has us all seriously stressed out. According to polls from the American Psychological Association, some of the most commonly used terms to describe emotions during the holiday include fatigue (68%), stress (61%), irritability (52%), sadness (36%), anger (35%), and loneliness (26%).
This year, don’t bypass the blessings that exist in precious time spent with family and friends. With a few simple shifts, you can recharge your energy, slow down enough to appreciate what’s good in life, and refocus your attention on what matters most.
1. Take a digital detox. In the “off season”, work demands subside as companies realize attention is often elsewhere. But our hard-wired need to stay connected and productive can keep us leashed to our technological devices even more as things slow down. Notice the pull and just like lifting weights at the gym, resist it. Without judgment, shift your attention to the present moment and experiencing what’s right before you, or use the time to truly decompress with one of the recharge strategies below.
2. Prioritize sleep. It’s natural to want to hibernate a bit when our surroundings become cold and dark. So why not follow nature’s perfect rhythm and allow yourself to rest? Set an alarm to start your unwinding process and aim to go to bed 30 minutes earlier each week to nudge you towards more consistent slumber. Use relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, aromatherapy, peaceful music or guided meditation to quiet your busy mind and allow your body to drift off to sleep.
3. Power-up your plate. And remember, sometimes less is more. Focus on increasing the value of what you eat rather than the volume to keep you feeling energized and engaged. If 80% of what you eat consists of whole, natural, health-promoting foods then the occasional indulgence that you really enjoy and appreciate won’t throw you off track. When you do splurge on dietary delights, eat slowly and mindfully to fully enjoy the experience.
4. Move it, move it. Movement not only stimulates energy production, but it also helps to dramatically decrease stress hormones while boosting feel-good chemicals in the brain. One way to make it easier to incorporate physical activity into your already-busy schedule is to gradually increase the general movement you get throughout the day. Simply standing instead of sitting can double metabolism, and walking can multiply resting metabolism five-fold. Set goals for yourself and make it more fun by including friends and family in a challenge, such as tracking steps or doing a silly circuit-training workout with your kids during commercials.
5. Laugh out loud. While most people don’t play games with the intent of improving their health, recent studies have demonstrated that having fun and laughing can have tremendous impact on all dimensions of our health: physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. Our physical body cannot differentiate between “real” laughter in response to something we genuinely find funny and the unconditional laughter that is merely brought on by one’s intention to laugh. Experienced with a group, this laughter quickly becomes contagious and the impact is substantial. (Want more info on the health benefits of Humor, visit www.aath.org.)
6. Remember your purpose. Try to start each day by setting your intentions for priorities and purpose. Instead of focusing on what needs to be done, spend a few minutes thinking about why the holiday season is important to you, and how you want to experience your time so you can stay mindful of what matters most. Anchoring your brain’s attention on what matters most first thing in the morning and reflecting several times during the day will help to keep you grounded in your intentions.
7. Treat yourself — Tis the season for giving, so why not do something special for yourself? Taking time to nurture your own spirit will help fuel the energy and attention you need to be fully present with those you care about. Schedule a massage or other spa treatment, buy a nice candle or aromatherapy diffuser, take a long bubble bath, or treat yourself to a movie.
Remember to bless your stress, it means you’re alive. Besides, a simple shift in perspective can make stress your friend instead of your frenemy.
If you’d like to learn the 3 most critical steps you can take to become a Stress Master during the Holiday Season (and find out the one thing you do every day that’s hijacking your brain) — join me on a free live webinar Dec 12th at 4pm PST. Visit www.heidihanna.com/webinar to register or if you missed the event, you’ll see postings for upcoming programs.
Stop Stress and Jumpstart Your Joy This Holiday Season was originally published in Thrive Global on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.
Like other stress-related concerns and conditions, the point where technology becomes more foe than friend is different for each of us. Using energy resource theory, “stress is what occurs when demand exceeds capacity”. Take a quick look around our constantly multitasking society and it’s clear to see that our constant connection to information, stimulation, and validation has shifted our general state of being into one that’s easily agitated, frustrated and even enraged.
While some people feel on-edge from the noise of tech and knowing demands on our time and resources constantly increase with each incoming email, others fail to notice any signs or symptoms of tech addiction until they’re asked to put it away. Or, when it’s taken away from them, such as in a loss of connectivity in an emergency situation or network dysfunction.
Not long ago I recall an elevator exchange with a conference attendee who was disgruntled by the fact she couldn’t continue to text in route to her hotel room. “We can put a man on the moon but we can’t create a cell signal that doesn’t drop in the elevator? Sheesh…” she shrugged. Sometimes it seems the more we accomplish the more pathetic we see our inability to be perfect.
Perhaps this has something to do with the rising rates of anxiety, depression and other stress-related conditions despite the extraordinary advancement and luxuries in life.
So, just how much tech can we tolerate before it turns pressure into pain? According to one survey by Harris Interactive, the magic number for most people is about 50 emails a day. Once our inbox exceeds that count, most feel like they can’t keep up.
Ironically, if you asked people how they’d feel if they got less than the average number of emails a day (or the amount they perceive other important people get), they’d start to experience depression due to feeling less than. It seems we need enough connection to feel stimulated and validated but not too much that we feel stressed out. Or perhaps since stressed out is the norm these days, feeling calm and in control would feel wrong.
Research has clearly shown that multitasking has serious negative effects on productivity and performance, and can even compromise long-term health and happiness. When we wake up in the morning feeling like we don’t have enough time to get it all done, the brain shifts to a state of chronic stress that hijacks our energy and attention. Add a steady stream of incoming emails, texts, phone calls, and a 24/7 news cycle and you have a recipe for attentional disaster, or deficit disorder.
Understanding that tech isn’t going away or slowing down anytime soon, how can we maximize its benefit while minimizing the impact on our stress load?
1. Prioritize downtime. We need to recharge our brains and bodies with as much effort and attention as we give to our cellular devices. For every hour, plan 3–5 minutes to relax and focus on nourishing positivity with simple techniques like gratitude, calm breathing, and music.
2. Minimize multitasking. When we need to focus on the task at hand, turn tech off. Completely off. Remember that hands-free is not brain-free; studies show that the risk of a crash is 4x higher when on a phone call whether you’re holding a phone or not. Set aside specific times during the day to check email or do other online tasks and avoid slipping into surfing in between. Fight the temptation to get more done in less time by doing multiple tasks at once, and instead focus on being full engaged in what matters most in each moment.
3. Engage in email etiquette. Drop the need to cc more than necessary, and be considerate about sending communications after hours. When it’s important, make a call or when possible meet face to face.
4. Reduce the rush. Set realistic expectations for yourself and others regarding response time. Create more space in your calendar by committing to 50-minute or 25-minute meetings, with buffer time for breaks in between.
5. Run mindful meetings. Spend time up front getting clear on the agenda and desired outcome so that participants can stay focused on the task at hand. Only invite people to the meeting who need to contribute, and hold firm to the scheduled time frame. Whenever possible, end meetings early to allow people to recharge their energy, reflect on the conversation, and take action on key takeaways.
If you want to find out how tech is impacting your personal relationship with stress, check out the free Stress 360 Survey, which will also provide quick strategies to help you shift stress for good right now.
Everything that has life has rhythm, including us.
The human system is designed to oscillate — from heartbeats to brain waves to blood sugar fluctuations. Yet most of us live our lives like a flat line. We put the pedal to the metal from the moment our alarm jolts us out of bed, just as we feel like we’ve finally drifted to sleep. The problem is not just that we’re constantly on the go, but that our stress response also causes us to have one foot simultaneously on the brake, grinding our gears and causing internal wear and tear on our brains and our bodies.
The constant perception that we don’t have enough — time, money, energy — prompts the brain to trigger a neurochemical cascade that puts our entire system on high alert 24/7. And the results of this are deadly.
Without a pulse or consistent beats the help us reset and recharge throughout the day, we force our system to function on a steady supply of stress hormones to help us bridge the gap between our limited capacity and ever-increasing demands. But there is a better way. A series of simple shifts that can gently nudge our nervous system back towards coherent and aligned patterns of focus and attention to bring our best energy to the time we have.
Take a few minutes right now for a quick energy audit. Depending on the time you have to commit, consider investing 5 minutes to reflect on your energy patterns and determine a quick shift that will enable you to reset your rhythm in a way that will minimize chronic stress and optimize your productivity and performance.
Step one: assess.
On a scale of 1–10, how energized are you feeling right now in the following 5 categories: physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and socially? Add up your numbers, multiply it by 2 and you’ve got your energy percentage for the current moment. How energized are you right now? How helpful would it be to recharge?
Step two: reflect.
Do a quick energy audit, looking at the timeline of your day — are you oscillating or flat-lining? There are 5 critical times during the day where you can prime your brain to optimize your energy production and navigation.
1: First thing in the morning — are you investing at least 15–20 minutes to think about who you want to be before you think about what you need to do? Are you optimizing the energy of your brain by getting physical activity, experiencing positive emotions, and focusing on what matters most to you?
2: Before you go to bed at night — are you investing at least 15–20 minutes to reflect on the positive things that happened during the day? Are you unwinding from technology and stimulation, and shifting your senses to a calm state for optimal sleep by doing rhythmic breathing, guided relaxation, taking a hot bath or reading a good book (preferably on paper)?
3: Are you eating mindfully throughout the day to recharge your physical energy? Are you taking breaks to refuel with healthy food and some time away from your desk, quieting your mind and appreciating the moment to recharge?
4: Are you moving your body at least every 90 minutes? Are you breaking away from work to stand, stretch, go for a walk and get some fresh air? Are you taking meetings and calls while in motion from time to time?
5: And finally, are you taking breaks throughout the day to shift focus away from your to-do list and onto things that inspire you, delight you, and make you laugh? Are you investing time in reflection and creativity, and prioritizing connections with other people who matter to you?
Step 3: recharge.
Right now, what could you do that would optimize your energy in the moment? How much time could you invest — 3 minutes, 5 minutes or more? Consider the most impactful recharge strategies and choose one that feels right for you right now. Practice, and commit to practice again. Plug recharge breaks into your schedule at least 3 times during the day, plus your morning and evening routine, to really boost your energy and create your optimal performance pulse.
My top 3 recharge strategies
1: Move — get up, stretch, do some chair sits or squats, climb a flight of stairs or two, do a lap around the building, walk through the parking lot, grab a friend or colleague for a walk and talk, put on some music and dance.
2: Meditate — focus on breathing in and out slowly to the count of about 5 on the inhale and 6 on the exhale, listen to a guided meditation, listen to music that relaxes or inspires you, close your eyes and think about something or someone you feel grateful for, repeat a mantra or focus phrase for a few minutes.
3: Mirth — think about something funny that happened to you today, find a funny comic or image and share it with a friend, watch a short funny video (babies laughing or silly cat videos might be a good starting point), ask a friend to find something funny and share it with you, visit Facebook for some other funny ideas. (You can join me at https://www.facebook.com/webeyondfunny for some healthy humor hits, and please share some of your own!)
If you’d like more techniques to recharge regularly, check out some of my free training tools at www.rechargetoolkit.com. You can also sign up for my brand new Stress Mastery Course (launching September 13th) and receive a special pre-launch bonus! Click here for the limited time discount.
Advancements in technology have given us the amazing ability to carry around a window into the universe in the palm of our hands. With a never-ending stream of information, connection and stimulation, it can feel impossible to resist the cognitive and emotional pull to gather up and receive more.
We know the human brain is hardwired to crave new, novel information; to desire insight about what other people are doing and wonder where we might be missing out. Now it seems we have lost our ability to be still and let our minds rest.
The haunting knowing that each moment we aren’t clearing tasks from our email inbox, the jam of information swells to the point we can begin to physically feel as if we might suffocate. Our non-stop checking, swiping, and scrolling have hijacked our nervous system to be constantly on alert, as our ability to relax and unwind atrophies.
We race in our cars, rush through our meals, and too often fail to connect with the people who are right in front of us.
This problem is so obvious it feels silly to bring it up again. But I can’t help but wonder how far the distraction problem will go before we actually do something different.
Pockets of people who find themselves suffering have begun to retreat, setting up digital detoxes to eliminate the noise for a period of rest. And once stimulation addiction begins to loosen its grasp, these individuals finally experience the relief of coming back home to their bodies and their right minds. But re-entry is necessary for most, and without clear boundaries and sustainable new habits we go right back to the chaos we tried to leave behind.
The only way we will ever create a better relationship with technology where we use it for our greatest purpose rather than being frazzled and fried by its all-consuming power is to create systems within our organizations, families and communities that give us the guidelines, accountability and support we need to truly adapt for good.
Neuroscience research shows us that the brain is radically adaptable when given the right type, amount and frequency of training or stimulation plus adequate recovery time to recharge and repair. If we look at how our brains are wired and what they really crave, we see a framework for unwinding our tech addictions and over-usage injuries to create a procedure manual for living a healthier, happier and more productive life.
If we think of technology as being one of our valuable resources for survival similar to glucose for energy we receive through our food, consider that every time we process more information, connection or stimulation through our digital devices, we need to manage it with a series of biological processes in the brain and body.
When we eat food, we release enzymes and hormones like insulin to break down nutrients and get the energy where we can use it immediately for fuel or save it for future needs. We know the problems of eating too much or consuming the wrong balance of nutrients. Take in more than we need, and we store it as fat, which is helpful if we run out of food but toxic if we carry it around too long.
Eat too many foods that are unhealthy, like empty calories or the wrong types of fat for example, or fail to get the nutrients you really need to thrive, and the brain and body become damaged leading to all sorts of conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, dementia and more.
Now, consider your technology consumption. Every time you place a demand on your brain to think, plan, judge, react or respond, it requires energy, and elements like free radicals are released as a result. These metabolic side effects are harmless in small doses, and when we rest and recover we clear them from the system. When we place too many demands on our energy, not only do toxic byproducts start to accumulate leading to chronic inflammation and internal wear and tear, stress hormones are released to help us bridge the energy gap.
As demands continue to increase faster than our capacity, the gap — or stress load — increases, and stress hormones that initially helped us in the short term start to turn against us.
It’s important to note that I’m not suggesting technology is bad or that we should eliminate it, just like I would never say that about food. It is an essential part of our survival (although some might argue it’s not absolutely essential, most of us consider it to be a necessity for connections to both work and family).
However, using and abusing our resources is never a good thing. And if we don’t start to create and implement guidelines and standards of consumption, I fear we will continue to stay caught up in the vicious chronic stress cycle that is at the core of our mental and emotional health crisis.
I believe organizations, families and communities hold the keys to creating a better relationship with technology, and helping us to take control of our own minds once again. So now the question is how?
As we enter into a time of critical and strategic thinking about how to facilitate change, I would like to ask you a few questions to consider and provide feedback. And thank you in advance for helping me explore this very important topic to see how we might be able to work together to create positive change.
Question #1 — Do you think there is an optimal amount of time we should spend using technology each day?
Question #2 — Should it be a total amount, or is it more important the amounts we consume in each setting? Perhaps something more like a meal plan where you consume a certain amount, give insulin an adequate time to do its job, and then consume again as needed within reason.
Question #3 — Should we pay attention to the composition of what is being consumed, like a balanced diet where we get just the right amounts of what we need?
Question #4 — Is it appropriate to think we (leaders in the workplace or consultants trying to advise on best practices) could mandate recharge time where people are required to do the activities that renew their energy and repair the wear and tear damage of normal everyday use?
Question #5 — Could we actually create systems and processes at work that mimic the ideal performance pulse, rhythm or beat that enables us as humans to perform at the highest levels for shorter periods of time, and recharge adequately rather than flatlining our way through a chronically stimulating and stressful life?
There are no easy answers to our stress epidemic, and everyone’s relationship with stress is unique. For highly sensitive people or those with stress sensitivity, technology may provide even greater challenges. Research has shown that people with a genetic predisposition towards sensory sensitivity will process stimulation much more deeply in the brain stem and body, triggering greater amounts of stress hormone release, inflammation and anxiety. (To check your stress sensitivity level, you can take a free assessment here.)
Sensitive or not, we all have a limited capacity to cope with stress and stimulation, and many people are experiencing challenges with being always on, constantly connected. From driving and texting to feeling tired and wired and unable to sleep at night, it’s clear we need to create a new way of managing the technology we consume — or that consumes us — each day.
I look forward to hearing your suggestions, tips and techniques for managing technology effectively, and I hope that together we can create some best practices to share with our overly-connected, disconnected world.
Setting Boundaries with Technology: The Case for a Digital Diet was originally published in Thrive Global on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.