The Real Silver Lining of a Crisis

Over the last several weeks, our life has changed as we know it and our stress has increased to a whole new level. Beyond hunkering down to do our part to flatten the curve, the biggest question on everyone’s mind is when will this pandemic crisis end so we can go back to our “normal life”?

Undoubtedly, all of us have struggled with the disruption in our life and not being able to do many things that we seemed to have taken for granted before COVID-19 was here. But as we ‘re starting to see a glimpse of light at the end of this tunnel I would like to invite you to take a moment to consider this:

Was “the old way of being” truly satisfying for you?

According to the latest survey of the American institute on stress, that doesn’t seem to be the case for most of us. Prior to the arrival of Corona Virus, almost 70% of us experienced moderate to severe symptoms of stress regularly, half of us laid awake at night worrying and over 60% of us turned to alcohol at the end of the day to relax!

How much do you really want to go back to this old running-on-the-hamster wheel life, feeling exhausted, stressed out, overwhelmed, disconnected from your values and the important people in your life?

Could this crisis be our opportunity to re-assess our life, re-shuffle the deck and re-align our untapped inner resources with the actions that will make our life a lot more satisfying and less stressful?

I want to share with you a framework that shows how you can use a crisis, challenge, even a trauma, to unleash your power and find the best version of yourself!

But first, let me tell you a story!

The unorthodox gifts of a crisis

crisis, according to the dictionary, is defined as “a stage in a sequence of events at which the trend of all future events, especially for better or for worse, is determined; turning point; a condition of instability or danger, as in social, economic, political, or international affairs, leading to a decisive change.”

By definition, a crisis is a “turning point” leading to “decisive change”. And I know all about this kind of change!

A few years ago, I experienced an unexpected personal life crisis, which changed my life as I knew it. At the peak of my outward success and my youth, not only I burnt out, but suffered significant organ damage of my spine, because of it.

Although my life’s twist of events left me feeling all alone, cast out and rejected because of my inability to satisfy my previous professional and social expectations, the truth is, I was far from a deficient person.

Prior to burning out, I had accomplished much in the eyes of the world. I had earned a great education in biochemistry and toxicology, synthesized five drugs for three different types of cancer in the laboratory and garnered a myriad of awards for my performance in both corporate healthcare and non-profits. Yet in the eyes of this same world, at that moment, I was perceived as a failure.

However, on the inside, there was a spark that burnout couldn’t touch.

That spark turned into a fire, and an incredible motivation to get to the bottom of how something like this could have happened to a top performer like me, how I could bounce back from it and how I could prevent it from ever happening again.

So, I delved deep into science and got up to speed on the latest findings in mind-body research in an attempt to make sense of it all and figure out how I could best adapt to my new reality.

As I researched different scientific theories and healing modalities, I came across the incredible work of Dr. Joyce Mikal-Flynn. Her research and work on trauma, led her to the development ofMetaHabilitation”  (Mikal-Flynn, 2012).

Meta-habilitation (meta- going beyond and habilitation-recovery) is a new strengths-based model of recovery which taps onto our individual capacity to move beyond basic survival, grow and thrive, not despite of, but as a direct result of a personal crisis. 

By reviewing Dr. Mikal-Flynn’s studies and research that led to the development of MetaHabilitation, I was able to find a new way to relate to my crisis!

More specifically, it gave me the opportunity to get in touch with reality and truths I had lost sight of, including re-assessing my life to provide structure in finding new meaning, cultivate resilience and ultimately build a new life and experience post-traumatic growth.

Looking back, I can now confidently say that my stress related crisis was in fact invaluable fuel toward my own personal growth and transformation, after I learned how to change how I related to it!

This change revealed to me the truth about stress and empowered me to launch Myndzen to systematically organize decades of science into practical, every-day things we can do to take the stress out of our life by the way that we live it.

Although my spinal injury recovery is ongoing, this was a very real silver lining of what seemed to be an insurmountable personal crisis.

How to turn a crisis into a catalyst for positive change.

As we’re going through this pandemic crisis there are many things that we can’t control!

But there is one thing that is 100% within our control and really the one thing that can effectively lower our stress level: How we relate to stressors!

The fundamental premise of both the MetaHabilitation and the Myndzen models of recovery involve ways of working with our mind to create thoughts and actions that prompt and inform an enhanced recovery from traumas, adversities challenges and crises.

By default, as a result of our brains evolution and past experience, when we’re facing the disruption of a crisis, it’s easy to get lost in thoughts about the negative aspects of the situation.

Although we can get overwhelmed by the many stressors of this time, we can instead tap into our innate capacity to stay grounded while we’re facing this crisis and choose a wiser response.

Scientifically speaking, we’re the descendants of anxious people, so if we allow our default reflexive reactivity to run the show, we’ll tend to worry, ruminate, and catastrophize. Our ancestors that didn’t worry and over-estimate threats, didn’t survive to pass on their genes to us.

Consequently, if we don’t realize that this crisis is an opportunity to change our default reactivity, when it’s over we may find ourselves right where we were before corona was here: confined in our compromised state, driven by our stress response, perfectionism, disconnection, and our relentless inner critic and imposter.

However, what we can do instead, is guide our mind to take a different path that leads to the intentional actions that build on our capacity to endure and find meaning in the worst situations.

I definitely want to acknowledge all our fellow human beings who are fighting the virus right now, the ones who have lost a loved one, the heroes on the frontlines-healthcare workers and first responders or the ones that legitimately are struggling financially to survive at the moment.

But for the rest of us, I would like to invite you to take a moment to consider this: 

Is what’s stressing you out about the global pandemic something that is here in the present moment, or are they thoughts about potential negative outcomes in the future because of this crisis?

Could this challenging situation be a fertile ground to cultivate presence of mind and practice how to be in wiser relationship with experiences?

The simplest way to begin this process, is to re-direct our energy and attention from focusing on all the potential negative outcomes, to the small moment to moment adjustments we can make to stay upright in the tight rope of this adventure we call life.

Here’s how:

A simple pause between a trigger, such as the overwhelming news we hear every day and your reaction, is a great start to taking back control of our capacity to choose a wiser response to the stressors of our time. 

Then during this pause, observe the thoughts that the trigger elicits in a non-judgmental way.

Explore the validity of the thoughts as they pertain to the present moment.

And if the thoughts pertain to a potentially negative outcome that isn’t actually happening right now, gently let them go, and re-direct your attention to a neutral spot, something that is here in the present moment that makes you feel safe.

We have an average of 60,000 thoughts per day, 95% of them are worries, yet only 5% of what we worry about actually happens in reality!

The practice of consciously working with our mind to help us relate differently to life situations, won’t take away our challenges and stressors.

However it will expand our window of tolerance, allow us to shorten the time we spend immersed in the compromised state of our stress response and help us cultivate our innate ability to bounce back to our optimal grounded state from which we can choose a wiser response to the challenge in front of us.

And the great news is that several decades of research have revealed a myriad of techniques that we can occupy our mind with instead of worrying and catastrophizing. These techniques include, mindfulness, compassion, gratitude, reframing, breathing techniques and so much more.

There are many challenging aspects of life that we can’t control, but we can always control how we respond!

I’ve chosen to respond to our current crisis by launching a (free) virtual stress management group, which you can access by joining the Myndzen community when you click here.

The intention of this group is to become a refueling station where we can all gather to access insights, tools, tips, and resources which can support us to effectively lower stress, build resilience and en enhanced life experience.

In addition to offering multiple tools as a certified integrative wellness practitioner and a burnout and compassion fatigue specialist, I also bring some incredible guests to lend us their insights and expertise that address specific stress related problems we face during this collective crisis.

This upcoming Thursday (April 23, 2020) I am honored to welcome Dr. Joyce Mikal-Flynn to our groups live session, to help us apply her research which led to the development of MetaHabilitation in our own life.

If you would like to embark on the journey of learning how to transform a crisis into fuel for positive transformation, please join us by clicking here

Photo by Tim Marshall on Unsplash

Life is a journey of a series of events, some positive, some negative and some neutral.

Undoubtedly, as we go through our life, we will come across many situations we can’t control, like the economy, our company’s corporate culture or how soon the corona global pandemic will end.

However, at any point in our life, we can embrace our own power, choose the meaning we give to life situations, and realize that every challenge, every difficulty and every crisis along the way, are ultimately catalysts to re-connecting to our true nature and changing our mind, our brains and our lives for the better.   

How You Can Kick Stress in The Butt by Cultivating Resilience – A practical view.

Do you sometimes feel overwhelmed by the amount of stress you are experiencing in your life that you feel you cannot control? The good news is you can control cultivating a skill that will enable you to bounce back to your optimal, balanced state when life knocks you down. This skill is resilience.

Resilience allows us to overcome stress and adversity without experiencing disruption in our optimal functioning, either psychologically or physically.

Unlike futile attempts to reduce stressors which we cannot control, resilience involves growing inner strengths that help us regulate our response to stressors. As a result, we are able to mitigate the development of unhealthy stress-coping mechanisms such as compassion fatigue, burnout, and/or mental illness.

If life’s ups and downs often take you off kilter or if you feel overwhelmed and stuck by what seem to be endless challenges and adversity, I invite you to explore different ways to boost your capacity for resilience. Research shows that resilience is invaluable in helping you increase physical, psychological, and mental health; improve performance; and enhance personal relationships.

The truth about stress

Stress affects almost 70% of us and is linked to more than 90% of today’s disease. We refer to stress as the epidemic of the century, and we blame it for feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, and unhappy.

In actual fact, what we experience as stress is simply all the changes our body makes to rise to the challenges of life. The pressure we feel when we have to step up to these challenges and demands is because when we step up we temporarily leave our home base where we function and operate in balance. This home base is known as homeostasis and is the state when our body systems, such as our immune system, operate at their best. 

When we are dealing with the loss of a job, the death of a loved one, a horrible tragedy, or a manager who is ineffective and manages by fear, we disturb our optimal balance to keep up with these challenges.

Allostasis is the process by which our body attempts to return to our home base of homeostasis in the face of an actual or perceived environmental, or psychological stressor. Although our body’s systems promote survival in the short term when dealing with stressors, if stressors are prolonged over an extended period of time they can cause significant damage and lead to disease.

Allostatic load (McEwen and Stellar, 1993) describes the amount of changes the body has to make to adapt to stressors. The higher the amount is, the higher the potential of occurrence of damage to our bodies.

For example, acute stress promotes the release of stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol, which in small quantities reduce inflammation in the body. However, chronic stress leads to high levels of cortisol, which ends up suppressing our immune function, which increases our susceptibility to disease.

Stress itself is not the actual problem. The real problem is that we operate under our stress response for way longer than what we were physiologically designed to do.

What is the reason that we are operating under our stress response for too long, and how can we bounce back from our stressed state to our balanced state?

Why resilience is the best response to stress

Some life challenges are more stressful than others. But whether we are dealing with the loss of a loved one, a divorce, a death, or some other adversity, pain and suffering in life is inevitable.

However, a hidden culprit seems to perpetuate our suffering and delays bouncing back to a place of balance. This culprit is our thoughts and perceptions about the situation, which often lead to behaviors that do not help. 

Consider your biggest stressors over this last month and why they felt so stressful. Ask yourself: Was it the situation itself that kept you up at night, or led you to relieve your negative feelings with unhealthy behaviors like having one too many glasses of wine to de-stress, or was it your thoughts about the situation?

When we get laid off, for example, it is not the single event of losing our job that increases the imbalance in our body and contributes to the heavy load of stressors. It is also our thoughts and all the energy we invest in considering and worrying about all the things that could go wrong: the possibility of losing our car, our home, our ability to survive. 

Resilience is therefore a choice to take back control of our thoughts and how we want to interpret life situations so that we return to our home base sooner. In this more balanced state our body is not flooded with stress hormones, we have access to our thinking brain, and our body systems are able to operate well to support us through the challenging situation. 

Existing research supports that resilience has been shown to increase physical emotional and mental wellbeing, performance and relational health. It also has been linked to improved finances, academic performance and lower incidence of mental health issues that typically develop under chronic exposure to stress. 

We all have the capacity to nudge our brain to take a new path to staying calm during difficult situations so we can avoid the negative consequences of being stressed out all the time. Resilient people suffer just as much as their non-resilient counterparts when they experience the death of a loved one. But they choose thoughts, behaviors, and actions that help them make intelligent use of their emotions to mitigate the long-term impact of chronic stress such as burnout or depression. 

Cultivating stress resilience in life is not a one-size-fits-all approach and it is a process that we must remain committed to. It is simple, but not easy, to guide our brain to recognizing the control we have over situations, even if they are devastating ones.

Here are some simple, everyday actions you can begin doing to enhance your resilience and change your response to stressors:

1.     Start your day on the right track.

Set your alarm a little early and give yourself the opportunity to start your day with a gratitude meditation. If you are not yet comfortable with meditation, you can give yourself the space to recount three things you truly feel grateful for before you even get out of bed in the morning. Your brain does not know the difference between your thoughts and reality, so setting a positive tone for your day will start you off in a state of balance.

2.    Challenge your stressors.

Stress is the non-specific response of the body to demands from the environment. Ninety-five percent of what we worry about never happens. What worries can you say no to today to decrease the demands you place on your body?

3.     Embrace your vulnerabilities and imperfections. 

Vulnerabilities are part of our common human connectedness. Resisting, hiding, and isolating are traits that are not rewarded by the environment and actually activate our stress response. If any of your characteristics sabotage the accomplishment of your desired outcomes, use them as an opportunity for personal development and change.

4.     Change your brain’s propensity to assume the worst by using positivity.

Have you noticed your tendency to assume the worst more times than not? This is because our brain evolved this way in order to keep us safe. By directing your attention to any positive aspects of a negative experience, you actually become an active participant in rewiring your brain for happiness.

5.     Just breathe.

Did you know that your very own breath has the power to calm your heart rate when life events disturb its balance? Your breath is the only bodily function that involves both voluntary and involuntary muscles and nerves. By resting your attention on your breath and observing it become deeper and more regular, you actually activate your parasympathetic response, which is your built-in antidote to your stress response.

6.     Connect.  

Human connection has been proven to be a potent stress reliever. A recent study showed diminished nervous-system-threat-response when we hold the hand of a loved one. At times of stress resist the tendency to isolate and reach out to someone you trust. 

7.    Be kind to yourself like you are to your best friend.

Self-criticism and self-judgment activate your stress response as much as being chased by a mountain lion. When you realize you are slipping down the slope of negative self-talk, shift your attention to five things you did well in the last 24 hours.

8.    Minimize unnecessary headaches. 

Little every day annoyances like looking for your car keys on your way to an appointment can add quite a bit of stress to your life. What small daily tasks can you organize to save yourself time and headaches?

9.    Nurture your beautiful body.

Instead of feeling frustrated with the lack of time to engage in a gym ritual, find every day ways that are within your control to nurture your body. Strive for balance and not perfection in finding ways you can nurture your body consistently. Dance like no one is watching. Add five positive actions to your nutrition or activity levels for every negative choice you make. 

10.  Nurture your beautiful mind.

Resist the habit of allowing negative information flow from the outside world to be  your focus and attention. Instead, feed your mind positive information. Listen to TED Talks, read a book, listen to a guided meditation, recount your blessings, or engage in voluntary work toward a cause you are passionate about. Much like enriching your garden with water and Miracle Grow, feeding your mind positive content will provide you with the necessary nutrients to cultivate a stress-resilient brain.

11.  Quiet your mind with meditation.

Meditation is the simple practice of directing your attention to what is here now and to not allow it to wander off to worries about the past and the future. This simple practice has been shown to produce a myriad of physiological and psychological benefits by robust scientific research. Just do it!  

12.  Develop a night-time ritual of celebrating your daily victories.       

We often lay awake at night focusing on things we could have done better. What if instead we get into the habit of acknowledging all the things we did well? Research shows that directing our mental activity to things that make us smile is a powerful way to use our mind to develop a happier brain. 

Final thoughts

Challenges and adversities are an inevitable part of our life, which we cannot realistically eliminate or reduce. And these challenges will often cause stress. However, we can cultivate resilience, a skill that allows us to cope with stressors in healthy ways by making intelligent use of our emotions to bounce back to a balanced state quickly and avoid maladaptive coping. 

Although resilience is a skill we do not develop overnight, making small changes that re-set the tone on how we view life’s hurdles allows us to experience the joy of our power to change our response to life situations. This is possible even during extremely stressful and devastating times.

By incorporating practices that can address the myriad of stress issues within our control, we can improve our ability to cope with stressful situations and maintain our optimal functioning.  We can increase physical, psychological, and mental health; improve performance; and greatly enhance personal relationships.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic. 

How do you cultivate resilience? What challenges you on this path? Your views, insights, and experiences are valuable in creating a better world by making stress resilience sustainable and practical for all of us.

I also offer a one-page resource you can use to increase your resilience via making intelligent use of your emotions. You can join the Myndzen community and have this sent to your inbox by clicking on this link: 

By joining the Myndzen community, you will also be notified as soon as additional resilience resources become available this year from Myndzen.

The Problem of Addiction and Recovery

We have eradicated many of what used to be fatal diseases and also increased our life expectancy to the highest it has ever been.  Yet, we are in the midst of a significant global health crisis, which does not align with our incredible medical advances.  

We all recognize heart disease as one of the major killers of our species. But do you know which disease wrecks more lives than heart disease and cancer combined? Addiction!

Perhaps you think that this problem does not impact you.  After all, you are neither a homeless, opioid addict nor a character in a Quentin Tarantino movie.

In this article, I invite you to reconsider.

Recovery from addiction is a daunting challenge for the individual, family, and for our society. But if we unmask the real problems of addiction, perhaps we can come up with more effective solutions for recovery. 

Although I am not an addiction professional, eliminating obstacles to recovery from addiction is a personal mission for me. This mission began when I was sixteen and lost a loved one to a drug overdose.

For the last thirty years, I have been a committed advocate of addiction recovery. I began this work in college when I volunteered at the “Council for drug problems”. And today, a big part of my work as a Integrative Wellness coach and speaker involves providing addiction professionals with effective tools against compassion fatigue and burnout.

The privilege of working with these incredible individuals has taught me much about what the real problem with addiction is. I have also learned what it means to rise like the phoenix from the ashes and begin a new life.

Addiction and recovery

See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil

This proverb of the three wise monkeys seems to encapsulate pretty well our problems with addiction. Our lack of moral responsibility and our choice to look the other way on this very solvable problem, may be the most lethal component of this issue.

  1. See No Evil: We don’t see addiction for what it really is


We often view addiction as a weakness, character flaw, or a punishable crime. However, addiction is a disease, which involves well-substantiated alterations of our brain’s structures and functions. Science informs us that the disease of addiction is a “brain disorder that is characterized by engagement in rewarding stimuli despite the adverse consequences.”

Regardless of our personal history, our common biology propels us to act in ways that get us closer to pleasure and away from pain. If we experienced events in our early life that disrupted the proper development of certain parts of our brain, we may be prone to turn to a substance for relief from pain. (Emotional, or physical.)

But we don’t have to be an opioid addict to suffer from this affliction.

Many of us turn to perfectly legal activities to activate the reward center of our brain despite their adverse consequences. These may include alcohol, work, shopping, video games, social media, or something as simple as food.

Addiction is a treatable disease, but we have to see it for what it is for effective recovery to occur.

  1. Hear No Evil: Stigma and shame.

Stigma is defined as “the mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person.” 

Here is how Stigma shows up as a problem with addiction. Historically, instead of joining hands to create paths to recovery for our fellow humans who struggle with addiction, we have cast them out and punished them. We throw people who are not well into the criminal justice system and make it impossible for them to get well or return to a healthy, productive reality.

Can you imagine punishing a fellow human being for having hypertension, diabetes,or obesity?  Sixty-seven percent of us struggle with weight issues or obesity. How would putting us away solve this problem?

  1. Speak No Evil: Fear makes addiction a silent killer.

Of the twenty million Americans who are struggling with substance misuse, only 10% seek treatment. 

The shame and stigma of addiction drive us to suffer alone and prevent us from seeking help. We are afraid to come forth into the light because of fear of the consequences. Thus, we are deprived of the possibility of treatment and recovery. The problem with hiding our issues with addiction is that it cuts off our lifeline to solutions.

Many people around us struggle with addiction, but we will never know if we don’t speak about it. By hiding our struggles and not celebrating our stories of recovery, we deprive one another of the support and resources to recover. Our hearts have been closed for so long because of our fear of being judged and losing connection.We can gain the relief we need through meaningful connection and kinship with others who perhaps suffer too. But this solution is hi-jacked by our fear. 

The unknown is a significant risk factor for our health,as is social isolation. It is not too late to take an active stance and break the silence of addiction.

If you personally are suffering in silence, know that you are not alone!

Call 1-800-662-HELP (4357). This is a free and confidential treatment, referral,and information services line open 24 hours/7 days a week.The service is operated by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

Final thoughts

Almost half a century ago, a Professor of psychology named Bruce Alexander came across a compelling discovery in a now famous addiction experiment that he called “Rat Park”.

He found that we do not become addicted to activities that have adverse consequences because we are flawed. We engage in addictive behaviors because we do not have access to healthy ways to overcome the challenges of modern life. These healthy ways include connection to others and a sense of belonging.

The rats in the Rat Park experiment that lived in a housing colony, rather than in an isolated cage, were more resistant to addiction. When we have a solid sense of belonging (much like the rats in the Rat Park experiment), we have a positive way to stay closer to pleasure and further away from pain. We are able to do this without the adverse consequences of addictive substitutes.

I don’t mean to overlook the differences that the contributions of our individual histories of vulnerability, genetic make-ups and environments have on the problem of addiction.

I also do not intend to down-play the unique experiences and challenges that different forms of addiction present to our fellow human beings.

But I do agree with Professor Alexanderon the following point.

Our problem with addiction is much more of a social problem than it is an individual disorder.

We need to replace discrimination with compassion, punishment with compassionate care, and fear with early-addiction education and harm-reduction efforts. When we do this, then we may have the opportunity to solve the problem of addiction.

And we can then begin to end our global health crisis.