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.

Tips to Make the Holidays Less stressful. (And more Merry & Bright)

We typically refer to the holiday season as the most wonderful time of the year. 

But is that true for you? If it is, I am happy for you.

But if it’s not, you are definitely not alone!

Statistically-speaking, it appears that for a good three months, including the time before and after the holidays, our stress level is at its worst for the majority of us.

Further, seasonal depression abounds during the holiday season. Many additional financial strains, extra work demands for end-of-the-year deadlines, and dealings with family members challenge our ability to stay positive, present and calm.

Not to mention, many of us have to rise to the occasion of having a “wonderful life” when our reality is not congruent with the commercials and holiday shows that bombard us. Many of us are divorced, single parents.  Some of us live thousands of miles away from home. And others are adjusting to life without loved ones who are no longer here.

Between the extra expenses, gifts, travel, decorations, dinner parties, loneliness, distractions of our normal routine, long lines, loss, divorces, extra traffic, dealing with family, and oh-so-many expectations are you surprised we suffer from holiday stress?

It does not matter whether the holiday is Hanukah, Christmas, or Diwali. The extra load the holidays place on our already-full plates often exceeds our capacity to rise to the occasion without taking our bodies out of whack.

However, there is a magical gift to be found in the holidays and in the rest of our life. If the script that was passed on to us is causing us exhaustion, anxiety, pressure, and strain, it is 100% within our control to change it!

We are the creators of our reality and we can re-write any part of our story to make it more balanced, sustainable, jolly, and bright!

Here are nineteen suggestions to consider in re-writing your holiday story, in order to savor the festivities without burning out.

Upgrade your mindset

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1.    How we celebrate Christmas as we grow older can change.

The holiday tale you were handed as part of your family history includes a myriad of family traditions that perhaps are not realistic today. 

If you want to write a new holiday story that fits your current reality, you can start by choosing a new theme. Then you can determine the plot, the protagonists, the roles, and the dialogue that work for you. Here are some suggestions for a new story with a happier ending:

2. Set your own standards, expectations, and what “good enough” looks like for you. Don’t try to keep up with traditions that are unrealistic based on your life’s circumstances.

3. Focus only on what you can control. 

4. Enjoy the journey without being distracted by worries about the result.

5. Strive for balance as opposed to perfection.

6. Explore ways you can turn to-do list items into opportunities for connection. My lovely friend Steph role-modeled this beautifully when she hosted a Friendsgiving soiree this year. Everybody contributed to a lovely meal, and part of the joy was decorating her Christmas tree together. What a great way to enjoy the moment and take the decorating chore off her to-do list!

Prioritize and plan ahead

7.    Set a budget without being afraid of being a Scrooge.

You may know of the character, Scrooge, from the story The Christmas Carol. He was miserly and selfish. But you can set limits and still be generous.

After all, how generous we are with our time, energy, and money hinges on the love and thought we place into things and not the quantity.

What if you avoid over-spending, as well as the overwhelming lines and exhaustion of holiday shopping, by creating gifts for your dearest ones? 

You can spend time with your children decorating useful everyday things, like coffee mugs for example. Or you can play some holiday music by the fire while reviewing your photos from the past year. Select your favorite photos of adventures you shared with family and friends. You can then order prints of those photos, place them in frames, and turn them into wonderful gifts.

8.    Don’t let the Grinch steal your Christmas.

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You may remember the Grinch,  Dr. Seuss’s mean-tempered character, who was so irritated by the holiday festivities that he decided to destroy Christmas.

When you lose yourself in an attempt to please everyone and surpass everybody else’s expectations, guess what happens! You burnout. The typical symptoms of burnout— exhaustion, irritability, insomnia, and ineffectiveness—can turn the nicest of us into the Grinch! What good is staying up all night to prepare the perfect holiday gathering if you are so snappish and irritable that you cannot enjoy it?

Do you remember the last time you gave up sleep, wholesome nutrition, or your little healthful rituals to rise to the unrealistic expectations of your family, friends, or work?

How did that feel in your body and spirit? 

The truth is, it is impossible to be the perfect mother, daughter, cook, and executive all at the same time. It is imperative that we take control of our priorities by being mindful of what is important to our well-being!  

To avoid burning out this holiday season, incorporate the following when setting your holiday priorities. 

9. Put yourself on top of your priority list! 

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10. Plan ahead how you will spend your time, your money, and your energy. 

11. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. 

12. Nurture your body.

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Don’t let the holiday over-burden your need for rest in between sprints. A short 15-minute walk can be a great way to de-stress. There is a great sense of peace in the sound of the wind whistling through the trees and the extra blood pumping through your blood when you gift yourself with a few minutes of activity in nature. Not to mention, research has revealed that even short amounts of daily exercise activate the same brain circuits as anti-depressants do.  

13. Nurture your mind. If extra contact with relatives, which takes you out of your zen, is on the menu during the holidays, purposely infuse positive activities in between visiting with them. This can include committing to a guided meditation before you go to sleep, listening to an uplifting podcast on the way to work, or simply planning to spend more time with people who uplift your spirits.

14.  Enjoy the moment. Resist the urge to let your mind wander to stressful thoughts. Although this is easier said than done, training your attention to stay in the present moment is an incredible practice. Its benefits go beyond being a popular fad. Keeping your attention in the now has many physiological and psychological benefits. Some of those benefits are blood pressure reduction, increased optimism, and even growth in regions of your brain that are associated with inner strengths, like improved concentration and problem-solving.

Dare to be you and do things differently

15.    Let Rudolph show you the joy of being different .

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Do you remember the story of Rudolph, one of Santa’s reindeer, who was shunned by the other reindeer because he had a bright, red nose? But then the light of his nose saved Christmas as he guided Santa’s sleigh on a foggy night. 

The stress to conform can increase during the holidays. Once upon a time we lived in small communities with family structures that had defined roles and plenty of support available. Today, the pace of life is very different with many single-parent households, moms in executive roles, and family members geographically spread around the nation or the world.

High demands are placed on us during the holidays.  It takes courage to defy the familial norms and traditions. Choosing how you want your life to be during the holiday season means you have the opportunity to create new traditions that are aligned with who you are today.

Here are some additional things to keep in mind as you become a holiday tradition pioneer:

16. Align traditions with your interests.

What traditions are linked to what gives you joy? For example, I discovered that volunteering for a cause I am passionate about is a fantastic new holiday tradition with many benefits. It gives me the opportunity to savor my connectedness to the whole, spend wholesome time with my daughter, and deepen my sense of gratitude for our blessings. 

17. Master the art of saying no. We have associated a negative connotation to saying no to things that take us off-kilter. But whether you kindly decline to attend one more holiday affair or to host your negative relative for ten days, consider what you are saying yes to when you say no. Perhaps you are saying yes to peace of mind, centeredness, and a better night’s sleep!


18.    Choose the definition of the greatest gift.

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Beyond over-indulging, over-spending, forced family time, and endless to-do lists, the spirit of the holidays is really about pausing and opening the door to love.

The greatest gift we can all give to ourselves, our families, and the world we live in is taking back the reins of what is 100% within our control. We can choose all the ingredients and the small steps to take to create the life and the holiday season we love.

During this time, give yourself the space to reflect on what you need to continue, to stop, and to start doing in the coming year. You can use the following prompts to reflect.

o  What activities, choices, and people brought you happiness this last year?

o  How does your current self-care ritual feel? How do you nurture your body and soul? What more do you need?

o  What are some of the biggest pearls of wisdom you gathered this year and what would you like to do differently in the new year?

By pausing, reflecting, and choosing what you will do to move toward what you truly love, you can not only design a peaceful holiday, but a more satisfying life. 


19.    Remember what a wonderful life looks like to you.

Our busy lives, in and out of the holiday season, don’t always provide us with the opportunity to reflect on what truly makes life wonderful.

I know from personal experience how draining, stressful, and unfulfilling losing ourselves in all the things we “should be” doing can be.

Meeting a never-ending list of others’ expectations and standards obscures the wonder of life and deprives us of the joy that we all deserve.

But we can use this holiday season as the catalyst for positive change.

We can:

  • Decide which parts of our history we want to bring forth into the present moment.
  • Dare to incorporate new traditions that serve us well.
  • Elevate our self-care and honor our limits.
  • Prioritize and plan how we use our energy to honor what is important to us.

And then, the miracle happens. A door opens to a truly wonderful life. We feel calmer, more grounded, and can shed a tear for a special someone we miss yet smile at the glistening shine of a fresh snowflake.

And that is when we not only enjoy the festivities in the present moment, but we become a beacon of light for our families, our colleagues, and the collective whole.

May you have a wonderful, joyful, and peaceful holiday season!

Three Things I Am Letting Go of as I Say Good-bye to This Year.

Life is such a delicate balance between holding on and letting go, as Rumi once said.

Do you struggle with knowing what to hold onto and what to let go of?

More often than not, we tend to hold onto people, possessions, and habits that are draining away our energy.

The delightful Ms. Carolyn Myss, world-renowned medical intuitive and best-selling author of a number of books including, Anatomy of the Spirit, said it best: “We only have a specific amount of energy per day. If we have $100 worth of energy and we expend it all on things that do not return on our investment then we end up with an energetic debt. If we keep making this debt larger, eventually our own body tissues will have to cover the difference. This is how we end up getting sick.”

I have done a pretty good job throughout my life with balancing my bank account between deposits and withdrawals. But I have not been as good with energy deposits and withdrawals, so I did get sick.

As I have been building the bridge back to my healthy self, which was the genesis of Myndzen, I discovered that choosing to let go of some beliefs and attitudes that I held did wonders for my physical and emotional health. Over the course of my journey, I have experienced such beautiful warmth and joy from letting go of perfectionism, taking things personally, comparisons, the need for others’ approval, and other beliefs and actions that were eating away at my happiness and well-being.

However, there were three behaviors that have been very difficult for me to let go of because they camouflaged themselves in altruistic costumes. Not until this year did I realize their truly toxic nature.

As we are preparing to say good-bye to yet another year, I invite you to join me in letting go of the following:

  1. Putting up with people you cannot depend on

Nobody is perfect, by any means, and we should always be willing to give the ones we love the benefit of the doubt. However, there is a lot of negative energy connected to people in our lives who are chronically unreliable and never take responsibility for it. I used to think of myself as a kinder person for letting dear ones off the hook who forgot a commitment they had made to me, changed our plans at the last minute, or showed up a day late and a dollar short the one time I needed their support.

But the ultimate act of kindness is to be true and respectful to ourselves first in order to be able to extend the same courtesy to others. Ultimately, if I cannot rely on you, that means that I cannot trust you and that is not conducive to creating safety between us. And a lack of safety in relationships is a significant risk factor for our health.

So, if you are holding on to any relationships in your life with people you cannot depend on, I invite you to love them, hug them, kiss them good-bye, and let them go!

  1. Being the Mother Teresa of wounded souls

Somewhere in between my being “anxiously attached” in childhood and being enamored with the “high” of external approval, I found myself making an energetically draining choice over and over again in my life: I embraced and extended refuge and love to fellow humans who as adults still carried unresolved wounds from their past.

It is truly heartbreaking to imagine that any child suffers traumas inflicted by people they depend on.

I have chosen to work as a Court-Appointed Child Advocate to serve as a voice for abused children. But there is a vast difference between volunteering to protect the rights of innocent child victims of abuse and putting up with absolutely unacceptable behavior from adults because they still carry wounds from their past, which they are not willing to own up to and let go.

Empathy and compassion are wonderful virtues, but there is a fine line between empathizing about someone’s unfortunate past and letting them get away with entitlement, exploitation, empathy impairment, or projecting their pain on you. (These are the hallmarks of Narcisistic personality disorder-the ultimate manifestation of unresolved wounds!)

The bottom line is this—hurt people hurt other people. So, if you still have people in your life that often behave in unkind ways and are not accountable for their behavior because of how they were treated in their past—do yourself a massive favor and let them go.

  1. Living with illusions and lies

Human nature is such that, at times, we like to believe in fairy tales, mostly to protect ourselves from facing realities that we do not really want to face.

We create a story that nurtures and justifies an illusion, living in denial about how we actually play a big part in betraying ourselves.

But deep down we know when we are telling ourselves a lie—like sticking to a relationship that is not honoring our spirit, or working at a company or in an industry that is not aligned with our values.

Why is it hard to identify illusions? Because we are scared!

If we did not grow up in an environment conducive to developing a healthy sense of self-worth, we keep one eye closed so we can get what we think we need, settling for crumbs and endeavors that are offensive to our soul.

Many statistics reflect our challenge with identifying illusions: The percent of infidelity in relationships and the incidence of alcoholism and other escape tactics are just a few.

Trust me, I know how hard it is to let go of the lies we tell ourselves and how uncomfortable it feels to be in free fall, detached from the stories that were part of us for so long.

But here are a couple of reminders to aid you in this magical act of letting go out of kindness for yourself.

  • Fear is also an illusion—95% of the things we worry about never actually happen.
  • We can increase our self-worth by the choices we make. When we start treating ourselves like we are worthy of all things great in life and no longer settle for fairy tales that drain our soul, we increase our self-worth, one nerve connection at a time.

If a person, a job, a friend, or a situation does not contribute to your values and your mission in life, and you realize that you are keeping them in your life because of a fairy tale you have been telling yourself, offer them a beautiful bunch of flowers and let them go.

We are about to enter a new beginning, a brand new year.

This new year can be amazing for you.

This could be the year that you make your dreams come true!

Or this new year could be disappointing.

The one certainty is that it is you who will determine how the year goes. You are worthy of love and belonging and goodwill and acts of kindness and all great experiences that allow your nervous system to remain in optimal balance supporting your health and well-being.

But choosing carefully and following through with whom and what you need to let go of is critical for the trajectory of your happiness in this new year and beyond.

Happy New Year!