Recovery Tips When Facing a Significant Challenge.


Life is beautiful. Yet along with all of its wonderful parts, life also comes with a significant amount of challenges.

Right when we think we have done enough work to enjoy a sense of safety, stability and order, some new crisis shows up that disturbs our peace and leaves us feeling overwhelmed, frustrated and alone.

Perhaps a significant relationship ends, we lose our job, or a family member suffers an unexpected illness.

 I recently found myself in the midst of two significant family crises, involving two of the most important people in my life. These life developments came about, right when I had finally established a wonderful balance of living my life in alignment with my values. I launched my business, Myndzen, and was beginning to get some wonderful results helping Care Giving Professionals develop sustainable resilience against burnout and compassion fatigue.

With these family crises, my energy had to be redirected to elements I had not planned for.

I hope you did not take personally the lack of my on-line presence. I had to re-prioritize, re-distribute my energy, and take the necessary time to find a new balance based on my new life circumstances. I am so happy to be back with you again!

Sometimes, adverse life situations are long-term consequences of our own actions. Other times, they relate to things outside of our control.

Either way, the big question is: How do we minimize the pain and speed up our recovery when we face a significant challenge in our life?

Here are some strategies that were surprisingly effective in my personal experience.

  1. Take some activities off your plate.

When some unexpected twist of fate shows up in our life, we feel a palpable energy deficit.  The way we usually attempt to fix this is by sacrificing self-care, giving up things we enjoy, or working late.

Let’s face it, when we deal with major stressors, self-compassion goes out of the window and we become rather self-critical. Right?

But does the inner critic provide us with the support we need to overcome adversity?

The world’s most prominent expert on self-compassion, Kristin Neff, helped me realize that self-criticism activates our stress response, which is already over-activated. We are only physiologically designed to elicit our stress response occasionally. When we are dealing with a crisis, we need to purposefully create ample space to revive in between sprints.

When a major life change shows up, what can you realistically take off your plate, at least temporarily, to maintain access to the problem-solving abilities of your powerful brain? It is both okay and necessary to give yourself the permission to do so.

  1. Be with the pain of the challenge you are facing with equanimity.

When things fall apart, we face the immediate, realistic consequence—the loss of a person whose presence is significant for us, or the direct loss of financial resources associated with losing our job. Yet often times, there is a significant amount of suffering that stems not from the event itself, but from the narrative that accompanies a painful life situation. We may find ourselves going down the road of feeling guilty about the time we did not spend with the loved one that we lost, or envisioning all the possible things that could go  wrong when facing an unexpected re-organization at our workplace. The truth is, 95% of all the things we worry about do not actually happen. What does happen when we allow our mental activity to focus on regrets about the past and worries about the future is to short-circuit our thinking brain. The other thing that also happens, is an extended release of cortisol, which compromises the optimal performance of our body systems.

When events happen that take you off-balance, lean toward the pain and let it be without resisting or exaggerating it. Everything is temporary and this too shall pass. I promise.

  1. Recognize the human connectedness in all of life’s struggles.

When something happens that is linked to a negative outcome, we define it as failure. A sense of shame hides below the brave face we put on for the world, which leads to isolation. The truth is, we all have our fair share of vulnerabilities and the fear that “we are not good enough” is universal. The fabulous, grounded-theory research by Dr. Brene Brown has added much evidence to support this truth. This false sense of separation is a huge obstacle to self-compassion and connection, which is, after all, the most potent pain reliever there is!

Next time you are suffering, what if beyond acknowledging your suffering to yourself, you openly speak about your experience to people who care about you and support you?

Sometimes life gets more complicated than what we think we can handle emotionally and physically.

However, most of the time, it is during the difficult times that we feel compelled to re-shuffle our deck of cards, let go of things that no longer serve us, and chart a new course that is more aligned with our values and purpose.

Although sometimes I experience a great degree of intensity and discomfort in my life, I prefer to deal with it from an inner sense of calm and balance, while openly recognizing that this is part of our human experience.

I know that we live in a culture that does not give us permission for falls, failures,and imperfections. Yet the only way to change that is to slowly, but surely, plant seeds of kindness for ourselves. If we purposely replace self-judgment with self-compassionand isolation with connection, we may just realize that we have plenty of resources and support to transform unfortunate events into catalysts for positive change.

Self Worth Matters

self worth

What if I was to tell you that your sense of your self-worth is directly proportional to your happiness in life? Have you ever pondered what on earth self-worth is?The dictionary defines self-worth as “the sense of one’s own value or worth as a person.” But how do we get to value ourselves? Well, one thing is for sure: None of us are born with it.

Here are the two ways we can get a healthy dose of self-worth:

1. Learn it from responsive primary caregivers in our early life, or

2. Cultivate it through dedicated “self-work” as an adult.

Origin of self-worth

Believe it or not, the value we place on ourselves in the world begins forming in our mother’s womb alongside the development of our nervous system as early as twenty-eight days after our conception! As an infant, our worth is shaped by how we are perceived by our first attachment figures—our parents. Our brain gets sculpted by the information it actually processes, so a nurturing environment ideally will form the blueprint of how we should expect life to go for us, which is directly related to our perception of our place in this world. Imagine our brain as a network of freeways taking us to different destinations.

When we feel a need like hunger, as a baby, we do not yet know what that leads to. If the response from our mother comes in the form of a feeding, that builds a “freeway” in our brain’s neural circuitry, which takes us to a place where we feel reflected and seen. Therefore, a positive implicit memory forms about our place in the world. (Implicit is a memory that cannot be recalled consciously.)

Of course what I call “a freeway” is basically a connection between our neurons (synapses). These connections represent the main channels of information flow and storage in our brain.

In early childhood, hundreds of synapses are formed per second. It is within these connections and not in plain sight, where how much we value ourselves forms.

Later, as children, we process more data from the outside world, creating more pathways of being, while in the background; we chisel away parts of ourselves that are not reflected by the outside world. Sadly, storing away what the external environment, does not reward, can lead to us having a diminished sense of self-worth over time without even realizing it.

The delightful Dr. Brene Brown has pretty much proven in over fifteen years of grounded theory research (generation of theory from systematic research), that our issues with self-worth are universal!

That means that although we may not want to admit it or be consciously aware of it, we could all improve our experience of life (even just a tad) by investing some of our attention in uncovering areas of improvement in how much we truly value ourselves.

Here is a list of behaviors that give away that one has a wounded sense of self-worth. If you identify with any of the items below, be happy, because addressing these issues is also the “to-do list” to get on the pathway to living the most beautiful experience of life ever imaginable.

-We look for approval in external sources, although we do not like to admit it!

-We are not that good at setting boundaries. We have a hard time saying no, although that makes us very frustrated on the inside.

-Although we are very good at playing the role of a good relationship partner in the beginning of a relationship, deep down, we have a fear of dependency, so we will often sabotage our relationships— even the ones that are truly wonderful.

-We have a hard time taking responsibility for our own actions and prefer to blame others when things do not work out in life.

-Although we are very smart and eloquent, we often contradict ourselves. What we think, what we say, and what we do are not in harmony. (Based on Mahatma Gandhi’s definition, that is the opposite of happiness.)

-We are not comfortable expressing our own feelings and needs, so instead we take the stance that we don’t have needs, going against our primary force in life— the need for human connection! When we are not satisfied with another person, we give them the silent treatment.

-We have the propensity to take things personally.

-Although we may create a really beautiful exterior, our deep, hidden, fragile sense of self, may lead us to seek to have power over another in order to elevate our sense of self. This can range from mild passive- aggressive behaviors all the way to different types of abuse.

In extreme cases when someone’s damaged sense of self-worth is the result of a traumatic experience like sexual abuse in childhood, one can completely “kill off” the real self in exchange for a false self, which can lead not only to maladaptive behaviors, but also to a wide range of personality disorders that can greatly impact ones’ odds of being able to successfully navigate through life.

A healthy sense of self-worth holds riches beyond comprehension that are directly related to all noble human pursuits. Understanding our own neurobiology and our selves, can be a gateway to the incredible freedom of personal transformation. We don’t actually have to be a scientist to take advantage of the Nobel Prize-winning discovery of neuroplasticity— the process by which our brain can be changed and re-wired throughout the course of our life by environmental interventions.

We can change the pathways that have been created in our brain from our past experience and re-write the narrative of our story.

And we can start by the simple practice of bringing to our awareness the narrative of our thoughts. Anything outside of our awareness is also outside of our control to change!

Then we have to be ready to cut the lifeline to excuses. But that is a whole different story that I will tell you another time!

Self Worth matters was first published on, an Online journal on March 8, 2018. 

An Overlooked yet Powerful Antidote to Stress: Compassion!

We spend so much time and money trying to figure out how to neutralize the negative impact of stress on our busy, information-overloaded lives! Yet one of the simplest, and also ultra-effective, solutions flies right under our radar: Compassion!

Compassion is our response and action towards relieving another’s suffering.

Study after study provides compelling evidence that when we approach life from a compassionate and altruistic place, we are much healthier, happier and live longer.

I have noticed that every time my life gets challenging, something pulls me toward volunteering in my community, which every time has proven to be a profound contributor to my level of happiness and ability to stay “in my zen.”

I recently was sworn in as a court-appointed special advocate (CASA) for abused children in my community. Despite the pressures and demands of being a single mother entrepreneur, making the time to volunteer has significantly enhanced my resilience and has added so much positive energy to my life. Regardless of my time limitations, I know that by being a child’s advocate, my CASA child is:

  • half as likely to spend time in long-term foster care,
  • four times less likely to re-enter the child welfare system, and
  • able to receive more court-ordered services, such as therapy and educational assistance.

I want to tell you why you should consider giving back and why it is one of the most effective strategies against stress.

  1. Voluntary work is a great way to make new, meaningful friendships.

Despite the ease by which we are able to find and connect to our elementary school friends over Facebook, today one in four of us do not have a person in whom we can confide. We are most probably living in the midst of the worst loneliness crisis in the history of our species. Offering as little as one of your 168 hours in any given week to serve as a volunteer gives you access to an incredible pool of people who happen to be just as wonderful as you and just as passionate about the cause you are passionate about—so much so, that they are also working on it for free.

  1. Volunteering is good for your health.

Study after study consistently reflect that compassion, altruism and kindness have a profound impact in your health and wellbeing. In fact a study by the United Health Group and the Optum Institute found that volunteering has a significant positive impact on our physical, emotional, and psychological health. Out of the study participants, 78% of the ones who had volunteered over the prior twelve months reported lower stress levels and 94% reported improved mood.

  1. Volunteering is an amazing way to enhance your skills for free.

We never stop growing and evolving until our very last breath. Commitment to continuing education is always the best investment of our resources. But have you considered that you can receive free training in invaluable skills at the same time as you are improving the odds for a happy and successful life for a fellow human being? The incredible training offered by the CASA advocates of my county enhanced my knowledge of human development, the needs of my community, and the court system. If there is a cause that is near and dear to your heart, giving back to that cause can significantly enhance your skill set and your abilities.

  1. Volunteering is a “career-enhancing” move.

When employers are considering the career advancement of their employees, community involvement and volunteering have always topped the charts in reflecting personal character and ethos. From the opportunity to collaborate and foster teamwork to having statistics that show the benefits and the direct impact of your efforts, volunteer participation can absolutely enrich your resume and boost your ranking when compared to other candidates being considered for a promotion. I will never forget the incredible sense of pride I experienced being part of reducing the HIV infection rate in East Yorkshire, England as part of my voluntary youth outreach work. And trust me, employers noticed it too.

  1. By volunteering you can really make a difference.

Whether you are helping raise funds for the underserved, providing community education, or helping a child learn better coping mechanisms to deal with adversity, it feels amazing to know you are making a difference by positively impacting someone else’s life. Studies have found that one of the most critical components in restoring work-life balance hinges on how we feel about the work that we do, rather than on the number of hours we spend working. The experience of positively impacting the life of another through the humble contribution of your time and skills carries incredible power.

Throughout my life, I have been blessed with adventure—overcoming adversities and succeeding in three different countries, excelling academically, and meeting and exceeding most of my professional goals.

Yet, my lengthy tenure as a volunteer for AIDS Action (UK), my service on the Council for Drug Problems, and, most recently, my involvement with the court-appointed special advocate (CASA) program in my county top the chart in terms of my sense of accomplishment, joy, and life satisfaction.

While we struggle to keep up with the demands placed upon us and look for ways to reset and restore our precious body system balance, giving back is often the last activity we would consider as an avenue for increased well-being.

We turn to many other strategies to manage stress at the end of the day. We may drink a glass of wine, watch television, or take a sleeping aid.

But why not try out volunteering?

I am not sure of where you are in life or the challenges you may be facing. But I can guarantee you that by volunteering you will form friendships that will last a lifetime, garner incredible new skills, and know that you are actually making a difference in building community wellness. Volunteering is one of the most robust ways to not only get the maximum return on your investment, but to actually improve your own well-being and be the change you want to see in this world.