3 Mistakes to Avoid if You Want to Beat Burnout.

The prevalence of burnout has reached alarming levels today.

This is true for all of us, but even more so for our fellow human beings who dedicate their lives to caring for others.

Therapists, addiction professionals, doctors, nurses, social workers, and first responders appear to be paying a high cost for their commitment to helping others in their healing journeys.

We are all aware of the problem. The lifetime occurrence of compassion fatigue and burnout reaches a staggering 85% in helping professionals, creating a workforce crisis, but also impacting their well-being and the health outcomes for those whom they care for.

My examination of my personal experience of burnout and the long journey of recovery has revealed some mistakes I made, which contributed to my burnout.

I am hoping to inspire you to assess your current situation and be more proactive in safeguarding your well-being and happiness, as well as your job performance and satisfaction, from compassion fatigue and burnout.

My burnout mistakes

1. I perceived the symptoms of burnout as weakness so I decided to “fix the problem” by keeping quiet about it and working harder. 

If you are a driven person with high expectations of self, maybe you too perceive exhaustion, stress, irritability, or even anxiety, as simply the price one has to pay to be successful.

Perhaps you even view these cumbersome symptoms as signs of weakness, so you attempt to hide them under the rug and work harder to make them go away.

You work late, give up time with your loved ones, skip a meal, or sacrifice your gym ritual in order to “fix the problem.”

I urge you to rethink this approach!

Do you recognize any of the symptoms below in yourself?

Burnout Signs & Symptoms—Gradual onset and slower recovery.

  •   Physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion. (Signs: forgetfulness, insomnia, frequent illness, irritability & anger, anxiety & depression).
  • Cynicism and detachment. (Signs: Negative outlook, isolation, disengagement, loss of employment).
  • Feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment. (Signs: Hopelessness, increased irritability, diminished productivity, and poor work performance).

Compassion Fatigue Signs & Symptoms—Rapid onset but faster recovery

All of the burnout symptoms above, as well as the following:

  • Nervous system arousal resulting in anxiety, sleep disturbances, and heightened sense of fear.
  • Overall increased emotional intensity.
  • Decreased cognitive ability and impaired judgment.
  • Loss of hope, meaning, and sense of self-worth.
  • Isolation, depression, PTSD.
  • Depersonalization (The feeling that you are observing yourself from outside your body, or you have the sense that things around you are not real, or both).

These signs and symptoms are the ultimate notification that you have exceeded your capacity to meet the demands of life without harming yourself, which is what burnout is.

Compassion fatigue is a type of burnout, which has a more rapid onset of action, characterized by secondary traumatic stress when caring for individuals in distress. (Charles Figley, 1992).

Although it is normal to sometimes feel out of sorts—especially after giving your all to a big project—no title, salary, or career advancement is worth jeopardizing the well-being of your body, mind, and spirit.

The good news is that we can prevent and overcome burnout and compassion fatigue as long as we recognize them promptly and do something about it.

I know that I did not recognize these symptoms for what they were until I was forced to as a result of a major health crisis.

If you are concerned about your level of burnout or compassion fatigue, you can assess where you are by using Dr. Beth Hudnall Stamm’s Professional Quality of Life Screening Tool, which you can access here: www.proqol.org.

Here are some simple things you can consider doing today if you identify with any of the signs and symptoms of burnout.

Recognize that these symptoms are not normal and speak up about them. Early recognition and seeking help are the first and most critical steps in preventing the development of burnout.

Take a purposeful break. Getting off the hamster wheel for a moment and doing something that helps you relax will give you the opportunity to reset and get back to a balanced state from which you can make wise decisions.

Resist the urge to isolate and work harder. As much as we may perceive exhaustion as a sign of weakness, the high prevalence of burnout in our world clearly indicates that you are not alone.

After you re-charge your batteries, re-prioritize your life to provide opportunity for ample self-care in between sprints of intense work. Uncover and challenge any unconscious, limiting beliefs that place a negative connotation on self-care, like believing self-care is self-indulgent. Let the robust research remind you that the most critical predictor of your clients’ outcomes hinges on how well you can care for yourself first.

Create an ongoing inventory of all the activities that help you relax and make sure you dedicate time to do some of them every day. As much as you think working late will help you catch up, a thirty-minute walk in nature will boost your productivity and enhance your mental clarity a lot more than working late.

2. I relied on organizational change for relief of my symptoms, overlooking my personal power to prevent burnout. 

The American Institute of Stress reports that job pressure is the #1 cause of stress in the United States. 

Without a doubt, there are many steps organizations can take to protect their employees from burnout. Decreasing work load, increasing support, cultivating a positive culture where employees feel valued and cared for, and increasing environmental wellness are all great initiatives. 

However, nobody but ourselves can safeguard and maintain the necessary state of balance we need to function properly.

In fact, one of the most effective recovery programs for compassion fatigue substantiates the critical importance of self-directed interventions toward rebuilding professional and personal well-being. (Accelerated Recovery Program for Compassion Fatigue.Gentry, Baranowsky, and Dunning, 1997).

From the standpoint of neurobiology, the stress-related negative effects we experience are a result of our perception of our workplace circumstances as threats.

This does not negate the impact of unreasonable workloads or poor leadership skills that use harsh criticism or motivating by fear as a way to improve work performance.

However, only we can control how we respond to stressors. By associating work demands to perceived negative outcomes and seeing them as threats, our nervous system shifts to the “fight or flight” stress response. When we are in that state, we lose access to our optimal functioning, such as reasoning, decision-making, wisdom, judgment, self-control, and so forth.

How do we re-gain access to that optimal functioning? We can become scientists in our own lives by training our minds to shift our perspective and stop viewing work and life situations as threats. This action can intercept the unnecessary activation of our stress response. Instead we can access the part of our nervous system where we grow, repair, restore, and access invaluable higher-functioning skills and strengths. (Parasympathetic branch, known as our relaxation response.)

Our mind is an effective portal to regulate the energy and information flow that will determine which part of our nervous system we are tackling life from. (Dan Siegel, Mindsight, 2010). 

Here are some practical ways we can cultivate our ability to quiet the over-activation of our stress response and mitigate the development of burnout.

  • Practice mindfulness. Increasing our ability to direct the focus of our attention from imaginary threats to the reality of the present moment has shown incredible benefits in reduction of emotional exhaustion and depersonalization in as little as six weeks. If you are not sure how to begin a mindfulness practice, you can read my last article by clicking on this link: https://myndzen.com/the-solution/the-positive-perspective/the-magic-of-mindfulness/ and even try out a guided practice I recorded by clicking on this link: https://youtu.be/zAavQ4aSzko
  • Cultivate your emotional intelligence (EQ) by working with difficult emotions. EQ has been researched extensively and has been correlated with robust, positive outcomes in all areas of life. Asking yourself powerful questions to assess the nature and validity of your emotions redirects your energy back to your thinking brain. For example, you can simply ask yourself, “What am I afraid will happen? What is the feedback my fear is trying to give me?”
  • Take back control. One of the predisposing factors of burnout is the perceived loss of control. When we depend on outside factors to become healthier and happier at work, we give away the control we have over the situation.

It is our responsibility to cultivate the skills we need to ensure our well-being, our performance, and the quality of life we all deserve. Not to mention that by taking ownership, we take back control of feeling more content and calm and no longer generate the negative symptoms of burnout.

3. I did not realize the long-term recovery time and consequences of burnout.

Once upon a time, I was considered a force to be reckoned with. For the majority of my life I was “untouchable.” I was an athlete with incredible physical strength. I had a sharp intellect that could solve any problem. And I was a ferocious leader and top performer with a proven track record of success. I could literally solve any problem and exceed every goal I set my mind to, even synthesizing cancer drugs that surpassed the efficacy of existing treatments at the time.

Burnout replaced all those traits with brain fog, memory loss, difficulty concentrating, panic attacks, fainting spells, self-doubt, and a painful spinal condition.

From my usual driven and high-achiever stance, I thought I could conquer burnout all on my own.

I did not realize the long-term consequences of operating at such high levels of stress or how long the journey of recovery from burnout is.

Research shows that chronic stress actually causes structural changes in our brain in non-favorable ways. Our invaluable pre-frontal cortex, which is involved in motivation, problem- solving, reasoning skills, and mediation of rewards shrinks significantly under prolonged exposure to chronic stress. The hippocampus, which is involved with memory and learning, has been shown to reduce in size as well. And our amygdala, the alarm that goes off in the presence of a threat, actually increasesin size, which then makes us more susceptible to recognizing events as threatening.

Furthermore, the long-term effect of the over-exposure to neural, endocrine, and immune system stress mediators associated with our stress response can cause organ system damage leading to disease.

For example, when facing a threat, our blood pressure and heart rate rise and insulin and blood sugar increase in our blood stream in order to provide us with the necessary energy to address the threat. In the case of acute stress, these changes are short-term, adaptive actions that are protective. (McEwen & Wingfield, 2003).

However, chronic stress can result in our body having to make too many changes to be able to return to normal levels so that abnormal levels of blood glucose and blood pressure continue. The amount of this effort to return to normal levels is referred to as allostatic load and this effort can lead to disease. (Allostatic load, McEwen 1993).

For example, when the allostatic load becomes too high and our body is unable to shut off the increased blood glucose level this can lead to the development of Type 2 diabetes.

High allostatic load has also been linked to cognitive, skeletal, endocrine, immune, and cardiovascular disease.

I am the poster child of the long-term organ damage that can occur as a result of the great amount of work my body had to perform to reinstate the equilibrium of high functioning. There are several studies exploring the mechanisms of how stress may affect the physiological processes involved in musculoskeletal disorders, such as the one I was diagnosed with.

But as I continue my work to reinstate not only my physical health, but also my self-concept, I came across a profound epiphany.

The debilitating effects of burnout in my life became an incredible catalyst to restructuring my self-concept and identifying and cultivating undiscovered resources, skills, and meaning that have the potential to result in unfathomable growth, transformation, and improvement of the quality of my life.

Dr. Joyce Mikal-Flynn’s trauma research underscored concepts of stress-resilience and post-traumatic growth, resulting in a revolutionary framework to guide one in recovery from traumas, challenges and personal life crises.

Her extensive research, led to the development of Metahabilitation, a new structure and clinical pathway of rehabilitation that supports and guides survivors to move beyond a simple restorative state to a heightened existence, not despite our crisis but as a direct result of our crisis (Mikal-Flynn, 2012).

You can learn more about metahabilitation and the research of Dr. Mikal-Flynn by visiting www.metahab.com

My personal review of Dr. Mikal Flynn’s work and research helped me choose a different way of dealing with my crisis based on the characteristics of metahabilitated survivors.

  • I embrace personal control – cultivating self-compassion and refusing to see myself as a victim of my circumstances. Instead I choose to practice self-compassion daily, extending kindness to myself as I would to my best friend.
  • I continually practice and work toward cultivating and maintaining an optimistic outlook, refusing to live in anger and despair, instead focus on creating a new life plan armed with the insights I have uncovered about myself.
  • I practice gratitude daily, including the recognition of my burnout adventure as a catalyst for positive growth.
  • I have chosen to live my life driven by a new mission: Serving others and giving back by transforming my experience and science into guideposts for positive growth.
  • Burnout can wreak havoc in our lives, the way we view the world and how our life unfolds from it. However, it can also be an incredible opportunity for transformation, growth and unimaginable meaning and quality of life. If only we see it that way!

Final thoughts

Burnout and Compassion Fatigue are significant problems, affecting up to 85% of care-giving professionals.

Central to this problem is the propensity to suffer silently, hoping external circumstances will change to relieve the cumbersome symptoms of compassion fatigue and burnout.

No matter how great your workplace is, chances are it will demand more and more of you the more you give.

However, by recognizing the signs and symptoms early and taking an active stance against the inevitable health consequences of burnout, we can prevent and overcome these devastating coping mechanisms.

There are several practical ways we can conquer the insidious impact of burnout in our lives.

If you want to learn more skills that can help you build resilience and become burnout resistant, I am here for you.

You can book a free 15-minute consultation, by emailing me at tzeli@myndzen.com, or calling me at 916-212-3042. You can also join the Myndzen community by clicking on this link http://bit.ly/JoinMyndZen to be notified of new resources and courses that will help you take your power back from burnout.

However you choose to proceed, never forget this one truth: There is only one you in this universe. Don’t let burnout and compassion fatigue overshadow your true potential!

The Truth About Love and Heartache.

Love is a powerful shield against the inevitable bumps in the road of your life’s journey.

We all know the warm and fuzzy feeling we experience when we are in love.

But beyond that, research from various scientific fields has linked love to tremendous benefits in our emotional, mental, and physical health, our happiness and even our career and financial success.

Healthy lovers help each other recover faster from illness, reduce stress, depression and anxiety and grow brain regions involved with creativity, emotional intelligence and resilience. No wonder most of the movies we watch, songs we listen to, and commercials we see are all stories of love. 

But why do so many of these stories talk about heartache?

For decades, researchers from all across the world have tried to answer that question. 

The problem is, when our love life suffers, we lose our parachute that keeps us safe during the falls of life. Relationship distress leads to responses to threatening and stressful events that make things worse, reduces our immune function, and leads to depression.  And it leads to us being too jaded to invest in love again.

The good news is that research has also opened the door to recognizing barriers to a healthy relationship and effective strategies we can employ to overcome them and harness the power of love. 

In light of the highly-commercialized Valentine’s Day, which at least places love in the forefront of our mind where it should be, I wanted to share a handful of myths about love that we need to be mindful of in our quest to make love a positive aspect of our life. 

I am hoping my insights will inspire you to assess your current perceptions and perhaps consider experimenting with these principles to enhance your own experience of love. 

“Love is the only sane and satisfactory answer to the problem of human existence.” 

― Erich Fromm

Myths about love

1.    We think Love is something we “fall into.” 

We are constantly bombarded with an idealized version of what love is all about. According to movies, commercials, and songs, when we meet “the one” we will know it, bring out the best in one another, and walk into the sunset in eternal bliss.

This notion is flawed, as it sets us up for failure. 

In reality, we cultivate love through committed actions and hard work to rise up to a disciplined way we choose to interact with another, so that together we can build a safe haven that makes us stronger in dealing beautifully with the ups and downs of life. 

No matter how good our love relationship is, it is always a work-in-progress. 

The work involves choosing to do all the little things daily that keep us attuned to our partner, reflect that we are there for them, and show that we will emotionally respond to them in good times and, especially, in bad. 

Here are some tips from the experts to incorporate in your labor of love:

  • It is the small things you do daily that allow you to strengthen your bond and build trust. Answering the question:“What does our relationship need from me?” is a great way to uncover what these daily small things your relationship needs to flourish.
  • Increasing your tolerance for differences, and gentleness in how you approach your different points of view, allows you to feel more connected.
  • Conflict is not the real problem as long as you are mindful of keeping the positive to negative interactions in a five to one ratio.

Once the foundation is set and we have done the hard work of planting our garden with all the right fruits and vegetables that we need, we then don’t have to work as hard anymore.

We can enjoy feeling more assured, assertive, and confident and view life in a more adventurous and expansive way.

“If you have a responsive love partner, you have a secure base in the chaos. If you are emotionally alone, you are in free fall.” 

—Dr. Sue Johnson


2.    We don’t give love the respect and priority it deerves.

We all want to be happy in love, but sometimes it seems that we don’t realize how sacred and powerful love is.

As a consequence, we often sacrifice love in the name of other important elements of our life, such as our career or our finances. Interestingly, the Grant study, Harvards longest study in human development researching the factors that contribute to life fulfillment, reveled that secure relationships were by far the biggest contributing factor to career and financial success! 

What we don’t realize is that the bond we share with our primary mate, when nurtured adequately, gives us access to superpowers!

Research shows that healthy, attuned lovers are able to reduce each other’s stress response, heart rate, and trigger the release of a potent hormone called oxytocin, which actually turns off fear.

Fear prevents us from expressing our full potential in all areas of our life.

If we tend to play small in life, chances are, our primary attachment bonds in childhood did not arm us with the confidence to expect positive outcomes, so we are more fearful. Negative models from past experience create unconscious limiting beliefs and anticipatory responses that prevent us from being bold in life.

Love can actually reshape our brain and replace old wounds and limiting beliefs with confidence, courage, and grit.

And the well-documented way our brain activates to diminish threats that is associated with a secure attachment, leads to incredible physiological and psychological benefits. 

So how do we harness the power of love in a more practical sense?

The next time you experience internal discomfort, remember that your partner is the solution and not the enemy. Instead of shutting down or turning away from him/her, reach out to them instead. Identifying our emotional needs and sharing them with our love allows them to respond to us and offer us the comfort and support we need.

“The power of love can help to free us from the trappings of past experiences and to live in the true sense of joyful wholeness.” 

—James Van Praagh

3.    We perceive depending on others as weakness.

We are hardwired in our core to meet our powerful need for intimacy. Yet, we experience great discord in life because we define dependence as a weakness. 

Central to this issue is our fear of vulnerability and our confusion between healthy interdependence and co-dependency. 

The critical difference of interdependence from unhealthy forms of dependence is how we show up in the relationship. When we have a solid sense of self and self-worthiness, we don’t engage in maladaptive behaviors, such as people pleasing, manipulating, or blaming. We instead balance our own needs with the needs of the relationship and work toward the beautiful balance of giving and receiving without fears of being abandoned or losing our identity.   

We then feel free to be vulnerable and create true intimacy.

As we have learned from world renowned vulnerability expert, Dr. Brene Brown, there is immense power in creating wholehearted connections where we allow ourselves to be fully seen. This includes the courage to go out on an emotional limb to ask for help when we need it.   

Far from the conventional view of this as weakness, being able to reach for our loved ones as a resource to calm and comfort us is a strength.

“It seems to me that if we, as a species, are to survive at all on this fragile blue and green planet, we have to learn to step past the illusion of separateness and grasp that we truly are mutually dependent. We learn this in our most intimate relationships.” 

—Dr. Sue Johnson

4.    We blame love—and our lover—for our suffering.

Every love affair begins with an incredible cloud nine, fairy tale sort of feeling. But sooner or later, pain shows up, right when the initial honeymoon phase ends. It is at that point that we tend to blame the relationship and the object of our affection for our suffering. 

What is actually happening below the realm of our conscious awareness is that once we have allowed ourselves to get swept in by the strong force of love, our nervous system regurgitates our historical sensations of what happened in the past when we depended on another.

If our past did not leave a positive imprint on our neurobiology, our automatic response is to become fearful. We may be afraid of being rejected, losing our self, losing our independence, being abandoned, and the list goes on.

And then what happens is all the things we are afraid of saturate our body and our mind and in the process of fighting these old memories, we project them onto our love!

John Gottman’s 40-year research, which predicts divorce with 90% accuracy, has identified four hallmark behaviors that will absolutely drown even the best relationships. These are: criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stone-walling. 

Here are some questions you can ask yourself any time you feel you are beginning to go down one of these poisonous reflex responses. (You can also receive a cheat sheet of these questions along with a feelings inventory in your inbox when you join the Myndzen community by clicking on this link: http://bit.ly/JoinMyndZen)

—What am I feeling right now?

—What about this makes me feel this way?

—How much of it is true and how much of it is a story based on the past?

—What can I do differently that is within my control?

 Reaching out to our love for comfort instead of blaming them for our suffering will not only help us reduce our internal negative arousal in the moment, but it will also strengthen our bond. They can then become a resource as we grow toward emotional intelligence.

“We are born in relationship, we are wounded in relationship, and we can be healed in relationship .”

— Harville Hendrix

5.    We expect love to complete us. 

There is no bigger disappointment than the rude awakening of our beloved asking us to make a change in ourselves right after we believed this was the person for whom we could do no wrong. After all, this one was supposed to be “the one” who would bring out the best in us, right?

Not exactly.

The relationship which protects us from all dangers and threats in life, which gives us the freedom to be ourselves, and supports our growth and our dreams does not work like that.

Rather, it requires two complete, whole individuals who are each committed to personal evolution.

That does not mean that the ones of us who experienced adversity in childhood, wounds, or traumas are destined to miss out.

We all have issues, some of us more and greater than others. However, the difference for our personal evolution is how we handle those issues and what we are committed to do toward our own individuation and self-actualization.

The path to our own healing may seem daunting and we may avoid it by simply changing partners in hopes that our issues will disappear by magic.

But the truth is, until we love ourselves wholeheartedly and commit to our own healing and growth, we will not be able to see the love of a partner and feel safe. This is true even if the archetype of our ideal partner falls in love with us.

After all, the greatest truth about love and heartache, is that until we find harmony within, we cannot create it with another.

 Final thoughts

Love is a powerful shield and a disciplined way we commit to interact with another to powerfully address the ups and downs of life and reach our full potential.

A healthy love relationship has a positive effect on our well-being, our happiness, and our life expectancy. 

To be happy in love, we may want to revisit some current perspectives and default responses that are myths, and not true.

We can recognize and commit to the hard work that is required to rise to love.

We can embrace the power of love and actively engage in doing the “small things often” that will resist the conditioned ways of expressing our pain.

We can learn to speak a new language—the language of emotions—and strengthen our bond through exposing our vulnerabilities.

We can let love be the mirror of our soul and our guide down the path of our own personal development and healing.

Because the truth is, only when we heal ourselves, can we be happy in love. 

Notes: The information in this article was informed by my personal review of studies, my participation in Drs. John and Julie Gottman’s “Art and Science of Love Workshop,” Dr. Sue Johnson’s Emotional-Focused Therapy, and the application of this research in my own life.  If you enjoyed this article, you might want to review an earlier article I wrote listing some of the most significant benefits of love. You can find it by clicking here.

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: bit.ly/JoinMyndZen 

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