Recovery + Renewal = Stress Resiliency

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What would happen if you were to take your car on the highway, press the gas pedal to the floor and drive without slowing or stopping? I think we could make a safe bet that sooner or later, your car would run out of gas…at worst, you could possibly damage the engine.

That’s what we can loosely call a burnout. If we push ourselves to the maximum effort without slowing down, easing off the gas pedal regularly and stopping to refill our ‘gas tank’, then our bodies are going to be so stressed, they’ll have to say NO MORE!

This isn’t rocket science. With not enough fuel, rest and relaxation (especially from our thoughts), our bodies will force us to stop.

What is causing most of our stress?  According to 30 years of research from Dr. Derek Roger (one of the world’s leading researchers on stress and resilience), all stress comes down to something called rumination.

“Rumination is the mental process of thinking over and over about something, which happened either in the past or could happen in the future, and attaching negative emotion to it.

Ruminations about the future are associated with “what if this happens'” or “what if that happens.” Ruminations about the past replay, over and over, some awful experience you had and usually end with, “if only I had …” or “I should have done …””

See the full Wake UP white paper here

In last month’s posting, More Thoughts about Thoughts, I cited Dr. Robert Sapolsky, who has researched stress in humans for more than three decades.  He says that we are constantly bombarding our bodies with a stress reaction, not from any imminent physical danger but from the imagined danger our minds have created.

Add to that, the abuse that poor diet and lack of exercise contributes to what our bodies have to undergo, and it’s no wonder that stress reactions underlie an estimated 75 – 90 percent of all visits to primary care physicians in the U.S.A.

We need to become much more mindful about the quality of our thoughts. We need to stop creating fiction for ourselves. We need to start being kinder to ourselves.

Mindfulness and meditation have been shown to be successful in suspending judgmental  thoughts. Take time for reflection on a daily basis. Focus on just breathing – something so simple, yet so essential that we forget we’re doing it or how we should be doing it.

Don’t beat yourself up because you can’t shut down your thoughts. Our brains are made to produce thoughts. Last week, a participant in a training I was giving shared a metaphor. Trying to shut down our thoughts is like standing in the middle of a highway, flagging cars zooming at us at 100 km per hour from both directions in an attempt to stop. Your thoughts won’t stop (estimates say we have circa 42 per minute). However, you can find the peace that comes when you just sit on the side of the road and watch the cars go by. It’s all about non-judgment. Acceptance. Oeps, there is that thought again. Bye, bye.

Encourage your inner coach instead of letting your inner critic have all the ‘voice’ time. And when that inner critic does speak so loudly that you can’t ignore it, embrace it. After all, what is this voice? Only your subconscious doing its best to protect you – usually in a not very helpful way. So acknowledge this voice without beating yourself up. Go to a quiet place inside yourself and through reflection, you will find peace. That inner voice will become still because it knows (you know) that you’re taking care of yourself.

Just in case you need some more encouragement, check out this Forbes article: Stress Kills – Unless You Choose To Proactively Combat Its Harmful Effects


More thoughts about thoughts

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Last year I wrote a newsletter article about thoughts.

The influence and power of the quality of our thoughts is such an important topic, that I decided to share more thoughts about thoughts with you.

Every day we are subjected to a huge dose of negativity and fear-based news. If it’s not the politicians with whom we’re upset, then it’s the crisis in the middle-east that has us reacting in anger and fear. The list of possibilities is endless. And as if this isn’t enough, we also endlessly play the blame and shame game. We either beat ourselves up over something that has or hasn’t happened or we’re blaming someone else for our problems.

Our thoughts create our reality and they also affect our physiology. So many wise people have shared this lesson with us. Robert Sapolsky who has researched stress in humans, says that we are constantly bombarding our bodies with a stress reaction, not from any imminent danger but from the imagined danger our minds have created.

“It isn’t what you have, or who you are, or where you are, or what you are doing that makes you happy or unhappy. It is what you think about.” Dale Carnegie 1888-1955, Author and Speaker

“Your living is determined not so much by what life brings to you as by the attitude you bring to life; not so much by what happens to you as by the way your mind looks at what happens.” Khalil Gibran 1883-1931, Artist, Poet, and Writer

“And every day, the world will drag you by the hand, yelling, “this is important! And this is important! You need to worry about this! And this! And this! And each day, it’s up to you to yank your hand back put it on your heart and say : “No. This is important” Iain Thomas

“As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” the Bible

I could go on and on sharing quotes from eminent writers, researchers and philosophers (sorry that I couldn’t find a wise woman quoting on this – they’re out there too!) but I think you get my point.

Start observing your thoughts. This is what mindfulness is all about. We think it’s something vague but actually it’s the most important thing you can do for yourself. Ask yourself: are my thoughts serving me or hindering me? What you focus on really does create your reality.

If they’re hindering you, then there is a good chance that not only are you not very happy but they’re also creating a toxic chemical soup mix in your body. This is at the root of so much physical and mental illness. And it’s something we do have control over. No-one can ‘force’ us to have a certain thought. But they can certainly influence you, if you let them.

By creating an awareness of our thoughts and by focusing on the positive aspects of our lives, we can rewire our brain to see and experience greater positivity.

Do the gratitude exercise as one step towards self-reflection and to creating a brain that is hardwired for positivity. You’ll be amazed at what an affect this will have for your emotional and physical state. Every day focus on 3 things that went well. Feel the gratefulness in your heart. Life is good.

A Reflective Moment

Photo by B. Farrell
I wonder why it seems important to step back at this time of year and reflect over what the year has brought… Somehow I’m drawn to doing this. Even though I know, as in the words of my husband, that ‘every day is the start of a new year’. By the way, believing this really makes New Year’s resolutions obsolete! I can start over every day.

There have been many wonderful moments this year as well as many challenging ‘mistakes’. Personal growth is definitely not a ‘one-stop shop’. It is an ongoing journey.

Many years ago I started on this journey and for the last seven, I haven’t looked back. In 2007 some fairly severe health issues prompted me to take a serious look at how I was (not) handling stressful situations. As I learned and have shared with you, we have the ability to choose our responses. In the words of Stephen R. Covey – we are ‘response-able’. We have the ability to re-set our brains, to trigger a relaxation mechanism in us that none of us have been taught existed. For those of you interested in knowing, this mechanism is called the Parasympathetic Nervous System.

It’s not always easy to practice what I preach: to stay calm, focus on the positive, be solution oriented, avoid the victim role, which by the way, I had gotten quite good at. I Ping-Pong back and forth between knowing what is good for me and still not always doing it.

What I do know is that it is becoming easier to recover quickly, to bounce back after a set-back. My awareness of those things that trigger a reaction in me is much stronger. I have many more peaceful moments than years ago. And I have learned how to live from my heart.

It hasn’t been and will never be, a magical wand effect. However, I do believe that if we can teach our (grand) children how to turn on their relaxation mechanism (and I don’t mean their lazy mechanism), then they will live a life that is less fraught with anger, frustration, irritation, and fear.

If I can give you some words of advice…of course I can give them to you but whether you’ll accept them or not is the BIG question…find a mentor. Find someone who ‘speaks’ to your heart. I have (had) a few of them: Stephen R. Covey, Brené Brown, Byron Katie, Deepak Chopra, Napolean Hill, Maya Angelou, Rick Hanson are just a few I will name here.

Find yours.

“If you want to be enlightened – be around those you can learn from.” Byron Katie

Holiday cheer!

Here is a definition of stress that just might help you through the upcoming holiday season:

Stress is a reaction people have when excessive pressure or demands are perceived. It arises when we believe we are unable to cope.

Pressure is not Stress.

Stress is what we do with that pressure in our minds.

Knowing this may save you several stressful moments in the coming weeks.

You’re going to face lots of pressures as we role closer to Christmas. For any U.S. readers, these pressures may be occurring as I write this. After all, your most popular holiday, Thanksgiving, is right around the corner. Travel plans that go awry, food preparations, family visits, old patterns of behaviors – these can all build up like a pressure cooker, waiting for an explosion.

It’s not these things that cause you a stressed out moment – it’s what you do with them, in your thoughts and in your personal responses.

Here are a few tips to help you take more enjoyment out of the coming days and weeks:

  • You know already that chances are, things will go wrong. Plan for these and when they happen, accept them. Perfection doesn’t exist but love, happiness and warmth do. Remember your locus of control. Many times we flail out at people and circumstances that aren’t in our locus of control. It’s pointless. If you do rant and rave, then make sure you get over it fast and do it privately. Your stress is contagious for everyone else around you.
  • Make sure that you take time for yourself. Plan for it. What time of day? Where will you do it? What will you do?
  • Saying NO to something or someone can be saying YES to something that is more supportive for you. Use this word, practice it, let it roll off your tongue (politely, of course). Be kind to yourself. Experience self-compassion.
  • Put love and laughter in the air
  • No matter what you do this holiday season, hold the love in your heart and a ready laugh on your lips. Laughter transforms. And in those moments when things seem overwhelming, go to your heart. Breathe slowly and deeply for a few minutes. You’ll be amazed at what this will do to enhance a feeling of calm.

In the words of Robert V. Taylor, “Holiday stress is an oxymoron. Your choices can de-stress the holidays and allow the spirit of joy, goodwill, gratitude and peace to be present. Along the way seek out those who are grounded in delight, playfulness and wonder. They will become a mirror reflecting those qualities in you.”


Develop Smart Strategies to Stress Less

Why do we all suffer so much? Why is there so much suffering in the world?

This past week I heard these questions in an interview with Dr. Mark Hyman M.D. It set me to thinking. What happens when we turn these two questions around: How can we thrive? How can we help create a world in which we all can thrive?

In many of the newsletters I’ve sent out over the past 3 plus years, I’ve covered various aspects of this. Somehow these two questions seem to capture the essence of what and why I love to share: developing smart strategies for stressing less.

So much of our behavior is learned and modelled. If that’s the case, then we can learn behavior that is more supportive. Behavior that helps us flourish.

Our brains do have a tendency towards negativity. It’s part of the survival mechanism left over from our primitive ancestors. We had to be constantly on the alert: watchful, assessing the dangers that might be around the next turn in the path. I’ve learned that it is why, as a young woman, I would often think to myself “why is it so easy to be negative, while I have to work to be positive?”.

But there is hope. As Dr. Rick Hanson, a neuropsychologist says: neurons that fire together, wire together. Simply knowing this is already a starting point for change. Start recognizing the patterns of your negative thoughts and to question them.

What you focus on grows. If you focus on the negativity in your life, you’re going to get more of it. Learn to focus on the good things. Be grateful for the slightest kindness someone shows. Respond to a person’s smile. Even if you don’t feel like smiling, just activating the facial muscles triggers a physiological response in your brain. You begin to feel better and to actually feel more like smiling. I think of it as a ‘fake it until you make it’ kind of behavior.

Stressful situations abound. What happens to you when you experience a stressful situation? Do you ruminate on it, mull it over, share it with others, keep it alive? Dr. Hyman mentioned another a pragmatic pearl I’ll share with you here: “Stress finds you. You have to go looking for relaxation.” So go looking for it. Be proactive. Find those things that will help you deal with your stress reaction; that will help make you more resilient to stressful triggers.

Exercise, proper nutrition, breathing effectively, calming music, a shake break, meditation, yoga, laughter, giving – these are just a few of the things that can help you recover from a stressful situation.

Don’t expect the bi-annual vacation or even the weekends to be enough. You need to look for things you can do daily to recover. Things that don’t have to cost a lot of time but have huge payoffs to feeling better.

Make a list for yourself. What are the things you enjoy doing that enhance your feeling of relaxation? Then when you have a fairly complete list, highlight those things that can be done ‘a la minute’. No preparation. No special requirements. You can just ‘be’.

Un-complicate your life and your thinking. Focus on what’s going well. Start rewiring your neural circuitry. It’s going to create a whole different ‘chemical soup mix’ in your body. You will flourish! Try it… you might just like it…

How full is your battery?

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“People spend too much time finding other people to blame, too much energy finding excuses for not being what they are capable of being, and not enough energy putting themselves on the line, growing out of the past, and getting on with their lives.” J. Michael Straczynsk

My newsletter/blog is all about things related to stress: what it is, how it affects us when unmanaged and what we can do to develop more supportive coping strategies to handle the challenges in our lives. We have many challenges in our lives – but usually only the blame and shame game as a coping strategy. It’s not very supportive.

The first step to creating more harmony and balance in our lives is through awareness. Start with something ‘simple’: what gives us energy and what drains our energy? Low energy levels make us more susceptible to reacting to stressful situations.

If you take this one step towards developing insight into ‘what makes you tick’, then you have a greater chance of taking the necessary steps towards ensuring you have more energy gainers in your life.

What can’t you say no to? What do you say yes to that might drain your battery? Is it a lack of exercise or a friend who weights you down with their problems? Is it too many late nights? Fast food? What unhealthy choices are you making for yourself? It comes down to what brings you short-term pleasure but coupled with long-term pain? We all know what we should be doing, often we just don’t do it.

If you’re not even aware of what’s triggering your energy drain then you can’t do anything about it. Stop and make a list of habits, situations, people, and environments that aren’t serving your best needs. Analyze the list and ask yourself what can you do to change just one of the items on your list. Once you have thought out a game plan, put it into place.

Search for help. If it’s a habit you want to change, then research how habits can be changed and how you can develop new ones that are more supportive. Charles Duhigg wrote a book about this and there are a couple of great videos on You Tube describing the process of change.

Perhaps you might need coaching. There are a lot of us ‘out there’. You need to find the one best suited to you. It’s an investment in yourself – don’t wait for your boss to reach into their budget to help you. Take the initiative for yourself.

If it’s an improvement in your diet, then look to a nutritionist/food specialist for help. And there are thousands of books on the subject. Ask someone who seems to have a good handle on their personal nutrition what they are doing. You know them! They are that person who looks great, exudes energy, doesn’t get easily irritated and has enough left over at the end of a long work day to still do something interesting for themselves. See if just one thing they are doing will make a difference in your life.

The bottom line is this: if our battery is running low then we won’t be able to come up with creative solutions to the challenges life throws our way.

Please share your comments and questions in the comments section below.

What’s in a smile?

It turns out … a lot! We can turn it up, and turn it on in a split second. It’s an instant pick-me-upper. I don’t feel like smiling, you say? Do it anyway. You will feel better. And if feeling better isn’t on your agenda, then do it to increase your creativity and your logical thinking!

Here’s what else we know about the simple gift of smiling.

It’s a two way street. Not only do we smile when we’re happy, we become happier when we smile. Your brain knows when the smile muscles are activated and can be ‘tricked’ into changing your chemical soup mix into one that has more ‘feel-good’ hormones  and neurotransmitters (like dopamine – the ‘reward’ hormone/neurotransmitter).

An experiment demonstrated this well. Three groups were shown cartoons. One group was holding a pencil in their mouth lengthwise, ‘forcing’ a smile. The second group held the pencil by the tip while pursing their lips, ‘forcing’ a sort of frown. The third group held the pencil in their hand. The first group rated the cartoons the funniest, the third group was somewhere in the middle and you guessed it – the second group with pursed lips rated the cartoons least funny.

Smiling also has a social consequence. When we smile, others around us tend to smile too. Even if our smile isn’t one of genuine happiness, we can feel better with smiling faces surrounding us! Listen to the experience of Alex Lickerman, M.D., who, during his first year of medical school, found himself wondering why most people don’t smile at people they don’t know. He realized that in order to smile genuinely at someone, he first needed to have a ‘real’ feeling for them. For him, smiling at strangers became a small exercise in compassion. He stated in this article: “The benefit of smiling accrues to me as well as to those at whom I’m smiling, however: studies have also shown that feeling just as often follows expression. That is, when we smile, it actually makes us happier, even, it turns out, if our smile is forced.”

Do you need more reasons to smile more often? The research is pretty definitive – a happy worker is a more productive worker. (Research by After building questionnaires, conducting focus groups and compiling results from 3,000 respondents in 79 countries, [the company’s] findings proved that happiness has a distinct advantage over unhappiness. “The happiest employees are 180% more energized than their less content colleagues, 155% happier with their jobs, 150% happier with life, 108% more engaged and 50% more motivated. Most staggeringly, they are 50% more productive too.”

Years ago my husband drew a frown on the ‘brow’ of a happy face stress ball. In meetings, when he was happy with the way things went, he didn’t have to say anything – he just held the ball up with the smiling face shining on everyone. When he wasn’t pleased with the way things were going, all he had to do was hold up the ‘upside down’ frown. He didn’t make it personal, he didn’t have to say a word. Each time he got a laugh from the group. Everyone knew this was a signal to start coming with new ideas. I must say, I still have this happy face ball on my desk. The frown is almost worn away…

Apparently, children smile and laugh up to 300 times per day. Adults, if we’re lucky, reach 15 times. So turn that frown upside down!

Please share your comments and questions in the comments section below.

Hi! I am your champion by Dr. Henk Fransen

My story as translator:

In 2004 I was loaned the Dutch version of this book to read by a very dear friend, Martie Gerus. I found it good enough to purchase a copy for myself so that I would always have it on hand. Unfortunately however, as with so many good books, it found its way onto my bookshelf, never to be opened again. Until… late in 2007 I was told I had breast cancer. After many years of not taking care of myself (way too much stress) I was now paying what could be considered the ultimate penalty.

A couple of weeks after my surgery, I sat in my chair with my eye’s closed, contemplating the question of ‘what do I need now?’. A clear picture of Henk Fransen, the author of this book, came into my mind’s eye. I had met Dr. Fransen a number of years earlier at a workshop he gave. I knew him to be a compassionate man, who was dedicated to helping people with cancer in their recovery process. Immediately I phoned him. This contact with Henk was just one of the many gifts I received as I began to heal my body and my life.

Off the bookshelf it came, back into my now eager hands, to refresh my memory about what Champion had experienced. What a difference a different perspective makes. This book was now filled with messages which I knew could make a difference in my healing process.

Late in 2009 I received a phone call from Henk. He wanted to have his Dutch book translated into English and asked me if I would consider doing the translation. Needless to say, I was very enthusiastic. This book, which by then I had read a number of times, never ceased to amaze me about the wonders of the human body and our ability for self-healing. The story of Champion, and how he marshalled all the immune cells to rally in support of the human, had been responsible for one of my most powerful and comforting visualizations. I said an unequivocal yes!

So this is how your Champion has reached you. My hope is that his story will help you in your search for healing and assist you in recognizing just how powerful we are when we are willing to participate in helping ourselves heal.

To order the book via iDeal from the author please click here. The price is 4,84 euros. For anyone outside of the Netherlands wishing to order the book, please contact me personally.


Thoughts about Thoughts

“As he thinks, so he is; as he continues to think, so he remains.” ― James Allen As a Man Thinketh

Did you know that researchers have estimated we have between 8 and 42 thoughts per minute – upwards of 60,000 thoughts per day?

Did you know that of these thoughts circa 60 – 70 % are repetitive and of these repetitive thoughts, circa 70 – 80 % can have a negativity bias? That is – they are rooted in fear, anger or frustration. This negativity bias is stronger in some than in others. It is a primitive skill that was much needed 20,000 years ago to keep us alive, but not so much now.

Earlier this month, I had the great pleasure to hear Byron Katie speak at a full day workshop. For those of you who don’t know her, she is an American, who upon reaching the depths of depression after a ten-year spiral, realized that by believing her stressful thoughts, she suffered. When she questioned them, questioned their veracity as in, ‘is it true’ or perhaps more emphatically – ‘Is it ABSOLUTELY true’ – then her suffering stopped. She came to understand that hanging on to and believing in her thoughts was keeping her in a highly negative and energy draining state.

For more than 25 years she has been teaching ‘The Work’ . A series of simple questions that can and will alter your life, if you do the work that is. Here are some excerpts from what she shared that day, that I want to share with you. In some cases I might have missed a word or two but the essence of her meaning is intact.

“Why do we have worrying thoughts? Because we do!”

“The thought I’m thinking now is the only proof I’ve got. It’s only my proof when I believe it.”

“I can’t detach from what I’m thinking as long as I believe what I am thinking.”

“Identify your thoughts and question those thoughts.”

“Have you ever said something in the moment you believe is true, but maybe later didn’t believe it? Others do this too.”

“Thoughts are recycled – we all experience all of them – we pass them on as long as we believe them. They are not unique to you.” (She had just asked the audience if the thought believed by the person she was speaking with on stage, was one that we all had experienced – several hundred hands went up in the room)

“Don’t run the other person’s life from out of your own head.”

“I can’t know what another is feeling or thinking – it’s all projection.”

“Who would you be without that thought?” (my answer = FREE!)

“How do I react when I believe the thought ‘my children don’t listen to me’ ? With guilt, anger, punishment?”

“Welcome every opportunity for anger, frustration, etc. because it tells you there is still work to be done.”

“Angry human beings are frightened human beings but rather than offer them compassion we give them more of the same.”

“No-one can make me angry – what I’m believing about them is making me angry.”

“Don’t think for the other person – are you psychic?”

I hope these ‘tidbits’ have given you food for thought. There are many more I noted during the 6 hours she spoke. Remember to check in with yourself. Not all of your thoughts are always true. Question your thoughts and ask if they are REALLY true or are they based on fear or projection (assumptions).

As a teenager and young adult, I remember saying to myself (and others) “why is it so easy to be negative while I have to work at being positive?” Knowing what I do now, I understand why I had that thought and that belief. However, by repeating it and believing in it, I also understand that it ‘made’ it true for me.

Chronic negativity is energy draining. It drains our resources and our resourcefulness. Neural scientists have discovered in these last years that the brain is ‘plastic’. It is very adaptable. We can and do create new neural pathways until the day we die. Optimism can be learned and developed. I challenge you to do this.

To find out more about Byron Katie visit her website here. You can download a pdf file of the Four Questions here 

To subscribe to Creating coherent heart Waves newsletter please click here.

photo Mirjam Willaert

Please share your comments and questions in the comments section below.

What’s your chemical soup mix?

One of my favorite parts in giving a workshop or training is when I get to the ‘chemical soup mix’ part. I truly believe that when one understands what is going on as a result of a stress reaction, then we’re more inclined not to let our reaction hijack us.

Did you know that when we have a stress reaction – say you run out of hot water while your hair is covered in shampoo; or you spill hot coffee on your newly laundered pants on your way to an important meeting; or your teenager is two hours past their curfew; or you’re on a walk in a nature reserve and come across this very large bear – that in the instant in which we ‘lose’ it, about 1400 biological, biochemical processes take place.

YES, you’re reading this right – about 1400! Almost instantaneously. Without us having to ‘do’ anything. We are so amazing. Our autonomic nervous system kicks in and the brain starts choreographing a whole new symphony of reactions. Which is absolutely great. This is exactly what we need when the bear confronts us on that nature reserve. But listen up – it’s not such a supportive reaction when it’s happening for non-physiological reasons like worrying about things we can’t control. Or creating fiction for the future. Or beating ourselves up about things that happened in the past. Or letting someone push our buttons.

When we have a stress reaction that’s not for a physiological reason – in other words there isn’t a bear we’re being confronted with, or a car isn’t about to run us down – then we need to be able to choose our response. It’s called emotional self-regulation. Most of our emotions don’t just ‘happen’ to us though it often feels they are. We perceive something as being threatening and just by thinking that it is, our brain kicks into stress mode, conducting its business as if we were truly under a threat.

Why is this important? A body experiencing a chronic chemical stress soup mix is going to wear out much faster than one which has a supportive chemical soup mix with lots of feel-good hormones. Our creative, logical thinking skills aren’t maximized, our memory is affected (where are my car keys!), our immune system is affected. These are just a few of the consequences of not learning how to self-regulate our emotions.

Learn what signals your body is giving you, indicating that you’re having a stress response. Become aware; stop being on automatic pilot. Take time to hear what your body is telling you.

When you feel that there are circumstances which could become stressful, remember to breathe. Slowly. Just two minutes of breathing slowly will allow your brain to switch off the toxic chemical soup mix and turn on a mixture that’s much more supportive.

Photo Els ‘t Hooft