5 Tips for Managing Stress

“I promise you nothing is as chaotic as it seems. Nothing is worth diminishing your health. Nothing is worth poisoning yourself into stress, anxiety, and fear.” – Steve Maraboli

May is Mental Health Awareness Month! For many of us, it can feel like stress rules our lives—trying to manage kids’ schedules, work deadlines, social commitments, etc. — it all adds up. This month is a great time to become aware of your stress levels and find ways to reduce them that work for you.

Stress is the body’s physiological and psychological response to challenges or changes in your environment. The stress response—also known as the fight or flight response—evolved to help us flee from lions, tigers, and bears (oh my!). Today, however, this response isn’t entirely helpful. When you get a stressful text from your boss, for example, a similar reaction occurs in your body as if, well, you were getting chased by a lion. That feeling where your stomach drops, your heart starts racing, maybe your limbs feel a little tingly or numb. All of that is part of fight or flight. And all of that is triggered when we encounter stress.

How can you make your day less stressful? Today, we’ve compiled five tips to help you decrease your stress, stop the fight or flight response, and regain a sense of calm and control in your life—no matter what’s on your schedule.

1. Move your body more

When we think about the fight or flight response, both options—fleeing or fighting—require movement. Though we may not jump into a sprint or prepare for a fight club moment when we receive a stressful text, moving your body in moments of stress can help close out the fight or flight response and return your body and mind to a more peaceful, calming state.

What kind of movement do you enjoy? Are you a fan of yoga, or do you love walking your dog? Maybe lifting weights is more your jam, or dancing to your favorite Beyonce song is your thing. Whatever it may be for you, start weaving movement into your day as a way to combat stress. Aiming for 20 minutes/day is great for the de-stress effects, but anything you can weave into your day-to-day is fantastic.

If you’re a busy parent who’s trying to weave in more play time with your kids, this is an awesome opportunity to get more movement into your day and decrease your stress. You can try the animal freeze dance video below to get started!

2. Get better (and longer) sleep

Perhaps the most obvious on this list: sleep more, and better. Sleep quantity and quality both greatly affect our stress levels. Studies have shown that sleep deprived individuals have higher levels of cortisol (the stress hormone), particularly later in the day, when the body should otherwise be preparing to rest.

Getting more sleep is easier said than done. It’s hard for many, particularly parents or folks working long hours at demanding jobs. Some people find that progressive muscle relaxation and visualizations—similar to those used in hypnosis—can be extremely helpful in falling asleep faster and staying asleep. These mental exercises help your body and mind relax so it is easier for you to fall asleep, even after a busy, stressful day.

To try one out for yourself, check out the hypnotic meditation for sleep here.

3. Take some time to breathe

Slowing down your breath is another way you can close out the fight or flight response and return your body and mind to a calm, healthy place. When you exhale longer than you inhale, you activate your vagus nerve. This nerve is like the off-switch for the stress response: when you stimulate the vagus nerve, it tells your body, “Hey! We’re safe, it’s okay to calm down now.” Breath is one of the simplest ways to activate this healing nerve in your body.

The nice thing about breathwork is it can be done anytime, anywhere. A great place to start is simple counted or box breathing. This is all you have to do:

  1. Inhale for a count of 4
  2. Hold it at the top for 2
  3. Exhale for a count of 6
  4. Hold it at the bottom for 2

You can do this at work, in the car, while you’re trying to calm down your kids—anytime, anywhere! This activates your vagus nerve, while also giving you a moment for mindfulness and mental calm. If you prefer a video to follow along, you can use the one below!

4. Try one of these supplements

Because stress is a physiological response, there are a number of supplements that can be helpful in decreasing the effects of stress on your body. Two in particular—magnesium and L-theanine—can be especially helpful.

A large number of people have magnesium deficiencies, which is a shame because the mineral has an abundance of positive effects on the body. In addition to lowering stress levels, it helps with sleep quality, hormonal balances, brain health, and so much more. To get more magnesium naturally, consider eating more leafy greens, nuts, whole grains, and beans. For more magnesium in supplement form, check out Biooptimizer’s all-seven forms of magnesium supplement, found here.

A lesser known supplement for stress is L-theanine—a compound sourced from green tea leaves. It’s an amino acid that can help with reducing stress, improving cognitive function, enhancing focus and sleep, and more. Though you can get a small amount of L-theanine in green, black, white, and oolong tea, it’s easier to get the recommended amount from a supplement. We recommend the 200 mg L-Theanine from Nature’s Trove.


5.Become aware of your stressors, and create a plan to manage them

This one is the simplest, but perhaps the most important step to decreasing your stress. So often, we become caught up in the day-to-day and don’t give ourselves the chance to get ahead on the items that otherwise cause us stress. Becoming aware of your stressors allows you to create a plan for how you can better manage them, decreasing your stress and the amount on your plate!

To begin getting curious about your stressors, take 5-10 minutes to reflect on the following questions. You can journal in a notebook, on the notes app on your phone, or just in your mind as you consider the following:

  1. What are three specific stressors in your life right now?
  2. Looking at your schedule for the next week, when do you anticipate that these stressors will arise?
  3. How do you generally handle these stressors? How well does that normally work for you?
  4. What could you try this week to better handle these stressors?
  5. How will you remind yourself to try this new technique?

Stress is a normal part of life, but when it starts piling up, it can become detrimental to our physical, mental, and emotional health. Try one, two, or all of these techniques this month to help decrease your stress and boost your health and happiness!

Blue Zones and the Keys to Healthy Longevity

Occasionally on the news, you’ll see a headline about a woman who lived to 112, or perhaps someone in your county who just hit their 100th birthday. But what if there were whole communities of people who lived to 100 and beyond? What if becoming a centenarian was the norm in your town, rather than the exception?

That’s precisely the case in Blue Zones, a name for areas where people regularly live to be one hundred years old. Blue Zones were originally identified by two gerontologists, Gianni Pes and Michel Poulain. They noticed that certain parts of Sardinia in Italy had extremely high concentrations of men who lived to be 100 – the highest in the world, actually. Then they began to find other areas with similarly high numbers of 100 year-olds, and termed these areas “Blue Zones.”

Blue Zones are found across the world. The most well documented regions include: Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Ikaria, Greece; and Loma Linda, California.

So what makes a Blue Zone a Blue Zone, apart from the concentration of elderly folks? Researchers found similar qualities amongst these Blue Zones. And in this blog, we’ll share these secrets, with tips on how to bring these traits into your own life.

1. Move regularly in your daily schedule

People in Blue Zones aren’t healthier because they go to the gym for 90 minutes each day or complete triathlons. Instead, movement is a normal part of their day. Whether that’s walking to the store, a family member’s house or community center, movement is bound into the fabric of their life.

Oftentimes, people in Blue Zones also have gardens that they tend to by hand, rather than opting for machines or other conveniences that decrease the exercise of the work.

How can you embody this trait of Blue Zones? Consider things like…

  • Walking your dog a few times / day
  • Biking to nearby stores instead of driving
  • Starting a garden to grow your own fruits and veggies

2. Prioritize belonging and your loved ones

In each of these communities, members have been able to establish a sense of purpose. It goes by different names in each culture, but the meaning remains the same: these centenarians have been able to find a purpose that motivates them to get up each day.

If you feel unsure about your purpose, consider the following questions:

  • When do I feel the most lit up and happy in my day-to-day life?
  • What gives me the greatest sense of fulfillment each week?
  • How can I better prioritize these things in my daily life?

When finding your purpose, allow yourself to follow the things that bring you a natural sense of contentment or joy. For some people, this is work related, for others, it has to do with family. Prioritize your fulfillment and see the purpose that unfolds in front of you.

3. Learn to manage your stress

Yes, 100 year-olds experience stress, too. Stress is universal to the human experience. The difference in Blue Zones, however, is that people have practices bound into their daily routines to decrease stress.

For instance, those in Okinawa take a few minutes to honor their ancestors. Those in Ikaria take a midday nap. Sardinians opt for a glass of wine in the afternoon. All of these activities minimize stress that’s built up in the day.

Consider your own daily schedule: How do you manage stress? What do you do each day to minimize it? If you don’t have anything you do each day, think about…

  • Adding 5-10 minutes of reflection, meditation or prayer
  • Starting a yoga or stretching practice
  • Giving yourself permission to take a nap!
  • Calling a friend to catch up

Find what de-stresses you and add it into your daily routine.

4. Follow the 80% rule

People in Blue Zones typically follow eating patterns that set them up for long-term health. For instance, they often follow the 80% rule: the idea that you should stop eating once you’re 80% full. Often, it can take our bodies time to register the amount of food ingested and can delay the process of telling us when we’re “full.” Stopping at 80% ensures you don’t overeat.

Additionally, the smallest meal is at dinner time – likely before it. This is contradictory to the US, where dinner is often the biggest meal of the day.

Try out the 80% meal for yourself and aim to have a larger lunch and a smaller dinner!

5. Favor plants in your diet

Blue Zone diets typically are high in legumes – AKA beans. The fiber content and protein of beans provides plant-based nutrition. You should increase your intake of beans to once per day or at minimum, a few times per week, to embody a Blue Zone diet.

Additionally, there isn’t a high meat intake in Blue Zones. Typically, meat is only eaten five times per month in average portions.

Takeaways? Eat more beans and plants, and less meat to emulate a centenarian’s diet.

6. Drink moderately

People in Blue Zones do in fact drink alcohol, and frequently! However, they limit it to 1-2 glasses at a time, and it’s typically social. They’ll have a glass of wine with friends or family over dinner, and binge drinking isn’t a result.

If you do drink, keep it light, and aim for higher quality alcohol. Sardinian Cannonau wine could be the next glass you order with dinner!

7. Prioritize belonging and your loved ones

The majority of centenarians felt belonging with a larger group – typically a faith-based organization that they were involved with weekly. Additionally, they prioritized their families, keeping their elders in the house or nearby as they aged. Most typically, they also had a committed life partner, and spent ample time with their family.

The main tip here? Make time for the people and groups that matter in your life. The sense of love, belonging, and fulfillment that can come from relationships transcends all aspects of health and wellness. It’s what serves as the cornerstone of the human experience, and people in Blue Zones honor that.

If you follow these tips, perhaps you’ll live to be 100. Even if you don’t, your quality of life, sense of inner peace, and overall health will certainly increase. Choose a few of these to implement this week and see how your mental and physical health transforms.

Being SMART About Making Positive, Sustainable Changes, Part 2

Many of us started the New Year with resolutions for positive change – and to keep these sustainable, it’s helpful to know that your brain is a powerful tool to help you stick to new habits!

When it comes to changing your habits, there’s a key process in the brain that is involved: it’s called neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity is the process by which your brain develops new connections, strengthens existing ones, and prunes out the old ones that are no longer in use.

The “connections” are more formally known as synapses – these are where two neurons connect and share information. Synapses spur learning, store memories, and – important for our purposes today – create our habits!

Neuroplasticity is important when it comes to your new year’s resolutions because it allows your brain to become familiar with your new habits; it sets them in stone as a new part of your neural hardwiring. Neuroplasticity lets your brain grow, develop, and adapt to changes in your life and schedule. In other words, neuroplasticity is how an old dog learns new tricks!

Think of changing your brain through neuroplasticity like working a new muscle – your bicep, for instance. Let’s say you do 15 bicep curls each day. At first, they may be challenging; perhaps your arms aren’t your strongest muscle group. However, as you keep at it, you find those bicep curls getting easier and easier. With time, the bicep curls become a habit – and you’ve successfully grown and strengthened the muscle.

Repetition of new habits and skills follows a similar process in the brain. The brain is not a muscle; it’s actually mostly made of fatty tissue! But strengthening the synapses in the brain, and consequently the habits they support, is a repetitive process. When you sufficiently strengthen these synapses with repeated action, then the habit begins to feel like a regular part of your life, rather than an uphill battle to incorporate into your daily life. This is the neural process occurring as you take on a new habit – your brain’s hardwiring is literally changing with your habits, lifestyle, and schedule.

With a better understanding of how your brain changes as you take on a new habit, let’s review ways you can better stick to those habits and spur neuroplasticity. Below we’ve outlined a few tactics to help you stick to your 2023 goals!


1. Become aware of where you typically fall off

Start by reflecting. You’ve probably tried to take on new habits in the past and both succeeded and failed. Consider:

  • When I incorporated a new habit into my life in the past, what helped me succeed?
  • When I failed to stick to a new habit in the past, where did I go wrong?
  • Specifically, when I failed in the past, did I see a form of self-sabotage arise? (eg: procrastination, deciding “it’s not worth it,” avoidance, perfectionism, etc.)

Creating awareness of the patterns you fall into when you fail or succeed can help you work smarter, not harder! Thinking back to neuroplasticity, our specific patterns of failure or success are often hardwired in our brains. Thus, obtaining clarity on the ways we typically sabotage new habits can be extremely helpful. For example, some of us opt for procrastination when the going gets tough, while others do a mental 180 and say to ourselves, “Well, it wasn’t going to work out anyways, I should just give up now.”

Once you have an understanding around your default mechanisms to sabotage or avoid new goals and habits, you can call yourself out when you see them arise this year! If you’re a procrastinator, what are you going to do when you see yourself procrastinating on your new habit? If you have those thoughts of “it’s just not worth it,” what are you going to tell yourself instead? In other words, what is the new neural pathway and pattern you’re going to create? You can utilize anything that’s helped you be successful in the past to help you get out of a rut here, too!

First build awareness. Then create a plan. We’re all human, so take some of the pressure off yourself by realizing it’s not if you fall off the wagon, but when. So when it happens, be prepared: what are you going to do instead to break the old pattern and create a new, healthier one?


2. Use SMART goals

SMART goals are goals that are…

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Timely

Check out our last blog post on SMART goals for a deep dive on how to incorporate them into your new year’s resolutions. They provide an outline to creating goals and habits that are genuinely manageable and set yourself up for success!


3. Link your new habit to something already in your schedule

There’s a process called habit stacking – outlined by James Clear, the author of Atomic Habits – where you link your new habit to something that already exists in your regular schedule. Your brain has already laid the neural networks to support the existing habit, and you can take advantage of this hardwiring when incorporating something new into your life.

For example, let’s say you want to add more movement into your schedule. You decide that after dinner on the nights you eat at home, you’ll take a walk around your block. Dinner is something already bound into your schedule, and adding a walk to it simply builds on that daily task, rather than adding a totally new time block and habit into your schedule.


4. Get clear on why you want to change

Knowing your purpose behind a new habit is vital to its success. Dr. Kate Hays, a performance psychologist, recommends knowing the personal reasons why your new habit or goal matters to you. When the going gets tough – when you fall off the wagon, when those bicep curls are just too grueling, when you keep forgetting to take your medication – recalling your why can be massively helpful to motivating you towards continuing on your path, or restarting if you took a break. Because taking on a new habit – and changing your brain along with it – can take time, energy, and practice. You need to have ample reasoning and purpose behind your desired change. This will keep you motivated and moving towards your goal in the long run.

Habit change can be challenging, but remember that you’re building new mental “muscles” each time you practice your new habit. Acknowledge that the process can and will take time – and that is completely okay. You’re building new ways of living and being – down to the smallest neural levels – that support your ultimate health and habits. Keep going, and use these tips when the going gets tough!

5 Tips for Managing Stress and Preventing Burnout in the Workplace

Are you tired of work? Have you been experiencing burnout in the workplace? If yes, you are not alone; a recent survey revealed that 77% of respondents – nearly 4 out of 5 people – have experienced burnout at work. For those of you working in the medical, human services, and education sectors, it is even more likely that you need a break.

So what is burnout? If you think you are experiencing it, online surveys such as the Maslach Burnout Inventory or seeking a mental health professional can help you clarify. But in simple terms, World Health Organization characterizes it with three dimensions:

  • Energy depletion or exhaustion;
  • Negative feelings or lack of pleasure at your job, such as becoming cynical or critical;
  • Reduced efficacy at work, such as low productivity or struggling with concentration.

These symptoms could have dire consequences if left ignored or unaddressed. According to the Mayo Clinic, sustained burnout can lead to the following:

  • Mental health and mood issues, such as fatigue, insomnia, sadness and anger, and alcohol and substance misuse; and
  • Physical issues, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, Type 2 Diabetes, and vulnerability to illnesses.

Fortunately, many employers are pushing for policies to ensure employee mental wellness, such as increased time off and after-school childcare. In this blog, we’ll cover five additional tips to manage work stress and help you get through tough times at work.


Build Strong Relationships

We, humans, are social creatures. Like any other environment, social support at work and outside of work is necessary for workplace well-being. Research has shown that good social interactions regulate our hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical (HPA) system – the stress response system in our body, protecting us from psychological and physical diseases.

There are many scientific studies proving that good relationships decreases burnout at work. For example, a psychology study revealed that good coworker relationships are associated with lower burnout and higher job satisfaction. Obviously, not everyone is comfortable with making friends at work, but we still recommend that you try to connect with even a few that you share commonalities with. Or, in most cases, you may NOT LIKE the people you work with – they may be hostile, competitive, undermining your efforts etc. As this happens to most of us, it’s important to find a buddy (or two) who can also be a mentor and help you manage the politics in the workplace. Every job that I’ve had over the years, there was ALWAYS at least one key person that I was well connected to – this helped me navigate the challenges and difficulties.


Stay Active

Sometimes, mental exhaustion can hit in the middle of the day. Instead of reaching for another cup of coffee, try getting some movement! There are many research studies showing the cumulative benefits of staying active. For instance, a research study on 99 adults showed that 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise on a stationary bike improved mood and cognitive flexibility afterwards. This means a light run or a brisk hike during your lunch break is enough to energize you and help you mentally prepare to get back to work.

Don’t have 30 minutes? That’s fine, too. Science has already proven that 10 minutes of walking a day can literally lead to a longer life. Or try some at-home yoga after work; many Youtube videos are only 10 minutes long, and as long as you watch out for injuries and stretch effectively afterwards, they are amazing ways to boost your mood while staying healthy! Here is one for beginners.


Good Sleep Habits

Ever noticed you feel more cranky when you’re sleep deprived? Studies have shown that sleep loss is linked to burnout in the clinical field, and this holds true in other workplaces as well. On the other hand, quality sleep helps you grow new neural pathways in the brain, and thus enhances attention, creativity and decision making.

For good physical and mental health, the National Sleep Foundation recommends around 7-9 hours of sleep per night. However, the necessary hours do vary between people, according to sleep expert Russel Foster, so focusing on building good sleep habits suitable for your energy levels is more important. Go to bed and wake up at similar times every day, across weekdays and weekends; invest in some curtains to keep your bedroom dark; adjust your room temperature to be cooler; and avoid caffeine and nicotine, including chocolates and soda, in the late afternoon and evenings. Finally, focus on progress and not perfection. Sleeping well three days a week is still better than none!


Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness refers to the state of awareness where you focus on feelings and sensations of the present moment. According to research, mindfulness protects us against stress and burnout, helps cultivate better self-compassion, and even reduces blood pressure and cortisol (the stress hormone) levels.

Practicing mindfulness is easy to do but hard to put into practice. If you’re like me and your mind is always going and it’s hard to shut down, you can schedule some time out of the day and do it for just five minutes. The Mayo Clinic has outlined instructions for each on this website; or, here is a simple, 5-minute Body Scan exercise for you to try during a break. This will help you maintain a peaceful mind through and after work.


Establish Work-Life Boundaries

Work-life balance has never been easy but with more of us working from home resulting from the pandemic, establishing appropriate professional boundaries is even more important. These boundaries can be mental, such as setting certain “work hours” for yourself and tracking the tasks you allow yourself to do; or physical, such as turning off email notifications after work. If you work from home, changing in and out of work attire, and establishing an office space or corner can also help separate work and personal life. Some people even carry two phones so they are not ‘bombarded’ with notifications and messages during off-hours. You shouldn’t have to pay the price of working from home by working around the clock. And you will be more productive at work with a balanced life in the long run.

Workplace burnout is extremely common but know that you are not alone in today’s “gotta-get-everything-done-right-now” society. Hopefully, these five tips will help you prevent burnout from creeping into your professional life.

Remember that you work to live, not the other way around!

Being SMART About Making Positive, Sustainable Changes

It’s hard to believe that another year is almost done! Like many of us, as we approach the new year, you may be considering some resolutions to set. But were you aware that nearly 80% of New Year’s resolutions fail? And by February, no less.

We’ve all been there: feeling energized about a new goal—determined to make it happen—only to fall off the wagon three weeks later, get discouraged and give up. It happens to the best of us (we’ve all been part of that 80% statistic at one point or another!) What can you do differently in  the coming New Year? How can you set yourself up for long-term success?

Let’s first outline why your resolutions might have failed in years past:

1. You shot for the moon, but didn’t land among the stars

Many goals fail because they’re made too big. Considering the outcome of the goal—losing 30 lbs, increasing your income by 70%, going on X number of dates per month to find your soulmate—might sound great and provide a lot of motivation… at first.

That motivation rarely lasts when we set out goals that are too big. In fact, it often overwhelms our brains, making the outcome feel impossible when we hit our first bump in the road or begin to face the reality of the work required to reach the goal.

2. You’re setting your goals for someone else

Let’s say your spouse really wants you to learn Spanish before your trip to Mexico together. You reluctantly agree to set the resolution to learn… but secretly have no interest in becoming fluent over the course of a year.

You keep up with lessons for a few weeks, only to start skipping them as time passes. You don’t want to disappoint your partner, but also realize you didn’t have any genuine interest in learning Spanish in the first place.

This is the trap many of us can run into when setting goals. We decide that we want to lose weight, quit an unhealthy habit, or invest in stocks because of the pressure from others, rather than our genuine desire to achieve the goal. True intrinsic motivation is key to making huge changes in life.

3. You have no accountability or plan

Ben Franklin summarized it best when he said, “By failing to plan, you are preparing to fail.” You are more likely to hit your goals if you plan to make them happen. Specifically, the plan needs to feel realistic and achievable, not overwhelming.

Accountability is important, too. To quote another familiar idiom, “It takes a village…” You can apply that saying to any goal: weight loss, healthy eating, increasing your daily step average—anything! When you feel completely on your own with your goals, it can be hard to follow through or maintain motivation when the going gets tough.


So, what can you do differently this year? Refresh yourself on SMART goals

You might have learned about SMART goals in a high school PE course, but rest assured they’re just as relevant now as ever. SMART goals are a simple and clear way to create attainable, actionable goals—ones that help you land in the 20% of successful new year’s resolutions, rather than the 80% of failed goals!

SMART stands for…






To go deeper on each…

Specific: Specificity is key to clearly outlining your goals. A vague goal garners vague results. For example, let’s say you want to eat more vegetables in the new year. Consider the following options…

“I want to eat healthier in the New Year” versus “I want to eat at least two servings of vegetables per day in the New Year”.

Which do you think will be easier to follow through on? If you said the second option, you’re correct. The vagueness of “eating healthy” muddles your goal, creating more potential for inconsistency and failure in the resolution.

Measurable: Going hand in hand with specificity is creating goals that are measurable. You should be able to track your progress towards your goal, or at least track the effort and work you’re putting into the goal. Take the following example:

Let’s say you want to get in shape in the new year, and you’re particularly interested in taking up weightlifting. Consider the following two goals:

“I am going to increase my deadlift personal record by 10 lbs every month” versus “I want to feel stronger by the end of 2023”.

Do you see how the first option is much clearer? It’s a sizable goal, but not such a huge leap that it becomes overwhelming. You can tangibly measure how much weight you can lift via your personal records.  

Achievable: Let’s circle back to the idea of “shooting for the moon” here. Your goals should be big and exciting for sure, but if they’re too large they’ll overwhelm you and lead to feelings of defeat. You want your goals to stretch your capacity, but still feel achievable. This is the happy medium where you can build trust in yourself without creating additional stress or anxiety about reaching your goal.

If we expand on the last example, let’s say you’re planning to join a gym to increase your weight lifting abilities and overall strength. You haven’t been on a regular gym schedule in years. At first, you want to go all in: “I’m going to go to the gym 5x / week!”

This attempt at a goal is a great example of shooting for the moon… but landing nowhere near the moon, stars, planet, anything! If you’re going from 0 gym trips / week to 5 trips, you likely will lose momentum and end up back where you started.

A more achievable goal would be to aim for 3 trips to the gym / week, but making a minimum of 2 trips per week your absolute non-negotiable. Set aside specific times that you’ll dedicate to your goal to make it all the more achievable.

Relevant: You need to be motivated to reach your own goals. Like we mentioned earlier, if you’re “setting goals for someone else,” you will likely struggle to maintain motivation and actually reach your goals.

When considering how relevant your resolutions are, you should ask yourself: “Why do I want to pursue this goal? Why is it important for me?” Relevant goals will have an authentic and compelling answer to this question. Irrelevant goals will likely have answers that include the wishes of another person.

Give yourself permission to put yourself first and pursue goals that you are passionate about.

Timely: Add a timeline to your goal. Consider when you want to reach major milestones to keep yourself accountable and motivated! Nothing feels better than checking in on your goals and realizing your hard work is genuinely paying off—that’s the goal with making your resolutions timely.

For example, let’s say you set a goal to read 20 non-fiction books in the New Year (see how that’s measurable and specific?). You read 15 non-fiction books this year (achievable—you’ve done something similar before and now you’re ready to expand), and you simply love learning through books (relevant—it’s something YOU want to do!).

To make this goal timely, you’d set the goal of reading 10 non-fiction books by July 1st—the halfway point of the year!

That sums up the SMART goals process. Apply this to your goals to weed out those that perhaps aren’t relevant to you, and focus your energy on achieving those you care the most about! And maybe, this year, you set the resolution to be SMART about your goals and really make them happen. Use these tips to become part of the 20%!

How Not to Say “Honey – I Shrunk My Brain”

“There are three signs of old age: Loss of memory… I forget the other two.”

– Red Skelton

Are you experiencing forgetfulness, processing lapses or recollection issues? Not as sharp and quick as you used to be? Oh… those senior moments. Is it a part of getting old or can we do something about it? Or can it be varying stages of Mild Cognitive Impairment? (also called MCI – and no, it’s not a phone company).

Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) is the precursor to the more serious dementia or Alzheimer’s disease (AD). The physiological changes that start to occur in MCI (as in dementia or AD) include decreased size of the hippocampus, a brain region important for memory; increased size of the brain’s fluid-filled spaces, known as ventricles; and reduced use of glucose in key regions of the brain.

An estimated 15% of people over 65 with MCI develop dementia over a one-year period compared to only about 2% of the population without MCI. However, in many cases, the causes can be identified and are treatable; often to maintain the same level of cognitive ability or even improve.1,2  Early diagnosis is the key for various treatment options, management of its progression and for implementing strategies to maximize the treatment outcomes.  

Possible symptoms of MCI 1,2

Do you have these symptoms?

  • Losing things often
  • Forgeting appointments, events
  • Difficulty in finding words
  • Losing train of thought or can’t follow the plot of a book or movie
  • Having trouble following a conversation
  • Difficulty in making decisions, finishing a task or following instructions
  • Having trouble finding your way around well-known places
  • Poor judgment
  • Movement difficulties
  • Problems with your sense of smell
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • A short temper and aggression
  • A lack of interest

What are the risk factors?1,2

  • Increasing age: BUT age does not define us. There are plenty of centenarians that are mentally sharp and still going strong. Except for knowing where I put my cellphone, my mental clarity is what it was 20 years ago!
  • Genetic factor: the APOE e4 gene which is also linked to Alzheimer’s disease. I had mine tested because of family history with my mom who suffered from Alzheimer’s. But having this gene is does not necessarily mean you will contract this disease. And the reverse is also true – not having this gene is not a guarantee that you won’t get Alzheimer’s. Case in point – although my mother has never been genetically tested, I am POSITIVE that she developed dementia and Alzheimer’s due to her lifestyle – she worked the night shift for 40 years and had a lot of stress and sleep deprivation during her lifetime.
  • Diabetes – cognitive dysfunction is a comorbidity of diabetes.
  • Smoking
  • Excess alcohol – this leads to brain damage.
  • High blood pressure
  • Head injury – sports like football are one of the big risk factors.
  • Obesity – A 5M person study showed the link between obesity and cognitive dysfunction.
  • Obstructive sleep apnea.
  • Lack of physical exercise.
  • Lack of mentally or socially stimulating activities.
  • Exposure to air pollution.

Reducing the above risk factors and involving in key activities may minimize the symptoms and help successfully deal with MCI.

Check out the images below showing changes in brain structure over time and with disease

What can I do to avoid MCI?1,2

  • Learn a new skill – how about a new language, a hobby like knitting, pottery making or something that incorporates a level of complexity.
  • Follow a daily routine – but don’t get stuck in a rut.
  • Plan tasks, make to-do lists, and use memory tools such as calendars and notes.
  • Put your wallet or purse, keys, phone, and glasses in the same place each day.
  • Stay involved in activities that can help both the mind and body.
  • Volunteer in your community, at a school, or at your place of worship.
  • Spend time with friends and family.
  • Get quality sleep, generally seven to eight hours each night.
  • Exercise at a moderate to vigorous intensity most days of the week.
  • Eat a healthy diet full of nutrients including whole fruits and vegetables and lots of spices.
  • Prevent or control high blood pressure.
  • Limit consumption of alcohol – I love wine (a lot) but it no longer likes me so I decided to give it up altogether.
  • Get help if you feel depressed for a period of time.
  • Wear a hearing aid if you have hearing loss.
  • Stimulate your mind with puzzles, games and memory training.
  • Virtual reminders.

MCI may be an early sign of progression into a more serious dementia and AD which may take up to 20 years to manifest its symptoms. Effective intervention may be possible through a doctor or specialist if these conditions are identified early. Focusing actively on prevention with a healthy lifestyle, diet, exercise, sleep and proactive mindset should lower the risks.

Who wants a shriveled brain? Not me!


1.   What Is Mild Cognitive Impairment? | National Institute on Aging (nih.gov)

2. www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/mild-cognitive-impairment/symptoms-causes/syc-2035

Managing Mental Wellness With a Chronic Illness

Nearly sixty percent of all Americans struggle with sometype of chronic illness, whether it’s hypertension, heart disease, diabetes or cancer, as reported by the CDC. It’s a sure bet that you or someone you know is currently managing a chronic illness; it’s more common than many of us realize, regardless of whether we’re struggling with the disease ourselves.

Unfortunately, chronic diseases are all too common. What’s worse, however, is that chronic conditions can also beget mental illness. In this blog, we’ll share the connection between chronic conditions and mental health, and provide some tips on optimizing mental wellness while navigating chronic illness.

The link between chronic disease and mental health

A chronic disease is an umbrella term which refers to illnesses that typically last a year or longer and require ongoing medical attention or treatment. Some chronic diseases come from negative lifestyle factors like smoking or excessive alcohol intake, while others are genetic or brought about by stress. Even more unfortunately, some chronic diseases are enigmatic—physicians don’t always know exactly what brought them on, often making prevention and treatment all the more difficult.

People say when it rains, it pours, and that’s often how it is for people living with chronic diseases. Homewood Health reports that people with chronic conditions often experience…

    • More incidences of depression, as people with chronic conditions are twice as likely to develop major depressive disorder
    • Higher levels of stress
    • Increased anxiety
    • Higher instances of mood disorders
    • Changes in self-esteem and body image

And more.

Part of the reason that chronic conditions can become so mentally debilitating is the difficulty of diagnosis for less understood diseases. Patients may experience their symptoms intensely, but those same symptoms don’t always show up on diagnostic tests. This leads many people on a long, frustrating journey of testing, seeing multiple doctors, getting every specialist’s take, and doing a LOT of self-advocating at the doctor’s office.

In addition, managing your health is hard. Whether you know exactly what your chronic illness is or not, it can be like walking on eggshells to ensure you’re eating right, getting enough exercise, sleeping well, staying mentally fit and doing everything you can to boost your health. When improvements aren’t rapid enough, it can feel defeating and further spike anxiety and stress.

Steps you can take to improve your mental well-being

Enough of the Debbie Downer energy, because there’s also good news here. There are plenty of things you can do to boost your mental health and ensure that your mental wellness isn’t majorly affected by any physical health issues. We’ve listed them out for you below:

1. Physical Movement

Exercise is one of the simplest ways to maintain your health and move stress out of your body. Not only does physical activity improve your physical health, but it also is a huge factor affecting your mental wellness. Working out—walking, mowing the lawn, heading to the gym, practicing yoga—signals to your mind and body that stressful events of the day are complete, and you are safe (i.e. your nervous system calms down and isn’t constantly signaling you to worry). Twenty minutes a day is a great start, but some movement is always better than none! You can check out five easy ways to add physical activity into your day here.

If your chronic illness prevents you from being able to exercise, then you can also try Progressive Muscle Relaxation to reap similar benefits. It is a simple process of consecutively tightening major muscle groups in your body and then relaxing them. Research has shown it can provide similar

2. Mindfulness & Meditation

Mindfulness and meditation are research-backed tactics to decrease stress and anxiety, manage mental health conditions, and improve physical health outcomes.

Adding mindfulness into your life means you become more curious about your thoughts. Instead of instantly believing automatic negative thoughts, you question them: Is that really true? Where is that coming from? Do I have to believe this? Becoming mindful is often described as becoming an observer of your inner world, which builds one’s ability to cope with stress, loss, and life transitions.

Meditation is taking time to be present in peace. For some, this is sitting in silence, for others, it’s going on a walk in nature. It can even be spinning clay on a pottery wheel or knitting. There are a myriad of ways people connect into a sense of peacefulness and calm; it’s all about finding what works best for you.

Some guided meditations even incorporate mindfulness; you can check out this 10-minute mindfulness meditation from Calm below.

Also, if you have insomnia or trouble falling asleep, how about trying Yoga Nidra at nighttime?  This video with a calming voice transitions my body into relaxation and sleep mode even after a stressful day.

3. Counseling

When it comes to mental health, getting support from licensed professionals is one of the best ways to go, especially when dealing with the stress and uncertainty of chronic illness. For some, traditional talk therapy is best. You can search for therapists in your area who specialize in chronic disease management or use sites like BetterHelp to access fully remote therapists.

Others prefer support groups with people struggling with similar health issues. Talk to your doctor about whether any support groups are available in your area; with the onset of COVID, plenty have gone fully remote, too. This article from the Mayo Clinic outlines more of the benefits of support groups.


4. Social Connections

Feeling supported by your loved ones is key to attaining mental wellness. Even if your friends and family do not struggle with the same chronic illness, many of them want to support you. Take some time to lean into those connections, whether you tell them about your health frustrations or simply spend more time with them. A supportive social network is one of the most important factors for decreasing stress and increasing overall wellness—start prioritizing your close relationships and allow those to be places of encouragement for you.

There are simple things you can add or increase in your schedule that can lead to better mental health and for some, improved physical health as well. Choose one or two from this list to bring into your week!

Sometimes even just knowing that there’s a connection between chronic conditions and mental health can feel validating for people struggling with illnesses; remember that you are not alone, and you can use these tips to facilitate your health journey.

How to be like an elephant: Keys to strengthening your memory

I remember watching a drama about a man who had a unique condition where he had a flawless and unfading memory of everything, including the tragic circumstances of his childhood. He was constantly tortured as time never healed any of his painful past. The author, Rita Mae Brown, said, “One of the keys to happiness is a bad memory.” I often find myself grateful that I’m NOT like the man in the drama. I would probably spend more time ruminating about the ‘bad’ than the ‘good’!

But then the Roman philosopher Cicero said that memory is the “treasury and guardian of all things,” — so what if we feel like our memory is fading? Is memory loss an inevitable part of getting older, or are there key steps we can take to maintain mental sharpness?

Dr. Richard Restak is a neurologist and professor at George Washington Hospital University School of Medicine and Health, and he says that a decrease in memory over time does not have to be expected. In his new book, The Complete Guide to Memory: The Science of Strengthening Your Mind, Dr. Restak reviews the stumbling blocks which lead to memory decline and how we can improve our memory over time. We’ve outlined six practices for memory improvement recommended by Dr. Restak for you below:

Pay (more) attention

Dr. Restak specifies that not all issues with memory are actually, well, issues with memory. The larger problem for many people is the ability to pay attention. When we are unable or simply do not pay full attention to someone as they tell us their name, for example, we are unable to store the memory properly.

Dr. Restak recommends using a visualization technique to help us store new information more effectively. When you’re learning a new piece of information, get creative and build a mental image to pair with the new information. He recalls a simple example of meeting a doctor named Dr. King, and to help remember his name, Dr. Restak imagined a king in a white lab coat. When your brain has more ways to remember a piece of information (i.e., a name and a metaphor / visual), it will boost your chances of recalling that info later!

Challenge your memory regularly

Memory serves a huge part of our daily life, and we can actively train our memories by relying on our brains more frequently. Dr. Restak challenges readers to attempt to memorize their grocery or shopping lists prior to running errands. You can again use visualization techniques here, imagining all of the items you need together in a bag, for example. You can also consider memorizing the route to a friend’s house instead of immediately turning to GPS. A 2020 study provided evidence that constant GPS usage correlated with a decrease in spatial memory over time.

Play games!

All sorts of games can benefit memory; who said boosting your brain power can’t be fun? Bridge and chess are classics that can help your ability to remember, but other childhood games work too. One of Dr. Restak’s favorites is 20 Questions, where one person chooses an item, person, or place, and the other person (or people) asks 20 yes-or-no questions in an attempt to figure out what the item is. The game requires the questioner to remember all of the answers in order to successfully determine the object!

I started to play this game called: Dual N-Back – It forces you to match clicks from 1 or 2 steps prior: download it for free on your phone and try it. It’s really HARD but if you can get past 1 step prior – you rock!

You can also find a variety of memory games online for free. Luminosity and ImproveMemory.Org are two platforms where you can train your memory for a few minutes each day! Check them out.

Dive into fiction more often

Interestingly, Dr. Restak notes that reading exclusively nonfiction and neglecting fiction novels can correlate with memory decline. An adventurous book, say Lord of the Rings for example, switches between the perspectives of many different characters. As Tolkein switches back into Frodo’s POV, you’re tasked with remembering what he did a few chapters ago. Novels are enjoyable and a way to keep your brain engaged while remembering the nuances and twists of a story.

Decrease your reliance on technology

Nearly everyone is becoming more reliant on technology for remembering everything from directions to grocery lists to birthdays and more. Dr. Restak notes that when we store the various details of our lives on our phones, we aren’t being asked to truly know and remember it. Technology, though convenient, takes away simple ways we would otherwise train and maintain our memory each day. Challenging yourself to memorize birthdays, grocery lists, and even simple directions is a way to decrease your own dependency on technology and improve your brain’s memory muscle at the same time.

Additionally, Dr. Restak brings up how technology decreases our ability to focus—circling back to point number one about attention. Being present in the current moment is key to properly storing memory. When our brains are attempting to complete a variety of tasks—watching Netflix while writing a memo for work, for example—we decrease our ability to focus and consequently encode new memories. Instead, focus on “monotasking”, or simply doing one task at a time, to help yourself stay more present, and to increase your brain’s ability to store memory.

Tend to your mental health

Dr. Restak notes that one of the most common causes of decreased memory is mental illness, especially depression, because memory is linked to the emotional centers in the brain. Dr. Restak refers to the hippocampus as the “memory entry center” and it’s responsible for registering emotional triggers and manufactures the chemical bases of emotion in the body. The amygdala serves a similar purpose by encouraging emotional production and expression. When you are in a low mood, you are more likely to recall negative past memories rather than neutral or positive ones, creating a skewed memory if the mood persists over time. When persistent negative moods and depression are treated with pharmaceuticals or talk therapy, memory often improves!

Some things are easy to forget—a name you just learned, where you parked, your hotel room number. If you find yourself struggling to remember things like this, it’s often normal. If you find yourself forgetting your own address, how you got somewhere, and other more fundamental information, it may be time to consult your doctor.

Dr. Restak says that, “there is no simple solution for knowing what should be of concern,” but recommends talking with your doctor if you are concerned. Regardless of how you feel about your memory today, choose a few tips from this list to boost it.

Who wants to be like an elephant with giant brains and superb memory?   

I do! 

Learn more about amazing elephants: https://www.scienceabc.com/nature/animals/why-do-elephants-have-such-great-memory.html

Liking Snakes – Overcoming Emotional Addiction

In a previous blog, we shared how self-sabotage happens because of the body and brain’s need for safety. Now, we’ll go into how the body and brain become physically addicted to staying in the same patterns through a process called emotional addiction.

To illustrate, we’re going to explore the example through a story of a big dreamer named Keisha. All of today’s information comes from a book called Evolve Your Brain by Joe Dispenza; check it out if you want more on emotional addiction!

As a kid, Keisha tells everyone she wants to be a huge pop star one day. She belts her heart out around the house, draws pictures of herself performing for thousands of people, and already has that big, bold pop star personality.

Growing up, however, she didn’t have the most supportive parents. When she’d belt out Alicia Keys around the house, they’d tell her to be quiet. They shamed her for being a big, bold personality, and frequently told her she’d need to find a stable job instead of trying to make a career out of music. Whew.

In turn, Keisha learned it was safer for her to hide her talents, shrink her personality, and keep her big dreams to herself.

The emotions she constantly felt because of this treatment were shame, sorrow, and anger. She began to feel those emotions so frequently that her body became accustomed to feeling those emotions most of the time. Overtime, her body became physically addicted to those feelings.

How Emotional Addiction Takes Control

Here’s what’s happening at the cellular level to facilitate this emotional addiction:

  1. Emotions are signaled through our bodies by peptides, which are the chemical messengers of emotions.
    They’re small proteins that flow throughout our body and communicate to our cells “Hey! Keisha is feeling sad today.” or “Keisha is so happy!”—whatever the emotion of the moment is.
  2. If we regularly feel a certain combination of emotions, our cells will come to expect the peptides which correlate to those emotions.
    In essence, our cells become addicted to getting a certain amount of specific peptides—the emotions—on a regular basis.
    It’s like if you eat a chocolate cookie every night after dinner, you habitually expect that sweet reward daily. Same deal, just with your peptides (aka emotions) and cells.
  3. If our cells register a decreased level of these peptides, they will signal to our brains through the nervous system, “Hey! We’re low on that emotional combo you always feel! Feed us something!”
    In other words, at the cellular level, our body becomes physiologically addicted to feeling the same emotions in order to maintain a sense of predictability in life. You and your willpower are not to blame for your self-sabotaging patterns; your biology is.

External Self Sabotage

Now back to our story: Keisha grows up and moves out of her unsupportive parents’ house, and has a golden age of feeling empowered, excited and enthused to work towards her dreams.

Soon after, however, she finds herself in an unsupportive relationship and frustrating job which continues to bring up the emotions of shame, sorrow, and anger all over again.

Keisha can’t catch a break! What’s really going on here?

Remember step 3 in emotional addiction? If our cells notice a decreased level of the specific peptides they’re addicted to, then they’ll holler at the brain to send out more of their peptide order.

In return, the brain will seek out experiences and relationships that will trigger a similar emotional response, thereby filling the order from the cells for their peptide cocktail.

So Keisha moves out, and for a while, she no longer has the constant emotional trigger from her parents to feel small and shameful about her dreams. But then her cells say “HEY! Where’s our peptide order?”

And Keisha’s brain, being a dutiful server to the body, starts looking for people, experiences, and anything that can bring up those same feelings of shame, anger, and sorrow.

Hence, Keisha ends up in a stressful work environment and unsupportive partnership which both trigger those same emotions. She’s unhappy, but her brain and her body are LOVING the predictability of this old emotional pattern. 

Internal Self-Sabotage

Let’s take it one step further. Let’s say Keisha has a Bridget Jones’ Diary montage moment and decides to turn her life around: she gets a new, more empowering job and breaks up with her unsupportive partner. There are no more external sources to provide the emotions of shame, sorrow, and anger. 

She has another golden age of not self-sabotaging, just like when she moved out of her parents’ house, but it doesn’t last. Even though Keisha has removed all of the external triggers to feel shame, sorrow, and anger, her brain and body kick in with internal sources of self-sabotage.

She notices that her thoughts start to go down the negative spiral drain. She starts doubting her dreams, and remembers all those awful things her parents would say to her growing up. She feels like a fool for cutting out all those things—who does she think she is?

All of these thoughts—the doubts, the memories, the inner critic—are caused by her physiology. Keisha’s body is noticing that she hasn’t felt shame, sorrow or anger in while (which means her body hasn’t gotten its emotional addiction filled), so it signals to the brain to find a way to provide those emotions.

When there are no external sources of old emotions (relationships, environments, etc), the brain will create internal sources of self-sabotage through negative thinking, replaying old memories, and more.

Keisha has this brief moment of relapse, but it only lasts so long. She stumbles on a concept called mental rehearsal, and it’s how she can soothe her brain and body’s addiction to the emotions of shame, sorrow, and anger. In order to overcome and avoid self-sabotage, the brain and the body need to feel safe and less attuned to old emotions. And the clear path to providing this safety and rewiring emotional addiction is mental rehearsal.

Scott Williams, PhD, of Wright State University, describes mental rehearsal as the “imagined, mental practice of performing a task, as opposed to actually carrying out the task.”

Mental rehearsal has been used by musicians, professional athletes, and public speakers to boost peak performance and achieve their goals. It’s the process of imagining yourself practicing a new skill in your mind. Mental rehearsal has been shown to improve performance in music, healthcare delivery, and sports.

A variety of psychologists and thought leaders in the personal development space share ways you can utilize mental rehearsal to boost your own happiness and quality of life, while also avoiding old, self-sabotaging behaviors. We’ve listed a few below:

Laying New Neural Pathways

In his book, Evolve Your Brain, Joe Dispenza talks about using mental rehearsal to curb the effects of emotional addiction and the self-sabotaging habits it creates. Because emotional addiction feeds off of constantly feeling the same emotions, mental rehearsal provides an opportunity to tap into the new emotions connected to your goals and break up the addiction.

Back to Keisha—as she makes mental rehearsal a practice, so too does she familiarize her body to these new emotions, and creates a sense of “predictability” for what achieving her dreams will feel like. This provides her brain and body a sense of safety, making it easier to walk towards her dreams with less self-sabotage and more confidence and direction.

Liking Snakes

Brett Steenbarger, Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at SUNY Upstate Medical University, advocates using mental rehearsal as a way to desensitize yourself to old triggers and overcoming habits.

Steenbarger reviews how psychologists will often use desensitization processes to help clients overcome anxieties. This is a lengthy process of exposing yourself to a cause of anxiety bit by bit to gain control over your response to the anxiety. For example, if you have a fear of snakes, desensitization might include talking about snakes, looking at photos of snakes, being in a room with a caged snake, and potentially even touching a snake, all while utilizing various coping strategies to maintain a sense of calm.

Desensitization often begins with mental rehearsal. An anxious person may begin their desensitization process by visualizing themselves in a room with a snake, which initially will cause some anxiety. In the visualization, however, they enact their coping mechanisms—breathing, reframing negative thoughts, whatever it may be—until they are again in a grounded, calm state.

As Steenberger summarizes, “The anxious person in desensitization treatment doesn’t merely imagine themselves to be calm. They vividly imagine engaging in threatening acts (thereby arousing anxiety) and then they activate effective coping strategies.”

Not all of us have a fear of snakes, but this same method can be exceedingly helpful to overcome anxieties with public speaking, communication, dating, and any other parts of life that you’re ready to respond to with more control and calm.

Practice Makes Perfect

Practicing mental rehearsal really is as simple as it sounds: you mentally rehearse or practice the outcome you want to see in your life; bonus points if you tap into the emotions that arise as you do so.

If you struggle to meditate, I recommend relaxing your body first. A great way to do so is through progressive muscle relaxation, which simply involves scanning your body and relaxing each muscle group as you do so. It’s a technique used to relax folks in hypnosis, and you can follow along at the video linked here.

Once in a meditative state, visualize yourself achieving the future you aspire to. Whether that’s confidently existing in a healthy relationship, practicing the person you want to be to reach your goals, or watching yourself choose a new path in the face of old triggers—the options abound.

If you’re new to meditation, start small: set a time for 3-5 minutes and use that time to mentally rehearse the person you want to be and the changes you want to make. If you’re more versed in taking some quiet time, challenge yourself to do 10-20 minutes. Regardless of the amount of time you take, be sure to focus on the emotions which arise as you visualize, as these will help guide and motivate you into new patterns.

One more option for you: If you really are not the sitting in silence type, you can also do these visualization exercises while walking or zoned out during another task like painting or doodling. Meditation looks different for everyone!

Change is hard, but it gets easier when you understand, acknowledge, and soothe your body and brain’s need for safety and predictability with tools like mental rehearsal. Take a few minutes to try it out today

Are You Addicted to Your Emotions

Have you felt stuck in self-sabotaging patterns? Like you’re constantly trying to break out of old habits, but for some reason, you can’t quite make new choices stick?

If that’s you, I have good news: your biology may be more to blame than your willpower.

When the concepts of habit change and self-sabotage arise, people normally point directly to willpower and discipline; those are the magic keys that you simply need in order to stop smoking, eat more vegetables, or get your 10,000 steps in each day.

Though willpower and discipline are parts of habit change, the fixation on them overlooks a key need for your body and brain: safety.

Your body and brain evolved to seek out relationships and environments which feel familiar to relationships and environments you’ve experienced in the past. These provide a sense of “predictability” – if you’re around people and in places where you can feel like you “know” what will come next, life feels more predictable.

With a perceived sense of predictability, your brain and body get what they’re really after: safety. Because if you can “predict” what comes next, you can more adequately prepare for it, and you find a perceived sense of safety and control.

This makes sense when we think about evolution; with more predictable environments and relationships, it was easier to survive and create the next generation. In today’s world, however, the brain and body’s grasping need for predictability can be more limiting than helpful.

Let’s take an example: Kayla is looking for a healthy, peaceful relationship. She’s eager for something that’s mature, loving and reciprocal. Growing up, however, Kayla always witnessed chaos and drama in her parents’ relationship, and in adulthood, she found herself in similar, toxic partnerships. And then Kayla meets Craig. He’s sweet, respectful, and sends her flowers after their second date. At first, it feels heavenly: Kayla is so excited to finally be in a healthy, respectful relationship. After a few weeks, however, Kayla begins to feel… bored. Almost apathetic towards Craig. It doesn’t quite make sense to her, though, because when she’s actually with Craig, they have great conversations, she’s laughing out loud, and she’s anything but bored. She gets a feeling that she’s sabotaging this relationship, but she can’t understand why or what she can do about it.

When we think about the brain and the body’s skewed sense of safety, here’s what is often happening in situations like this:

Kayla feels safe in relationships that harbor chaos and drama because that’s what’s “predictable” for her. Those relationships feel familiar, which creates a sense of safety for her brain and body (even if emotionally she feels miserable; the misery is “safe” for her brain).

When she enters the new, healthy relationship with Craig, her brain and body go on high alert because it’s not “predictable.” It’s cued as unsafe, and through a convoluted process called emotional addiction, her brain and body work together to sabotage the new relationship with feelings of boredom.

The sudden disinterest in a long-term goal is just one way that the brain and body can sabotage something new. Other common methods include procrastination, replaying old painful memories, avoidance, seeking out people or habits that are familiar to old patterns, and plain old giving up.

This brain-body-fueled self-sabotage can happen in the macros of our life – our relationships, jobs, and friendships – as well as the micros – our daily schedules, the foods we eat, and more. Your brain’s overarching goal is to keep you safe, and it feels it can most successfully do that by creating a predictable life full of the same patterns, regardless of how those patterns make you feel emotionally.

What can Kayla then do to overcome this sudden disinterest in her goal of being in a healthy relationship?

The first step, naturally, is by creating an awareness of her body and brain’s need for safety. She can begin noticing how the pattern of chaotic relationships has arisen throughout her life, and how it’s showing up with Craig now. With this awareness, she can actively choose new patterns and recognize the old, helping her move over the hump of self-sabotage and into a place where healthy relationships feel safe for her body and brain.

The second possibility comes from a book called Evolve Your Brain by Joe Dispenza. In it, Dispenza outlines the body and brain’s need for predictability as we’ve recounted here, and he posits that we can provide our bodies and brains with the safety they need through a process called “mental rehearsal.”

Mental rehearsal has been used by musicians, professional athletes, and public speakers to improve their performance and reach their goals. It’s the simple process of visualizing yourself practicing a new skill in your mind. Research has shown that mental rehearsal can improve performance in a music performance, healthcare delivery, and sports.

Dispenza takes this a step further and outlines how mental rehearsal can help people create a sense of safety for their bodies and brains in new habits, relationships, and environments. When you visualize yourself in healthy relationships, successfully reaching your goals, and taking on new habits, you begin to give your brain a sense of “predictability” for what that experience will feel like, thereby making it “safe” (Evolve Your Brain, Ch 11).

What’s especially important here is tuning into the emotions of those visualizations – when you imagine yourself reaching your goals, how do you feel? When Kayla uses her imagination to visualize herself in a healthy, reciprocal relationship, what emotions does that bring up? Pride, gratitude, joy, contentment are common answers.

As these emotions become more familiar, the new habits, relationships, and environments triggering these emotions become more predictable and safe; as a result, the brain and body have less of a need to self-sabotage the newness.

If your goals for a healthy lifestyle for disease prevention keep going off track, take the time to create awareness of the old habits and the rationale behind them. This analysis will help you ‘safely’ form new habits. And each day, imagine yourself reaching your goals and how that makes you feel. Whether it is weight loss, better nutrition, positive mental outlook or disease management, these mental rehearsals will teach your brain that these habits are ‘predictable’ and ‘safe’.

In my next blog, we’ll dive even deeper into how the body and brain work together to enact self-sabotage.