Psych Central

5 Ways to Bounce Back from Everyday Stress

By Bobbi Emel, MFT

stressed womanStress.

It happens to most of us every day. And most everyday stressors are things that we can handle fairly easily if we just remember a few simple strategies:

1. Engage your vagus nerve.

The vagus nerve is a cranial nerve that wanders throughout the body. Stimulation of the vagus nerve tends to slow your heart rate and create a calming response.

The easiest way to engage the vagus?

Take a deep breath.

Both moving your diaphragm and the exhalation part of the breath will put your vagus nerve in gear and help reduce your body’s stress response.

2. Release your death grip on things you can’t control.

When you find yourself stuck in traffic and late for an appointment, how do you react? Does your grip tighten on the steering wheel? Do you start talking to the traffic, cursing its slowness and bemoaning your fate?

Let’s get something straight: You can’t control the traffic.

All of your moaning, cursing, grip-tightening, pulse-elevating behavior is not going to get that traffic to move.

So why curl yourself into a stress ball over it?

Since there’s nothing you can do about it, just relax. Being uptight isn’t going to get you to your appointment any faster and it’s likely only doing damage to your body rather than helping you in any way.

It’s hard to release control, but there is a large percentage of our stress that is directly related to trying to control things that we will never have any control over whether it’s traffic, weather, your company’s promotions policy, or someone else’s behavior.

It’s okay to take action when and where it is needed and you can actually have some influence, but learn to be okay with not controlling the things that are out of your control.

3. Remember that it usually works out okay.

So you’re late for your appointment and stuck in traffic. You’ve tied yourself in knots fretting about being late.

There. Has that helped anything?

Let me ask you this: How many times in the past have you been late for an appointment?

And, when you were late for past appointments, did the sky fall in?

Did the world end?

Did you have a heart attack and die?

No, you were late for your appointment, you apologized for being late, and the world kept spinning like it always does.

You probably even forgot about being late for that appointment by the end of the day. Yet, the way you stressed yourself out about it, you would have thought that your life depended on it.

When you start to feel yourself knotting up about an everyday stressor, ask yourself how many times you have experienced this particular stress in the past. Then consider whether the usual outcome (everything works out fine; you forgot that you were even stressed, etc.) is worth all of the stress you’re creating in your mind and body.

4. Distract yourself from the stress.

One of the things that can exacerbate everyday stress is our tendency to focus unblinkingly on the source of our stress.


Find something to break up your focus on the stressor. A great way to do this is through laughing. Find a funny video on YouTube. Think of the joke that always cracks you up no matter how many times you’ve heard it.

Do something different. Start a different project or go for a quick walk around the building. Look up into the sky and remember that the thing that is stressing you out is actually a small, small piece in the overall picture.

5. This, too, shall pass.

All things do.

Just like we can’t control the rising and setting of the sun, but we can certainly count on them, so can we also count on stress rising and falling in life.

But it passes.

And it will pass more quickly if you allow it to.

Stress happens. It’s how you react to it that makes all the difference.


Looking for more ideas on how to bounce back in life? Download my FREE ebook, Bounce Back! 5 keys to survive and thrive through life’s ups and downs.


Are You Willing?

By Bobbi Emel, MFT

I’m often asked, “Why are some people more resilient than others?”stone question mark

I don’t know the exact answer to this question (I’m not sure anyone does yet,) but I have a guess about one particular aspect of resilient people.


My partner often asks me to do things around the house that involve lifting heavy objects.

“You’re much stronger than I am,” she says in answer to my curiosity about why she would like me to do the task rather than her.

After much thought about this, I now reply,

“It’s not that I’m stronger, I’m just willing.”

It is the literal truth. I’m quite sure Andrea is physically as strong as I am, but she is not willing to lift heavy objects due to real concerns about her back and imagined perceptions that I am stronger than she.

This idea of willingness is also echoed in one of Albert Einstein’s famous quotes,

“It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.”

It seems to me that those who bounce back well in life have an aspect of willingness, too. To be stronger than they thought they were. To stay with problems longer. To realize that they are not extraordinary in any particular way, but they are willing.

One of the origins of the word willing is from the Gothic waljan which means “to choose.”

To be willing is to consciously choose something.

What will you choose when faced with adversity?

Are you willing to pick up a situation that you thought you weren’t strong enough to handle?

Are you willing to stay with a problem longer than you thought you could?

Are you willing to say, “This is hard and I feel broken and depressed about it and I am willing to go through this to get to the other side?”

Here’s a task for you. Decide how you want to fill in the blanks to this sentence,

“It’s not that I’m so ____________, it’s just that I’m __________.”

Use it as your mantra the next time you face a tough time in your life.

Are you willing?


Want more ideas about how to bounce back in life? Download my free ebookBounce Back! 5 keys to survive and thrive through life’s ups and downs.

Warning: Happiness May Be Bad for Your Health

By Bobbi Emel, MFT

If you’re searching for everlasting happiness, stop it.happy face

It might be bad for you.

Here’s why:

A recent article in The Atlantic explored an innovative new study by Positivity author and researcher Barbara Fredrickson and her colleague, Steve Cole.

Frederickson and Cole noted that, when faced with adversity, our bodies tend to go into threat mode. This tends to increase the “activity of pro-inflammatory genes and decrease the activity of genes involved in antiviral responses.”

What does this mean in plain language?

If you have long-lasting adversity in your life, your immune system prepares you for bacterial infections by ramping up your inflammatory response. And chronic inflammation has been linked to serious diseases including cancer and heart problems.

Why happiness (by itself) may be a bad thing

You’re probably wondering how happiness fits into this scenario.

To make a long story short, Frederickson and Cole looked at two different kinds of happiness: hedonic and eudaemonic.

Hedonism is about taking to create happiness. Having a lot of money, avoiding problems, and even enjoying a meal can be hedonistic activities.

Eudaemonia, on the other hand, is about giving to create happiness. Using your money to help others, looking at problems as ways to learn, and being grateful for your food can engender eudaemonic happiness.

You can probably see that there is one big difference between hedonism and eudaemonia: meaningfulness.

Here is the important thing that the researchers found: People who scored high in happiness, but low in meaningfulness were found to have the same high-stress, high inflammation responses in their bodies as people who have suffered from long-term adversity.

Not surprisingly, people who had the same levels of happiness and meaning or even those who were low in happiness but high in meaning showed a deactivation of the adversity-stress response.

So, it may be that the pursuit of happiness by itself is bad for your health.

 3 ideas to make your life more meaningful

How do we create meaning in our lives to keep ourselves healthy and generate eudaemonic happiness – also known as well-being?

Here are some ideas.

1. Clarify your values. Knowing what you value can help you set goals and pursue activities that you not only enjoy, but that will bring meaning and purpose to your life.

2. Practice random (and intentional) acts of kindness. Doing something nice for others is always meaningful and will help you to feel happy, too. One of my favorite concepts is to practice “stealth” kindness: buy coffee for the person behind you in the drive-thru lane, pick up your neighbor’s newspaper from his driveway and put it on his front step, leave a note on someone’s car telling them to have a nice day, etc.

3. Think about your 90th birthday party. A great way to discern your values and create meaning in your life is to envision yourself at your 90th birthday party. All of your family and friends are there to toast your long life. What do you want them to say about you? Do you want them to say, “You always had your closets organized and arrived to work on time” or do you want them to say, “You have always been very kind to everyone you met, you put your family first in your life, and you mentored others to success in their lives”?

Not that there’s anything wrong with organized closets and being on time to work! But notice how the latter responses are more about who you are and what you stand for – the things that really impact you and those around you.

For more ideas about why values and meaning are important aspects of bouncing back in life, please download my free pdf, How to live a more meaningful life.


For even more information on how to bounce back in life, download my FREE ebook, Bounce Back! 5 keys to survive and thrive through life’s ups and downs.


Photo credit: Marc Falardeau



You Might Be In Trouble If You Don’t Know This One Thing About Your Mind

By Bobbi Emel, MFT

I want to let you in on something that no one talks about.gears in mind

You don’t have to believe everything your mind says.

Those thoughts that come up and tell you how terrible you are? You don’t have to believe them.

That voice that says what you did was okay, but you can always do better? Take it with a grain of salt.

The constant, annoying, analytical thoughts that you can’t get out of your mind? They may not all be true. And even if they are, you can choose to attend to them or not.

Part of what prevents us from bouncing back well in life is the difficulty we have in separating ourselves from our minds. Because our experience is unique to each of us – no one else is hearing our thoughts – we tend to believe that what we say to ourselves must be true.

And why wouldn’t we think so? If I want to pick up a pen, my mind directs my hand to pick it up and my hand moves to the pen and grasps it. If I’m stuck with the problem of low fuel in my car, my mind jumps into action and quickly problem-solves, telling me I should stop at a gas station to refuel.

With the experience of our minds solving problems for us, it’s easy to think that our minds will always give us answers truthfully and helpfully, even if it hurts.

But . . . not so much.

 What you don’t know about your mind CAN hurt you

The mind developed as a way to keep us safe – to solve problems. In the early days of humanity, life was extremely hard and people had to make quick decisions in order to stay alive.

“Should I run from that predator or fight it?”

“Should I swim across this lake or go around it?”

“Will this person hurt me or help me?”

Another important way the mind kept us safe was to recognize that there was safety in numbers so being in a community became very important. To be banned from the community meant a likely death, so the mind learned to ask, “Am I fitting in? Do I look right? Am I acting appropriately? Are my skills valuable to the group?” and so on.

Today, even though we don’t have saber-toothed tigers to avoid, the mind continues along these problem-solving lines. And it still recognizes that being part of a group is important.

However, the problem comes in when the mind – with good intentions – tells us things that aren’t true in order to solve a problem or make sure we’re fitting in.

Using the examples from above, the mind might tell you, “You’re really terrible. You’re never going to fit in unless you change.”

Or, “Sure, you’re okay, but if you don’t do better, you’re going to be in terrible danger.”

Or, “We’ll just keep going over and over every experience we have just in case there’s some important piece of this puzzle we’re missing.”

In reality, your mind is using old actions for something that really isn’t necessary any more. It doesn’t know that we’re safe and okay just like we are. Your mind is just doing its job: It’s protecting you and solving problems any way it can, including threatening, shaming, cajoling, or harassing you. (And a lot of other good, productive methods, so let’s not throw those minds away!)

3 ways to put your mind in its place

How do we get our minds to stop these behaviors?

It’s likely that we don’t. The mind is always going to continue its chatter, much like a talk radio station. But it’s up to you if that chatter is in the foreground or the background. Here are some ways to push your chattering-radio-station to the background when you need to:

1. Thank your mind. The next time you notice that your mind is chattering on about something that is negative or not helpful to you, just stop and say, “Thanks, mind! I appreciate you looking out for me, but I don’t really need that negative input right now.” With practice, this will help you gain a bit of separation from yourself and your thoughts so you can see that you are not your thoughts.

2. Become aware that some of the thoughts your mind produces may not be true. This is essential. We are so accustomed to believing what the mind says that it has us brainwashed! For example, my mind often tells me, “You’re not good enough. You’ll never be good enough. You need to do better.” When I buy into this, I find myself on a hamster wheel, running as fast as I can and never getting anywhere.

Why? Because once I reach what I thought was “good enough,” my mind keeps up the same patter: “Anyone could have done that. You’re still not good enough . . .” And off I go again on the wheel, looking for the next thing that will convince me I’m good enough.

I’ve learned to just shrug these thoughts off and say, “That’s just not true. I understand why you’re saying that, mind, but it’s not true, so let’s move on.”

3. Labeling thoughts as stories. Our minds create patterns of thoughts that can be seen as stories. Recognizing the stories our minds tell us is another way to get some distance from your own thought process and be more objective about it.

Sometimes when my mind is telling me I’m not good enough and could do better, I stop, take a breath, and say, “There’s that ‘Not Good Enough’ story again. Thanks, mind, but I don’t really want to hear that one right now.”


Our minds are wonderful things, they really are. But the aspects that aren’t true, helpful, or workable in our lives don’t really have to be attended to.

What will you choose to do when your mind isn’t being helpful? Let me know in the comments section.


Want more ways to make your life better? Download my FREE ebookBounce Back! 5 keys to survive and thrive through life’s ups and downs.



How to Survive Emotional Quicksand

By Bobbi Emel, MFT

You’ve probably watched the typical hero-in-quicksand scene in an action movie. The hero (or maybe an expendable extra!) runs through the jungle and suddenly is knee-deep in soft, shifting sand and sinking quickly.quicksand

The harder he struggles, the faster he sinks.

What to do? The solution is much easier than our hero thinks.

Continue reading… »

10 Ways to Bounce Back from a Break-Up

By Bobbi Emel, MFT

Here’s a list of 10 ways to bounce back from a break-up:

broken heart

Continue reading… »

The Best Grief Book of All Time

By Bobbi Emel, MFT

I know I’m going out on a limb proclaiming a book “The Best Grief Book of All Time,” but that’s exactly how I feel about Tear Soup.Tear Soup

Upon first glance, Tear Soup appears to be a children’s book. It is handsomely illustrated with beautiful, and somewhat whimsical, drawings.

And Tear Soup is for children. But it’s also for teenagers, adults, seniors, and anyone who has lost anything, not just someone.

The first page sums up the entire book:

“There once was an old and somewhat wise woman whom everyone called Grandy.

She just suffered a big loss in her life. Pops, her husband, suffered the same loss, but in his own way. This is the story of how Grandy faced her loss by setting out to make tear soup.”

Just what is tear soup?

It is the concoction that is made up of all your memories, feelings, and experiences you have while you grieve. Here, let’s see Grandy’s recipe for tear soup found on the inside cover of the book (with gratitude to authors Pat Schwiebert and Chuck DeKlyen:)

Continue reading… »

How to Bounce Back from Emotional Pain

By Bobbi Emel, MFT

I was sitting in a rustic camping lodge on an island in Washington State with a crackling fire in front of me. The smell of almost maypine and earth and wood smoke delighted my senses with each inhale. Around me, people were chatting intently and occasional spurts of laughter erupted in the great hall.

I didn’t want to be there.

Continue reading… »

What Do Resilience and the Self-Help Industry Have in Common?

By Bobbi Emel, MFT

Not much, as it turns out.mike

At least, that’s what Mike Bundrant and I think.

Mike’s a busy guy. He not only blogs here on PsychCentral at NLP Discoveries, he also has his own information-packed blog, and, to top it off, is a top-notch radio dude at NaturalNewsRadio, where he hosts the show, Mental Health Exposed.

Mike interviewed me about resiliency on his show and I really encourage you to take fifteen minutes or so to listen. Not only did we talk about the five components of resiliency: Acceptance, Perspective, Social Support, Positive Actions, and Finding the Gifts, we also found common ground in our general antipathy toward the self-help industry.

Now, I need to give a disclaimer here: I think there are many good books in the self-help industry.

However, having said that, I also believe that there is a large portion of the self-help industry that leads readers down a path that promises happiness, riches, or a perfect life if you’ll only “do these 5 steps” or “follow these 10 rules” or “use this 40-day guidebook.”

A search on Amazon for the word “happiness” reveals 30,960 books. “Rich” finds 45,610 books and even a search for “perfect life” turns up over 1,000 books.

This tells us two things: 1.) People, including us, are interested in being rich, happy, and having a perfect life, and, 2.) There is money to be made in an industry that covers these topics.

In our interview, Mike Bundrant and I call out the self-help industry on its overall tendency to set the reader up for failure. I hope you’ll listen to the broadcast to find out more about why we agree on this topic.

Oh, and you’ll learn a lot about bouncing back, too. ;-)

Please listen and I also encourage you to take Mike up on his offer of a FREE (I love things that are free) 20-minute video on ending self-sabotage. Just enter your email in the box on the left sidebar of his home page.

To learn more about how to discern if a self-help book is actually going to be helpful for you, take a look at Doug Toft’s short, concise post, Won’t Get Fooled Again – Three Levels of Credibility in Self-Help Books.

For the record, here are just a few of the people I find most trustworthy in the self-help field:

Kristin Neff

Brene Brown

Barbara Frederickson

Sonja Lyubomirsky

Pema Chodron

There are many more, but these are the researchers and spiritual leaders who have been most important to me and my work lately. I hope you’ll check out some of their work.


Speaking of bouncing back, download my FREE ebook, Bounce Back! 5 ways to survive and thrive through life’s ups and downs.

Need to Bounce Back? Get Rid of These 5 Things

By Bobbi Emel, MFT

In my lengthy career in mental health, I’ve noticed that there are several key stumbling blocks that keep many people from bouncing back when adversity hits.Giving a flick

If you can get rid of these things, life will open up for you and become less of a struggle.

1. Thinking that you’ll get to a point where life doesn’t change.

Admit it. If you’re like most of us, you secretly think that some day when you have everything figured out and every material thing you need, then you won’t have to deal with change any longer.

Well, as my friend’s grandmother said when she reached the age of 99,

I always thought things would calm down and get easier. I’m beginning to believe that’s not going to happen. ~ Phoebe Howard, age 99

Continue reading… »


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