Archives for Stress


How to Live Well with Chronic Pain and Illness: An Interview with Toni Bernhard

One of the essential commonalities we have as human beings as that at some point or another we all experience some form of suffering. This isn't meant to be a downer, it's simply a fact of being human. Today, you're going to hear from an incredible woman, Toni Bernhard. She is the author of the award-winning book How to Be Sick: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide for the Chronically Ill and Their Caregivers and How to Wake Up: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide to Navigating Joy and Sorrow. Her newest book is called How to Live Well with Chronic Pain and Illness: A Mindful Guide. She also writes a great blog called, “Turning Straw Into Gold."

Today Toni talks to us about why the path to peace begins with facing difficulty realities, how mindfulness can help with chronic pain and illness, and some of the key lessons she's learned.

Elisha: How is this book different from your other book on chronic pain and illness, How to Be Sick?

Toni: The new book is broader in scope than How to Be Sick, and it’s organized differently. How to Be Sick is organized around concepts and practices to help people learn to live with grace and purpose despite the limitations imposed by their health.

By contrast, the new book is organized around specific difficulties and challenges that people face, such as dealing with others who don’t (or refuse to) understand; making the best use of your short time with the doctor; coping with isolation and loneliness; handling mood swings and painful emotions; the difficult challenge of being young and chronically ill. The new book goes beyond my personal experience because I draw on the thousands of people who’ve written to me about their health struggles.

What the books have in common is a liberal use of personal anecdotes, easy-to-learn practices (such as mindfulness and self-compassion), and my conversational style of writing. People tell me they feel as if we’re sitting in the kitchen together chatting over coffee or tea.

Elisha: In the introduction, you say the path to peace begins with facing life’s stark realities. What do you mean by that?

Toni: I’m referring to some of the inescapable realities of the human condition. First of all, we’re in bodies and they get sick and injured and old. Coming to terms with this opens the door to
Continue Reading


12 Striking Photos Depicting Depression and Anxiety

We live in a time where there is simply too much to pay attention to. Our nervous systems are overloaded leading many people to disconnect and now we're seeing rising levels of anxiety and depression. In fact, there isn't a single person I know who hasn't experienced these in one form or another. But when you try to convey what anxiety depression really feel like, words never really do it justice.
"depression is when you can’t feel at all. anxiety is when you feel too much. having both is a constant war within your own mind. having both means never winning."

Continue Reading


Four Steps to Freedom from Negative Thinking

A number of years ago I created a free email-based program called "Daily Now Moments."  Every day people get an email into their inbox that is meant to inspire a moment of mindfulness or give some practical guidance in the direction of emotional freedom and happiness.

One of the practices is called "The Freedom Practice" and I wanted to share it with you because it can be so useful in gaining freedom from styles of thinking that don't serve us and keep us stuck in stress, anxiety, depression and even our addictive behaviors

Sometimes I call these styles of thinking "Mind Traps."

Mind traps are styles like catastrophizing, blaming, exaggerating the negative and discounting the positive or just your most common negative thoughts.

The Freedom Practice

When you first notice a mind trap or common negative thought, first stop, take an intentional deep breath and from this more mindful space, move through these next four steps (Name, Feel, Release, Redirect):

Continue Reading


Smart Phones, Stupid Choices and Alone Together

It’s one of the most pervasive issues in our culture today that’s off and on in the media, but no one talks about in their personal lives – our relationships with our phones.

Not long ago author Johann Hari, author of Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs wrote a blog that really caught my eye. He essentially made the argument that our addictive behaviors are driven more from loneliness or a longing to bond and connect than anything else.

Larry Rosen, Professor at Cal State Dominguez Hills and author of iDisorder: Understanding Our Obsession with Technology and Overcoming Its Hold on Us has studied our relationships with our phones and shows that our compulsions with our phones are a result of anxiety that we are missing out on something.
However, our phones are also inherently devices that have intermittent reinforcement so in some degree they work like the addictive slot machines.

We are living in an age that is more connected than ever, but also seems to be less intimate than ever. People lives are more public and so in some way the intimacy gets diluted and therefore less potent. We are looking into each other’s less and making physical contact less.

The lonelier and less intimate we feel life is, the more we long for it, so the more we turn to our devices as an addictive path toward connection.

More and more these days people are finding themselves checking their devices during any time they are alone. If you’re eating alone you’ll check it, if you’re waiting in a checkout line, you’ll check it, if you’re walking on the way to the bathroom, you’ll check it and if you’re in the car alone, you’ll check it (even though the stats show an increase in fatality rates).

Sherry Turkle is an MIT Professor who wrote,
Continue Reading


Watch a Time-Lapsed Video of the Northern Lights for Three Wondrous Minutes

If you've followed my writing or heard me speak you may have heard me quote Philosopher and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel saying, "Life is routine and routine is resistance to wonder."

Our brains are wired toward routine and we absolutely lose our sense of wonder in every day life. Yet wonder is a natural anti-depressant.

When we pause, have a moment of mindfulness and open our senses, the sights, smells, tastes, sounds and feeling of things comes alive.

There are so many wonders all around us that can bring alive the magic of the world. I wanted to share one of them with you put out by filmmaker Alexis Coram in National Geographic who films the "auroras" of the Northern Lights.

Take 3 minutes and treat this as a mindful experiment. As you watch, what do you notice. See if you become aware of the fact that here we are sitting on a spinning planet in the middle of space. Look at this beauty, what comes alive in you?

Continue Reading


10 Seconds to Less Stress

Most people I meet would like to be calmer and more focused on what matters in the moments of their lives. But the more stressed we are, the less open we are to creative ideas and the more prone we are to procrastination.

Here is a 10-second practice that I challenge you to practice a few times a day and realize its power to help you focus on what matters moment-to-moment. Inevitably, as you practice and repeat this, you'll become more of a PRO at life.

The Be a PRO Practice

P - Pause - This is the initial step that helps break the auto-pilot stress cycle.
R - Relax your body - When we're stressed, our muscles get tight which sends signals back to the brain to fight, flee or freeze, making thoughts more distracted and chaotic. Relaxing the body, does the opposite, it begins to open the mind again, making it easier to focus.
O - Open to what matters in the moment - As the body is relaxed we have a greater chance to be more aware of creative ideas or simply the ability to focus on the task at hand.

Here are 10 really good places where practicing being a PRO at life can come in handy:

Continue Reading


Give a Power Boost to Your Gratitude Practice

In Uncovering Happiness I talk about how the #1 bad habit that most people have can be surprising - our thinking. Before we fall into procrastination, stress eating, isolating, habitually engaging our Smartphones or any other addictive behavior there's a thought. The thought is something like, I need to get away from something uncomfortable that's here or at times, I want to elate the good feeling that's here.

One of the most powerful ways I have found to change the atmosphere of the mind is a very simple gratitude practice (but with a power boost).

Now, before your eyes roll you need to know this, thoughts may be arising in your mind right now such as, "not this gratitude stuff again, I've read this in a thousand places." If you notice this thought ask yourself, what is the net effect of this thought here. Does it incline you to move toward this practice that you've heard about a thousand times or away from it?

The answer is most likely that it inclines you away from it.

If we all know it's a supportive practice, why does the mind do this? Because the brain is wired to habituate to things. This is the classic top-down processing in effect. You
Continue Reading


Learn to Forgive Yourself No Matter What

One of the greatest, most unproductive and destructive mind traps many of us face is self-blame. It's as if the brain doesn't know what to do with the uncomfortable feeling that's there and it projects it inward. I've never seen a single example where self-blame is constructive. We all make mistakes in life, some greater than others. But there is a simple truth in life that is worth understanding, we all do the best we can with what we know in any given time.

It could never be any other way.

There's a simple thing to practice that can bring us back to our senses with a bit more self-compassion. This inevitably will lead to greater ease, understanding and refocus us on a more constructive path of health and well-being sooner. Forgive yourself for not knowing what you didn't know before you learned it.

No matter what you've done, it doesn't serve you or anyone else to stew in self-blame. What would serve yourself and others more is     moving into a place of understanding and making peace with yourself. From this space you are better able to more constructively serve yourself and others.

In Uncovering Happiness I share a very personal story where in my twenties I was incredibly destructive to my mind and body. I would be constantly caught in a web of blaming myself for the things I would do - only to do them again.

Continue Reading


How to Fall in Love and Uncover Happiness in Four Minutes or Less

One of the primary pathways to an enduring happiness is facilitating a sense of connection. When we feel connected we feel balanced, when we feel balanced, we often feel happy. The problem is
as we grow up in this world, we have to learn how to shield ourselves from vulnerability and so we build up walls or put on armor that make connection more difficult.

One of the most powerful (and challenging) practices to do is look into another person's eyes for a prolonged period of time as it immediately makes us feel vulnerable. It may not matter whether it's a stranger or someone you've been in a partnership with for over 50 years (sometimes this makes it more difficult). But when we do it, it's fascinating what arises.

Check out this short video from Soul Pancake to see some of the surprising results of people making connection:

Continue Reading


Compassion: Brain Food for Happiness

Did you know that compassion, the act of recognizing someone else's suffering with the inclination to want to support them, creates important activity shifts in the brain that are associated with resiliency and well-being?

I recently attended a talk at a fundraiser where the presenter, Amy McLaren, had conveyed her story of going to Kenya with her husband and making a deal with a child there that if he shares his report card with them at the end of the month, they would pay for a month of his schooling.

They didn't expect him to follow through, but after they returned back to Canada, a month later they received a letter with a picture of this boy holding up his report card.

He followed through and so did they.

Every month he would send his report card and every month they would pay for another month of school. Years later this boy is now in business school and has developed
Continue Reading