Category: Stress


Is All Stress Bad?

New research is changing the way we view stress and our relationship to it. For some time, there seemed to be a cultural acceptance that all stress was bad and needed to be avoided. New findings suggest otherwise.

So, is all stress bad?

The answer is no, not all stress is bad. In fact, it’s a natural part of life. It is unavoidable and inevitable. Stress can take the form of loss of a loved one, loss of a job, an unhappy relationship, an illness, or a demanding career.

Even so-called happy events can be a major source of stress. Getting married, receiving a job promotion, moving to a new place, or having a baby can all cause major stress. Often, people feel guilty when they find themselves stressed and unhappy in the face of something good.

Sometimes, we even need a little bit of stress to help us get motivated. This is called “healthy stress.” It’s what gives us the get-up-and-go in the morning and keeps us going throughout the day.

Depression is a condition of having an under-activated stress response. The nervous system is simply not online or engaged. Therefore, people with depression find it hard to get out of bed or be active in daily life. It does not mean they don’t have stress. In fact, usually the opposite is true. The nervous system may have shut down due to seemingly insurmountable levels of stress.

The key is to find balance and get the nervous system and stress response to function in a healthy manner.

How did it get so out of balance?

A programmed stress response helped keep our ancestors alive; they were able to mobilize in the face of attack from a large predator. It also drove them to compete for food and resources that ensured the survival of the species.

However, our modern day stress is less about actual life or death. It’s about caring for sick family members, keeping up with finances, and dealing with traffic and deadlines. Our current stress response system hasn’t evolved to help us keep up with these never-ending demands of daily life.

Your brain may be signaling that these situations are a threat to your survival and readying you for extreme action that is not appropriate (or helpful) for the circumstances.

The truth

The truth is, it’s less about the presence of stress in our lives, and more about our relationship to it.

Our relationship and to stress determines the physical and emotional response we will have to it.

Luckily, the latest research in neuroscience gives us evidence-based techniques for calming down the brain’s automatic stress reaction.

You can learn to respond to stress effectively so that life stressors become more manageable and less overwhelming. Mindfulness offers practical ways to begin to change your brain and your relationship to stress.

Changing your relationship to stress requires:

  • Staying grounded in the present moment
  • Acknowledging and accepting your emotions
  • Cultivating self-compassion
  • Developing psychological flexibility
  • Focusing on the positive

Even with mindfulness, lasting change does not happen overnight. In order to truly shift your stress response, you must take small, incremental steps toward becoming more resilient.

If you are interested in learning about one-on-one work for stress management, please don’t hesitate to reach out. Contact me anytime.

emotional agility-mindfulness

Emotional Agility

I recently came across a Ted Talk video, presented by Psychologist Susan David.

I really resonated with it. She says, “You don’t get to have a meaningful career, or raise a family, or leave the world a better place, without stress or discomfort.”

Too often we feel shame for experiencing “negative” emotions and try to force ourselves into false positivity. However, most of these “negative” emotions are within the range of normal human experience.

I say we stop labeling emotions as good or bad and learn to accept what we are feeling, knowing that it will pass with time.

All that is worthwhile does not come to us if we are not willing to experience some disappointment, failure, discomfort or fear along the way. Stress is an inevitable part of life.

I shared the video with my own soapbox spiel on social media and got an overwhelming response, which told me that other people strongly agree. Apparently, I am not alone in feeling like we have been conditioned to struggle against any emotions that are seen as negative. I’ve personally come to believe that “undesirable” emotions are not inherently bad or wrong — they just get us hooked.

In David’s book, Emotional Agility, she outlines the feelings that so often get us hooked. She lists things like self-doubt, shame, sadness, fear and anger and notes that these feelings can often steer us in the wrong direction.

She states that emotionally agile people aren’t immune to stresses and setbacks, instead they adapt. In essence, they unhook. They align their actions with their values and make small but powerful changes that lead to a lifetime of growth.

She goes on to say, “Emotional agility is not about ignoring difficult emotions and thoughts; it’s about holding them loosely, facing them courageously and compassionately, and then moving past them to bring the best of yourself forward.”

I can really get behind her ideas because these are also some of the key components underlying my mindfulness-based approach to therapy.

It’s also the underpinnings of Buddhism (the original masters of mindfulness). So, in short, these concepts are not new. However, they are not very well understood or utilized in our current society.

There is a cultural conditioning that tells us we should seek out pleasure and avoid displeasure, no matter the cost. We are on a perpetual wheel, seeking happiness and joy as a constant state.

emotional agility-mindfulness

The reality is, all emotions are just passing states. We struggle when we try to cling or hold on to any one emotional experience. As a society, we value certain emotional experiences over others.

The good news is this doesn’t have to be the case. We have the power to choose. We can choose to suffer and fight against what is, or we can adapt and align our actions according to our own values.

I think that Susan David’s work on Emotional Agility is highly relevant to us as a society now. It is based in science and is comprised of over 20 years of her research and experience. It also speaks to those of us who are driven in ways that Buddhist monks simply were not.

She looks at how Emotional Agility contributes to success, rather than takes away from it. She says that, “no matter how intelligent or creative people are, or what type of personality they have, it is how they navigate their inner world – their thoughts, feelings, and self-talk – that ultimately determines how successful they will become.”

In conclusion, I am in full support of dropping false positivity and instead celebrating ALL of the feelings that accompany every meaningful success or life experience. I am releasing the need to struggle against my feelings, and I am embracing acceptance at the highest level.

Are you with me?

If so, please reach out for a free 15-minute phone consultation. We can discuss if this counseling is right for you.

What Your Anger is Really Trying to Tell You

Have you ever felt angry and wondered why? Did you feel like something was wrong with you because you couldn’t just let it go? Or maybe you’ve felt like you had very good reason to be angry, but you should be able to “control” it?

Many people see anger as an undesirable or an unhealthy emotion. However, while it is not always pleasant for us to experience (or people who are in the path of our anger to experience), it can be a powerful messenger that something is not right.

It’s common for people to think that something is wrong with them if they lash out in ager or feel it bubbling up to the surface. Our society prefers that we put a lid on it, and keep it to ourselves if something is bothering us. (This societal superficiality in itself can be angering).

There’s the notion that if you express anger, then you are crazy. There’s the idea that you should be able to “keep it together” at all times.

Yes, I am totally normalizing anger here. However, how you handle your anger DOES matter. Of course, it is not okay to use anger as an excuse to abuse or harm others. Rather, notice how your anger may be signaling how you are feeling abused.

Have you been highly self-critical lately (partaking in self-abuse)? Have you been letting others consistently trample all over your boundaries or needs? Has someone gone too far and you feel violated? And finally, are you just left feeling completely powerless in some area of your life?

In my opinion, anger itself is NOT a signal that something is wrong with you. Anger is not necessarily a bad thin

In physiological terms, anger is simply a message from the primal part of the brain to the body that says, “This is not right! Do something!” This triggers an array of physiological responses in the body to get us to get whatever “it” is to STOP. This in itself is not problematic, but in today’s culture, we may not feel like we can do anything about it to get it to stop.

In a spiritual sense, anger points us to our deeper needs for healthy self-preservation.

Generally, we feel anger for 2 fundamental reasons:

  • Someone has violated one of our boundaries
  • We are feeling powerless

For example, if you had a boss that perpetually belittled you (violating your boundaries) in front of others, you would probably feel angry, which would trigger a set of physiological responses. However, if you know you would lose your job if you said anything to your boss, then you are likely left feeling powerless to do anything about it. This violation, combined with feeling powerless, means that your body gets stuck in anger mode, and it can take a toll on your health and happiness if nothing is done about it.

Feeling one (or both) of these two things can pull us into a real personal crisis. In reality, we are never powerless. We are only powerless to the degree that we give our power away. However, if someone is consistently acting is ways that threaten our sense of empowerment or safety, then we need to remove that influence from our lives. If no solution can be met after repeated attempts, then it may require that we leave a job, a relationship, or an otherwise good situation in order to restore our well-being.

It can be tough to make the changes or choices required to “get it to stop” (whatever the anger is sending a message about). It calls on every part of our being to find the strength to risk doing things differently.

So, the point is not to push anger away when it arises, but to honor it fully as a messenger. To master this is to work wisely with your anger, and to fully understand what it is telling you about your own personal truth.

mindfulness explained-santa rosa

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness Explained

I often get asked, “so…what is mindfulness?” Mindfulness has become a buzzword over the last few years, but what it actually is still remains unclear. I’ll begin with the basics.

The Origins

Mindfulness is a way of life derived from Buddhist teachings and philosophy. Buddha believed that pain is unavoidable and inevitable in life, but suffering is optional. The teachings compare suffering to two arrows. The first arrow is pain and stress. It is a part of being human. No one is exempt from it. The first arrow’s pain can be felt from things like natural disasters, death, loss, aging, betrayal, etc. These are all things that are out of our control.

The second arrow, however, is the one you shoot yourself in the foot with when you ruminate about the painful event or circumstance. You are, in essence, creating your own suffering when you rehash the thoughts and feelings again and again. You beat yourself up for the way you are feeling. You don’t want to feel the stress associated with loss or change. Therefore, more suffering ensues.

Core Concepts

The idea of mindfulness is to be open to feeling your feelings; the full range of them. When you struggle against what is, you suffer.

Mindfulness is about acceptance at the deepest level.

Even if you are not able to come to full acceptance of something, you can at least learn to tolerate difficult feelings and emotions better. Thus, you will suffer less and you will struggle less against unwanted reactions to events outside of your control.

The Role of the Amygdala

When you do find yourself in a place of stress, there are a range of physiological reactions occurring in the mind and body.

In this post, we will focus primarily on what is happening in the part of the brain called the Amygdala. The amygdala is the middle part of the brain that is always scanning for threats in the environment (or even in your own emotions). Its job is to sense a threat and then sound the alarm to initiate the fight-or-flight response in the body.

Now, the amygdala is very important (it’s not all bad!). It keeps you safe from real dangers. We would not have survived as a species without it.

The problem with out modern day lifestyle is that even things that are not truly dangerous or life threatening are seen as dangers by the amygdala. Things like being in traffic, running late, or having a lot of work to do. The body reacts to these stressors in much the same way as it would an attacking lion. Thus, we find our amygdala’s often end up highly sensitive and highly reactive, causing a cascade of physiological issues. The body and the nervous system become very dysregulated over time. Things get out of whack and out of balance.

Mindfulness is both:

  1. A way of life

  2. A skill

Mindfulness as a Way of Life

When I talk about mindfulness as a way of life, I am referring to the set of values inherent in mindfulness. These are values such as openness, non-judgment, non-attachment, compassion, and acceptance.

The idea is to be open to the present moment without judgment; to allow yourself to experience the range of thoughts, feelings, and sensations without being attached to them (merging with them) or pushing them away.

The intention, then, is to experience the thoughts, feelings, and sensations with compassion and acceptance. You accept reality as it is, without clinging to it OR trying to change it in any way.

This is where I lose some people with the concept of mindfulness. I mean, if something were bad, why WOULDN’T you try to change it? Great question! (And it isn’t the point).

What we are talking about here is things that aren’t in your control (truly). You can’t change certain events or circumstances, but you can change your response to them. And THIS is what mindfulness is really about. It is about the choices you make in each and every moment, when you are truly present and grounded in what is.

You can choose openness, non-judgment, non-attachment, compassion, and acceptance in any moment.

Mindfulness as a Skill

This brings me to my next point; that mindfulness is a skill. When you learn to quiet the reactivity of the amygdala, then you are better able to think and function in any given moment. You are able to respond with clarity and calm, rather than reacting to a never-ending set of perceived crises.

With practice and over time, the amygdala will become less reactive to stimuli (including your own inner states). You are effectively wiring the brain toward greater resiliency and less anxiety.

Your stressful thoughts and feelings will become more manageable. You will be less inclined to fight, run, or freeze up under pressure. Life becomes SO much more enjoyable when you are not fighting against it.

What I love

As a therapist, I strive to be inclusive. What I love about mindfulness is that is it is applicable to people of all ages, races, physical abilities, and religious or spiritual beliefs.

This, my friends, is mindfulness explained in a (little) nutshell. There is much more, and that’s the beauty of it. It is a simple concept, but offers us a deep well to explore and seek nourishment from.

Looking to learn mindfulness for self-mastery? Click here to learn more.

Need mindfulness explained one-on-one? I am happy to chat. I offer a free 15-minute phone consultation you can schedule here.

Stress and the Nervous System

Here is a great article on stress and the nervous system.

In this article, yoga and breathing are listed as some of the most beneficial ways to relieve stress and impact mood through working with the nervous system.

In my Psychology of Yoga for Anxiety and Depression workshop on Nov. 4th, you will learn specific strategies for reducing stress and alleviating anxiety and depression using yoga and breathwork.

We will go into depth about how to help restore emotional balance by understanding the nervous system.

This is cutting edge work, with an emphasis on the neuroscience of yoga. Register now by emailing me at Space is limited.

Workshop Info:

Time and date: Saturday, November 4th, 9:30am – 12:30pm
Location: The Wellness Center of Sonoma County, Santa Rosa, CA
Investment: $50

Join psychology and yoga specialist Jenna Griffith in exploring the different types of stress, anxiety and depression and why treatment is not a one-size-fits-all. Weaving the ancient wisdom of yoga with current evidence-based treatments, this workshop offers an introductory glimpse into how to tailor your own practice or assist others using yoga. Ideal for professionals or anyone struggling with these issues. Beginners welcome!

You will gain:

~A deeper understanding of the neuroscience behind stress, anxiety, and depression

~A deeper understanding of how yoga and breathwork impact the mind/body

~Safe and effective methods to support mental health with yoga

Pre-Registration is required. To register, contact Jenna Griffith at

How to Relieve Anxiety in 3 Minutes or Less

There is an exercise that I often like to use with my clients and yoga students. It’s called “Five Things.” The purpose of the exercise is to bring your awareness fully into the now.

This is very useful during times of stress, anxiety, and even panic. If you ever get to a point where you are overwhelmed and things feel like they are swirling around you, then this practice can be especially helpful.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Plant your feet firmly on the ground. Notice how solidly they are connected to the floor.
  2. Now, notice 5 things that you notice. The idea is to engage as many of your senses as you can.
  3. If possible, notice one thing you can see, one thing you can hear, one thing you can smell, one thing you can touch, and perhaps a taste in your mouth.

For example, “I notice a white lamp, I notice the sound of people talking. I notice the smell of food cooking. I notice the texture of the shirt I am wearing. I notice a sweet taste in my mouth.”

You get the point…

This is an exercise designed to ANCHOR you in the present moment, even if everything around you seems to be chaotic or out of control.

This can help greatly to calm anxiety and panic, because (generally) when you are fully present, there is no immediate threat in that moment. It also helps you momentarily let go of all the to-do’s that exist in the future.

When you become aware of your immediate surroundings, you tune into what is real in the moment. Most of what we worry about only exists in the future or the past.

Planting the feet is ALWAYS good practice, no matter what the situation. If you are skipping the rest of the exercise and only doing step #1, you are still going to find some benefit.

However, if you are able to do the “5 Things” exercise in it’s entirety, then you are well on your way to finding relief.

Give the exercise a try and comment below on your experience!

Strategies for Surviving Holiday Stress [Video]

I thought it would be appropriate to re-post this video from last year. If you are a highly sensitive person, this video is for you!

Kindra and I provide our top 5 Strategies for Surviving Holiday Stress.

This video was specifically created for the introverted and/or highly sensitive person who tends to feel easily overwhelmed and stressed around the holidays. We offer useful (and practical) tips for maintaining your health and your emotional well being during this busy time of year.




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emotional agility-mindfulness

Emotional Agility

I recently came across a Ted Talk video, presented by Psychologist Susan David. I really resonated with it. She says, “You …