126: Making Stress Work for You with Dr. Melanie Greenberg

By March 6, 2017Podcasts

 

Psychologist and executive coach Dr. Melanie Greenberg shows how to make the most of the stress work brings to the table.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The key differentiators that make stress enriching vs. debilitating
  2. How meditation practices provide helpful distance between you and your thoughts
  3. The STOP and RAIN methods for bringing mindfulness into situations

About Melanie

Dr. Melanie Greenberg is a practicing psychologist and executive coach in Marin county, CA and an expert on managing stress, health, and relationships using proven techniques from neuroscience, mindfulness, positive psychology, health psychology, and cognitive-behavioral therapies. With more than 20 years of experience as a professor, author, researcher, clinician, and coach, Melanie has delivered talks and workshops to national and international audiences, businesses, nonprofits, and professional organizations like The American Psychological Association. She writes the Mindful Self-Express blog for Psychology Today which has more than 8 million page views. A popular media expert, she has been featured on CNN, Forbes, BBC radio, ABC News, Yahoo and Lifehacker, as well as in Self, Redbook, Women’s Health, Men’s Health, Fitness Magazine, Women’s Day, Cosmopolitan and the Huffington Post. She has also been featured on radio shows and numerous podcasts. With almost 50,000 followers, Melanie was named one of the 30 Most Prominent Psychologists to follow on Twitter.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Melanie Greenberg Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Melanie, thanks so much for joining us here on the How To Be Awesome At Your Job podcast.

Melanie Greenberg
You’re welcome. I’m excited to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yes, I’m excited to have you here. And it sounds like you had some travel excitement when we were emailing earlier. You were in Puerto Vallarta. What’s the back story there?

Melanie Greenberg
My daughter and I went to Mexico for a vacation. It was our first trip to Mexico, and had lots of frequent-flyer miles, and we had a good time, swimming and lying in the sun, and eating lots of tropical fruit. And we even went on speedboat and swam in a waterfall. So, that was fun.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s fun, indeed. Yes, that is good time.

Melanie Greenberg
She’s a teenager so she likes to do active stuff.

Pete Mockaitis
And you’re still cool enough that that’s a fun idea for her apparently.

Melanie Greenberg
Yeah, I don’t know about next year but this year I’m so cool enough.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. Well, take it while you have it. And I also enjoyed reading your Psychology Today bio, you have a mini Aussie shepherd that was worthy of a mention there. So, what’s the story with this beloved pet?

Melanie Greenberg
She’s looking right at me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well-behaved. Not so much noise.

Melanie Greenberg
Yeah, she’s well-behaved when she’s had a long walk. If she hasn’t had a long walk she tries to drag me out, take shoes and shepherd me out the door. But, yeah, her name is Ariel because my daughter, we got her when my daughter was three and my daughter named her after the Little Mermaid.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s fun.

Melanie Greenberg
Now, the name is a bit old but we love the dog. She’s just so loyal. Wherever I am she just always follows me, lies down right next to me, snores, and even comes in the bathroom. I have to kind of keep her out.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s fun. And, hopefully, is a stress-managing helpful addition to life, the pet love fun.

Melanie Greenberg
Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
So, I’d love to talk about stress here. You’ve got this fresh book out The Stress-Proof Brain and you’ve got a host of credentials and writing under your belt in the universe of psychology. So, I’m curious to hear what made you choose the emotional response to stress as a key topic for you to really dig your energies into and write a full book?

Melanie Greenberg
Well, I’ve experienced a lot of transitions in my life and events that are kind of came upon me that weren’t necessarily predictable or asked for. In some that were, some that were stress by choice kind of thing – I grew up in South Africa towards the last 20 years of apartheid, so immediately there were stress in the society and there was this tension in the streets and we were having a great, very privileged life in some ways but there were all these other suffering people.

There was a silence around. There was no freedom of press or speech. And certainly my family didn’t talk about it in the way that I would’ve liked to. And then I left South Africa when I was 26. All my friends were leaving because there was violence, people didn’t like apartheid. People didn’t want to go in the army. And so there was a lot of turmoil and I think that’s what led me to be familiar with stress at quite a young age.

But then I came to the U.S. to study psychology and that was my passion and I was really honored to get in here and got a scholarship, so it was also a positive challenging kind of stress. I had both kinds of stress, but that laid the foundation, I think.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, and so I guess I’m curious like in the universe of all these psychological topics, you thought that stress, in particular, is something that you want to dig into. And so, I guess, I’m curious to learn what is it about this topic that makes you say, “Oh, my gosh, this is so important and has to be fleshed out in some detail”?

Melanie Greenberg
So, I also see in the workplace and in relationships with my clients and in life how the inability to manage stress can derail people, even very high-functioning people, in moments. Stress is very rapid and it sways people off balance. So that flight or fight response in the brain, because we were wired to kind of fight, be ready for a tiger to attack us, that’s what our ancestors faced.

So, if we get this very quick biochemical response that can kind of sway us off balance and make you do things that you regret, like shouting at somebody, or shouting at your boss, or shouting at your partner, or sending off an email that wasn’t wisely written. And stress can also make you freeze and procrastinate and avoid. And so I’ve just seen how stress that can get in people’s way a lot if they don’t know how to deal with it, burn out, people get demoralized.

But then, on the other hand, stress is also, you know, what kind of peps you up and gives you the energy to take on amazing challenges that are meaningful and grow and dream and get other people excited. So I was really interested in these sort of two aspects of stress.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yes, absolutely. And so I’d be curious to hear what makes the difference between whether we have a nice peppy energy, happy kind of response and impact from the stress versus where we’d be down and having some not-so-rosy outcomes?

Melanie Greenberg
So, I think there’s a couple of things. One is controllability. And I think like in animal studies, animals and monkeys and rats and humans, when the stress that we can’t predict or can’t control, it hits us much worse. That’s the kind of stress that gives the animals the stomach ulcers, when it’s at random intervals and they don’t know when it’s coming, and whatever they do they can’t shut off the stress. In studies they do electric shock which is horrible but that’s what they do.

So, if you feel out of control, if you feel you don’t have the skills or the resources to manage a situation, I think that can make a difference versus feeling, but more confident, having life experience of maybe managing stress in the past and having support in knowing that you can exceed and kind of be excited about the outcome versus the outcome just a potential at last.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is really an interesting point right there. So, you talked about the animal studies and electric shocks, the unpredictability is what causes all kinds of bad news with the ulcers and such. So, if they administer the shocks in a kind of predictable, every five minutes on the dot there’s a shock kind of a thing that that works fine for them?

Melanie Greenberg
Well, they don’t like it.

Pete Mockaitis
No. Right.

Melanie Greenberg
But they don’t have as bad longer-term effects, and the reason is that there’s a safety period. So, say, the shock is coming every five minutes. You have four minutes of peace when you can actually wind up a little bit during those four minutes. Whereas you don’t know when it’s coming, there’s no peace, there’s no safety zone.

And the other piece is controllability. So, what they do is they have one group of animals that can turn off the shock by pressing a lever or something, and there’s another group there that can’t turn off the shock. The shock just gets turned off when the other animal does it. So whatever that animal does it can’t influence a shock at any way. And so those animals have it worse because there’s that feeling of helplessness, “Whatever I do I can’t take this thing away. I can’t do anything.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Understood. So that’s some key variables there, the controllability and the predictability. What else makes the difference?

Melanie Greenberg
I think meaningfulness makes a difference and if you see a capacity for growth, “Is this a situation that I can actually be expansive, expand myself, expand my world? Can I grow and learn from this even though challenging? Can it take me closer to my goals to kind of take me to new heights?” It’s kind of, I guess, the analogy might be the stress of climbing a mountain.

My daughter and husband went to Yosemite last spring and they climbed this really high peak. And it’s scary but there’s an invigorating challenge about it. So, I think that makes a difference. I think it’s your personality as well if you’re kind of more able to take the challenge, able to tolerate stress in the service of your goal. Some people aren’t wired that they get more anxious and that’s not for them. So I think that makes a difference, too, how enthusiastic you are about and how meaningful it is, how committed you are to it, if you feel a sense of commitment, something you chose versus something that was kind of just placed upon you.

An example might be you might choose to take a new job because of the mentorship and the skills you’ll learn and the opportunities to serve the public, to do meaningful things. Or your company might just merge with a big conglomerate which has happened to a lot of my clients and it wasn’t chosen and it’s not meaningful. Those two experiences are very different even though both people might be working equally hard.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Interesting. Well, also, that’s quite intriguing how you identified a few key variables that make the difference sort of associated with the nature of the stress itself. So, now, can you share a bit about our response? I think that, in reading through your book that seems to be a core idea there is that it’s really about how you respond to that situation and thing that causes stress that makes a world of difference. So, maybe you could start by sharing the dark side. What are some of the unhealthy responses that folks all too often go to when hit with a stress?

Melanie Greenberg
So, there’s lots of them, and I’m sure we’re all familiar with them. So, the one category is freezing. The biological response to freeze they call it the fight-flight freeze response. It’s like you either go into flight where you want to run away, fight where you kind of get irritable or aggressive and impulsive, or freeze is just where you feel helpless and kind of stuck.

So, freezing like not being able to act, not being able to make a decision, procrastinating, lacking confidence that’s one kind of an unhealthy response, and that can lead to avoidance which is also unhealthy. You might avoid dealing with a problem and put it off and then the problem gets worse and worse. Kind of like a pile of unpaid bills that you haven’t opened the envelopes.

Or you might avoid confrontation and that can make things worse because you don’t get your needs met or you don’t change a bad situation. And then when it comes to avoidance I think people also use alcohol a lot to avoid, and that’s been shown to be a really unhealthy response. And often men use alcohol to a greater degree than women statistically but both men and women use it. So what happens with the alcohol, it brings your mood down. It’s a temporary relief but it causes a whole host of other problems and damage to your health if it’s too heavy a level.

And then sometimes people do emotional eating or lying on the couch vegging in front of the TV for hours and hours and kind of not taking care of their health. Other unhealthy responses are more in the hostility, like in the more sort of the fight. Because, again, we get wired through adrenaline and cortisol, the brain chemicals. To fight off a predator, that’s what originally the stress response was meant for. So people get hostile and mean and aggressive and all of those things turn other people off and create a more stressful environment for themselves because, now, other people don’t like them.

And then there’s the kind of overwhelm as well where you just get overwhelmed with anxiety, your heart starts pounding, you feel it in your chest and your stomach and your belly, and your body just kind of goes into this chronic state, and that can get in the way of functioning and be very uncomfortable and can interfere with your sleep.

And, finally, there’s this worry response where we get into our heads and just like repetitively ruminate and worry over and over and over again about all these bad things that are going to happen, and that doesn’t help. That kind of just makes us feel more helpless and worse. I think that’s some of them.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. And that’s what I wanted to dig into. I guess that’s my story, it’s like I don’t personally find that I go to lashing out or alcohol or hours of TV or Netflix or whatever. But it is mostly internally. It’s the thoughts I’m having that I can recognize afterwards or with a little bit of distance if I sort of take a look at what I’m thinking about, that, “This isn’t so helpful.”

And so you mentioned one thing is the ruminating, the worrying, like, “Oh, my gosh, this could happen, this could happen, this could happen.” What are maybe some of the other ways, and maybe even feel free to narrate having worked with many clients, feel free to narrate a little bit, what are some sort of sub-optimal internal thoughts that maybe we should be on the watch out or the lookout for? It’s like, “Oh, if you’re hearing these it’s time to take a timeout and do something.”

Melanie Greenberg
Oh, yeah. This is one of my topics that I have a lot of experience with because I just see this all the time with clients. One of the big ones is people get to criticize themselves and their inner critic, people beat up on themselves and they get really hard on themselves. And so this is kind of conditional feeling, like, “Well, if I manage to get this job then I’m okay. But if I don’t manage to get this job that means I’m a total failure.” And so they put so much pressure on themselves.

Or else they might sort of get into a regretful stage, like, “How did I get in the situation in the first place. I should’ve made a different decision. I should’ve done something different. I should’ve acted quicker.” And so they go back and they try to undo all the decisions they made and feel really bad about themselves. Whereas, in fact, hindsight is 20/20. They may have done the best they could at the time. And that’s what I try to tell them and work with them on.

The other thing is people get and make these cognitive errors. They get into black and white thinking, like all or nothing. So, like, all is lost. Like, “If I get in a financial crisis, all is lost.” And then they forget to sort of remember the good things that are still in their life. Like maybe they have to go down in their standard of living but maybe they still have people that love them.

So, there’s also a scarcity mindset where research shows that if you – and I’ve seen this with clients as well – if you feel a sense of lack or scarcity, it actually makes you worse at solving problems because you get a very… you’re putting out fires, you get a very short-term timeframe. Like, “Put this on the credit card,” that will be one example. But then it builds up and that may not be the best strategy for the long term. Because you feel scarcity like you’ve got to do something now. It makes you kind of panicky and makes you make not the best decisions. So that’s another mindset.

And then there’s a kind of a pessimism where you see the glass is half empty. And then there’s a kind of a repetitive thinking where you just have the same theme, like, “I am a failure,” or, “Other people don’t like me,” or like, “I’m not competent.” And you see a lot of thinking just around this kind of core theme that may have come from an earlier experience in childhood or some significant experience that the person may not even be aware of.

Pete Mockaitis
Interesting. And so if you have that going on, what are the steps? Is that like a stop, drop and roll, or how do you kind of get back in the right groove?

Melanie Greenberg
Yeah, so there’re different levels depending on how long, how deep you want to go, I suppose, or how long your therapy is. But the immediate thing to do is just to notice that you’re ruminating, and just like try to get away from the content because the content are often not helpful. It’s just your brain regurgitating all this kind of stuff, making up stuff. So you’ve got to try to get some distance and not just think about the content but try to think about the process, “I’m ruminating. It doesn’t matter what I’m thinking about. This is not helpful for me so I’ve got to not let all my attention get dragged into this and let it sway me off balance. So let me find something else to think about.” It’s easier to distract yourself and think about something else than it is to say, “Well, just stop thinking about this.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Melanie Greenberg
So that’s one thing, label the process. The other thing is to try to get some distance from your thoughts so it doesn’t feel like that’s your whole reality. And mindfulness, which is practicing meditation, but it’s also an attitude towards living, where you breathe, you take a break, you try to bring in more compassionate, more sort of broader perspective. That can be very helpful.

And also, maybe getting feedback, going to somebody who cares about you and running it by them that can help with the inner critic. So those might be some immediate coping strategies. And then you could think about, “Well, what happened to me early in life?” or, “What happened in my childhood like around this theme? And might I be reacting to that?” Like a feeling of not being safe, for example.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood. Yes. And so let’s talk a little bit more. So, getting some distance from your thoughts, you talked about some mindfulness and meditation, some breathing. So, I guess, in practice, if I’m having some thoughts, like, “Oh, my gosh. I blew this. What am I going to do now? I don’t have this money coming in,” or something. It’s happening in there. And so what’s the scoop? I, first, take a breath or how would you kind of guide me in detail in terms of what to respond with that?

Melanie Greenberg
So, a very simple thing you can do is you can think of the word stop, S-T-O-P, which is a mindfulness kind of a practice. So S stands for just stop, whatever you’re doing, stop, and that’s just to kind of get you untangled from the cycle. And also because the threat center of your brain, the amygdala, is what’s often reacting to this immediate stress, and you need to take some time so you can get your executive functioning on board which is the prefrontal cortex just behind your forehead. That’s more responsible for the slower, rational, more integrated thinking. So just stopping can give yourself time to get like those more functional parts of your brain on board.

And then T stands for take a breath. So, breathing again just gives you time for your brain, for like the rational parts of your brain to catch up with you. And breathing also activates the parasympathetic nervous system, so it kind of puts the brakes physiologically in the fight or flight response. So just take lots of deep breaths.

O is observe. So, you go from reacting to observing mode. It’s kind of like you just ask yourself, “What’s happening? What am I doing now? What’s happening in my body?” Maybe your chest is tight. You know, “What am I thinking? What am I feeling?” And, you know, “Is this helpful? Is this important? Is this what I want to be doing and thinking and feeling now? Is this in accord with my values or my goals?” So that observe is a key step because it can help you make a different decision.

And then once you’ve observed and made a different decision, or decided it was okay to be doing what you’re doing, then you can proceed, then you can get on with it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Melanie Greenberg
So, that’s a very quick like tool that you could use.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it is a handy tool. Does anything else come to mind in the realm of tools?

Melanie Greenberg
Yeah, there’s another one, rain, R-A-I-N. And it’s kind of similar but I just wanted to emphasize the N part. The N stands for non-identification. So, sometimes we can get caught up in our stories, like a failure story, or like a fear story, or a story of having the “I can’t do anything right.” And so the non-identification, it’s good to take time and think, “Am I getting too caught up in the story? Is this an old path? Is this an old passion for me? And what could be another way to view the situation that might be kind or more compassionate or more helpful? How might someone who really cares about me view this situation?” would be an example. So that non-identification, it’s like try not to get too caught up.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that is good. And you’re saying the R-A-I are similar to the S-T-O-P we already heard?

Melanie Greenberg
Yeah, there’s also an R-A-I, and R is for recognize. Recognize what’s happening. Are you still there?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I’m here. Can you hear me?

Melanie Greenberg
Oh, sorry. R is for recognize what’s happening which is similar to the sort of stop. A is for accept which is accept what’s happening, because a lot of people try to just suppress feelings or think, “Well, I’m not really feeling anything. Everything is fine,” when it isn’t. So, A is just notice what feelings are coming up and try to just accept that they’re coming up. They’re there anyway, you can’t do anything about them. Even if it’s a negative thought, it’s there anyway. But you can change your relationship to it. And then I is investigate which is similar to the kind of observe, and then N is the non-identification.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Melanie Greenberg
And that’s mindfulness, this practice is from Sharon Salzberg who’s a mindfulness teacher.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. So, those are some great tools for sort of in the heat of battle, you know, in the moment when things are happening. I’d love to also hear about what are long-term daily across the board things that are wise just to deal with stress? I’m imagining exercise or maybe you may go through these.

Melanie Greenberg
Sure.

Pete Mockaitis
What do you think are sort of like the big ones that are really going to make a world of difference in boosting your ability to respond to stress helpfully?

Melanie Greenberg
I mean, I think exercise and mindfulness are huge but not everybody loves exercise. It doesn’t have to be the most vigorous exercise in the world. It can be yoga stretching. And it’s the taking care of yourself. Sometimes exercise and mindfulness can be a way of taking care of yourself. Sometimes you need to be more compassionate to yourself as well because actually that calms you down.

And the other thing is grit. It’s a concept. A new kind of research concept of Grit by Angela Duckworth and Penn, and she talks about just having passion, connecting with your passion and perseverance for long-term goals. So, it’s kind of like a willingness to be uncomfortable, kind of making a decision, “This is uncomfortable but it’s okay because I’m choosing this, in a way. Given the options that are available I’m choosing to go through this because this has the potential to bring me closer to my goals.” That can keep you like more optimistic and more excited.

The meditation, mindfulness is meditation but it’s also an attitude to living where you’re kind of you’re in the moment, you’re compassionate, you’re accepting, you’re open to letting in your inner experience and whatever that may be, and it’s a more expansive kind of an attitude of feeling connected with the world and other people and the earth rather than disconnected.

Mindfulness can actually change the brain. Eight to ten weeks of mindfulness, they do magnetic resonance imaging, brain scans in real time and they showed that the amygdala, which is the fight or flight center, can actually shrink with mindfulness and the prefrontal cortex can get stronger and there can be more connections between the prefrontal cortex and amygdala.

So, literally, practicing meditation and practicing this attitude as a way of living, where you have more of this observe the self, that sort of a higher self in a way, it’s more compassionate and directing you in a functional way, can actually change your brain so you become more tolerant of stress.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that is so good. And so I’m curious, when you say meditate, and we’ve talked about this a little bit with Dan Harris and with some others on the show, but I’d like to get your take. So, it’s like when you sit down or take whatever posture you do, and you say, “Okay, it’s time to meditate now.” Can you share with us precisely what are you doing and thinking?

Melanie Greenberg
Sure. And I love Dan Harris’ book, by the way, like when you tried all these different ways to enlightenment. So, for me, I think people have a misconception of meditation that can put them off. Two misconceptions are that you have to empty your mind of thoughts and have just a completely blank mind, and that’s very hard to do and it’s not really what the goal is. So, that’s one misconception.

The other misconception is that you have to kind of have perfect focus. Say you’re focusing on your breathing that you have to have perfect focus on the breathing, and that, again, is always virtually impossible to do. So those aren’t the goals of meditation.

Meditation can be, the most simple is just watching your breathing in the moment like just watching a full breath all the way in and all the way out, watching the pause between the in breath and the out breath. And you might say to yourself, “I am breathing in,” so you notice the breath as it goes from the nostrils down the back of your throat into the chest, into the belly. And then there’s a pause, and then as it comes all the way out again.

So, you try to focus on your breath, but if your mind wanders, which is you’re going to do because that’s just what minds do, you kind of gently touch where it’s going. Like you might think about, “I’m worrying or itchy.” And then you just gently guide your attention back to the breath. So it’s the process of catching your attention when it wanders and then like kindly directing it back, and catching it when it wanders and directing it back. So, it gives you more like awareness of your own mind, of the workings of your own mind and the ability to change things. So, physiologically it can be very relaxing but that’s not the goal necessarily.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I want to hit on that relaxation point right there because I think Dan Harris used the metaphor that it’s like a bicep curl for your brain, which I liked. So, then, I’m wondering though, there’s a couple of conceptions of meditation, is that some folks will say, “Oh, meditation is like a great thing to do for a break.”

But what you’ve just described in the metaphor, a bicep curl for your brain, it kind of sounds like work, like you’re putting in effort to build a capability that will be with you every day forever and sort of just enhance your you. So, I’d just like to get your reflection on that notion. It’s like, do you view meditation as something that can serve as a nice rejuvenator? Or is it something more so takes some energy but pays you back more than the energy it took from you?

Melanie Greenberg
Interesting. I think it’s both, and I’ll tell you why. But I also think it takes more energy in the beginning until you really have that experience of that kind of grounded feeling of connection with yourself. Once you have that experience, and you know what you’re kind of looking for in a way, then it gets easier and it becomes more enjoyable. Kind of like exercise. It’s similar. When you first start exercising it’s hard, but then after a while you just crave it. It’s just pleasant.

But the reason it’s both is that on the one hand you are working hard because you’re catching your attention and it’s definitely building a skill and it’s active. It’s not a passive process. But when you slow down your breathing, and you’re not necessarily deliberately doing that, but what seems to happen is that you’re breathing slows down and becomes more rhythmic when you’re watching it, just naturally.

And then the relaxation response kicks in physiologically in your body. And the slow rhythmic breathing actually kind of slows down our heart rate and it gives a message to our brain like everything is okay. You can put the brakes on the fight or flight now, you can rest, it’s time to rest and digest they call it. It’s the kind of parasympathetic response. So that’s why it’s both. Physiologically it’s kind of has a certain relaxing effect but it’s also mentally very active.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Good deal. Thank you. So, you would recommend it as a little bit of a break activity to be done that will leave you stronger post-break than weaker to do your next piece of work.

Melanie Greenberg
Beautifully said, yeah. And, you know, it’s also not only leaves you stronger but it leaves you more compassionate in a way, more tolerant, more patient. It has a lot of effects. I think eight different areas of the brain, some about compassion, some about regulating emotions, some about focus and so there’s huge benefit from it. And that’s why companies like Google and Aetna and General Mills, a lot like major sort of companies are now turning to training their staff in mindfulness which is really exciting. That’s because of the science that actually shows these concrete effects.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that is great. And what would be your recommended dosage as in terms of minutes per session?

Melanie Greenberg
So there’s a debate about this. In the original studies where they showed all these brain changes, that’s what they had, we’re supposed to meditate for 40 minutes. But I think most people actually meditated around 30 on average. So, to get the most brain changes you would need 30.Then there was another study which showed that if you do 20 minutes you don’t get all the brain changes but you get a lot of them.

But what I say to my clients is do five or 10 minutes to begin with. Because, basically, it’s the regularity that’s important, and just people get very resistant, “Oh, I’ve got to sit for 40 minutes.” Especially when they’re feeling stressed. So, just get into the hatch, developing a habit in the beginning and then you’ll want to do more because you’ll start getting into this different sort of a state. But it’s more, you know, you need to do it like four or five times a week to every day. I think it’s better if you do it more frequently even if it is for shorter and then build it up.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood.

Melanie Greenberg
It’s part of your daily life.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, thank you. Well, now, tell us, Melanie, is there anything you want to cover before we talk about your favorite things?

Melanie Greenberg
Let’s see, anything else I want to cover? I’m just trying to think if there’s something I’ve left out. I suppose just a little bit from positive psychology. I think I’ve alluded a little bit but if you get excited about what you’re doing that can help you channel the stress and kind of experience it in a different way. So, one way, like if you bring in positive feelings, if you’re feeling all worried and hassled, to try to bring in positive feelings like think about what you’re grateful, or think about the people you love, or go out into nature and look at the beauty.

It can actually calm down the negative feelings physiologically and it can also broaden your thinking so you can get like a fuller perspective on everything. Whereas when you’re in your fight or flight you tend to see things in a very narrow way and you may not be able to come up with an alternative viewpoint. So I’d say bring in the positive, that’s another skill.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, good. Thank you. Well, now, could you share with us a favorite quote?

Melanie Greenberg
So, I guess I like the one from Eckhart Tolle who’s a famous sort of mindfulness writer, and he said, “Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you have chosen it. Always work with it not against it.” And so it’s that embracing the present moment. You can’t change what’s there, and people get into a lot of trouble trying to avoid and trying to not feel, trying to judge what they’re feeling. It’s like the cover-up is worse than the crime. But if you can embrace whatever is happening in the present moment it kind of changes the energy in a positive way.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. And how about a favorite study or experiment or a piece of research?

Melanie Greenberg
So, one piece of research I like that’s pretty recent is when they had people do a stressful task where they have to give a speech and be judged. And there were three groups. I think one just gave the speech. When we give speeches we get anxious in preparing. So, one group was told just try to calm down, but one group was told to try to interpret their feelings of anxiety as excitement, because it’s similar. If you go on a rollercoaster it’s the same thing physiologically as if you’re anxious.

And the group that was told to interpret their anxiety as excitement actually did better than the group that was told to calm down, and they did better performance on the speech, and physiologically they recovered quicker. So, I think that’s very exciting. It’s like a new way of looking at things.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, it is exciting. And that’s how I do it, that’s how I do my speeches. When I feel the sensations, it’s like, “Oh, I must be very excited.”

Melanie Greenberg
Exactly. Yeah, like get into your passion.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you.

Melanie Greenberg
Sure. All these great ideas you want to share.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Melanie Greenberg
So, I like the book Buddha’s Brain by Rick Hanson because it’s got a lot of this mindfulness stuff. It has some of the neuroscience stuff and it’s also sort about bringing in wellbeing and positivity and thriving and savoring. So, I think it was one of the original books that just captured this whole mindset and put a lot of things together and it’s influenced me a lot.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. And how about a favorite tool whether it’s a product or service or software or app, something that helps you be more awesome at your job?

Melanie Greenberg
So there’s mindfulness apps online that I like. I don’t know if I want to recommend a particular one, but there’s big companies, so mindfulness apps that are on your phone can be very helpful. You know, I’m kind of in a generation, we’re a little bit more low-tech but I know a lot of my clients are 20-year olds and so apps are the way to go.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Sure. Thank you. And how about a favorite habit, a personal practice of yours that helps you flourish?

Melanie Greenberg
Well, I do yoga, and I do two kinds of yoga. I do the kind of the Hatha Yoga which is more the warrior poses and the sun salutations, and I find it’s very energizing and also very balancing. Then I started to do restorative yoga which is just lying in different stretching poses where you’re supported by bolsters. So, I think that’s been wonderful for me as well as nature walking and hiking. And I live in Marin County which, you know, is so beautiful.

There’s so many beautiful hiking trails. And so just being away in the quiet of nature next to the babbling stream and the beautiful green trees can really take you away from your worries. But if you don’t have that you can go online and look at pictures of that with music and so you can get a piece of it that way.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, nice. Thank you. And would you say there’s a particular articulation of your message, a Melanie original quote that really seems to connect and resonate with folks in terms of getting it re-tweeted, or article shared, or folks vigorously taking notes when you say it?

Melanie Greenberg
Yeah, I mean, I think it’s not what happens to you, it’s the way you react to it that makes all the difference.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you.

Melanie Greenberg
Sure.

Pete Mockaitis
And what would you say would be the best place if folks want to contact your or see what you’re up to? Where would you point them?

Melanie Greenberg
So, I would point them, I’m actually building a new website, but my current website is DrMelanieGreenberg.biz and that’s got some of my stuff. And I’m building a DrMelanieGreenberg.com which should be available in a month or two. They can also go to my blog on Psychology Today – The Mindful Self-Express, and they could look at my book The Stress-Proof Brain which is available on Amazon and bookstores and other outlets.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, excellent. Thank you. And do you have a final parting challenge or call to action for those seeking to be more awesome at their jobs?

Melanie Greenberg
You know, I would say, like keep growing yourself, keep becoming more self-aware and self-compassionate. I think the biggest challenge in life is often to love ourselves. It’s easier to be compassionate to other people sometimes and to love yourself when you’re down. It’s easy to love yourself when you’re up. And to understand as well the flow of life that the failure isn’t the last word on things. You can always, there’s always a way to lift yourself up. And if you just stay grounded in knowing what’s really the most important values to you, or who you are, or want to be as a human being, you can let that guide you through the kind of difficult waters of life.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow, thank you. Okay. Well, Melanie, thank you so much. This has been so handy and I wish you lots of luck with the book and all that you do in here.

Melanie Greenberg
Thank you so much for the opportunity. I really enjoyed it.

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