Updated: Jul 22
Welcome to your resource hub for our webinar and self-paced learning course! Take some time to discover transformative information, tangible strategies, and valuable resources to help you reduce stress and enhance joy. This is the most important topic right now for early childhood educators because, well, TIMES are STRESSFUL!
In this blog, you will find much of the information that has transformed our work and personal lives immeasurably. It is not your everyday stress seminar. It will be worth your time!
You can choose to get this valuable information by:
Reading the article
Watching the videos (three videos containing this blog's information and more during our top-rated presentation or head over to our Youtube Channel)
Checking out additional videos to help you gain joy and decrease stress
Accessing the wonderful resources to expand your learning. Make sure to share with others who care for young children and subscribe to never miss a blog!
Video 1: The life-changing seminar
Almost 10 years ago, I started working for Early Childhood Family Education in Minnesota, and I had an opportunity to attend a “Decrease Stress” training during Thanksgiving week. The keynote speaker was Amit Sood, who has transformed many lives through the Mayo Clinic Stress-Free Living Program, written numerous books, and developed a successful attention and interpretation therapy method. However, I had been to a lot of trainings on stress at this point! Was it worth my time? I can tell you – that one-hour training (and the subsequent extensive “Transform” trainings with Sood) absolutely changed my life! The strategies I have learned are derived from the latest in Neuroscience, Eastern and Western medicine, and social science research. I can tell you 100%, that it will be worth your time to invest in discovering this information as well!
You truly have the power to transform your world and reduce your stress right now, no matter your current situation. In this blog, I will share how to apply strategies in different home and work scenarios for those in the early childhood profession. No matter what, you will walk away today with a method you can use right away! What I love the most about all of this is that it is not about changing you. What are the odds you will be a different person tomorrow? No. You are you. This is about working with who you are to find peace and calm no matter how you are wired.
So, here I am. It's Thanksgiving week. Dr. Sood's eye-opening seminar had helped me understand why our stress can be increased simply by the way we think. When we are thinking, we readily switch between two different brain modes. When you can recognize which brain mode you are operating under, you can flip to the one that is most useful for you. This helps you reclaim minutes that would have been lost by our brain's natural desire to revisit negative events in our past, ruminate, plan, problem-solve, and judge.
Learn to recognize when you are in your "default".
The first mode of thinking is known as our "Default network". Like this hamster – when we are in the default our thoughts constantly go around and around, sometimes incessantly. This mode is activated when you are "at rest", or find yourself within a pause and are "mind-wandering". Due to our brain's negativity bias, when in the Default mode, our thoughts easily center on hurts from the past, such as the need to improve something, or other general ruminating and worrying. Scientists have found we can spend an average of 60-80% in this state, especially when dealing with intense stress.
Unfortunately, our minds find it is easiest to focus on and remember something we don't like, and we are generally most likely to focus on repetitive negative thoughts. While there are times we need to evaluate and improve things, is it ¾ of our day?! Of course not! This is a place to visit when it is helpful and needed not to be stuck in on autopilot. Thankfully, as humans, we can also train our brain to intentionally move out of our Default mode when desired. However, we must first recognize this tendency, and then develop the skills necessary to switch out of it.
We can all find less stress and more joy if we can move to ….
The “Focused Mode.” This mode is when you have your attention focused right here, right now. It's usually externally focused (“Look at the colors of that sunset!”) or enjoying something novel and interesting ("I am so thankful this old friend just stopped by!") It is easy to get here when you are experiencing something that naturally gets your positive attention. But, mundane life, or the regular day to day can leave us finding less and less of this wonderful place.
You know you are in your “Focused Mode” when you are feeling with gratitude, compassion, appreciation, or joy. It is a place to relish. It brings us more peaceful, novel, and enjoyable moments… even when the world around us is full of stress. There are ways to get into this mode and build a brain pathway to find it easier to get there. This blog (more like a short book) starts the journey...
So, I learned this insightful bit and, four days later... it's Thanksgiving morning...
I am getting ready for Thanksgiving. My sister-in-law is hosting about 30 of our family, and she has asked about ten of us to bring two things to the potluck. For me it was a squash soufflé, which I absolutely love making, and a Caesar salad. I prepared the squash and then started to make the salad. As I am washing the lettuce, I start to think,
“You know, usually when you go to a potluck, the host just asks you to bring one thing. And in this case, she asked everybody to bring two things. Not only did we need to bring two things, but she told me exactly what to bring. I don't even like Caesar salad. I have so many wonderful salad recipes, why couldn't I choose which salad I wanted to make? ... And you know what? My aunt, she was only asked to bring one thing. Then, she did a ‘reply all’ to everybody saying she didn't even want to bring that one thing, she wanted to bring bread from the bread store. Why is my cousin who has four young children under five making berry pies from scratch? I'm making two things, everyone else is making TWO THINGS! But my aunt, who's retired, can only bring one pre-made thing?!”
Do you feel it? Does my growing tension translate? And the irony of it all... IT IS Thanksgiving, remember?! Do you suspect I woke up on Thanksgiving wanting to sit and spend many minutes ruminating about the fact that I had to bring two things to the potluck? No, of course not. But here I was, and it was happening. Why? Well, it's our Default, remember? When our mind has space to wander, it will most likely enter into this negative space. This is the place our human brains naturally go to. It just happens. And, it likely occurs without you even noticing.
I caught myself and because of Sood's training, I knew what to do about it. I needed to consciously switch my thinking into the “Focused Mode”. But how?
First, I shifted my focus externally in the moment. I felt the water from my lettuce-washing rolling over my hands. I took a deep breath and looked out the window at the trees and I could already feel my temperature cooling. I thought about my sister-in-law, the one hosting the potluck. And thought,
“I am so very grateful. I am thankful that I don't have to host Thanksgiving! I don't have to clean up and get ready for people. I don't have to tidy afterwards. I just get to show up with these two dishes... How great is that? Then I thought about how much wonderful magic she has brought to our family. Focusing your thoughts visually, can help bring you into this calmer mode, so I thought about her hugs, her smile, and just how warm she can be to us all…
Suddenly, my entire experience was transformed. Before I had been to that training, I didn't even know about these modes and surely could not differentiate between which thoughts were useful to me. I wouldn't have caught myself that morning and might have spent 20-30 minutes wasting time stuck in negative thinking. Now, I could save those precious minutes from my Default mode and fill them with more positive rewarding moments!
It is natural for the brain to see others as threats. There is no reason to feel bad about that. We are all human and we have all survived to this point by protecting ourselves.
It is equally important to avoid blaming or shaming ourselves when caught in these spontaneous ruminations. After all, our brains have an evolutionary reason for this default. Imagine, if hundreds of years ago, we greeted other unknown tribes with hugs and open doors. We could've been killed on the spot! Humans developed this strong need to protect ourselves out of necessity. Of course, we don't want anyone to take advantage of us! However, do I need to be nervous about my sister-in-law and treat her like she is a serious danger? Probably not.
Is my sister-in-law a threat? No. And the way I think will impact our relationship.
Not only did I transform my day-to-day experiences with these techniques, I also started to transform my relationships!
If I stay stuck: Think of my first response, perseverating on bringing two items to the potluck. Even though my sister-in-law was not a threat, my body was still perceiving her as one. And, as I ruminated, my stress hormones began to elevate and the emotional and reactive part of me prepared to fight. Imagine, after spending the morning in this negative mindset with added time complaining to others about it, I show up at Thanksgiving. How would I greet my sister-in-law that day? What would I do verbally and nonverbally, when I arrived? Imagine what results I will get based on my behavior? Mm hmm. Maybe not so wonderful.
If I switch to the "Focused Mode": Now, imagine I've thought about what I'm grateful for that day. I have spent time recognizing and celebrating what I appreciate about my sister-in-law as my fellow human and Thanksgiving as a whole. My stress hormones have decreased and I experience that feel-good burst of Serotonin, a hormone that helps to stabilize my mood and promote feelings of well-being, and happiness. When I show up, how am I going to behave? What reaction will that elicit from her? You can feel it right? My more kind, grateful greeting will likely more generate kindness and love back.
After taking Dr. Sood’s training, I started to recognize my thinking, increased positive thoughts, and decreased negative thoughts. I stopped seeing people as threats and giving such a high percentage of my time to negative ruminations. I chose to focus on gratitude, really opening my heart, and being willing to be vulnerable, and things started to change at work and at home.
Each of us can increase the joy, love, and connection we feel and experience with others just by changing our thinking. You can also gain additional wonderful moments as you avoid getting stuck in cycles of negative thinking.
Want to learn more to gain joy and reduce stress?
Below, you will find two additional videos, both with worthwhile content and one major method to reduce stress that you can apply right away. You will also discover many resources (including Dr. Sood’s Tedtalk) to continue your learning.
Video 2: Think about your life in five-minute intervals.
Our stress level is impacted by temperament, development, external and internal factors, the quality of our relationships, and genetics. Many of these factors are out of our control, however, as illustrated above, we do have some control over how we think! So, when thinking, we have two brain modes. We switch between two approaches throughout the day, either caught up in our “Default” mode, stuck in mind wandering and negative thoughts. Or, we can find calm, gratitude and compassion in our “Focused” mode. If you pull up to a stoplight, which mode are you generally in? Do you start thinking about undone tasks? Do you ponder an earlier interaction? Ruminate? Or are you focused and appreciating the moment or noticing curious and interesting things around you? If you are human, you are likely stuck in your default and losing potential minutes of calm, as the human mind often first seeks to worry, review, and plan.
It is a waste of energy to get frustrated when catching yourself stuck, “bad, bad default!” Sometimes, we absolutely need to plan, work to improve our habits, or set boundaries with others. But, do you have to strategize and worry all the time? No. It is important to know the difference between useful planning and wasteful thoughts that are stealing your joy.
So here I am, I am to the Zumba convention (I am actually a Zumba instructor too!) I picked the "cheap hotel," and it turned out to be a wonderful Moroccan alternative with novel and interesting features, including an outdoor hot tub under the stars and surrounded by beautiful statues! I'm sitting in the hot tub after going to multiple exercise sessions, exhausted and thinking about my morning. I waited in line for two hours to get into the African session, my favorite. Then, when they opened the door and we started to enter, some other instructors just walked right in front of us! “How rude! That is so unfair!”, I thought. It really bothered me and completely tainted the session for me. Now, while revisiting this frustrating moment, I felt furious! Some people, they can be so...
AHHA! Default, default, default again!
Even though my surroundings are gorgeous and this would be an excellent moment to ease into joy and peace, I'm stuck in my head again about this morning and my blood starts to boil! Not only did these instructors drive me crazy in the moment, but now I am letting them steal my joy in this moment! However, because I am human and can choose which thoughts I will give power to, I can change my experience by letting those thoughts go. After all, I cannot change the past. So, I recognized I was again stuck in my default, and decided to make a change. I took a deep breath and externalized in the moment by looking at all the wonderful statues around the hot tub and feeling the L.A. January sun shining on my face. I just let those thoughts go, “buh bye!”. And began to enjoy the moment.
You really can be in either mode at any time as it is not dependent on your outside circumstances. The reality is, at any time we could find ourselves in the default or the focus mode.
Personally, if I concentrate on decreasing stress and focusing on helpful thoughts all the time, it can be overwhelming. So, after my entire study with Dr. Sood, I found it is most helpful, to think about these concepts in five-minute intervals, just five-minutes.
Think of a child who won’t sit at circle-time. You have planned a robust lineup of activities and they are just not sitting! You could ruminate, “Oh, why won't they sit? I don't get it. I've tried everything, they just need to sit!” Or, you could compare them to other kids. “Why do all the other kids sit and he won’t!” Look at Miss Mary, she is sitting great at sitting Johnny. We could focus on what we need to improve. "We really need him to learn, what can we set up to make sure he will do that? How can I improve him, myself, his family, my circle activities?" You could judge, and think about the things you can't control. “I just wish he wasn't that way!” Like he has a choice, right? He likely has a highly active temperament and needs to move to feel good. You could also worry about all the negative that things could happen in his future, “Gosh, if he doesn't learn to sit what is he going to be like in school? He's never going to sit; he is going to get in trouble.” You could do that in those five minutes. And sometimes, especially when it comes to needing to improve something, you need to sit back, problem solve, and be in your default, surely.
In the same five minutes, you can also appreciate, “Wow! This little guy has got such wonderful got energy. He really lights up a room! Positively attend to the child, giving positive attention. You could focus on giving him a little bit of compassion. What must it feel like to be stuck sitting in a circle time, bored or restless, when your whole body just wants to move? How about seeking to understand what is going on with that child? Where might this behavior be coming from? Is it trauma in the past? Or stress? Or, you could just accept he just needs to move more. After all, he is likely not going to change. (How easy has it been for you to change how you are wired?) How can you accept, value, and love that child just as they are? The exciting thing is, when someone sends us positive messages about who we are and we feel capable and competent, we grow in positive ways! That is how we become better humans… And, you can focus on what you can control.
You have a choice in those five minutes, you can stay in either mode or switch. But, you can never get that five minutes back. Once you spent your time that way, it is gone. Your precious minutes have disappeared.
My mother, she was a single mom. She had three young kids; life was not fair. There were times I was told that I would get something, and she did not follow through. And there were times she wasn't there for me when I needed her. I can just go on and on about that. However, I don't want to waste my time today, judging her or comparing her to other moms and wishing she was different. I spent a lot of time doing that and it was a waste of my life. She is who she is. So, I started celebrating her and who she is! That doesn't mean I am never frustrated, but positively attending, appreciating her unique being, accepting who she is, and having compassion for her experience has transformed our relationship. She lost her mom when she was six months old. She didn't have a loving mother as a model for this job of parenting. Can I seek to understand where she is coming from and why she did the things that she did? What was life like for her as a parent? This change of thinking will help me live in a different place that results in less stress and more joy.
This is where we have the most power. We all have the ability to decide where we will spend our precious minutes. And, the more you do this, the easier it becomes.
And "Take Five"
Imagine you are walking outside and step on a sharp, rusty nail… What would you do? When you feel that nail pierce your foot, you'd yank it off, right!?
Now, imagine you have been working a long day on the computer, trying to finish some record-keeping. You're really working and pushing yourself, and you start to feel that fatigue. What do you do? Do you push yourself harder, telling yourself to just push through, you can do it! Or do you take the brief break that your brain needs?
*Most of us keep pushing through the discomfort and fatigue, you're not alone.
It's the human condition, that's what we do. Our foot has pain receptors that quickly send a message to our brain, making us jump to escape additional pain by removing our foot from the nail. However, we do not have pain receptors in our brain, so when the fatigue sets in we continue trying to push through. We just keep forcing ourselves to keep going even when exhausted. During my workshops, I have noticed that at the mental break, many participants will stay seated and get on their phone. Many people make that choice because they simply cannot recognize the pain that they're experiencing! Truth be told, we all get fatigued after sitting for a long period of time, which often leads to burnout, lack of focus, taking more time to complete the task, strain on our relationships, and all sorts of other personal ailments.
So….Take five minutes to decompress. If a professional diver goes down and dives in the water deep, and then just comes right to the top what happens? They can get very sick, get the “bends” in their body, and even get a hole in their heart. A simple five-minute break protects the divers health.
We do the same thing with work. We work all day, run to complete a task, and then greet our families with the built-up strain from the entire day bursting out. The difficulty is, that stress you bring home is “catchy” and elevates the stress hormones in others around you as well, resulting in increased stress behaviors. It is critical to decompress before the tension becomes to much to bear. Just five minutes to decompress can work wonders on the mind and heart.
A psychologist walks around a room while teaching stress management to an audience. As she raises a half glass of water, everyone expected her to ask the age-old question “half empty or half full?” Instead, with a smile on her face, she inquired, "How heavy is this glass?" Answers range from 8-20 ounces.
She replies, "the absolute weight doesn't matter. It depends on how long I hold it. If I hold it for a minute, it's not a problem. If I hold it for an hour, I'll have an ache in my arm. If I hold it all day, my arm will feel numb and paralyzed. In each case, the weight of the glass doesn't change. But the longer I hold it, the heavier it becomes."
She continues…The stresses and worries of life are like that glass of water. Think of them for a while and nothing happens. Think about them a bit longer, and they begin to hurt. And if you think about them all day long, you can feel paralyzed and incapable of doing anything. So, sometimes we need to remember to put the glass down.
That's the trick! Remembering to give yourself a pause, to breathe, to relax, to take a break, something that really gives you a break. Take time to recenter stress and just re centers you, even just 3 -5 minutes. What truly relaxes you? I might turn on a 3-minute mind-meditation from Youtube (see resources below) and sit in my car with my eyes closed. It helps to breath deeply into any areas of observed tension in the body and, as you let the air go, relax that area. Even just a walk around the block can help lift the brain fog and help reset to a calmer place! What helps you?
Also, remember to pay attention to your thoughts. If you notice the default kick in, remind yourself, “I am setting the glass down right now. I do not need to solve any problem or tend to any task. It is time to decompress." Really take a moment and remember, what is something that you're grateful for? Can you tune in to your surroundings and appreciate something? Truly let it all go… and notice your mood and energy change.
This blog and resources are provided by Raelene Ostberg, M.Ed., Director, Thriving Together, LLC . Raelene is dedicated to developing and delivering engaging education series for early childhood educators in their critical work. To view a list of currently offered live webinars and self-paced learning opportunities with Raelene, visit https://www.thriving-together.com/webinars
Our self-paced course! (Free now through May 31, 2022) - For take the full self-paced learning course on this topic (and gain your training hours certificate), sign up today https://www.thriving-together.com/event-details/on-demand-decrease-stress-increase-success-and-enhance-joy-today
Facebook Group: For a collection of resources, join the Facebook Group Decrease Stress
Youtube Video with Raelene: Decreasing Stress During These Difficult Times: https://youtu.be/79ACheJ87iA
Naptime Nugget Video/Article: "Mastering Stressful Moments so You Can Truly Shine"
Dr. Amit Sood's Resources:
Website with free subscription to daily practice quotes and ideas. and links to the research.
Dr. Sood - Resiliency and our 150 undone tasks (open files).
Calm and energize - a meditation with your breath - https://youtu.be/IGDJjO6WEb8
Brene Brown's great insight: It is about comparative suffering, specifically applied to the current context and found it very useful. Here is the link: https://brenebrown.com/podcast/brene-on-comparative-suffering-the-50-50-myth-and-settling-the-ball/
More resources coming soon! Subscribe today to never miss a blog or update.