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  • Writer's pictureHeidi Hanna

My Life as an Experiment and How I Became a Virtual First Responder™

As I return to my morning pages writing, I remind myself to focus on breathing through the process as I gently guide the rhythms of the pen on paper. In order to practice my Beach Brain fitness, I listen to the sounds of ocean waves crashing from my iPad on the floor. I have never felt more grateful for the healing power of the beach, even though my body is stuck in my home office.

I allow myself to settle into the space that I’m in, as I embrace the sensations of being at the beach, through sound (streaming from my phone/tablet/computer), sight (artwork and photos in my office, and/or screensavers or videos from my desktop), and smell (one of my Beach Brain blends of essential oils that I use to get the full experience).

Engage your senses in the Beach Brain Experience at the special section of

Never have I been more appreciative of the habits, rituals, and skill-sets I’ve been building for my own energy management, stress mastery, and brain fitness. Especially having worked from home the past 15 years.

There is, of course, a steep learning curve for those who are new to all of this right now. Most of all for those who are more oriented to extraversion and are energized in groups of people. We are all hardwired to depend on social connection to thrive and to survive, but there are many ways we can obtain what we need. Perhaps one of the greatest gifts of our particularly unusual circumstances right now is that we are being forced to be more mindful, thoughtful, and intentional about both the quantity and quality of connections we have.

As an introvert who is also very highly sensitive (check out my free short course on Stress Sensitivity here or see the fabulous research by Dr. Elaine Aron on the highly sensitive person trait here), I realize more and more how cautious I must be to avoid overstimulation and overwhelm. I more quickly recognize the signs and symptoms of trying to do too much too quickly, look at tech screens constantly, or taking on the weight of the world too often.

FREE Resources: LinkedIn Learning has just released two learning pathways to support employees during this time, both of which include my courses.

For me, these show up first as an empty tank emotionally, where my bandwidth for patience, love, and kindness drops to dangerous levels, especially with those I love the most.

And although I’ve always known I had an amazing catch for a husband (after all, it did take me 43 years to find him), I’ve never been so overwhelmingly grateful for him and the rest of my family.

That moment last week when I saw my sister-in-law Willow join my livestream meditation totally warmed my heart. The sensation expanded more than I thought possible as my niece joined in, followed quickly by my brother Tony and my nephew Brady. I had to literally fight back the tears of joy the best I could to formulate the words necessary to complete the meditation.

Normally, we all have to operate business-as-usual, often too busy to share these types of meaningful connections more than a few times a year when we are able to physically travel to each other’s home town (a 1,500 mile trip).

Life as an Experiment

Something I learned a few years ago during one of my darkest depressive episodes was that I can make my mental health journey much more enjoyable when I see my life as an experiment. When I put on the lens of curiosity, I feel immediate relief as I stop trying to fix myself or my circumstances and start the intentional practice of riding the waves of life.

Watch me talk about this shift in my recent TEDx talk on “The Cure for Stress”

Photo I recently took at LinkedIn Learning Studios in Carpinteria, California

For me, these waves include all dimensions of energy, oscillating as they are intended to do.

Physically, I become more aware of my breath, as I gently expand my inhales and extend my exhales slowly and slightly.

Emotionally, I remind myself that uncomfortable feelings are part of a healthy life (thanks for that reminder Joan Rosenberg), as I simply notice how it feels to fully experience them. I become a bit more familiar with where in my body I sense my own fear, frustration, disappointment, and grief, and I offer self-compassion and loving-kindness to my current state.

Without rushing, I then gently nudge my nervous system towards a simple but powerful positive emotion by reflecting on what I can feel grateful for right now. Reminding myself that depending on my state of mind in the moment, a gradual shift from depression to contentment is more reasonable and sustainable than going from sadness straight to joy.

With my mind and body in this more calm and flexible state, I mentally begin to consider how I want to feel, as I meditate on whatever word or phrase describes it best. I imagine what it would look like and feel like to be in this more optimal state, and what it would require to stay there for the next hour or the next day. And I allow myself to rest in this whole body sensation, as I train my brain to be able to bring me back here again.

Depending on my capacity at the time, and where I feel my focus needs to be, I may stay here just long enough to wrap up my practice for now. Or, I may continue through the last two energy-expanding capacities, to explore my spiritual and social domains.

To strengthen my spiritual fitness, I reflect on who I want to be before I think about what I have to do. This naturally leads me into my social fitness training, as I consider how I want others to feel as we cross paths, either in person or online.

My friend Dr. Eric Z recently told me that he felt like I was reaching through the screen to give him a big hug while he was watching my LinkedIn Learning course last week. For me, this is the greatest compliment I could ever receive, especially in a time where information is often excessive but transformation hard to find.

Building Radical Resilience Through Brain Fitness

If I’m being honest, which I always am, my radical resilience during these chaotic and uncertain times really shocked me at first. But then I realized that I’ve been training for these circumstances my whole life.

Despite my two biggest fears being flying and public speaking, I’ve figured out how to incorporate both as core components of my career. And although there have been many, many, many bumps and bruises along the way - including being on a flight on 9/11 - I’ve managed to see each one as an opportunity for growth.

I’m grateful that I am deeply curious by nature, but also appreciate the many teachers and mentors, official and accidental, who have helped me train my brain fitness along the way.

When I look back on my extraordinary experience of 9/11, it isn’t so much the initial fear, terror, and confusion I remember most but the sincere kindness and social bonding that occurred as I connected with strangers along the way. From the guy who first explained to me what was happening (who later became a dear friend) to the woman I met at the “sketchy” hotel who agreed to share a taxi when we decided to move to a safer temporary home, it was positively overwhelming.

The hotel bar quickly became a gathering place for strangers who quickly became friends and collaborators, as we collectively strategized how to get home. Even clinical research by my amazing friend, the late Bruce McEwen shows that when we experience stress and meaningful connections simultaneously, the cortisol and oxytocin chemicals released as a result stimulate neurogenesis (the growth of new brain cells and stronger connections between them), rewiring our brain to be stronger and more positively adaptable as a result.

FREE RESOURCE: Join us for our Global Stress Summit April 18th

to learn more about how this happens.

These are indeed extraordinary times, and we have a unique opportunity to look at our lives as an experiment so that we can learn what we need to do to take better care of ourselves and each other.

I pray that you too will be able to see stress more as a challenge than a threat (dare I say, maybe even see stressing as a blessing), and experience the shift that occurs physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and socially, as we become better together.

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