Schedule time for fun. Fun reduces stress, plain and simple. The more fun you have, the better you feel. From a physiological standpoint, you have more feel-good hormones. From an energetic and metaphysical standpoint, the more joy you feel, the more abundance you can call into your life. It builds on itself, the more fun you have — the more fun you have. Fun and joy increase your capacity to deal with stress. The more fun you have, the more fun you are to be around and that improves your relationships — which also lowers your stress. It’s a win-win-win. Make it fun for you. If you think reading is fun, do that. If you think paddle boarding is fun, do that. I like to hang out with my friends and take walks, so that’s what I do for fun.
With all that’s going on in our country, our economy, the world, and on social media, it feels like so many of us are under a great deal of stress. Parenting, in particular, can be stress-inducing. We know chronic stress can be as unhealthy as smoking a quarter of a pack a day. It is also challenging to be a present parent when your relationship is under stress. What are stress management strategies that parents use to become “Stress-Proof? What are some great tweaks, hacks, and tips that help reduce or even eliminate stress? In this interview series, we are talking to authors, parenting experts, business and civic leaders, and mental health experts who can share their strategies for reducing or eliminating stress. As a part of this series, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Brenda Winkle.
Brenda Winkle is an educator, healer and guide who helps sensitive and
successful men and women find, reclaim and live from their full embodied
YES. Through empowering her clients to understand their energetic hygiene, establish healthy boundaries and heal their nervous systems, they are able to create their YES-Filled Lives and move through their days with more freedom, ease and joy. Brenda is a certified trauma-informed breathwork facilitator, Reiki Master, Advanced ThetaHealing Practitioner and an educator with more than 26 years of experience in the classroom.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to know how you got from “there to here.” Inspire us with your backstory!
It was the first day of school in 2019. I’d begun the day with belly pain, but told myself the kids needed me to be at school. This was my 24th year of being a music educator so I knew how important the first day of school is to setting the tone for the year. I’d gone to the school nurse before school and she’d advised me to come back if I didn’t feel better. As the first day of school went on, I felt worse. I taught classes perched on a stool so I could double over, elbows on my knees, to manage the pain. Lunch came and I felt so much worse. The school nurse was worried, and the assistant principal overheard. She asked the nurse what was happening, and then said, “This is not the hill we are going to die on today. You need to go to the doctor.” I argued, “but it’s the first day of school! I have to stay.” I was sent instead to urgent care.
Once at urgent care the doctor wasn’t too worried. He took some blood and seemed to think it was indigestion, then he sent me home. An hour later, the phone rang. The doctor asked me how far I was from the nearest emergency room. I asked my mom, who lived in the same town I did at that time, to drive me. When we arrived, I quickly realized how serious the situation was when no one would make eye contact with me. I have more tests, scans, and finally the hospitalist arrived to admit me. I was critically ill, and needed an operation but was too unstable for surgery.
I grew up in Northwestern Nebraska in a small town called Chadron. My parents were music educators, my dad is a tuba player and directed the college band, and my mom was a professional clarinetist and woodwind teacher. My mom gave private woodwind lessons to the kids in town, and my dad and mom played in a tuba, clarinet and piano trio. They often traveled to music events around the region and were internationally reknown musicians. I saw how hard they worked, and how respected they were. I wanted that, too.
Being the daughter of music educators, it was easy to follow in their footsteps and I became a music educator in 1996. I wanted to be the best of the best. I practiced, studied, hone my skills, built my resume and became a nationally recognized children’s chorus director.
While I loved the work, I quickly learned to hustle for my worth. I chased achievements, certificates and recognition, and used my exhaustion as a status symbol. It worked. Until it didn’t and I ended up in the hospital.
I was successful, but I wasn’t happy. I was exhausted. I started to blame the work. I was lonely, in pain and very tired. I knew I needed a change, and more ease, but I didn’t know what that meant.
I moved from Idaho to Oregon and took a new job. Then I realized…. What I really wanted was healing. Peace of mind.
I went to a retreat and had an in-person breathwork experience. That one session released decades of stored trauma and pain. I felt better than I’d felt in a long time! I signed up for the call that led me to becoming a certified trauma-informed breathwork facilitator later that week.
And now I’m thrilled to be the one offering the healing, instead of being the one needing the healing. I’m bringing my experience in education and breathwork to families and schools to help successful men, women and students feel better, release stuck emotions and lower stress.
What lessons would you share with yourself if you had the opportunity to meet your younger self? I would like to tell my younger self, “You matter, just because you are you. Your value has nothing to do with your achievements.” I feel like if I’d really believed I was enough, I wouldn’t have been hustling for my worth and people pleasing like it was my job.
But know better, and do better as Maya Angelou said. I’m careful now when I start to feel the tendency to hustle for my worth. The antidote for me is to slow down and to breathe. Usually bringing a slower pace in will help me to connect with what really matters.
None of us are able to experience success without support along the way. Is there a particular person for whom you are grateful because of the support they gave you to grow you from “there to here?” Can you share that story and why you are grateful for them?
I’ve been fortunate to have many strong role models in my life. One was my favorite teacher, Mrs. Stitt. She taught high school English at the high school in Chadron. I remember being an angry teenager and throwing a teenage version of a fit near my locker one day in high school as a freshman. Mrs. Stitt came out of her classroom, which was next to the locker to gently explain that my behavior wasn’t the way to deal with frustration. I never felt embarrassed or ashamed. I never forgot her kindness and the way she held me to a higher standard while making me feel accepted. When Mrs. Stitt became my junior English teacher two years later, I realized that kind way she had redirected me was the way she lived. She was always kind while holding you to a better version of you. Mrs. Stitt had a lifelong impact on me.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think it might help people?
I just graduated as a certified trauma informed breathwork facilitator. Breathwork is an incredible healing modality that reduces stress, lowers anxiety, relieves physical pain, heals past trauma, releases stuck emotions in the body and provides the most incredible healing I’ve ever experienced. For context, I’m trained in multiple healing modalities and am a Master Reiki Therapist, and Advanced ThetaHealing Practitioner and more. Breathwork heals in the most gentle and incredible way. Healing doesn’t take time, it takes intention. Breathwork is the key that opened the door to some of my own most profound personal healing.
I’m added breathwork to all of my coaching/healing containers and healing sessions while I was working on my certification. My clients have been so amazed and incredibly grateful. They say things like “I’ve gotten through more of my blocks during one breathwork session than years of therapy.” To be clear, breathwork isn’t a substitute for therapy or medical care, but it’s a very powerful complement.
And the best part is we all have breath. It’s accessible to everyone. Once you learn to harness the power of your breath, self-imposed limitations disappear. Self-sabotage eases, past traumas are healed, procrastination shifts and people start taking the action they’ve wanted to take. But most importantly, you feel great. I mean, you feel really great!! Here’s why.
Mindset is important. But if you have subconscious wounds or blocks holding you back, mindset work isn’t enough. You can get your mindset perfectly right and still be holding yourself back. When you get into the body through breathwork, you become embodied which means you’re living in your body and not just your mind. Your body always knows what’s true and when you get really live inside your body everything in your life improves. I mean… everything. Your finances, your sex life, your relationships, your career, your self love, etc.
Ok, thank you for sharing your inspired life. Let’s now talk about stress. How would you define stress?
Stress is the body’s response to external or internal stimulation that the body or the mind perceives to be a threat or a challenge. You can experience stress when you feel the pressure of demands around you as you juggle work and home. You can experience stress when you feel like there’s too much to do, or when it feels like there aren’t enough resources. Stress is also present if you don’t feel safe either emotionally or physically.
In the Western world, humans typically have their shelter, food, and survival needs met. So what has led to this chronic stress? Why are so many of us always stressed out? Stress responses are a normal physiological response and aren’t inherently a problem. Stress itself isn’t a problem. What is a problem is that the for many of us in the Western world, our stress response is always on. It’s almost like we’ve flipped the stress switch to “on” and it’s gotten stuck there.
If we think back to early humans, their bodies would have gone into a stress response when being chased by a tiger or by chasing an animal in the hunt. This stress response includes the main energy of the brain being funneled to the brain stem, or reptilian brain. This part of the brain has one goal: survival. When this part of the brain is activated, it tells our bodies to release stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol so that we could have the strength and speed to run from the tiger. That’s a good thing! In a healthy cycle, we would run from the tiger, and then we would go back into a rest and digest state.
This means the vagus nerve, the largest nerve in the body that connects everything from your brain to the tail bone and connected to all of your major organs, comes back online. The body’s functions like digestion begin to work better. Our hormones shift and we begin to feel the flow of the feel-good hormones like dopamine and seratonin. Our body’s begin to rest and relax, we can think more clearly because the energy to the top part of the brain is restored. This state is often called rest and digest because our body’s are literally doing both of those things.
When you get stuck in the “on” position and feel under stress all the time, it often takes a disruptor to break that cycle. A disruptor could be a yoga class, a breathwork session, taking a walk. In simplest terms, disrupting the stress cycle requires us to slow down. If we aren’t willing to slow down or take breaks, our bodies can’t find that rest and digest state. And constant stress becomes the norm.
It’s not your fault if you’re constantly stressed. Cortisol is addictive. The more you have, the more you want. That’s why for some people, the more stressed they are, the more they do. It’s a way for them to get a cortisol and adrenaline hit. Untethering from this cycle takes intentionality.
What are some of the physical manifestations of being under a lot of stress? How does the human body react to stress?
Physical manifestations of being under a lot of stress include sleep problems, weight loss or gain, irritability, brain fog, physical pain in muscles and joins, indigestion and digestive troubles, headaches, anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, relationship problems (largely due to the irritability) which leads to isolation and further exacerbates stress. This list is just a starting place. I’ve had strange sudden symptoms develop as a result of stress.
I teach about stress because it was what I most needed to know. One year when I was a teacher stress caused psoriasis up and down my legs that suddenly disappeared when I changed jobs. I had a bout of depression one year when I struggled to manage my stress. Another year I had significant sleep disruptions because I couldn’t shut my brain off to sleep.
Is stress necessarily a bad thing? Can stress ever be good for us?
Stress is a normal and natural part of life. Stress can be good for us because it can challenge us to make changes or let us know we really care about something. For example, when I’m preparing an event for clients I can feel a sense of stress that fuels me. But that stress lasts hours not days. Stress is only a problem when it becomes the constant norm.
Consider going to the gym for weight training. Lifting weights builds capacity for strength. Stress does the same for us, it builds our capacity to deal with challenges. The more we can expand our nervous systems, the more we can manage before it turns into stress. Breathwork is an example of something that builds nervous system capacity and expands the nervous system. Meditation and yoga also do this.
Is there a difference between being in a short-term stressful situation versus an ongoing stress?
Are there long-term ramifications to living in a constant state of stress? Absolutely. When we have a short-term stressful situation, as it ends we get the shifting hormones that move us out of the stress response back into rest and digest. We need those feel-good hormones to sleep well, to build relationships, and to think clearly.
Stress that is long term is different. When you have long-term stress such as a loved one with an illness or a huge work project that’s going to take a long time, finding ways to manage your stress become even more important. Find something that feels nourishing and supportive to you that lowers stress. Examples might be taking a walk, dancing it out, doing a breathwork session, going to yoga, meditating, journaling, creating art, or doing anything you enjoy. It’s important to bring your body out of the stress response regularly and for periods of time to build your capacity to manage the stress if you are living in a situation that is long-term. In fact, I would say, it’s the most impactful thing you can do for your health and relationships.
Let’s now focus more on the stress of parenting. This feels intuitive, but it is helpful to spell it out in order to address it. Can you help articulate why being a parent can be so stressful?
When you go to a job, there is usually a clean starting and ending time. That’s not the case in parenting. The cognitive load of parenting — thinking about what you need to do and thinking about your kids — is real and takes time and mental space. Part of this cognitive load includes the planning and schedule that parenting requires. This includes the childcare, the playdates, homework support, mental health support, supporting them in friendships, teaching them all the things, and more.
The physical demands of parenting are also real. There’s the meal prep, the car pool, scheduling the doctors appointments, and the laundry. The amount of clothing one child can need washed in a week is mindblowing, right? Add to this that sometimes you get less sleep and sometimes you don’t get the break you really need. There aren’t natural mental or physical breaks in parenting for most parents. That’s what makes building in routines and procedures really helpful, you can create some of that support for yourself even if you are solo parenting with the right routines and procedures. I became a solo parent when my daughter was 5 and she’s now 21.
I remember one time when my daughter was about 6 that I was really exhausted. She asked me a question and I snapped at her. The pain I saw on my daughter’s face broke my heart. I decided in that moment I wanted to do better, so I began to build in the support I needed to be able to be more present and more loving. Part of that meant I needed to take better care of myself and prioritize rest, self care, and my own healing.
Can you help spell out some of the problems that come with being a stressed parent?
A stressed parent is often a parent that also feels tremendous guilt. They feel torn in multiple directions and probably feel like there are many areas that aren’t going well. It’s likely this isn’t true, but it really feels this way.
Stressed parents can be impatient with their kids even when they don’t want or mean to be. Stressed parents are exhausted and probably feel overwhelmed, and just want to feel better.
It can feel like a double bind because the parents know they need to be spending time on themselves, but they feel badly about taking time away from their kids. I work with many parents on this issue and I promise something. The one hour you spend away from the kids to pour into your own cup will mean you are more present and productive when you go back to the kids. You’ll have an increased capacity to be the parent you want to be when you are willing to give yourself what you really need. An added bonus is that resentment begins to recede because keeping promises to yourself and taking care of you feels really, really good.
Here is the main question of our interview: Can you share with our readers your “5 stress management strategies that parents can use to remove some of the stress of parenting?” Please share a story or example for each.
- Create white space. Use microwave times when you are home with the kids because they can watch the countdown if they don’t feel comfortable (yet) taking time on their own. Set the time for the number of years a kid is old in minutes, starting with kids about the age of 5. For example, a 5 year old can learn to entertain themselves for 5 minutes and a 10 year old can entertain themselves for 10 minutes. Do not do things on the to-do list during this time. Take a breather. Even if all you do is stare at the ceiling, this will literally change your life. As a single mom, I didn’t have breaks. My daughter’s dad lived in another state and it was only me all the time. Setting the timer on the microwave allowed me the mental space I needed to process and integrate my day at work before stepping into my role as mom. It made a huge difference in my ability to be present with my daughter, to play with her and hear her stories. A side benefit is that it taught her to take breaks. She still sets timers for herself to take breaks as a 21 year old. We all need a little mental space and this is an effective and great way to build some in.
- Make daily movement non-negotiable. Every day, after my white space timer went off, my daughter and I would leash our dogs and put on our sneakers to go walk. I knew that I needed this time to be able to walk but what I didn’t realize is that it would also become one of the ways my daughter and I nourished our relationship. Here’s why. There’s something that happens when you are next to someone and moving. It’s easier to listen, to be vulnerable and to say things you maybe wouldn’t say sitting across the table from someone. Exercise is a well known way to relieve stress if you decide to move on your own. If you don’t have time or resources to go to the gym, moving with your kids can be great bonding and help you feel better.
- Hydration matters. You are 99.999% energy and only .001% matter, but of that .001% that’s matter, it’s mostly water. When you are hydrated, your digestion improves, your mood improves, you look younger, you feel better, you think more clearly and have more energy. If you are dehydrated everything in your body, including your mind, moves more sluggishly. Hydration will increase your body’s capacity to manage stress and also reduce physical stress at the same time. There were some days in the early 2000s I thought I needed a nap every day when I came home from work. When I increased my hydration, I realized I didn’t need sleep in the middle of the day — I needed more water. If you think you don’t have time to drink because you don’t have time to use the bathroom, keep reading.
- This one piggy backs on hydration. Go to the bathroom when you have to go. When you are holding your bladder, you’re directing a tremendous amount of mental and physical energy toward that discomfort. You find yourself planning when you can slip out and go, wondering if that will be the right time, hoping you can hold it that long and experiencing the physical discomfort the whole time. That’s a lot of bandwidth!! When you start using the bathroom every time you have to go, it has a trickle down effect (pun intended) to everything in your life. You start putting yourself on your priority list because you come face to face with all the ways you’re not on that list. You start carrying yourself a little taller because you’ll physically feel better, you stop gripping to hold your bladder which also improves your sex life. Sex also lowers stress. And there’s something that happens when your prioritize your biological needs that leads to you prioritizing more of your needs. The more you meet your needs, the more capacity you have to meet the needs of other people in your life, especially your kids.
- Schedule time for fun. Fun reduces stress, plain and simple. The more fun you have, the better you feel. From a physiological standpoint, you have more feel-good hormones. From an energetic and metaphysical standpoint, the more joy you feel, the more abundance you can call into your life. It builds on itself, the more fun you have — the more fun you have. Fun and joy increase your capacity to deal with stress. The more fun you have, the more fun you are to be around and that improves your relationships — which also lowers your stress. It’s a win-win-win. Make it fun for you. If you think reading is fun, do that. If you think paddle boarding is fun, do that. I like to hang out with my friends and take walks, so that’s what I do for fun.
Do you have any favorite books, podcasts, or resources that have inspired you to live with more joy in life?
I’m having so much fun with my podcast, it’s currently called Waves of Joy Podcast. The name may change but the premise is that we can all experience joy in the ups and downs of our daily lives.
I love We Can Do Hard Things with Glennon Doyle. She is so relatable! Brene’ Brown’s podcast is another one I love. I like podcasts that make our life experience feel normal, and that we are in community as humans. Gabby Bernstein’s podcast, Dear Gabby is another favorite. I get excited every time I see a new episode is out!
“The Calling” by Rha Goddess is a book that put me on my current journey. I really enjoyed that book!
Anything by Gabby Bernstein is a great read. In particular I recommend “Miracles Now” and “The Universe Has Your Back”.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I want to normalize moms feeling really good, taking time to live their best lives while they mother. This means taking breaks along with doing things to nourish and nurture themselves. I especially believe that we can heal and co-nourish in community. That’s what I’m building in my signature program, “Yes Academy”. A community of influential, sensitive and successful women who co-nourish and heal together, finding ways to reduce stress, reclaim our joy and live our most YES filled lives.
What is the best way for our readers to continue to follow your work online?
I’m active on Instagram @brendawinkle and my website is https://www.brendawinkle.com/. I have lots of free resources along with ways you can work with me on the website, so come on over and say hi!!
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent on this. We wish you only continued success.