Prioritize your physical health. Your body is your temple and it’s the foundation of your total wellness. If the foundation is shaky, nothing will be stable. I don’t have a lot of time in my day, but I make it a priority to do the things that empower me physically and keep me healthy like exercising, eating nutritious meals, hydrating regularly and optimizing my sleep. I also try to stay on top of my medical appointments (annual physical, mammogram, Pap test, etc.) for illness prevention.
Resilience has been described as the ability to withstand adversity and bounce back from difficult life events. Times are not easy now. How do we develop greater resilience to withstand the challenges that keep being thrown at us? In this interview series, we are talking to mental health experts, authors, resilience experts, coaches, and business leaders who can talk about how we can develop greater resilience to improve our lives.
As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Claudia Taboada.
Claudia Taboada is a former attorney turned burnout prevention and holistic wellness coach for high achieving female leaders. She focuses on empowering those leaders — who are also mothers and caregivers of children with autism, chronic illnesses, or other types of special needs — to cultivate limitless resilience to stress and build successful careers without burnout and without guilt. She is a stress resilience expert, an Amazon best-selling author, and an award-winning international speaker. She is also an entrepreneur and founder of “Unstoppable You Wellness”’ with the mission to support those who have suffered from burnout, divorce, illness and /or other debilitating life setbacks, to bounce back efficiently, and become UNSTOPPABLE in all areas of their lives. Claudia is a single mom of two, including her non-verbal and severely autistic son Nico. Finally, having started her health journey from scratch at 41, Claudia is now a multiple marathon finisher.
Along with her books, speaking, and coaching, Claudia also hosts the Facebook women’s empowerment community “Female Leaders with Special Needs Children: From Burnout to Unstoppable”. Its mission is to inspire and empower 50K female leaders from around the globe to banish burnout in order to show up powerfully at home and at work and build a legacy.
To know how you can prevent burnout and achieve work-life balance as a high achieving female leader book a free 30-minute Game Plan Call by clicking here: https://calendly.com/claudiataboada/30-minute-goal-setting-gameplan-call
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory?
Sure! This is how I got to where I am now.
When my son Nico was two, he was diagnosed with autism. At the time, I was a labour and employment attorney in Montreal and was also 8 months pregnant with my second boy Alex.
Because there was a lack of inclusive daycares for young children like Nico, my ex-husband and I decided together that I would be taking a one-year sabbatical to take care of the new baby and put in place Nico’s early intervention autism program.
And I became the Ultimate Autism Supermom — not only mom but therapist, teacher, advocate, program intervention manager, and student of all thing’s autism.
What was supposed to be a one-year sabbatical turned into years due to the severity of Nico’s autism, the absence of educational alternatives, and the lack of flexibility in the legal profession.
And in the process, I burned out and lost myself.
I was overwhelmed, chronically depressed, living my life on autopilot. I had no goals, no aspirations, no identity other than being my son’s autism caregiver. And I felt sorry for myself and resentful about my situation. The worst part? I had no idea how to get out of this situation on my own.
It just so happened that one day we were offered a service dog for Nico. Sicas was her name, and she became my life savior. I started taking Sicas out for 10–15-minute walks. I started to increase the distance of these walks as I began to realize the benefits of having this time for self-reflection and introspection. This time was precious because I could finally reconnect with myself and let my mind declutter.
Eventually, these walks turned into 2 min jogs — 2 min walks up and down my street, then 1-mile jogs around the block, then 2-mile runs. And I became an accidental jogger until one day, I crossed the finish line of my first 5K race.
And the day that I crossed that first finish line would be an epiphany that changed my identity forever. I felt so accomplished and empowered that I decided right then and there that there was no turning back!
It was time to take full responsibility for my physical, mental and emotional well-being immediately. I needed the energy, the stamina and the mental strength to not only endure the long-term caregiving journey but finally reclaim my life and go after my dreams unapologetically.
And I went into a twelve-year quest to uncover the best strategies that I could implement in my daily life to manage chronic stress and ward-off burnout. In the process, I developed a passion for health and wellness, personal development, mindset optimization, emotional fitness, and stress resilience.
Since then, I have reinvented myself and transformed from a burned-out autism mom to a resilient and unstoppable mom: burnout prevention and holistic wellness coach, stress resilience expert, speaker, entrepreneur, passionate self-care advocate, multiple marathon finisher, 70.3 Ironman triathlete…I took charge and became the CEO of my life.
I also found my why: to empower high achieving women — who are also mothers and caregivers of children with autism, chronic illnesses, or other special needs — to beat burnout and achieve work-life balance via my “secret sauce” of self-care, mindset optimization and stress reduction habits, routines and coping mechanisms. These are the same tools that I use daily to have the vitality and the resilience to keep showing up powerfully as a coach, author and speaker despite the chronic stress of being a single autism parent and busy entrepreneur.
Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
I can share with you two defining moments in my transformational journey which reinforced my desire to become resilient — to stress and to other life’s setbacks.
A few years after I started my wellness journey, I came across a research study that confirmed my worst fears as a caregiver of a severely autistic child who would become a severely autistic adolescent and adult: “The cortisol response of mothers of adolescents and adults with autism like my son is similar to the cortisol response of soldiers in combat, Holocaust survivors, and individuals suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder”.
Those words (which I read in an article describing the results of a research study done by Marsha Mailick Seltzer et al. at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2010) were shocking but…not surprising.
Not long after that, I would stumble upon another powerful research study in Kriss Carr’s book Crazy Sexy Diet. In his foreword, Dr. Dean Ornish, founder and president of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute discussed Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn and Dr. Elissa Epel’s research on how chronic emotional stress impacts the enzyme telomerase and shortens telomeres (the DNA-protein complexes at the end of chromosomes that protect against aging).
They found that the more stressed the women in their research study felt and the longer they felt stressed, the lower their telomerase and the shorter their telomeres. This, in turn, could lead to premature aging and susceptibility to a myriad of diseases, including cardiovascular disease and cancer. According to Dr. Ornish, this was the first study providing genetic evidence indicating that chronic emotional stress might shorten a woman’s lifespan. And guess who Dr. Blackburn et al. used as research subjects likely to record the highest chronic stress throughout their lives? None other than mothers of chronically ill or disabled children, including mothers of autistic children.
These same women — who must stay physically healthy and mentally and emotionally resilient for their children long term — had shorter lifespans because of the insidious chronic stress they were under. This was an eye-opener for me, and, at the same time, it corroborated the reality of being an autism mom and full-time caregiver — the emotional suffering, the hard work, the 24/7 effort, the sacrifice, the chronic stress, the anxiety, the worry about the future. This was my life. It had been my life for close to nine years. And there was a lot more stress to come as my son would grow older and have less public and private services. All taking a toll on my physical, mental, and emotional health, and now I knew I was in danger of… shortening my lifespan!
The overall decline associated with this chronic stress was real, and now this research proved it.
But another facet to this research would have an even bigger impact on me. Dr. Blackburn and Dr. Eppel also found that it wasn’t an objective measure of stress that determined the effects on these mothers’ telomeres; it was the mother’s perception of stress that mattered. In other words, the mothers who perceived themselves to be under the most stress were the ones with the shortest telomeres. But mothers who had become resilient to stress and other setbacks had switched their mindset and, instead of fearing stress, saw it with as an opportunity to grow and learn. Even though they realized that circumstances were difficult, these circumstances did not define them. As Dr. Ornish perfectly stated it, “Two women might be in comparable situations, but one had learned to manage her stress (and circumstances) better by empowering herself and taking charge.”
Reading this foreword by Dr. Ornish that night was a gift! A gift from above telling me to persevere on this new path of making my physical, mental, and emotional wellness a priority. This new journey that had begun by accident when I first laced up to take Sicas out for a walk back in December 2008 was no fluke. This was the validation that I needed to stay the course. I needed to become resilient to extend my lifespan. It was essential to keep going and implement any other lifestyle changes that could empower me and preserve those telomeres.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
What makes my company stand out is the fact that being a former attorney and now busy entrepreneur and caregiver myself, I understand very well what my high achieving female clients are going thru. On the one hand, they may be suffering from workplace or entrepreneurship burnout, on the other, they may be suffering from caregiver burnout. So, it’s a double whammy and a lot of my clients suffer in silence.
Let me share this story of my client Stacy whom I met at the start of Covid lockdown. She is a powerhouse in the financial services sector, and she is not only a single mom but also a caregiver to her autistic brother and both of her elderly parents. Like everybody else, she was working from home, and she found it impossible to set any type of boundaries with her family members. She would feel guilty and watch TV with them in the evening to keep them company and to compensate for the fact that she would work during the day on her projects. She felt stuck because she didn’t have one second to herself. And she felt hopeless because slowly but surely, she was losing herself in the whirlwind of responsibilities. She felt so overwhelmed and powerless that any setback would send her into a tailspin of chronic stress and anxiety.
Once we started working together, one of the first things we did was to work on her mindset and destroy some of the limiting beliefs around self-care that were keeping her stuck, including the fact that she thought that self-care was selfish, complicated, and time-consuming. She realized that she needed to fill her cup in order to be the best woman, the best caregiver and the best leader that she could be. We also worked on her confidence so that she could set healthy boundaries not only with her employer and co-workers but also with her family members. We then reorganized her schedule so that she would have time to reconnect with herself daily. She traded the unproductive TV time in the evening with a calming evening routine (where she would journal, meditate and read a book). Because she was now going to bed earlier, she started waking up 45 minutes before everybody else and implemented daily energizing activities such as taking a brisk mindful walk, taking a cold shower, and journaling to set her intentions for the day. While preparing breakfast and lunches, she would listen to empowering shows and podcasts. She would also be extremely mindful about the thoughts — whether negative or positive — that were coming into her mind. These simple self-care habits and routines allowed her to start building resilience and confidence and empowered her to reclaim her life.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I credit my mom Leticia, who passed away unexpectedly from a heart attack in 2017, for giving me her grit and for showing me how to persevere in the face of adversity. Even if she is not here with me, my drive to become the most self-actualized version of myself comes from trying to make her proud. I always ask myself — ‘’how would my mom feel if…’’. I know that she is watching over me and that gives me unshakable faith and it empowers me to go after my dreams and aspirations with confidence.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
Resilience is our ability to bounce back from stress and all types of life setbacks efficiently.
Whether going through an acrimonious divorce, losing a job, or suffering from a chronic illness — it’s your ability to accept, adapt, and choose to bounce back that matters.
Resilience is a life skill that has the potential to make you bulletproof in the face of adversity. I’d like to think that you are not born with resilience, but you earn it. You realize that you have the traits of a resilient person when you make it through the tough times with your head held high.
Resilience will guard you against mental and psychological breakdown after a traumatic experience and force you to find meaning in life when everything seems pointless and impossible.
I believe that resilient people:
- Accept reality. Resilient people accept that setbacks are part of life. They don’t bury their heads in the sand and fall into victimhood or despair. Instead, they confront problems head on.
- Are problem-solvers. When a crisis emerges, resilient people can assess the situation in a detached and practical manner to come up with the best coping strategies and a successful solution.
- Are self-aware and stand guard at the door of their minds. Resilient people are usually aware of their thoughts and their emotions. They have an uncanny ability to filter and let in only those thoughts that are empowering while rejecting those thoughts that are anxiety inducing or disempowering.
- Are adaptable and flexible. Resilient people know that when life takes an unexpected turn for the worse, they need to be flexible and make do with whatever life throws at them. As the saying goes “when life throws you lemons, make lemonade”.
- Persevere in the face of adversity. Resilient people persevere through hardships without losing their mental health.
- Nurture a growth mindset. Resilient people look at setbacks as temporary bumps on the road rather than huge mountains. In fact, they consider these setbacks as lessons for growth and evolution.
- Can easily control their mental focus. Resilient people focus on what they have (gratitude), what they can control and what matters.
- Have self-compassion. They give themselves grace and don’t engage in self-blame and self-criticism.
- Can find meaning within the worst life tragedies.
Courage is often likened to resilience. In your opinion how is courage both similar and different from resilience?
Courage is the ability to do something while scared. Courage is also strength in the face of pain and grief.
Resilience is the ability to bounce back from setbacks efficiently.
I believe that in order to be a resilient person, you need the courage to: (1) accept that setbacks and challenges are a part of life, (2) choose a response that will bring about growth and transformation, (3) persevere in the face of adversity.
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
Viktor E. Frankl, author of the Man’s Search For Meaning comes to mind. He spent three years in four Nazi concentration camps. He managed to survive the atrocities of these camps all through mental toughness and resilience. He found meaning in his ordeal and found his life purpose while working under such grueling conditions. He imagined himself giving a lecture about it one day and telling the world about the horror of what was going on at these camps.
With that said, I encounter resilient people every day through my work. Parents and caregivers of children with physical and/or mental disabilities, chronic illnesses and other types of special needs who continue to show up powerfully in all areas of their lives. They are the definition of true resilience.
Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us
On October 11, I ran the Chicago Marathon. And it was a very special marathon as I was coming back from an injury. Exactly 3 months prior from toeing the starting line, I had broken the middle toe of my left foot. Everyone kept telling me not to run this marathon. Not enough time to train, not enough time to recover from my injury, I would get hurt somewhere else by overcompensating, etc.etc.
But I just had to run this marathon! I was nearing completion of the Abbott World Marathons Challenge (which consists of running the six biggest and most prestigious marathons on the planet: London, Tokyo, Berlin, NYC, Chicago and Boston) and I needed to complete Chicago to finish the challenge at the Boston Marathon the following year. I had been working towards this goal for 3 years and I just had to keep going. So what did I do?
- I rode my bike and swam every day for the next two months in order to maintain my endurance fitness.
- Once I started running again, I followed my physiotherapist’s plan to a T.
- I worked on my mindset every day in order to stay positive and resilient. I did this by listening to audiobooks, TEDx talks, and inspiring podcasts.
- I persevered with my plan no matter what the naysayers kept telling me.
Eventually, I ended up running the whole marathon. And I can tell you that after crossing that finish line, I felt invincible! And I was able to keep up with my promise of completing the Abbott World Marathon Majors Challenge at the Boston Marathon the following year.
It’s moments like these which expand one’s identity and are key to personal development and growth.
Did you have a time in your life when you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?
Yes, and it was last year. In the space of 6 months, I went through high stakes divorce negotiations, never ending home renovations, moving houses, the death of a close family member and surgery to remove a lump in my upper thigh — all while taking care of my severely autistic son Nico full-time.
Successfully dealing with these back-to-back life setbacks showed me that I was more resilient than I’ve ever thought. It also showed me that when we are proactive with taking care of our physical, mental and emotional well-being (as I’ve been doing every single day for the past few years), we can withstand any storms that come our way.
How have you cultivated resilience throughout your life? Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?
My learning about resiliency came early in life. I was born in El Salvador and came to Canada when I was 15. As a child growing up in El Salvador, I experienced a civil war that started around 1977, when I was around 11. There was not a day that we would not hear bombing in the night. We would also frequently hear about people being kidnapped for ransom. When we moved to Canada, I was right in the middle of my teenage years. It was a rough few months where I longed to be back in my country, even though it was extremely dangerous. Eventually, I decided to make lemonade out of lemons, and I started to fall in love with winter sports and all things Canada. I would move three other times within Canada and each move was a learning experience and an opportunity for growth.
Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.
Step 1 — Prioritize your physical health. Your body is your temple and it’s the foundation of your total wellness. If the foundation is shaky, nothing will be stable. I don’t have a lot of time in my day, but I make it a priority to do the things that empower me physically and keep me healthy like exercising, eating nutritious meals, hydrating regularly and optimizing my sleep. I also try to stay on top of my medical appointments (annual physical, mammogram, Pap test, etc.) for illness prevention.
Step 2 — Practice “Anytime, Anywhere Mindfulness” to quiet the mind daily. Having the ability to quiet the mind and reconnect with yourself and your heart in a few minutes is key when faced with an unexpected life setback. Fear, worry and doubt will always show up in these situations. You want to prevent spinning out of control emotionally. I am a big proponent of creating little pockets of time in your day to incorporate “Anytime, Anywhere Mindfulness” where the idea is to lose yourself in the senses and be in the present moment. This allows the mind to detach from the multiple stressors and the thoughts and emotions going through your mind. This creates space from which you can then make the most aligned decisions. And it can be as easy as going on a solo 10 minute “mindful walk” where you are 100% immersed in the senses — the breeze on your cheeks, the sights, the smells, your stride. Or it can be as easy as “mindfully cooking” where you are immersed in the smells of the spices, the slow movement of the spoon as you stir the sauce, etc. Most of my clients love this easy to implement practice as it gives their mind the chance to declutter and achieve the clarity needed to come up with the best coping strategies and solutions to problems. A great addition to this practice is to sit down for 5 -10 minutes after the mind is calm and clear and write down some solutions into paper — which leads us to Step 3.
Step 3 — Journal to process thoughts and emotions. Multiple studies have shown the importance of journaling when it comes to stress and anxiety management. Journaling helps with processing those negative thoughts and emotions that may be blurring your judgment as you try to assess your response to the challenge at hand. Writing your thoughts on paper allows your brain to discover where the negative emotions are coming from. It also gives you the space to acknowledge and accept those emotions without judgment and then move past them. This in turn offers you the mental space, the clarity, and the focus you need to problem-solve and decide on your next steps.
Step 4 — Protect your mental and emotional space and set boundaries unapologetically. Because as a resilient person, your goal is to be in peak mental and emotional state to problem-solve and deal with setbacks efficiently, you need to protect your mental space by keeping those negative or disempowering thoughts out of your mind. If listening to the news makes you anxious, eliminate them. If dealing with family members who are critical of your choices brings you down, stay away from them. Along these lines, having the confidence to set healthy boundaries is crucial for self-care in general and to become a resilient person. Of particular importance is the ability to set mental and emotional boundaries. A mental boundary protects your freedom to have your own thoughts, values and opinions (i.e.: “I respect your opinion; however, I will decide what is best for me in these circumstances”). An emotional boundary determines how emotionally available you are to others (i.e.: “As much as I would love to support you right now, I don’t have the emotional capacity at this time”).
Step 5 — Surround yourself with a circle of supportive and trustworthy people. Research tells us that we function best mentally when we create a ‘’village’’, or portfolio, of supportive people who can help us handle different emotions and specific situations. It is imperative not to isolate ourselves when dealing with a challenging situation. Being open about these challenges with others can be an excellent way to gain perspective and bounce off ideas and solutions. Having a network of friends, family members, co-workers, and online support groups can help us stay socially connected and feel supported when things are hard.
To know more about the “5 Steps to Become More Resilient” you can watch this video.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire 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 have made it one of my missions to advocate for more flexibility and compassion in the workplace so that high achieving female professionals and leaders who are also caregivers are not faced with the impossible dilemma of quitting the careers that they have worked so hard to cultivate. It is a loss of human potential. Having an occupation outside of the home is key for self-worth, self-confidence, financial independence, the ability to have options and ultimately build a legacy.
It’s time that governments and society realize the extra physical, mental and emotional toll caregiving takes on employees.
If you are a business owner, a decisionmaker, or a CEO and you want to retain top talent, make it a priority to give your employees who are also caregivers wearing multiple hats, the support and the flexibility they need so that they can continue to cultivate a successful career without burning out. These female employees are often suffering from two types of burnouts: workplace burnout AND caregiver burnout and employers need to offer concrete solutions to help these women not only survive but thrive as leaders and individuals.
We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them 🙂
Melinda Gates — without hesitation. Melinda has been a supporter of working mothers who are also primary caregivers at home for their young children, their elderly parents or family members who are chronically ill or disabled. The pandemic brought to light that it’s women who are the ones who bear the brunt of most of the caregiving and caretaking load at home. For instance, working mothers are more likely to stay home when the children are sick. Melinda has made it one of her missions to shine a light on the broken caregiving system in the US and advocate for better care infrastructure policies. She deeply believes — just like I do — that one of the biggest barriers holding women back is caregiving. Addressing the issue of caregiving head on is intimately connected to her goal of achieving gender equality in the US and around the world.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
My website: https://claudiataboada.com/
My LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/claudia-taboada-216a901bb/
My Facebook Business page: https://www.facebook.com/ClaudiaTaboadaTheUnstoppableMom
My Women’s Empowerment Community: https://www.facebook.com/groups/theunstoppablemomproject
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
Thank you so much for having me! It was an honor and a privilege!