Get more knowledge. Just as understanding what’s in your own prism is important, knowing the patterns of human behavior is just as important. Counseling, when boiled down, helps you understand what’s in your prism and educates you on patterns of behavior. With that knowledge you can then start repairing or improving your relationship. It works best when you do it together but if even one person in the relationship is more knowledgeable, the relationship will be better for it. The cheaper way to get information is to read. Each book can give you a trove of information about yourself, your prism, your spouse, and your partner. The author has spent a lot of time writing the book so you can get the benefit in a relatively short time. When I was getting divorced from my first wife, I went to counseling and read a lot. It didn’t save my first marriage, but it has made my second marriage so much better.

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. Relationships, in particular, can be stress-inducing. We know chronic stress can be as unhealthy as smoking a quarter of a pack a day. What are stress management strategies that people 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, 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 Gary Sprouse, MD.

Gary Sprouse, MD, author of HIGHWAY TO YOUR HAPPY PLACE: A Roadmap To Less Stress, is an internist who has seen patients out of his private practice in Chester, MD, since 1985. Prior to embarking on his career in internal medicine, Dr. Sprouse earned both his BS and MD from George Washington University, where he became a member of Alpha Omega Alpha and graduated in the top 10 percent of his class from the university’s medical school. Dr. Sprouse is often referred to as The Less Stress Doc.

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!

I have worked hard since I was 11 years old. I delivered newspapers from my bike. Every day for years. That work ethic followed me through grade school, college, medical school, residency and then into my private primary care practice. From the time I was 13, I decided I wanted to be a doctor. Not sure what prompted that decision, but it was the best decision I ever made. I have always felt fulfilled by helping others and being a doctor has been the perfect platform for me to accomplish that goal. But now I am retired. I’ve turned my stethoscope and prescription pad in for a book. But the main motive is the same. I’m still working hard to help people navigate their life.

What lessons would you share with yourself if you had the opportunity to meet your younger self?

Read more. An author has spent years researching and honing the information contained in their book. You get all that work condensed into a couple of weeks of reading. The more you read the more you know, the better your decisions, the more successful you become.

The other line I live by is, “The harder I work the luckier I get”. Hard work pays off in ways you don’t always recognize.

When a door opens, pay attention. I let some possibilities pass me by because I was too naïve. Now, when an opportunity presents itself, I spend a lot more time considering the benefits before I discard it.

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?

This is probably cliché, but my parents. They taught me the valuable lesson of working hard and being an entrepreneur. They taught me to give to others, be pleasant and go to church. My father taught me a valuable lesson about what not to do. He had an alcohol problem and I learned not to rely on alcohol to solve my stress. My parents taught me that family is critical and the support I get from my extended family has been one reason I felt empowered to take the risk of writing a book.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think it might help people?

I have 4 books in my head. Two more books along the Happiness Highway. There will be 6 new stresses in each book.

I have a book on a new way to define addiction called Stress Reducer Loops, that I think will change the way the medical community identifies and treats addictions. I used it in my practice and was getting a 95% success rate.

I have a 4th book that I think of as a philosophy book. It delves into a new tool I use called Strataspheres. This tool gives a new perspective to view the world. The major premise I will be promoting is Strataspheres gives humanity a direction. That direction is toward cooperation and away from competition.

And I just signed up to be a co-author with Jack Canfield on his new book, Mindset Matters. I am super excited about this project. Twenty-nine other authors and I are writing about how our lives are better because of our mindset.

All this work is to achieve a personal goal. I want to help a million people have less stress. Through books, seminars, on-line classes, podcasts, blogs, interviews, speaking engagements, bookstores, libraries… whatever it takes to reach people where they are. I realize stressed out people have little time and little attention, so I have tried to make the information practical, easy to read, and in short bites.

Ok, thank you for sharing your inspired life. Let’s now talk about stress. How would you define stress?

Definitions matter. In my work, I found we all know what stress is and what worry is, etc. But when someone asks to define it, it gets more difficult. The current definitions are superficial and not very helpful when trying to alleviate these stresses.

Stress is what we feel when we are not in our Happy Place. So the better question is how to define your Happy Place. That was harder than I thought. It is a very individual place but there are some common elements.

Contentment is a baseline of how satisfied you are with your life at the present time. This baseline can fluctuate depending on circumstances, but it is reasonably stable. The perceptions you have of your position matter a lot.

Pleasurable events. Pleasure dots our lives. These are the intermittent joys that bring our level of contentment up. By definition, they are temporary. A person tends to revert back to the baseline contentment after a while. Getting a promotion or a bonus, having a baby, graduating are examples of pleasure.

Anticipation is even more powerful than pleasure. Thinking about having a pleasurable event or reminiscing about the pleasurable event that just occurred is almost as good as the event itself and it goes on for much longer. Thinking about going to a great new restaurant can go on for days or weeks, eating the meal might take an hour or two. Envisioning a vacation to a foreign country can bring a pleasurable sensation for months.

Gratitude is an easy ingredient to overlook or take for granted. All you have to do is look around you to see how many wonderful things you have at your disposal and how many endearing connections with people that keep you supported. If you need perspective watch the movie Cast Away. He had very little, but each skill is a eureka moment. When you turn on the tap and get water or use your indoor toilet give thanks.

Fulfillment is the last element. There are 2 parts to fulfillment. Learning is a never-ending process. The more you learn, the better prepared you are to face any future difficulties. The second part is giving. By giving to others, you feel better. Some of my best memories involve giving something to someone else.

Anything that keeps us from our Happy Place can be defined as stress. The point of my book is to recognize what’s keeping us from living full time in our Happy Place and getting rid of the blockage or at least reducing it.

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?

There are several reasons why we live in the greatest society the world has ever known but get up every day feeling more stressed out.

  1. We don’t have enough gratitude. This is an easy one to fix
  2. We are designed to keep our environment safe. The boundaries of our existence are no longer our house, our town and maybe our state. Now the world is in our sensory perceptions. I know what is going on in Ukraine or China or Argentina at the same time as someone who lives in that country. Our existence isn’t just the world, it includes space where aliens or meteors threaten our existence. It isn’t just the present either. We have the ability to envision the future so well that it is part of environment. That’s a lot to keep safe. It is the source of a lot of worry.
  3. We are creatures that rely on eyesight for 80% of our information. With the advent of social media, internet, special effect movies, YouTube, etc., we are inundated with videos of whatever atrocity a human can think of. It is the source of a significant amount of discomfort. When reading about a person who punches his girlfriend, we are upset but when we see the video of him punching her in the face, we are outraged.
  4. We live in a world where competition is glorified and rewarded. Cooperation is second. We are always looking over our shoulder for someone to take what we have accumulated. There is never enough because someone could come and take it. Your neighbor could be your enemy in competition.
  5. Dovetailing with the last one is we have stuff. If you have nothing, you have nothing to lose. Not so for someone who has stuff. There is a lot of energy spent paying for and protecting our stuff.

What are some of the physical manifestations of being under a lot of stress? How does the human body react to stress?

The human body is designed to keep us alive. We have these push-button reactions to keep us safe. Emotions are set up to be fast and don’t require thinking. If I see a lion roaring a few feet from my face, I don’t have time to think about the consequences, my body goes into flight or freeze. My adrenaline and cortisol go up and my heart rate and blood pressure go up. My bladder empties so I can run faster. I stop being hungry or desiring sex. My muscles get flooded with blood and my coagulation system gets a boost. For all other animals this reaction lasts for a few minutes to an hour. Then it goes away. They have gotten to a safe place, or they were eaten. But for humans, we have concepts. We only have to THINK of a lion in our face roaring to have a fear reaction and there is nothing to stop that. The concept can come at any time and forever. Every phobia is a fear reaction gone extreme. Fear keeps people from doing a lot of things. We weren’t designed to have a permanent fear reaction. You can drive your car at 120 miles an hour but eventually it breaks down. The same with our body. We eventually break down. Stomach ulcers, headaches, insomnia, rashes, asthma, depression, anxiety, pain, infection, etc., can be manifestations of our body breaking down.

Is stress necessarily a bad thing? Can stress ever be good for us?

Stress is, by my definition, keeping us from our Happy Place. The only thing that I think stress helps is when there is so much that a threshold is crossed, and the person decides to do something about it themselves or ask for help.

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?

There is a huge difference between short-term and long-term stress. We were designed for short term. Run away or hide. The problem is when we are having a fear reaction to a thought. The fear reaction is just as real, but it can go on forever. People that are stressed will say, “What If….?” You can “what if” yourself to major physical or psychological problems. It is difficult to tame your thoughts. If I tell you not to think of an elephant, the first thing you do is picture an elephant. To get a better handle on these fear-provoking thoughts, think of fear as a smoke detector. You are woken up in the middle of the night by the blaring sound of your smoke detector. Your fear reaction goes off and you jump out of bed to investigate where the smoke, or worse, fire, is coming from. You run through the house and find nothing. You reexamine the smoke detector and realize you need a new battery. You replace the battery and go back to sleep. Fear is your danger detector. If a fear reaction goes off because of some thought, check your surroundings for danger. If there is no danger present, then shut down the reaction. The danger detector is a false alarm. Go back to your relaxed state.

Let’s now focus more on the stress of relationships. This feels intuitive, but it is helpful to spell it out in order to address it. Can you help articulate why relationships can be so stressful?

In our world, humans are the most dangerous entity we face. Lions, tigers, bears, viruses, bacteria are no match to what other humans can do to us. But we are designed to find human interaction the most pleasurable emotion in our lives. Love has enormous power over us. Quite a conundrum. When we have a relationship with anyone from a spouse to a family member to a clerk at the store, there is always the reward of pleasure that comes from an interaction with another human being and the risk that the person might hurt you in some way. The more important the relationship is to us the more power to love and the more power to hurt.

Another aspect to consider is that the more intimate the relationship the more ideology needs to match. My coworker and I need to match on how much effort we put into work. I don’t care what religion they are. My wife and I have to match on work effort, child rearing, money, sexual appetite, what to eat, religion, what to wear, how to reduce stress or how to communicate. There are many more places for the interaction to go sideways. And when dissension occurs in one facet, it tends to bleed into the others and weakens the whole relationship. When you are fighting with your spouse about money, it is hard to get the energy to have fulfilling sex. Then when you throw on top of that, humans are evolving every day. What was important to me when I was 21 is very different than what is important at 67 but a relationship that is successful needs to navigate these life-altering changes.

Can you help spell out some of the problems that come with the stress caused by relationships?

The biggest stress I see in relationships is not feeling safe. There are many manifestations of that. If there is not enough money, I don’t feel safe. If my spouse abuses me physically or verbally, I don’t feel safe. If my spouse drinks too much alcohol or does drugs, I don’t feel safe. When we don’t communicate effectively, I don’t feel safe. When people don’t feel safe, they do things to quell their fear. I learned in a therapy called Imago, it is common for one person to do something to keep themselves safe that makes their spouse not feel safe and vice versa. As an example, a patient needed his wife to function. He held her tightly. She wanted attention so it worked in the beginning. But his holding tightly became strangling to her, and she pulled away to protect herself. When he felt her pulling away, he clung more tightly which as you guessed made her pull further away.

Here is the main question of our interview: Can you share with our readers your “5 stress management strategies that you can use to eliminate stress from your relationships?” Please share a story or example for each.

More effective communication. This is the underpinning to every relationship. Getting information back and forth is critical to a good relationship and it is the hardest to do. People either don’t say what they mean, or the other person doesn’t hear it accurately. I was attending a marriage counseling seminar. The wife started the conversation with, “I don’t like that the money you earn is not predictable.” He got mad and said, “You never appreciate how hard I work.” She got angry and told her husband, “You never listen to me.” And it ramped up from there. The teacher stopped the worsening interaction and asked the wife to start again and asked the husband to listen this time. The wife started back with, “I know how hard you work, and I appreciate that you support our family but because you are in real estate, some months there is extra money and some months there is none and that is hard to budget for.” The husband looked at her and said, “Well I don’t like that either.” Their miscommunication had led to a fight that was actually something they agreed on.

How do you make communication more effective? In multiple therapies there is a technique called mirroring. One person talks at a time and the other person has to paraphrase what the other said. This makes the listener pay attention because they will have to repeat back. It also gives the speaker a chance to hear what they said outside of the confines of their head. The speaker can then modify what they said to be clearer. Once the point is clear, the listener asks if there is more. This invites the speaker to continue and leads to the speaker feeling heard. Then the roles are reversed. At first, this is awkward and time consuming, but it leads to each person being heard ACCURATELY. This is critical. It doesn’t take long before people don’t need to be so intentional because they now listen better and speak more accurately but it helps to have the technique to fall back on when some divisive issue comes up.

Money. This one issue has led to more relationship breakups than any other issue. People have different thresholds for spending money, saving money, earning money and investing money. When there isn’t enough money, people get scared, and this leads to anger and hurt feelings. When there is too much money, people get scared they will lose the money, or they become frivolous. My wife and I took a premarital questionnaire. We were in sync on 9 items. 10 out of 10. But the one issue we weren’t even close on was money. 5 out of 10. The question then is how do we make this work? First off, we realize we have very different perceptions of money, and we don’t hold a grudge or tell the other they are wrong. She sees expenses, I see investments. Neither of us are right. Neither of us is wrong. Second, we talk about our expenses and ask permission to spend money. If I want to invest in my book, I justify to my wife why OUR finances should go to that line item. She has the right to say No and then we would negotiate a fair compromise. Third is budget. Having a written budget that both people have contributed to fashioning puts it in black and white where the money should be be spent and earned. At the end of the month, it should be reviewed. Then, if there is a problem, the budget is the bad guy, not the partner. This takes some effort, but it is definitely worth it because extra work now can save a relationship.

Learn to negotiate. I just finished reading a book on negotiations. It is titled, “Getting to Yes”. The authors make the point that every relationship involves negotiations. What movie to watch, which college to send the kids, what’s for dinner, do we save or spend, etc. Learn to negotiate fairly and you can come to a wise decision. A wise decision is defined as an agreement that meets the legitimate interests of each side to the extent possible, resolves conflicting interests fairly, is durable and takes community interests into account.

So how do you get to a wise decision?

1. Separate people from the problem. I don’t need to get angry with my wife because she has taken a position. She is a person entitled to her opinion and her perceptions. If I keep her out of it and just deal with the issues in front of us, the negotiation goes better.

2. Focus on interest, not positions. This means if you want to buy an investment property, instead of focusing on a position like I want this much money for my house to sell, focus on why you need that amount of money, such as I have to pay off my own mortgage, I have invested a lot of time and effort into this house and I need to be compensated, this house has a lot of emotional ties for me, etc. When you understand why someone wants what they want it helps you empathize with them and leads to a fairer deal. It also makes the other person spend some time figuring out why they want to do the deal because many times they don’t know.

3. Invent multiple options. When you keep the conversation on the items and not the people and you focus on interests instead of positions then you can invent multiple options that can get the deal done in a wise fashion. This is where creativity comes in but also a mediator or expert can help generate ideas that you might not have thought of.

4. Insist on objective standard. If you want to sell your house for a given price, then have a certified appraiser give you an official appraisal or at least agree to having an appraisal done. Having an objective standard then gets you away from saying that’s my position and puts it in a community standard that others can use and are familiar with.

Learn about your perspective prism, then turn to the others’ perspective prism. When having conversations with others, you have a good idea how you feel but can only guess how the other person is feeling. But what I have found is many times people don’t really know why they feel a certain way. Maybe a guy has a bias against women but doesn’t really know why. My daughter is a computer scientist. It is a male dominated field. When she is in a meeting, her ideas are not given the same weight as when a male colleague brings the same ideas up. My wife tells me this has happened her whole life. The men probably don’t even realize they are doing this. It is an automatic program they learned from their parents or friends or media. It is important to analyze your interactions and gain understanding of does this bias exist, and where did it come from. When you understand your side more consciously, then turn your efforts to the other person. Empathy is putting yourself in the other person’s shoes.

To do this I have crafted a diagram to show how people think.

Input — -perspective prism — -perception — -emotion — -action.

The prism contains what your facts are, your beliefs, your emotional state, your attentional state, your experiences. I have explored my prism extensively. What I consider a fact, can be challenged. What I think about women needs to be tested against how women react to how I treat them. The more I understand what and why items are in my perspective prism, the more I can understand my perceptions and why I act a certain way. Then I spend time trying to figure out what is in the other person’s prism. The more I know about what’s in their prism, the more accurately I can predict their perceptions and their reactions.

Get more knowledge. Just as understanding what’s in your own prism is important, knowing the patterns of human behavior is just as important. Counseling, when boiled down, helps you understand what’s in your prism and educates you on patterns of behavior. With that knowledge you can then start repairing or improving your relationship. It works best when you do it together but if even one person in the relationship is more knowledgeable, the relationship will be better for it. The cheaper way to get information is to read. Each book can give you a trove of information about yourself, your prism, your spouse, and your partner. The author has spent a lot of time writing the book so you can get the benefit in a relatively short time. When I was getting divorced from my first wife, I went to counseling and read a lot. It didn’t save my first marriage, but it has made my second marriage so much better.

Do you have any favorite books, podcasts, or resources that have inspired you to live with more joy in life?

I have been reading extensively. Jack Canfield’s The Success Principle is a great book. Tony Robbins book Awaken the Giant Within is another book that can jump start a change in your life. Desmond and Mpho Tutu’s book The Book of Forgiving and Victor Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning should be read by every human on earth. Gary Chapman’s book on the 5 Love Languages changed my marriage when we discovered we were speaking different love languages. Dr Anderson’s book Habits of Health has helped me get healthier and stay that way, (I lost 35 pounds and have kept it off for almost a year, so far). I find that every book I read gives me something I didn’t have before so I would encourage everyone to read more.

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. 🙂

The movement I would start would be a new outlook on life based on my model of Strataspheres. This model sheds a new light on how got here and where we are going. The main premise is that through connections and quantity a new sphere is formed. With a new sphere, there are new, emergent properties that are not predictable. For humans we added the sphere of choice to the world. When there is interaction with choice that is cooperation. Strataspheres emphasizes cooperation over competition. It is through a quantity of humans cooperating that we will reach the next level. It would be exciting to see what that would look like. My best guess is that it would be a heaven on earth.

What is the best way for our readers to continue to follow your work online?

I have a web site,, I’m on facebook at The Less Stress Doc. I’m on X, Instagram and LinkedIn.

I’m working on an online class that will be filmed in Jan 2024 and should be available by February.

And you can email me at [email protected]

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent on this. We wish you only continued success.


  • Savio P. Clemente

    TEDx Speaker, Media Journalist, Board Certified Wellness Coach, Best-Selling Author & Cancer Survivor

    Savio P. Clemente, TEDx speaker and Stage 3 cancer survivor, infuses transformative insights into every article. His journey battling cancer fuels a mission to empower survivors and industry leaders towards living a truly healthy, wealthy, and wise lifestyle. As a Board-Certified Wellness Coach (NBC-HWC, ACC), Savio guides readers to embrace self-discovery and rewrite narratives by loving their inner stranger, as outlined in his acclaimed TEDx talk: "7 Minutes to Wellness: How to Love Your Inner Stranger." Through his best-selling book and impactful work as a media journalist — covering inspirational stories of resilience and exploring wellness trends — Savio has collaborated with notable celebrities and TV personalities, bringing his insights to diverse audiences and touching countless lives. His philosophy, "to know thyself is to heal thyself," resonates in every piece.