First, what I do is I get into nature. Go for a walk in nature or by water or exercise outside. There’s a large body of evidence now showing that while cycling inside or running on a treadmill does sort out physical toning and fitness, it doesn’t release a person’s anxiety. Getting out into nature when exercising feeds the soul and reduces stress and anxiety. It’s a way of removing ourselves from the world for a while and being able to unfold.

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 Dr. Michael Acton.

Dr. Michael Acton (Psy.D., M.Ed. (Psych.) Hons., M.A. C.Psych) of is a consultant, psychologist, counselor, clinical supervisor, legal consultant, trained scientist practitioner and author with over 30 years of clinical experience.

Michael is humbled by how much he has learned from those that have sought his help and is dedicated to paying this forward through his powerful, easy-to-read books. His Power of You series includes the titles Learning How To Leave and Raw Facts From Real Parents which are available on Amazon paperback, Amazon Kindle, Audible (audiobook), Apple Books and most popular bookstores.

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 grew up in Ireland and England, and I found myself, for difficult reasons, living in a car when I was 17. I had an epiphany, at three in the morning, while living in that car. I knew that I was in complete control of my life, and whatever happened from that moment on was my destiny in the making. So I educated myself. I became a teacher and then a lecturer at university. I traveled the world. But it still wasn’t my calling.

In my teenage years, I had been a devout catholic and wanted to be a priest. I went back to the priesthood in a way because I became a psychologist after falling upon pastoral care in a college in Sydney, Australia. I found it fascinating and have never looked back. I now have around 30 years of practice behind me, and I have learnt so much from all of the people I have had the privilege of working with.

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

It’s going to be OK. You’re allowed to make mistakes as long as you learn from them, and peace is your goal.

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’m grateful to key people, at various points in my life, who helped me to believe in myself. They include Devi Breeze who took a chance on me as a 17 year-old homeless kid by renting me her basement room. She gave me a stable base from which to learn. Then there was Ollie, a Fijian, who used to give me mothering care when I needed it. There are also certain professors, consultants in hospitals, and peers. But most of all, I’ve received the bulk of my knowledge from the people who have come to me for help because although they’re stuck and have difficulties, they also come to me with amazing coping mechanisms and insights. I learn from them every day and put those experiences into practice.

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

I am writing the third and final part of my Power of You series. It’s called Fork in the Road. I developed a new model for post-relationship breakups. It’s never been done before. We’ve previously relied upon the classic Kubler-Ross death and grief models, which help a bit, but they don’t really work and help the whole experience. So, I’ve taken that model and created the new Michael Acton relationship Model (MAM). This model has two prongs, hence the title Fork in the Road. One prong leads to reconciliation, where you get back together, but there are stages to do that healthily and not repeat the past problems that made you breakup in the first place. The second prong is indifference (as in not being hooked in dysfunctionally), and that is the goal for successfully resolving upset and grief after relationship breakup. So I’m very excited about that. I’m taking all of the knowledge I’ve gained over the last 30 years of working with thousands of families and couples and putting it in a concise, easy to read book.

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

Stress and anxiety are our drivers. We need a healthy amount to get things done. Stress only becomes pathological when it stops us functioning in life so that we are unable to get things done or we don’t go out, etc. These are anxiety disorders and can include comorbidities (unwanted byproducts) such as agoraphobia and social phobia, etc.

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?

I don’t believe that humans do have their survival needs met in the 21st Century. I believe that part of our survival mechanism is to belong, to be part of a team. Instead of that, we are separated and put into these boxes. In general, there’s this massive competition between us rather than this neighborhood community. People are very quick to judge and project. I think that’s where stress and anxiety is often magnified: where people are living alone and competing with one another.

Competitiveness is severe. This originates from the industrialization of the Western world and the introduction of the Panopticon effect or ‘all-seeing eye.’ Warehouses were designed with slits through which one manager could watch the workers without being seen. Employees had to work really hard, with minimal breaks and under poor conditions, to meet over-the-top productivity requirements. They were stressed and anxious because they never knew if the manager was watching, and they knew they could be fired if they didn’t give 100 percent effort, 100 percent of the time. That introduced competitiveness because if you didn’t like somebody, then you did something to get them fired. The Panopticon effect is still used in prisons so wherever the guards are, they can see every prisoner’s actions in the communal areas.

Then, in the thirties and forties, we moved on to modern marketing and management ideas where salespeople were held accountable not for the amount of hours they put in but for the amount they sold. That changed things too in the Western world. So instead of managing small groups of people on a personal level, we started to pit people against each other. If they didn’t put in 18 hours a day and meet those sales or production figures, they would be fired. So we created this stressful, competitive world.

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

There’s a biological mechanism called fight or flight, and people don’t understand what that really means. We used to fight between villages, and we had bears in the woods and other scary things happening. So you would have to either run away or fight to save yourself. People don’t realize that irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is generally a direct result of heightened anxiety (although there are sometimes medical reasons for it). That’s because what the human body does, in order to fight or run away adequately, is empty itself of liquids and solids. It’s very well documented that when a plane is about to crash or carry out an emergency landing, a large proportion of the passengers will vomit and defecate themselves because they are in a situation of impending doom. Although they’re not fighting or running, they’re in a very high stress situation. A more general physical manifestation is sweating. In my field, we monitor stress by measuring skin moisture; it’s called biofeedback. You can actually have pathological sweat, with chronic heightened anxiety, where our sweat glands just pour out liquid. We can also experience headaches and muscle tension. When stressed, people become tense and hold their breath, so we can work with deep breathing. We ask the person to take a deep breath, hold it for five long seconds, and then release it slowly through the mouth in order to help relax the respiratory system. Just three deep breaths will bring a person back out of the panic, heightened anxiety mode. We even use deep breathing in pain management because it significantly reduces stress and stops the T cells getting through the spine to the brain.

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

Stress is very useful if it is healthy. We all become stressed and get anxious. I get quite annoyed with the press and media messages, sometimes spread by doctors, psychologists and nurses, where it’s all about peace and mindfulness.

There needs to be a balance. We need a healthy amount of stress alongside good examples of how to be in the world. The world has changed immensely with social media and popular psychology and medicine everywhere. People believe that if they’re stressed or anxious then there’s something wrong with them. That’s incorrect unless they’re dysfunctional, in which case they need to get help.

We need to normalize stress and anxiety as a healthy state for when we need to get things done. If we weren’t anxious and stressed sometimes, we wouldn’t be able to run that four-minute mile, win that tennis match, climb that hill or get through those exams.

A large part of any sportsperson’s training is psychological. It’s designed to create anxiety and stress so they can actually perform better.

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?

Some people correlate long-term stress with cancer. Of course, there are also comorbidities such as overeating and under-eating, as with anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. But long-term stress is very dangerous, unless it’s a controlled stress. We’ve seen, in the press recently, a lot of mental health issues with sportspeople, gymnasts, etc. This is better managed now, and even top athletes, who thrive on stress, are now taught how to relax and take time out from that stressful environment.

Short-term stress and anxiety can come from a range of sources including bereavement. Much of the grief experience is anxiety. When we use the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS) to measure people’s depression, anxiety is 50 percent of that measurement because when we are upset, or when we experience change, anxiety is a normal product. So short-term stress and anxiety can help us manage a momentary change in life, such as withdrawing from something or doing something differently.

Long-term stress or anxiety usually occurs when someone gets stuck. They could be in a really bad job, with no support, or they could be in a toxic relationship, for example.

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?

Being a parent can be so stressful because we have no real guidelines. And we must remember the way we were parented isn’t necessarily the best way to parent. I emphasize this in my recent book, Raw Facts From Real Parents.

Parenting in the 21st Century is difficult. We no longer have the same villages or towns where we know the people in our community. There are so many influences outside of our family or environment. There are all sorts of new threats because any child who is old enough to hold a device is old enough to be part of a worldwide social media platform. So how do we keep our children safe and healthy? It is difficult when we didn’t grow up in a technological environment ourselves. Take children sitting at the dinner table with iPads and iPhones. My daughter’s 37, and I think, “Gosh, you shouldn’t be on your phone or tablet.” But in actual fact, she used to always have pens and paper to draw at the dinner table. And what’s the difference between that and an online game? A child doesn’t want to sit at a table for three hours having dinner, so why not occupy them?

So I think the management of children nowadays, with all the peer pressure and all the fantastic activities they engage with, runs parents ragged. And now most parents are both working. That’s if you are lucky enough to be in a relationship. I was a single dad through most of my daughter’s upbringing.

Parenting is tough, and we need some stress to access the energy to do so. But at the end of the day, it is about the effective management of children. It’s about giving them love, compassion and understanding, but it’s also about steering them in the right direction amidst all of the academic demands upon them. It’s not just a case of, ‘you have to read and write’ now. It’s a case of, ‘you have to read, write and apply that to a computer.’ And you need to do more math than you ever had to before because a lot of modern things depend on math nowadays. And if you can’t read and write, how do you get on in the world? My own reading and writing skills have changed immensely with modern technology, and it’s a tough call. Knowing what the lines are in 21st Century parenting is very difficult at times.

Can you help spell out some of the problems that come with being a stressed parent?

Yes. One problem is adopting either an overly authoritarian approach or being too relaxed and laid back with your parenting. Other problems include not carving out quality time with your children; talking at them rather than with them; prioritizing their life according to the demands on your life; holding them back by cosseting them; being too controlling or not having enough boundaries, and just believing what they’re telling you without really knowing what they’re up to. Another problem comes from not leading by example. Stressed parents might fall upon coping methods that aren’t healthy such as drinking, overeating, serial dating or having affairs.

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.

First, what I do is I get into nature. Go for a walk in nature or by water or exercise outside. There’s a large body of evidence now showing that while cycling inside or running on a treadmill does sort out physical toning and fitness, it doesn’t release a person’s anxiety. Getting out into nature when exercising feeds the soul and reduces stress and anxiety. It’s a way of removing ourselves from the world for a while and being able to unfold.

Number two is actually a trick, but people in the public eye, such as actors, or people who have panic attacks, often use it. Running cold water on the wrists is a very quick way of reducing anxiety because it changes the body’s reaction to stress.

Third, deep breathing. If you Google, ‘exercises for relieving anxiety and stress’, you will find that breathing is among the top results. People that are giving up cigarettes are no longer addicted to nicotine four days after cessation of smoking. However, they are still addicted to that stress release mechanism of the deep intake and then slow release of breath that we also use in relaxation breathing exercises.

Number four is talk. Don’t keep all your worries, etc. inside. Find a good ally such as a personal friend or family member. And if you don’t have an ally, reach out to a professional such as a counselor. If you don’t have money for that, reach out to one of the many free agencies available just to talk over some of the things that might be worrying or stressing you.

Last, but not least, would be to re-evaluate your routines and rejig them if needed because routine is very important. Your readers might think it’s very easy for me to sit here and say they need to balance kids, work and everything else, but in actual fact you will be surprised at how much time you waste on certain things. Everyone can carve out half an hour of quality time with their kids to talk. Everyone can say, ‘Right, we’re all going to sit down at the table and eat at the same time, no devices.’ That works. So, routine is key, and without routine humans don’t survive. We don’t flourish.

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

Apart from my own [laugh]? I’ve recently read Robert Bly’s A Book On The Human Shadow, and that is very insightful. But my main resources have been my patients over the years, and also what I’ve learnt from observing human life and from my personal, professional and academic experience. I’m grateful for a multitude of resources that have informed my practice and personal life and helped me develop as a kind and compassionate human being and as an author and clinician.

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’m setting up the Michaela Hall Foundation, and getting together a panel of global experts to help criminalize narcissistic behavior and toxic relationships. I believe that by helping to influence legislation and the way we manage and report domestic violence (including physical, emotional and financial abuse), we will make a huge difference to a lot of people.

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

You can follow me by going to and subscribing to my newsletter at the bottom of the page, or just Google me. You can browse my books on my website and visit my social media profiles (I’m active on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and LinkedIn).

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


  • Savio Clemente

    Board Certified Wellness Coach (NBC-HWC, ACC), Media Journalist, #1 Best-selling Author, Podcaster, and Stage 3 Cancer Survivor

    The Human Resolve LLC

    Savio P. Clemente is a Board Certified Wellness Coach (NBC-HWC, ACC), media journalist, #1 best-selling author, podcaster, stage 3 cancer survivor, and founder of The Human Resolve LLC.  He coaches cancer survivors to overcome obstacles, gain clarity, and attract media attention by sharing their superpower through inspiring stories that make a difference. He inspires them to get busy living in mind, body, and spirit and to cultivate resilience in their mindset. 

    Savio has interviewed notable celebrities and TV personalities and has been invited to cover numerous industry events throughout the U.S. and abroad.  His mission is to provide clients, listeners, and viewers alike with tangible takeaways on how to lead a truly healthy, wealthy, and wise lifestyle.