Dr. JoAnn Yánez on Uplift San Bernardino 11/01/23

Stressed-out woman sitting in front of a Christmas tree.

Dr. JoAnn Yánez joins Erin Brinker to discuss tips to reduce stress over the holidays, mindfulness, meaningful social connection, and how to have a healthy holiday season.

 

Full Transcript of Interview Below.

Topics Include:

  • Tackling holiday stress
  • Identifying predictable and unpredictable stressors
  • The importance of a self-care practice
  • Healthy holiday traditions

Erin Brinker:

I am super pleased to welcome to the show a longtime guest of the former On The Brink Morning Show that my husband Tobin and, later, my brother-in-law Todd and I did on KCAA, that Daily Morning Show. This guest, Dr. JoAnn Yanez, is a superstar. She is the executive director of the Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges, and the past Chair of the Academic Collaborative for Integrative Health. Additionally, she serves on the Board of Directors for the Academy of Integrative Health and Medicine and American Association of Naturopathic Physicians. Dr. JoAnn’s  volunteerism encompasses work with numerous professional organizations, including the Federation of Association of Schools for Health Professions, the National Association of Advisors for the Health Professions, the Council on Naturopathic Medical Education and the Integrative Health Policy Consortium. Dr. Yanez has most recently been involved in committee work around diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. Dr. JoAnn Yanez, welcome to the show.

Dr. JoAnn Yanez:

Oh, thank you so very much for having me. And I’m so glad that we have had such a long-standing relationship here of sharing knowledge.

Erin Brinker:

Thank you. Well, I gotta tell you, Halloween kicks off, the overeating,-stressing, you know, over-partying, little eating, drinking, and being merry, too much holiday season for the Western world, especially here in the US. And thinking about what all of that means, you know, how do you keep yourself healthy? And how do you, especially parents, try to make special memories for their children? How do you keep yourself sane?

Dr. JoAnn Yanez:

Oh, that’s a tall order, Erin, but I think we can tackle it. One question. Let’s go. So I think that, you know, the first thing you have to let go of is perfection. That’s so much of the stress that many people feel during the holidays. It can be due to trying to make this perfect holiday season, trying to have the perfect table setting, trying to get the perfect gifts, trying to create the perfect experience. And if you know anything about life, like I know things about life, life is anything but perfect. And so the more that we can flex, and adapt and bend and recognize and have joy in the imperfection, the less stressful it is likely going to be.

Erin Brinker:

So, you know, thinking about Thanksgiving, because that’s the next big holiday, family coming in. And there’s pressure from in-laws and pressure from your own parents. And certainly you want everybody to be happy. What are some strategies? You know, is it sleep? Is it good nutrition? Is it exercise? Is it all of those things? And how do you fit them all in?

Dr. JoAnn Yanez:

E, all of the above. I know your husband is a teacher, so that’s a little teaching reference there. So, you know, I think that for each person, your typical stressors, every single one of us is different in, in the types of things we perceive as stressful, as well as how we manage and mitigate that stress. And so, you know, I think stress is so personal. So if you know that you have some strained relationships with family, because of politics or because of religion or because of whatever, make some ground rules. Set some boundaries, you know, share that intention of, hey, I really want us to enjoy this holiday as much as we can. And I’ve noticed, you know, when we talk about, fill in the blank topic, we tend to kind of get a little heated. Can we just agree to not talk about that this year? 

Erin Brinker:

Yeah, that’s a good idea. 

Dr. JoAnn Yanez:

You know, and recognizing what are the things that are in your control. You’re not always going to be able to control every conversation. You know, I think when it comes to those relationship type things, understanding your boundaries, setting clear boundaries and expectations, and knowing when you need to bow out. You know, those are all very important things. It’s okay to say no to some holiday parties, if you know that it’s really not going to be the best thing for you. And so, you know, I think the first thing is to know yourself, know your boundaries, know your triggers, and hopefully with some mindfulness and attention to that, you will maybe be able to avoid some of the things that might, you know, be predictably stressful. So that’s kind of number one. So you’ve got your predictable stress, and then you have your unpredictable stressors. Those are the last-minute, you know, the food got burned. Or, the gift I was looking forward to getting somebody is sold out in the stores, or whatever it is. And those are the types of stressors where your day-to-day ability to manage stressful situations is going to have to get kicked in. So if you practice mindfulness or prayer or exercise, you know, like you said earlier, prioritizing sleep is so very important. You know, when you think of the times when you haven’t slept well, are your triggers a little bit easier to get triggered?  Or, if your blood pressure or your blood sugar is running a little bit low, you know, when you’re bordering that hangry feeling, like the things that would normally be non-issues, now turn into big blowups.  I think it’s important to  just be very mindful of those things that you do for yourself to stay in check to stay balanced. So making sure your sleep is on point, eating well, and trying to stay on top of that as much as possible, watching your alcohol intake, making sure that you continue with, you know, whatever mindfulness exercise practices, etc, that you do. You might not be able to be perfect with them. But try making an effort to try and keep things up and not just give everything a pass. I just gave a talk earlier in the week on stress to college students in New York. And you know, there’s kind of an old running joke about meditation. When you don’t feel like you have time for meditation, you need to do it twice as long.

Erin Brinker: 

Oh, yeah. Yeah,I can totally see that. You know, I loved last winter here in Southern California because the weather was cold, and it was wet. We had weather, and we don’t usually have that here in Southern California. And some people like that, but I missed the rain. And so as we were going through the spring, and it was still raining, and there was snow in the mountains, I was thinking, “oh, this summer is going to be really hot.” And then I thought,  “no, no, I’m not going to let tomorrow rob me of today.” And I think as we are going through the holidays, and I’ve been working on that myself, that is one of the things that I’m going to enjoy today with my family. I’m going to enjoy the memories that we’re creating today, and I’m not going to worry about what Uncle Bob thinks. So I’m not going to worry about the next thing. And I think that helps, it has helped me tremendously.

Dr. JoAnn Yanez:

Very important. And that’s one of the key tenets of mindfulness. And, you know, it really is just being present in the moment and without judgment. So, it’s just removing that judgment component out of any of the thoughts or feelings that come up. As you’re going through your day-to-day, you know, if you burn the turkey we could easily go into a whole lot of self-talk of “man, I was stupid, how did I mess this up?”, and start to berate yourself. I had a friend, a yoga teacher, recently, give us guidance during one of the classes, and she said: be your own best friend. How would you talk to a best friend of yours? Talk to yourself the same way. And that really hit me because I think very often we can go into being very harsh on ourselves, being very judgmental about ourselves and our shortcomings and all of that. And that cue to be our own best friend, to advocate for yourself. Let’s say you were wanting to exercise tomorrow, and you know, you start coming up with excuses of why you can’t do it. What would your best friend say? You know what, go do it. Yeah, let’s go together. They would be cheering you on, so that inner voice for yourself, to be your own cheerleader, to be your own best friend, is so very important and to be present in the moment. Like you said, so much of the stressors that we can’t plan for, the unforeseen circumstances, and the things that pop up, those are going to force us to rely on our coping skills. And so what are the coping skills that you have cultivated for yourself? And when those stressors hit, that’s the time when you need to lean in. That’s why I kind of joked, when you’re feeling like you don’t have time to meditate, you need to meditate twice. You know, those are the times when you actually need to lean on the coping skills that you have cultivated– whatever those are. I think the key is to just recognize that things are going to come up, they’re always going to come up– that is a part of life, right? And you know, sometimes during the holidays, what are the things that we find stressful? There’s family tension, there’s pressure to entertain, there can be travel, that throws you off of your normal routines, feeling obligated to show up for events or for things, the financial strain for many. I know finances can be quite tight for folks around the holidays. There are just so many, and what I personally think of is being reminded of loved ones who are no longer celebrating with you, and that kind of seasonal sadness that comes up for some people. I think it’s just very important to make sure that you’ve got a strong self-care practice. I know we’ve talked about self care in the past: strong coping skills, a strong relationship network of people that you can call when you are feeling stressed out. You know, there’s real data and literature on the power of social support and having that network of people who can kind of talk you off the ledge a bit, and also give you keep you grounded. I think the holiday stress can show up differently for people: it can be insomnia, it can be fatigue, it can be headaches, it can be anxiety, depression, gut problems, all different sorts of ways that pain can show up. I think the more that we can plan ahead, schedule some downtime for yourself, you know, don’t say yes to everything, stay on your boundaries and your regular process of the things that keep you healthy, those things will make this holiday season hopefully a bit more manageable. 

Erin Brinker:

I’m thinking how everything that you said touches on the whole body as a system, right, it’s a system with the mind and the soul and the physical body. Also, I think it’s really hard during this time of year when everybody’s got sweets and things on their desks. When you’re baking cookies at home, remember that what you put in your body impacts many things. If your blood sugar is out of control, you’re not going to be able to handle the stress very well, whether out of control means it’s too high or too low, it’s going to put you in a position where you can’t respond the way you normally would. 

Dr. JoAnn Yanez: 

Absolutely. And you know, the plate of cookies on somebody’s desk isn’t something necessarily that we can control, but it does make that willpower piece a lot harder when things are right in front of you. I know that there has been research regarding food shopping practices and food behavior, that says most of the things that you buy at a supermarket typically are consumed within two and a half days, regardless of how much you purchased.

Erin Brinker: 

Oh, that’s so true. I hadn’t thought about that. 

Dr. JoAnn Yanez :

The first thing that you can do is within your own environment. You can’t control other environments, but at least with your own, you can be mindful of what you’re bringing into your own home. And, just recognizing, when you’re reaching for that seasonal whatever in the store, you know that enough of those will start to add on to our waistline and our stresses. I think that just being mindful of what you bring into the home. So much of our socializing tends to circulate around food,and there’s nothing wrong with sharing a meal. But there’s also nothing wrong with creating traditions where you do things that aren’t circulated around food. I have friends where, instead of going and meeting for a coffee, or sitting down, especially now that the weather is a little bit better for us, we’ll say, “Hey, you want to go for a walk?” And that’s the way we catch up, over a walk instead of sitting down and eating a meal. And again, nothing wrong with sitting down. But I think it’s about how you can be more intentional about creating a lifestyle that has activity in it, creating a lifestyle that has positive things in it. And taking away some of that expectation that the only way for us to socialize is to go and sit down. No, maybe you can go and get a pedicure together or go for a walk or go run errands together. I think there’s something to be said about having  friends who can just pop in and be normal with each other without having to have some structured activity. 

Erin Brinker:

It’s really interesting that you say that because, you know, all of this study and research has come out about social media and the disconnectedness of how people are feeling isolated, and  loneliness of course is really detrimental to your health. And even if you’re interacting with people on social media, it’s not the same as somebody standing in your kitchen while you unpack groceries or you cook a meal or have a cup of coffee together or go for a walk together, or go for a hike together. It’s not at all the same. I’m hoping that things will turn around and that  people will realize that turning your devices off one day a week might be really beneficial to your mental health, your emotional health, and your physical health. 

Dr. JoAnn Yanez:

I think there’s so much to be said for human connection. And I strongly believe the pandemic showed us that very clearly. You know, how much we were all leaning on our networks of people? And how much do you realize that you were maybe a bit isolated? There is so much power in meaningful connections, the ones that fill your cup, the ones where you leave recharged, you leave energized, you leave feeling better about your life and yourself. 

Erin Brinker:

You know, it’s interesting, I read this book that I absolutely loved, called The Gospel Comes with a House Key, and it’s written by Rosaria Butterfield, and she’s a devout Christian. She talks about how her house is always open, somebody needs something, they come over, she’s always got a pot of hot water to make tea or instant coffee, she’s always got her door open, so that when things happen in her neighborhood, people come over, they connect, they support one another, and they love each other through it. And that used to be something that people did just normally, that was something that was part of life, and we’ve gotten away from that over the last decades. And maybe through the holiday season, and a resolution you can make is to be more connected with the people around you.

Dr. JoAnn Yanez: 

Yeah, I think that connectedness definitely plays a role in your resilience and your ability to be able to bounce out of situations you can find yourself in. And it just comes down to being a good human, I think we’re so quick to find the differences instead of the similarities. Our ability to just share some basic human kindness with folks is so very important right now. There’s so much stress in the news. There are so many bad things happening globally. That little bit of kindness can go a very long way. I truly agree with you in just having that open door to your friends, your community, and also having people who can be that open door for you.

Erin Brinker:

Indeed, indeed, so. As we’ve got a couple of minutes left here, what are some of your healthy traditions that you do during the holidays? And it could be, you know, making healthier versions of your Thanksgiving meal? That could be making sure that you take a walk after the meal? Or, you know, what are some of the things that the Yanez family does?

Dr. JoAnn Yanez: 

Well, you know, there are a lot of things on my Thanksgiving table. Honestly, it looks very similar to my regular table. And, you know, I think that impulse to make all of these extra unhealthy things. You know, there might be an extra dessert or two on the table. But aside from that, it’s relatively healthy food. It’s mashed sweet potatoes, a roasted turkey, roasted veggies, and a good green salad. Not a lot of things that would make you feel lousy afterwards. The weather is fabulous now where I live, and so getting outside and moving, I have a regular yoga practice that I am committed to keeping up during this season. So whatever your exercise is for you, and your mindfulness is for you,I definitely recommend trying your best to keep that up. And then the last one is letting go of the expectations. So recently, I just came back from three big business trips in one month. And one of them was a week-long international business trip. At the end, I was just pooped. And normally I would have set up for Halloween, I would have decorated and put up a bunch of things, and I really just needed to recharge. I did have a little bit of work to do this weekend. And at the end of the day, I’m like, “you know what, I could sit and drive myself crazy trying to decorate for Halloween, or I can just let it go. And you know what, we’re just not doing it this year. And, you know, so be it. Nobody’s gonna die. It’s not the end of the world, and, you know, it is what it is.” And my ability to just let that go and roll without having the house all decked out for Halloween was just where I needed to be this year. 

Erin Brinker:

Well, I think that is an excellent place to end the interview and the conversation because that is excellent, excellent advice. Dr. Yanez, how do people find and follow you on social media? I know that you used to have a blog that comes out, I don’t know if you still have that coming out.

Dr. JoAnn Yanez:

I’m the executive director of the AANMC, that’s aanmc.org  But I’m on social media myself. You can look me up Dr. JoAnn Yanez and also @theaanmc. We have blogs and events that we host very regularly at the organization. So just google the name and you should hopefully pop me up.

Erin Brinker:

Wonderful. Dr. JoAnn Yanez, it’s been a treat. Thank you so much for joining me today.

Dr. JoAnn Yanez:

Thank you, Erin. Have a lovely rest of your day. 

 

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