May is a busy month and is known as Mental Health Awareness month. Earlier this month, we had lunch with Dr. Heidi Hanna to talk about stress and how one navigates the positive elements as well as how it can be a negative! More importantly, she shares more information on stress and what happens to our bodies as well as her work in the space. She also talks about the importance of the beach as it pertains to alleviating stress. In a world that continues to move quickly, these are great things to note as we go about our day to day. ATHLEISURE MAG: Can you tell us about your background and how you came to focus on stress and how one can manage it? DR. HEIDI HANNA: So the first thing I'll tell you about my background is that I grew up with an anxiety disorder that started when I was about 12 years old and it caused me to have headaches and stomach aches, and then actually led to me fainting and losing consciousness. For about 40 years I didn't understand what was going on and I tried various coping mechanisms that weren't super healthy for me, before finally realizing through my own research and interviewing experts that I have a condition called Vaso â€“ Vasovagal Syncope. This is what happens when our heart rhythms and our blood pressure actually can't get enough blood flow and oxygen to the brain and we get that kind of dizzy feeling like if we stand up too fast or if we have low blood pressure or low blood sugar. A lot of people can feel this dizziness and sometimes even lose consciousness temporarily. When we have those episodes on an ongoing basis, it turns out that my anxiety or panic attacks would trigger this. I already have low blood pressure regularly, but this would cause my blood pressure to drop even more quickly and cause me to lose consciousness. So because of those personal challenges, I think it forced me to really take a look at how stress was impacting me and the difference between stress, which is just the gap between demand and capacity, and the energy and information that the brain
and the nervous system provide to help us overcome that gap. The difference between that kind of stress reaction that leads to a stress response versus things ongoing like anxiety and even depression and other things that can result from that. So I ended up actually studying integrative methodologies. I have a background in psychology, nutrition, exercise and physiology, and then started exploring more as an integrative neuroscientist really looking at the connection between stress and the brain and the nervous system, and how that affects the body. And that's what's led me to the work that I'm doing now. AM: What organizations do you work with where you assist those in being aware of these issues? DR. HH: I've written seven different books all related to stress and how it can hijack our brain and our body. And I'm really trying to focus mostly now on providing people with simple strategies that they can implement into their routine to circuit break stress or to recharge their own energy so that they have the capacity they need to deal with the challenges in their life. I've worked at a lot of different organizations and I have most of them listed on my bio which I will attach for you right now. REEF is one of the partners that I'm working with to really get the message out to people about the negative impact of chronic stress, as well as some of those simple strategies we can use to really change it in an impactful way. I also work with a lot of corporate groups where I teach practitioners how to implement stress mastery solutions into their practice so whether they're in health care or they're coaching individuals or running full blown organizational development programs. I would say my real passion is helping companies implement this because there's already a lot of systems in place that can help us with things like accountability and sustainable habit change. I really want to help companies learn how to implement energy management and isolation more strategically.