Generation Stress: From Surviving to Thriving | Kristen Race | TEDxMileHigh

Translator: Helena Bowen
Reviewer: Denise RQ I try to keep the fact that I’ve written
a parenting book a secret. I live in a small town, and when people see me coming
in the grocery store, I see a look of panic in their eyes. I assume they think
I’m going to judge them because they’re locked in
a power struggle over buying Fruit Loops, but the truth is I am likely just off the heels of a battle
with my own kids, and I’m using this trip
to the grocery store as an excuse to get the hell out of my house. (Laughter) Safe to say that none of this
will help me get my next book deal (Laughter) but in addition to having written
a parenting book, my work is based in
the science of mindfulness. So, not only is there this illusion
that I know everything about parenting but I’m supposed to be
doing it all blissfully. (Laughter) Calm and collected, totally unflappable, disciplining and encouraging my kids
in my best yogi voice. (Laughter) But most days, come five o’clock,
I’m far more tempted to reach for the Chardonnay
than the meditation cushion. (Laughter) And I’m not alone. You see, my generation is slowly
but surely losing [its mind]. About five years ago, Generation X was identified as
the most stressed generation in America. To complicate things, many of us
GenXers decided to have kids. (Laughter) This created what I call
‘Generation Stress’, a generation of stressed out parents,
raising a generation of stressed out kids. My daughter started sixth grade
about a month ago, and she was so excited
to start middle school. She shared with me these Pinterest photos, explaining what all
the sixth graders are doing. (Laughter) This is what happens
when Generation Stress procreates. (Laughter) It seems as though we figured out a way
to make entering middle school even more anxiety-provoking
than it already was by adding 70 dollar locker chandeliers to the must-have
back to school supply list. (Laughter) So we have this generation
of over-achieving, over-stimulated, over-connected parents
raising the same types of kids. We are Generation Stress. We have big stressors:
we have financial difficulties, demanding careers, divorce,
health problems, school violence, teen suicides, and record-high rates
of anxiety and depression in elementary school students. And, we have little stressors: traffic jams, 24/7 texts and emails
from our coworkers, juggling whose turn it is
to stay home with the sick kid. Our kids not only absorb our stress,
but they have their own triggers, trying to keep up with
growing piles of homework while staying on top
of the latest thread on Instagram, and signing up for one more honors class to improve their shot
at getting into college. Before we dismiss
the little stuff as no big deal, think about this for a moment: When we compare
the brain scans of Vietnam vets with the brain scans
of chronically stressed out people, they actually have a lot in common. The compound effects
of life’s little annoyances add up and can be as detrimental as true PTSD. We respond to these stressors,
big and little, by constantly stimulating
the survival mechanisms in our brains, and so our bodies respond,
again and again. Our hearts race, our blood pressure rises, our decision-making centers
in our brains stay roped off, while our bodies and our brains
tend to what we perceive as ever-present emergencies. We live in survival mode. But there is hope. (Laughter) So, if you’re about to fake
a bathroom break to escape what has thus far
not been the most playful talk, sit tight. (Laughter) I have good news. In the same way that all of this crap,
for lack of a better word, puts us into survival mode,
simple practices can get us out. Generation X will go to some pretty extreme lengths
to create change. We’ll work 80 hours a week
to get that promotion, hire a personal trainer
to help us lose 10 pounds, and spend thousands of dollars botoxing our foreheads
and plumping our lips, and every parent I know
will move heaven and earth to improve their kids’ wellbeing. We’ll shoe-horn in
one more essential activity, remove all the gluten from our households, and hire a private coach to give our kids
the edge at soccer try-outs. What I’m talking about here is more elemental
and infinitely more important. I’m talking about emotional
and physical health, learning, empathy,
relationships, and more. With all this at stake, can any of us
afford not to unplug a little, look each other in the eye,
and integrate a few simple practices to calm the survival
mechanisms in the brain and buoy us all from this generation
of stress we have created. Research tells us that lasting change doesn’t come from
drastic life transformations. It comes from a collection
of small changes, changes that don’t require money,
leaving the city, or quitting your job. Short, simple practices
can get us out of survival mode and shift us from surviving to thriving. Today, I’d like to share
a few of my favorite practices. I have a friend, Erin, who’s a teacher
who’s had a really difficult year. On October 11th, she finished
her final day of work prior to her scheduled c-section
the next Monday. Her colleagues had thrown her
a baby shower, her parents and in-laws
had flown in town for the birth. On Sunday, the day before
the scheduled procedure, Erin gave birth to a still-born child. She went from anticipating one
of the most exciting life-changing events to trying to figure out
how she was going to explain to a group of second graders
why she was back at work so soon. Days can be brutally hard
for my friend Erin, but she’s convinced that life
is made to be lived, and she started this little practice
with two of her colleagues. At the end of each school day, they text each other
three good things about their day. Sometimes it’s that the sun is shining, sometimes it’s that a student
who was struggling did well on a test. Regardless, this simple practice
that takes about 60 seconds to do profoundly impacted how they felt
about their days and their lives. They enjoyed work more, they were
less exhausted at the end of the week, they felt happier. Research from Duke University
supports what they’re doing. According to their research, this practice of recognizing
our positive experiences for two weeks significantly lowers depression
and burn-out, increases happiness, improves sleep, and helps us create
a better work-life balance. When they followed
participants in this study for six months
after the two-week practice, they found this practice
trends better than Prozac for easing depression
and boosting happiness. When I talked to my friend Erin
about this practice, she said this, “It would be so easy for me to spend
every day dwelling on what I do not have. Finding the good forces me to become aware of the multiple opportunities
of good in my day. This is the gift born out of my loss, the good that reshapes
my mind and spirit.” I come from a long line of perfectionists. My grandfather was a perfectionist,
my dad was a perfectionist, He raised three perfectionists, though, I like to consider myself
a recovering perfectionist. (Laughter) Our society is filled with perfectionists,
and it sounds pretty cool to be one, but true perfectionism
doesn’t propel anyone forward, and it has actually been shown
to hold us back, and can lead to crippling anxiety,
depression, and even suicide. I once had someone tell me
I was doing mindfulness wrong. (Laughter) Now, it sounds like you know that mindfulness is a practice
based in non-judgmental awareness (Laughter) yet here I was, being judged,
and judged pretty critically. I honestly thought I was going to be
turned in to the mindfulness police for allowing 6-year-olds
to use a prop while meditating. (Laughter) How did I respond? This woman’s comment sent me reeling. The perfectionist in me determined
that I should close up shop, crawl into a hole,
and figure out a new career. It took mere seconds for me to disregard years of education
and experience training kids and adults, all the research
that backed up my methods, and all the beautiful stories
that I had been told about how my work had helped people. I immediately went down this rabbit hole of “I’m totally worthless
because this woman said so.” Perfectionist or not, we in
Generation Stress beat up ourselves. Unless we learn to acknowledge
and reframe our mistakes, they will devour us. When I talked to my dad about the fact that part of what I would be
speaking about today was perfectionism, he said this, “There is nothing wrong
with attempting perfection, so long as you understand
that success is remote. Failure should not be viewed negatively, but rather it can serve as the basis
for future challenges, and challenge is a stimulus for
a productive, happy, and meaningful life.” My perfectionist dad kind of nailed it. The practice is to reframe our mistakes
and our challenges in terms of growth. When we can do this, our brain
responds to these challenges differently. They no longer send us
into a panicked downward spiral. You can reinforce this practice
by asking your parents, your grandparents, or someone you look up to about
a mistake they made that lead to growth, or share one of your own challenges
with your teen or young child. Taking risks, making mistakes, picking ourselves up
and dusting ourselves off are keys to grit and resilience, resilience to all the stress
I just mentioned. Kindness shifts us
from surviving to thriving. Studies show that engaging in one act
of kindness a day for just ten days can measurably increase your happiness, and witnessing an act of kindness is almost as effective
as engaging in the act yourself, as this releases serotonin in our brain, and can lead to what neuroscientists
call a peak experience, those rare moments of inspiration
that leave us grateful to be alive. These moments
don’t have to be over the top. You can hold the door for someone, let somebody who appears rushed
go ahead of you in line, or write a kind note to a friend
or co-worker in need. The key is to bring mindful attention
to these simple acts. I wanted to find a way to cultivate
kindness in my own family, so we play a game called Rose, Bud, Thorn. It’s a simple game that can be played at the dinner table,
on a car ride, or before going to bed, and it reinforces each of the practices
that I’ve talked about today. Each person takes a turn
describing their rose, a good experience they had today, their thorn, a mistake
they learned from today, and their bud, an act of kindness
that they witnessed or initiated. This simple game
that takes about five minutes never ceases to shift my family
from surviving to thriving. Here’s what’s weird:
there was a time in my life when I would seek out
stressful situations. I took a job one summer in college
working for a bungee jumping company. (Laughter) I had the esteemed job
of testing the ropes. (Laughter) Every morning,
before any customers jumped, I would fling myself out of a basket
350 feet above the earth, and hope that my college buddies
had secured the lines. (Laughter) I think I got paid eight dollars an hour
for this prestigious position. (Laughter) Today, I don’t have to pursue
extreme sports to find stress. Modern living is an extreme sport. The thought of my inbox
on Monday mornings gets my heart racing, and the locker chandeliers,
those put me over the edge. (Laughter) My point to you here is this: we are surrounded
by big and little stressors, and they aren’t going away, but we don’t have to embark
on major life transformations to change our lives. If there’s one thing I hope
you remember from this talk today, it is this: it is the simple practices that lead to the most significant
and sustainable changes. My life is still crazy,
but in the last 10 years that I’ve been teaching
and practicing mindfulness, I’ve learned a few things. I savor sunsets, blooming flowers, and those moments when my kids
take my hand in theirs. I look for growth in difficult times,
even if I have to cry into a pillow first, and I take advantage
of opportunities for kindness. It’s these simple practices that shift my survival brain
to my thriving brain, and leave me feeling pretty damn grateful for my hectic, overwhelming,
and imperfect life. Thank you. (Applause)

About the author


  1. I'm currently applying to a 1 year Mindfulness training and this week I'm in charge of presenting to my whole 352 students from PK-8th grade how Mindfulness & Science are connected, so I'm feeling a high level of stress as I'm having a hard time figuring out how to put together all the information and experience I have. This morning I stop to breath, meditate and believe that I will find guidance to be able to complete my two project. From there I came down to my kitchen and went right away to my computer to continue searching others mindfulness practitioners findings that might can help me , however I rather choose to check my email and it became my best choice as I found your email with this TED Talk. Thank you so much for a mindful inspiration, I just have my "aha" moment, ready to complete my do list by finding the good, reframe my challenges and get to the point!

  2. Always love listening to you and reading about your work. Thank you Kristen! So many simple things that we can do that we were never taught to do ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. Kristen's message hits home with me and I will be sharing it with everyone around me! Thank you for your dedication and important work!

  4. Lots of gratitude to you Kristen. I took your Mindful Life Course and have been teaching Mindful Yoga to children since my son was 4 years old. He will be graduating high school soon. Here I am in the midst of college application season and finding myself very tested, with the process, with him, the state of affairs our country is in re: college loans and it goes on and on. I don't know where I would be without a practice and yet feel as human as you. I love how real you are and wise and loving. I admire you and am grateful to be on this path with you!

  5. I'm in highschool. My locker includes a couple shitty fandom sketches I made over the summer, a dinky little mirror to make sure I don't have any of the protein bar I choked down for lunch stuck in my braces, and an old photo from before I went half blind without glasses and needed to fill out 20 different forms in the first week of school. Trust me, no one gives a shit what's in your locker. Except if you're the girl who had a literal fruit fly infestation that quarantined a hallway. That kinda makes everyone remember you.
    YAAAY STRESS! Can anyone help me with a stupid health assignment or teach me how to use Corel painter in under twenty minutes?

  6. Generation X here! I opted out. No kids, no nothing actually. Beep it! I feel bad for you guys but i saw this shitstorm coming. Can we just acknowledge we have been deserted by the people who were supposed to pick up the slack? Can we please stop blaming ourselves for lack of stress resilience? We were deserted. By our parents, by our government, by the education system and by our partners. Our lives are reduced to walking around with a broom, swiping together the shards of a perfectly good life. Good god, even without kids. Pure damage control.

  7. Adrenal fatigue doesn't help matters. Stop drinking coffee, start taking kidney healers like Reishi. Vitamin D3 will also help on many levels, including deeper sleep, which heals stress.

  8. Hi Kristen:

    What you are saying makes sense. Please improve on the speech flow. Listening from you tube feels like taking a pleasure ride with lots pot holes. I had to stop at 11:59 as the frequency increased where there's untimely poses, word correction or other voice interruptions from what sounds like emotional distress. You have a point, but being perfectionist myself you lost me after a while. Sometimes it's not the research, but the delivery. I am sending you this message with best of intentions and hope to see some more stuff in the future

  9. Absolutely impressive, spot on speech about Xers and you're incredibly Beautiful, too.. Thank you for sharing.

  10. "modern living is an extreme sport"
    Find the good: practice gratefulness
    Reframe challenges in terms of growth
    Kindness: One moment of kindness shifts us from surviving to thriving

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