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‘I’m Too Stressed to Deal With My Stress!’

“Personal well-being is very, very personal,” I declared to a packed room of smart, successful women who gathered last week for a lively conversation between me and Christie Hefner, hosted by the Chicago Network.

Full disclosure: I’m a member of this group. I’m the one who insisted on a large bowl of organic, non-GMO potato chips to sit beside the goat cheeses and raw veggies with dips. (Christie humored me.)

Lawyers, architects, mothers, wives, captains of industry, heads of nonprofits, bankers, judges – it was a diverse, savvy and opinionated group of high-achieving females.

Each had her own definition of personal well-being, and they all wanted some pointers on the best ways to get there, especially now, when personal well-being feels so squeezed, so trampled on by the news of the day. No question: They were leaning in.

“It’s not about how much you weigh, or how many crunches you can do, or how many times you’ve been to the gym this week,” I said, watching their faces relax, their heads nod in agreement. “Personal well-being is much bigger than that, much broader.”

It’s about the joy and balance in your life. Yes, it’s about eating real food and exercising in a way that feels good, but just as important – maybe more important – are your social relationships: who you love and who loves you. It’s about taking control of your time, and your devices, and making sure that you take time to do the things that make you feel whole, and happy, and connected to the people who support you.

Christie’s sharp questions – about brain health, about the foolishness of dieting – kept the conversation juicy, and we talked about all sorts of ways we could enhance our well-being: This is what Network-ing and my new book are all about. Here are some points I hit on during our conversation.

  • “Use a stand-up desk!” Sitting really is the new smoking. There are more than 10,000 studies pointing to the damage done to the human body from too much sitting. “Take off your shoes,” a woman who loves her standing desk shouted out. “You can’t do it in heels!”
  • “Get a nutritionist on your health care team.” Your doctor may be a wizard in many wonderful ways, but chances are he’s had very little training in the relationship between what you eat, how you feel and how you heal. (This is changing, I know, but ever so slowly.)
  • “Get enough sleep!” I ordered, invoking the spirit of Arianna Huffington. The neuroscience keeps coming in: Your brain needs time to rest, restore, renew. Aside from bedtime, meditation and mindfulness training are two proven ways to do that. End of story. “I really want to meditate, because I know it would help me deal with my stress,” one top-notch attorney volunteered. “But I’m too stressed to deal with my stress!” Big laugh.


The next morning I got an email from one of the Network members. She told me a story I want to share with you, dear readers, because it includes such an unusual and illuminating take on personal well-being.

“I have been thinking about the guest who has been avoiding meditating,” she wrote. “I’m not a meditator, but I do take time during the day to get in the moment.

“I wonder if it would help her to know how I came to it. I learned it from my mother as she sunk deeper and deeper into memory loss. My mom had a pretty tough childhood, and she was one of the unhappiest people I ever knew.

“But in her late 70s she began to change. She became softer, kinder and – to my amazement – funny. I learned that this often happens with people who are losing their memory. The absence of unhappy memories leaves room for happy ones.

“And as she got to the point where she had no memory at all, she was always content. Her needs were being met: She was safe, fed, warm and cared for. And that’s all she needed to be happy.

“I realized that if, at any moment during the day, I take the time to focus on the fact that I am safe, warm, fed and generally without immediate physical threats, I’m OK. My whole body relaxes. And it only takes a few seconds. Sets everything else in context.”

Aah, yes: It’s that feeling of “All is well.”


– Marilynn Preston is the author of Energy Express, America’s longest-running healthy lifestyle column. Her new book “All Is Well: The Art {and Science} of Personal Well-Being” is available now on Amazon and elsewhere. Visit Creators Publishing at to learn more. For more on personal well-being, visit




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