Interview: Samantha Brody
Samantha Brody has spent more than twenty years in her practice addressing the physical, mental, and emotional aspects of her patients’ health, to help them effectively address and achieve their health goals. Her new book Overcoming Overwhelm: Dismantle Your Stress from the Inside Out just hit the shelves.
I couldn't wait to talk to her about happiness, habits, and productivity. For many people, stress is a big happiness stumbling block as they try to make their lives happier.
Gretchen: What’s a simple habit or activity that consistently makes you happier, healthier, more productive, or more creative?
Samantha: The thing that keeps me consistently making choices that make me feel my best is something I also recommend to each and every person I work with: to get clear about what is most important. Every month or quarter I revisit what my top 5 values are (using this values discovery exercise that I developed), as well as how I want to feel both emotionally and physically. Some of these things are static year over year, and some change as I evolve (and as my family and work life evolve!)
Gretchen: What’s something you know now about building healthy habits or happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
Samantha: I was always very good at goal setting and habit building, even when I was a teenager. The problem was that I was choosing the wrong goals and habits. I thought happiness would come with succeeding in the ways that our culture so often dictates: being thin, popular, accomplished, degreed, and so on. The truth, though, was that even though I managed all of those things, they didn’t actually bring me happiness.
What I know now is that in order to be truly happy I need to cozy up with the fact that I’m me. (Like your commandment to “Be Gretchen.”) I’m awkward and goofy, and sometimes say inappropriate things. I’m incredibly empathetic but sometimes not as sympathetic as I want to be. I’m a work in progress and there is no end-goal that is going to bring me happiness. It’s being clear about what is most important and how I want to feel so I can make choices every day that allow me to be in alignment with who I am and what I want my life to look like.
Gretchen: Which habits do you think are most important for people to feel their best?
Samantha: I wish there were one answer to this. In my book I help people identify specifically which things will have the biggest impact for them individually. What makes every person feel their best varies, but without a doubt, there are some areas that will have universal benefit.
- Sleep. 8 hours if possible, 7.5 at a bare minimum (this is for adults, kids need even more!). To feel our best without adequate, good quality sleep is an uphill battle. If people have trouble with sleep, it’s important to address that and get the help they need to fix it (ideally without medications if possible).
- Nature. Studies show that getting out into nature helps our mood, energy, focus, and health. This doesn’t necessarily mean camping (I thank my lucky stars for that…) but at least getting your “face in nature” as my old yoga teacher used to say. Breathe fresh air. Touch a tree. Even just sit on the ground for a few minutes.
- Strength Training. The more we learn about health, metabolism, aging, and energy, the more we are seeing that strength training for exercise is what helps our bodies the most. Sure, walking is good, and being able to run away from a wild pig is a plus, but the more muscle mass you have the better your hormones will work, the better your metabolism will function and the healthier your bones will be. You’ll be more sturdy, less susceptible to injury, and more likely to feel your best.
Gretchen: Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger?
Samantha: Questioner, hands down. Knowing this and using the advice from your books and blog around this has helped me so much with the work I do with clients and patients! Thank you!
Gretchen: In your book Overcoming Overwhelm: Dismantle Your Stress from the Inside Out you talk about why you think stress management is just a Band-aid.
Samantha: Stress management is important, but it’s not a solution. So often, even when we choose things to manage stress that are good for us—meditation, exercise, anything really—they are ultimately going to cause more stress because we are trying to add yet another thing to our ever-growing to-do lists.
In order to really get out from under stress, we need to think about dismantling it rather than managing it. And in order to think about dismantling it we need to think about stress differently than we are used to doing. Not as just the big things, but as the accumulation of all of the things that pile up to overwhelm us on all levels, the good and the bad, the obvious and the next-to-invisible.
Once we do that, we are able to identify countless small changes we can make to decrease our overall load, making room for the inevitable stresses that come up—because if there is one thing that is certain, it’s that there will always be challenges in life.
Gretchen: Have you ever been hit by a lightning bolt, where you made a major change very suddenly, as a consequence of reading a book, a conversation with a friend, a milestone birthday, a health scare, etc.?
Samantha: I call these ‘pinnacle moments.’ The places in life where things pivot—for the better or for the worse, sometimes with awareness, but most often with a retrospective understanding.
I experienced one of these as I was getting ready for the launch of Overcoming Overwhelm. It had been a rough few months. I had a family member who was having health problems. My book launch plan wasn’t following the map I had intended (when things don’t go as anticipated it’s hard emotional work for me). We had just moved home after living in an AirBnB for 3 weeks because we had rats in our home due to a neighborhood infestation I didn’t know about. Just as we were settling back in I started to get some back pain. Except there was nothing wrong with my back. It was shingles.
My expertise as a naturopathic physician is in the areas of physical and emotional stress and overwhelm. And I walk my own talk in those areas. I’m conscious. I’m attentive. Yet, I still came down with a health condition that is literally triggered by stress.
I was embarrassed and upset. I started questioning myself. It was almost impossible to sleep, or work. I sat with the crazy pain, and relentless itching. I had to stay in bed in one position because rolling over was excruciating. It hurt to talk. I cancelled a trip that I was really excited about. And as I curled up, trying to make sense of it all, I surrendered to the pain, and cried. Of course my body was stressed. I put three long years of my life into this book. The expenses to fix the rat situation were climbing and climbing. My kid had just started middle school. I did all the right things, and I still got sick.
In that moment I realized I was expecting more from myself than the people I treat and counsel. I teach that we can only do our best. That sometimes life is hard and often there are things we can’t control. I was doing my best. Did I need to reassess and switch gears? Yes, obviously. But the big lesson was accepting that I, too, am human, and fallible, and vulnerable to getting a little off track.
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