How to Achieve Stress Relief




I’ve talked in the previous posts about the vital importance of engaging in stress relief. According to Joe Dispenza, most people spend most of their time in what he calls survival mode. That is, we are reactive to our environment and we experience stress with adrenalin and cortisol pumping through our veins. This is a state of being that is detrimental to wellbeing and good health. Most significantly, in this state cell renewal and body maintenance do not take place – and these are essential to vibrant health and longevity.

The desirable state of being, the one that is supportive of good health and thriving in life, is what Joe calls the creative state. This state is optimal for cell renewal and wellbeing. In this state we are not reactive, that is to say we don’t simply plot along until some external factor such as a partner, teenager, colleague, traffic jam or missed appointment causes us to react with a negative emotion and stress response. We are in a creative state, we purposefully engage our attention (better still after having planned and/or organised our project – as well as our long-term goals – in our minds beforehand.

A creative state itself does not require planning. For example if you are engrossed in and focused on the chosen task – may it be writing, painting, singing, organising a work project – your attention is fully on the task. A tell-tale sign when you are in a creative state is when time seems to disappear. You might have been engaged in something for a couple of hours and it seems like 15 minutes. Even external factors such as a noisy truck outside your window or a cold air-conditioner are not registered by your brain. In other words, your brain – more specifically your highly evolved frontal lobe – has the power to tune out all unrelated external stimuli that have nothing to do with the task at hand. That’s very cool, isn’t it. You feel engaged, joyful, content, alive. You are literally outside of time and space when you are 100 % focused.

Now, focused attention is a skill that we can learn. Just like playing tennis or driving a car. Meditation is a way of training the mind and the body to concentrate on one thought alone. Meditation is the antidote to stress like antivenom is to snake venom. Science has now come on board and confirmed what eastern mystics have known for eons: meditation quiets the mind and stops stress in its tracks.

Now, the thought of meditation scares many people. Sitting still and doing nothing is not taught in our schools. Our society praises action, action and more action. Many people fear what thoughts might come up when they sit still. Others simply don’t think they can sit still even for a short period of time such as 10 minutes.

I believe that everyone who is motivated to learn how to meditate can do so. Because it is a skill, a learned skill. If you decide to put your full attention on something that is important enough to you because you realise the benefits to your life you will learn it. You might not attain mastery, after all people who learn to ride the bike don’t become Tour de France riders overnight. Like every other skill, meditation also requires practice. But just as you get from A to B when you first manage to ride a bike, even if it is wobbly and you might feel a little unnerved, when you start to meditate you will reap immediate benefits.

Also, it is good to remember that there are many different forms of meditation: going into nature is a form of meditation. A bushwalk, a stroll along the river or the beach usually quietens the mind. That is, as long as you actually focus on the nature around you and don’t think about your bills or other worries. As long as you stay focused and don’t let your mind wander off. If you focus your attention on your surroundings – the trees, flowers, mountains or water – you will relieve stress and help your body to return to homeostasis or balance (at least until the next stress factor comes along).

I would like to inspire you to start to learn the skill of focused attention. It will bring you incredible benefits such as joyfulness, contentment and peace. Start small. Take time out on your next walk to really look closely at a flower and become engaged in the wondrousness of nature.


Allow all of your attention to be focused on the flower. It does not matter what you choose to put your attention on – water, the sand under your naked feet, trees, the blue sky – as long as you are 100 % focused. If your thoughts wander, no worries, don’t chastise yourself, simply stop and decide to put your attention back onto whatever you were engaged in.


The skill of focused attention is like a muscle that needs strengthening and building. Once it is build up, it only needs to be maintained. There are so many ways in our life where the ability to deliberately and purposefully focus our attention will reward us with gifts such as inner peace and joy. The biggest benefit of all is wellbeing and stress relief.


Katrin Den Elzen

Recovery, Renewal & Reflection

Making sense of change





Can’t get used to losing you…..

30 December 2012. This was my husband’s birthday.  After all these years I still have this sense of disbelief at the way Mark died.

One cat scan, one simple, fast and easily accessible cat scan would have saved Mark’s life. And not only his life,  it would have stopped Mark’s unrelenting months and months of continuous, excruciating, inhumane suffering. That’s a hard pill to swallow.

The GP made the deliberate choice not to order a cat scan although Mark presented with 7 days of sudden, uncharacteristic, continuous, severe and debilitating headaches. Instead she made a definitive diagnosis of tension headaches, although conceding that Mark was not stressed. She explained to Mark that the term ‘tension headache’ was a misnomer and occurs without stress. This diagnosis was made despite the fact that the definition of tension headaches includes only mild to medium headaches. Mark’s severe headaches were certainly outside that scale. Mark had so-called red flag symptoms, such as the severity of his headaches and the fact that they woke him up at night from his sleep. The judge thought that the GP had made an outstanding consultation, not just an acceptable one, no, a commendable examination. He didn’t comment on the fact that tension headaches were a misdiagnosis, seeing that it fell outside the parameters of tension headaches and that in medical opinion, a diagnosis of tension headaches can only be made via excluding more sinister symptoms – namely by use of a cat scan. That is to say you cannot really diagnose tension headaches as such, as there is no test for it; you can only exclude all other possibilities through the use of diagnostic tools: such as a cat scan.

This reminds me of a German saying: Surgery a success – patient dead….

I know that the vast majority of GPs would have ordered a cat scan… But that was not what happened to Mark. He walked straight into the consulting room of the one GP who didn’t. Our movie took a completely different turn. Eight months of the most intense emotional roller coaster imaginable. Actually, the imagination does not stretch that far. You know when they say life is stranger than fiction. Yes, that’s what happened to us. If anyone tried to write a novel with that much suffering, and that many turns for the worst against the odds, then no-one would read it, it would be unbelievable. But that’s exactly what it is: unbelievable, but true.

Now I find myself in the situation that should never have happened – but did happen.

How do you deal with the knowing that one cat scan, one single cat scan, would have averted death and unfathomable suffering? Ironically Mark had many cat scans, MRI’s and not to mention countless brain surgeries. And the expert witness at the medical trial gave his expert (paid) opinion that one cat scan would have been a taxpayers’ waste of money, that it would have been unconscionable for the GP to waste tax dollars. He made that statement in the face of all that followed.  I’d imagine that his income for that expert opinion would have been higher than the cost of a cat scan. How about that. But the taxpayer didn’t have to pay for that, I did. I payed for this statement that said Australia could not afford to save my husband.

I’m digressing. The point that I’m making here is this: I found myself in this situation where I have to accept that it did happen – or slowly choke on my own bitterness at the injustice of it all. Right now I do have a choice: to accept or to resist.

I say this with the passing of eight years behind me. Engulfed as I was in the pain of having witnessed such extreme suffering, it did not feel like a choice in the beginning, the first few years. It was quite out of reach for me to accept this decision not to order a cat scan. How do you accept the unacceptable??

I do have a choice now. And I choose to accept what happened.

Perhaps you might finish off the old year with accepting what has come your way. . .

I will say that this did not come easy; it was at times a seemingly insurmountable mountain. For a long time I did not think that I would make it to the top. Because to accept feels like condoning ‘the wrong’. Condoning injustice. Yet it is not. It just feels that way.

I do personally believe that the GP should have ordered a cat scan. I also accept that this is what happened.

The movie had all sorts of incredible turns in it, such as me becoming a palliative care spokesperson and sharing my story in front of an international palliative care conference with 1300 delegates from 28 countries. I believe, no I know, that by sharing my story I have made a difference to others. Even if I helped just one other person not to suffer the way Mark did because of a lack of adequate pain management, then it has been worth it to keep wading through the depth of my pain by retelling what happened. And I went on to do a Masters, to share my story and to delve deeply into recovery from bereavement. What an amazing journey that has been. It has given me a deep level of contentment.

I’d like to finish off today by remembering Mark, his special smile, the way he threw back his head when he laughed, underlined by little snorts and sparkling green eyes, his ever present sense of humour. Our love has not died; it has survived and lives on. I am grateful for 20 wonderful years I spent with Mark. Here are The Beats for you, with memories of travelling from Melbourne to Queensland in our old HR:




Don’t leave it till later – do it now.

Katrin Den Elzen

Recovery, Renewal & Reflection

Making sense of change

How to reconnect with life following emotional pain or trauma

When you are stuck in the midst of a whirlpool of unimaginable emotional pain, and the memory of suffering swirls around your head, playing the movie in front of your inner eye over and over, and the excruciating sounds of suffering echo in your ears, and all of the cells of your body are filled with your emotional pain, there appears to be nothing beyond this agonising inner pain. Emotional healing, even just feeling ‘normal’, seems out of reach. So how then do you reconnect with life, and re-build a joyful life?

I truly believe that the very first step to reconnecting with life is the desire within to do so. Something in you has to really want that for yourself. It has to be genuine. You cannot kid yourself; you cannot pretend that you want it when really you don’t. No-one can do this for you other than yourself. There is no way around this step. It has to be authentic. No-one else can truly provide you emotional support that might bring about a lasting change for you until you have made that decision for yourself.

You do not, however, have to know at that point in time HOW on earth you are going to be able to do that. The how will come; it will follow your inner decision to reach for reconnection, for a life of thriving. The pathway or pathways that will help you to make that reconnection happen for yourself will show up.

When I made my decision to choose happiness for my children and myself I was firmly caught up in despair. This was four months into Mark’s journey of his illness and trauma; at this stage he already had multiple brain surgeries, and, being unable to move, more and more things started to go wrong with his body. The outlook, according to doctors, “was bleak”. I did not know if he would live or die, there were no clear answers and the not-knowing was extremely agonising. And if he lived, would he need full care for the rest of his life? I had no answers, only despair and exhaustion. But in the middle of all this something inside me compelled me to make my decision to choose something beyond the suffering and pain, to choose happiness. I did not want my children’s happiness put on hold indefinitely, paused until one day their beloved dad might come home.

I know deep in my heart that it was this decision that I made, sitting on my couch at home in a rare moment of solitude, that made my recovery and renewal possible in the long term. And importantly, it made it possible for our children to recover from their trauma. It did not take my pain away, but it added in something else. It opened the door to tiny snippets of joy, such as when I was hugging my children, a moment, even a nanosecond, of something else.

I have therefore placed making the decision to choose a happy life for yourself, to choose emotional healing, as my first signpost. It is an inner process. And I hope that by sharing my story of recovery from trauma that I might inspire you to make that decision for yourself to dare to say yes to you.


In a previous post I shared the story of Nick Vujicic, who was born without arms or legs. He knows despair first-hand. How did he get out of his whirlpool of despair and suffering? It seems that Nick turned his inner world around and connected for the first time in his life with the possibility that he could be happy and could contribute something to the world when his mother showed him a newspaper article on a disabled man. For the first time Nick realised that his uniqueness had a positive side to it: having no arms or legs placed him in a position where he moved people, where he speaks directly to people’s hearts. This means that Nick can have an instant heart connection with others, bypassing the formal logical brain based connection that usually is the first type of connection we have with a stranger. He is able to open people’s hearts, and that is a huge gift to give to others.

Obviously recognising and then connecting with this shift in perception of himself would have been an ongoing process for Nick that took place over a long period of time.

But there are some tangible events in Nick’s life that are proof of his incredible inner strength and optimism, evidence of his shift in perception: earlier this year, in February 2012, Nick got married to his beautiful wife Kanae. This video clip is a true testament to their incredible love story.

Nick Vujicic: emotinal healing and wellbeing despite extreme adversity



And now Kanae and Nick are expecting their first baby! Nick could not have possibly imagined as he was growing up that he would ever become a father himself. Even in recent years, as Nick’s wish to become a father has been growing, he could not have imagined the path his life would take in meeting and getting married to Kanae and then falling pregnant early on in their marriage.


What is the uniqueness about you that is borne out of your personal adversity and pain? Who are you today as a result of all of your life experience, especially the challenges and painful experiences that ripped your heart open?


Katrin Den Elzen

Recovery, Renewal & Reflection                                                                                                                                                                                                                           Making sense of change