Finding mindfulness and meaning in a year of burnout
Lisa Abramson
Executive coach, author, keynote speaker, and mindfulness teacher

This year, our mental health has been dealt a crushing blow. A third of Americans, many of whom are working parents, are showing signs of clinical depression or anxiety. Alcohol consumption and substance abuse are on the rise – especially among mothers. We’ve stressed, self-doubted, and simply forgotten to take care of #1. Lisa Abramson is here to help. She’s an executive coach, mother of two, author, and leading authority on mindfulness who’s taught programs at Google, Cisco, Microsoft, PwC, Uber, and many others. Called an “inspiration” by Oprah, Lisa’s mindfulness meditations have been streamed online over 1 million times around the world. She shares advice on how you can start to take better care of yourself – mentally and physically – with tips and ideas you can put into practice right away to achieve a calmer, more mindful and resilient you. Discover self-compassion, silence your inner critic, and say goodbye to burnout – no matter what work/life has in store.


Listen to this episode to learn:

  • Advice on making the time and space to focus on YOU; even a few deep breaths or 5 minutes a day of mindfulness works wonders
  • The benefits of a daily dance party (FloRida optional!)
  • Tips for starting, and sticking with, a daily mindfulness meditation practice
  • The benefits of cutting back – or stopping – drinking alcohol, and how to focus on what you want to gain, not on what you’re losing, when you chose to stop drinking
  • How creating new family rituals can build more intention (and fun!) into into your days
  • The difference between the pressure to succeed and ambition
  • The power of asking one simple question: “What do you want?”
  • Lisa’s personal story of living through postpartum psychosis, and what she learned from her experience


For more information, visit www.lisaabramson.com.


Click here to read the full episode

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Full Transcript

Finding mindfulness and meaning in a year of burnout

Intro: Welcome to the Equal Parts podcast, brought to you by Care@Work.

Emily Paisner: Being a working parent is hard. Right now, we're stretched so thin, we're forgetting to take care of ourselves. Our guest today knows exactly what that feels like and she's here to help. Lisa Abramson has been called an inspiration by Oprah. Her mindfulness meditations have been streamed over one million times around the world. She is an author, executive coach, and keynote speaker who has taught programs at Google, Microsoft, Uber, and more. Today, she's with us to help you prioritize your well-being, learn how to practice daily mindfulness, and how to avoid burnout. Have a listen.

Lisa, welcome to Equal Parts. Thank you so much for being here today.

Lisa Abramson: Thank you for having me.

Emily Paisner: I know I don't have to tell you what a stressful and strange year this has been. I recently read an article that said, "A third of Americans are showing signs of clinical depression or anxiety because of the pandemic." Now, the holidays coming up, which we all know is a stressful time of year with or without everything that's going on. Can you tell us some ways parents can take better care of themselves to really avoid burnout right now?

Lisa Abramson: Yes, absolutely. Of course, there's a lot of the basics, like trying to get more rest and eating healthily. But I think one hack that you might not be thinking about is learning to be on your own side and quieting that inner critic.

That can mean not just saying, "I'm such a bad mom. I haven't finished my holiday shopping or I haven't even started." That kind of thing, just the way we say it externally when we call ourselves a bad mom or a bad parent or we feel like we're not doing enough, actually imagining a stop sign when you hear those negative thoughts and remind yourself, "It's 2020. It's been a year. You're doing a great job." I love saying to my inner critic, "I heard you, but I've got this." And that seems to quiet my inner critic pretty well.

Emily Paisner: In addition to silencing your inner critic, can you talk a little bit about some of the practical things we can be doing to help ourselves get through this time?

Lisa Abramson: Absolutely. Making an effort to move your body every day, even if it's just a 5 or 10-minute walk, starts to release those endorphins and makes you feel better and then it has that double positive effect where it also helps you get better quality sleep if your body has got some exercise. I recommend that to my clients all the time, like if you're feeling extra anxious or you're feeling extra stress, how are you sleeping and then have you been exercising.

Emil Paisner: I typically know all of the things that I should be doing, but sometimes, I don't make the time or the space for it. I found that even blocking time on my calendar is a great way to ensure that it actually happens. Do you have any other tips for making the space for this?

Lisa Abramson: I love that, putting things on your calendar. I'd also say, for all the overachiever, perfectionist type, myself included, we sometimes think, "Well, if I can't work out for 45 minutes, it's not worth it, and I don't have time to do 45 minutes." Really just doing 5 or 10 minutes a day can really make a world of a difference. I start every morning with a dance party, just five minutes of exercise. I love to do more exercise during the day if I can get to it, going on a short walk or run. But even just that little bit can make a huge difference. I think we don't give ourselves credit for all of those little changes can add up to something that makes you just feel more vibrant and alive.

Emily Paisner: You talked to Oprah about your daily dance party ritual as well. How did that start and how is it going? Enquiring minds want to know what song is on rotation right now?

Lisa Abramson: [chuckles] Oh my gosh, yes. I started it in February. I didn't even know how important it would become when March rolled around and it seemed like COVID was going to be a thing to stay longer and longer. But I started because I went to Oprah's tour around-- It was in San Francisco. I went to her Vision Tour. It was fantastic. We danced there, and I realized I had such a great day because I danced all day long during that tour. I realized I wanted to incorporate that into my life. I love dancing, but being a mom of two little kids, I don't get to the club very often.


Lisa Abramson: So [unintelligible 00:04:56] dance party. Right now, it's [unintelligible 00:05:00] which is random, but that's what I love these days.

Emily Paisner: Aside from the daily dance parties, I know you're also an advocate of daily meditation, and I hear over and over again about how necessary this is to balance yourself and we've had meditation experts on this podcast, and I hear it, and I read it, and I always have really good intentions of meditating and I do it for a few days in a row and then it stops because I just don't make it a priority. How can people get started and really stick with a daily meditation practice?

Lisa Abramson: Again, I think not biting off more than necessary, just start with one minute or even just one mindful breath. We can even do it now and you can get credit for the day just to like [inhales and exhales] and even that letting yourself really sigh--

Emily Paisner: You have no idea how much I needed that today.

Lisa Abramson: Right? It's just that exhale and remembering that both are important, that inhale and that time to exhale, we need both the rest and the go-go-go. Rest is not a reward, and we treat it as such, especially as parents, we're like, "Oh, once I get all of my tasks done, eventually I will rest" or people joke, "I'll sleep when I'm dead." That's not good, as someone who suffered from a mental health crisis related to a lot of extreme sleep deprivation after becoming a new mom. Sleep and rest is essential, and we need to flip that switch. It's not a reward, it's something that is the foundation and building blocks to being the person you want to be.

Emily Paisner: It truly is so important to get that rest and to be mindful of your daily rituals, to keep yourself sane. I think that a lot of people right now have turned to alcohol to help them get through this time, and I know people joke about it and talk about, "Mommy Happy Hour" and all of that, but the reality is that alcohol consumption and substance abuse is up this year, especially among women. Last year, you wrote about how we can work towards drinking less during the holidays and your advice feels more relevant now than ever.

Lisa Abramson: I feel like for me, where this came to a head was realizing I wanted to wake up and feel my best every morning. For me, just one glass of wine would make me feel groggy and have a slight hangover. Once I was in my mid-30s and late 30s, it was no longer that I was feeling okay. It was actually that negative effect of not feeling great in the morning and realizing, "Look at all the things I'm doing to try to prioritize my well-being, prioritize my sleep, and then I'm doing something that's actively counterbalancing that."

I would say, to cut back, think about what you want to gain, not what you're losing. Could you maybe do that short workout in the morning or could you get more sound sleep and maybe you snap less at your children because you feel a little bit more rested. What is it that's to gain? This is a personal question, and the greatest thing is right now, no one is going to know if you're joining a Zoom Happy Hour and there is sparkling water in your glass. You can still use your wine glasses and feel festive. I do that all the time, making fun mocktails and no one even has to know.

Some of the tips I gave in the article last year were about how to show up to a party, and when someone offers you a drink, you just say, first off, "I'm not having-- Just I'll start with water or I don't want one quite yet." Basically, after you pass on the first drink, then no one really comes up again and hounds you about drinking. It was kind of how to be out in public and not be drinking at a social event and have it go unnoticed, but here we are in the days of Zoom, it's a little different.

Emily Paisner: Correct me if I'm wrong, but you're three years sober, right?

Lisa Abramson: I am. I am.

Emily Paisner: Tell us a little bit about that journey.

Lisa Abramson: It's so interesting. It started with basically a one-week experiment that turned into two weeks and three weeks. Then by the time a few months had passed, I realized I really didn't miss drinking at all and I had gained so much in terms of feeling vibrant and sense of clarity and sleeping better. That was my journey. I wasn't expecting to go there. There was nothing dramatic, there wasn't some big event that caused it. I just-- I cut down drinking and then all of a sudden, week after week of a commitment and then I stopped. It's kind of that sober-curious movement. I guess I would be a poster child for that.

Emily Paisner: That's impressive, congratulations. With so many of us working from home, there's really no boundary, right? There's no boundary between work and home and everything starts to feel like Groundhog Day, one day is leading into the next. I've mentioned this before in other podcasts, but I feel like we have less time now than we did before, which really makes no sense at all because we aren't commuting, we aren't rushing around to sporting events. How can we be more intentional about what we choose to focus on and how we spend our time?

Lisa Abramson: Yes, that's maybe the fifth time I've heard someone say, "It feels like Groundhog Day, it feels like Groundhog Day." That definitely resonates. I found the most helpful thing you can do is create new rituals and habits that are fun. One thing we've embraced since the pandemic that honestly we never had done before, but very simple is doing a movie night, Friday nights is the kids get to eat candy while we watch a movie and we watch in our matching pajamas. It sounds cheesy, but it's fun, and it's something to look forward to, and it makes it feel like it's a different night.

It's great too if you can give a name to it. I know a movie night is obviously a simple name, but you can come up with something creative. Now my kids say, "Oh, are going to do movie night?" They of course ask Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. They ask all the time.

Emily Paisner: Who doesn't want a good movie night?

Lisa Abramson: Yes. I think they just want the candy. That makes it a little better for us because then we get some influence on what movies that we watch.

Emily Paisner: Let's talk a little bit about the negative thoughts that a lot of us are feeling about ourselves and our abilities. You mentioned this earlier, "I'm a bad mom, I'm a bad worker." Imposter syndrome is something that many of us are feeling and this fear of failure is holding us back. What are some of the ways we can put to rest the self-doubt that we feel?

Lisa Abramson: You need to first start by recognizing that even if you're saying it to yourself, it's still really harmful and it hurts. That's sort of the base level, is that we need to realize, can you imagine if the things that you say to yourself on a daily basis, if someone in your life was saying that same thing to you, you would have told that person, "Get out of my life." "Why would I want to invite that into my life?" But we'll say that kind of stuff to ourselves all day long. The first thing is just to realize that impact and hopefully from realizing that impact of this is just as harmful as if someone else is saying it to me.

Can you have some compassion for yourself and realize, "Yes, it's hard." It's hard dealing with kids and school and life and the pandemic and the holidays and all of the things you're juggling. So, having that moment and saying, "Wow, this is a lot that I've got going on, this is a ton on my plate and maybe I can try to just be on my side a little bit more." Learning those phrases of self-compassion of, "Ouch, I'm having a hard time, anyone in my same boat would be feeling this way. Can I be kind to myself in this moment? Can I give myself some compassion?" And that can feel completely foreign.

It did feel foreign to me and completely woo-woo, but trust me, with practice, that starts to feel normal. And then you can take those risks and then you can give yourself permission to fail, because you can if you're going to criticize yourself at every move, you'll keep playing small. It's too much to take on for anyone.

Emily Paisner: So much of our identity and self-worth is wrapped up in our work, and it's easy to feel that if we're not hustling, we're not doing enough, and I know women especially feel some of this pressure. I've heard you say that used to be all about the hustle but now you're very much anti-hustle. Are we putting too much pressure on ourselves and at what cost?

Lisa Abramson: Yes, Emily. I think the cost was the study that you mentioned when we kicked this off about depression and anxiety, that is the cost. It's severe, and it needs to be taken seriously that we are putting too much pressure on ourselves trying to be everything to everybody. This is not about curtailing your ambition. It's really about prioritizing what's important to you and creating that crystal clear version of success, "What does success look like to you? Not to society, not to your parents, not to your family, not to your co-workers. What does it look like to you?" Then what do you need to do to achieve that goal and that's what I work with my clients, my executive coaching clients one-on-one to do, because once you have that clear vision of what you want, which sounds like an easy question, but it's quite difficult. My clients can tell me for hours what they don't want, but it is actually hard to answer the question without some support of what do you want and then once you know what you want, creating the systems and habits, so that you can create more of those ideal days and more of what you want.

Emily Paisner: Such a simple question that-- I know I have never really asked myself before. So, thank you, because I will take the time to think through that. That's really beautiful actually.

Lisa Abramson: Thank you.

Emily Paisner: I know that you wrote a very personal essay in the New York Times last year about your struggle with postpartum psychosis, and in it, you wrote that I became the mindfulness teacher who lost her mind. It was such a powerful story.

Lisa Abramson: Yes, basically, within a month of giving birth to my first daughter, I was having trouble sleeping, I was feeling very anxious and basically it turned into three completely sleepless nights and then I experienced a psychotic break and I actually I thought I was being very rational asking my mom and my husband if I should go jump off the Golden Gate Bridge. I was like, "Will that make this better? Should I go do that?" That was like a moment where I thought, "I was really onto something, I was asking the right question."

I can kind of laugh at it, it's so ridiculous, but that was the mindset I was in because I kept going in and out of sort of a dreamlike state, there was moments where I felt like, "I've got a grip on reality" and then there was moments where I thought there were snipers on the roof, and I thought, "There was a whole scenario with a night nanny coming for my child and the police were coming to get me and there was a crime that I was falsely accused of."

I mean, there was this whole scenario. That sounds ridiculous now, but I believed in my bones, and it was terrifying and terrifying. Thankfully, I got the help that I needed, but yes, it was the irony of all things, that I was working and promoting mental well-being and mindfulness and self-compassion, and I found myself tested to my core through this experience.

Emily Paisner: Women suffer from postpartum depression. I know a smaller percentage have the psychosis that you experienced, but I do think that especially this year, mental health has come into the limelight in the workplace, and I truly hope that that's a silver lining outcome of this pandemic, that people do feel more comfortable talking about mental health-related issues at work.

Lisa Abramson: Absolutely and I would just say, the study that you kicked off with, you are not alone. If you're having a tough time and you're stronger by allowing others to support you. There is no prize for suffering in silence and you can get help and there's great help. A lot of new moms will just say, "Oh, I don't want to get help because I don't want to be on medication."

Talk therapy is incredibly effective, so is medication, but there's tons of options, and I would say, after my experience, everything from a naturopathic doctor, acupuncture, talk therapy, medication, I combined, and meditation, a lot of different modalities to find what worked for me to make me feel like me again. So, if you are there, if you're struggling and you find yourself saying, "I feel like I'm drowning or I don't feel like myself, I don't recognize myself anymore," you are not alone but also that's not normal, and you can get help.

Emily Paisner: I think we just scratched the surface of all of the amazingness that you have to offer, and I think everyone could probably use a little more Lisa in our lives right now. Can you tell our listeners how they can continue to follow you and your work?

Lisa Abramson: Absolutely. You can find more information on my website, lisaabramson.com. If you are interested in starting a new meditation habit or building up your self-compassion muscle, there's a Five-day Mindset Reset Program on my website, and you get a five-minute meditation every day for five days. I think it's something that no matter how busy you are, whether you're the CEO or whatever is on your plate, you can fit in five minutes for you. I think it's a great place to start if you're curious about learning more about the stuff.

Emily Paisner: Lisa, thank you so much for being here and I wish you a wonderful holiday season with your family and most of all, a healthy one.

Lisa Abramson: Thank you. You too.

Outro: Thanks for listening to this episode of Equal Parts. See you next time.

Emily Paisner: Wait, before you go, I just want to tell you a little bit about Care@Work by Care.com. They work with some of the world's largest companies to offer family care benefits to their employees. If you're one of the lucky ones who already has care benefits at work, use them. If you don't, ask for them. It's a real lifesaver. To learn more, visit care.com/careatwork. Again, that's care.com/careatwork.