Stress Management with Guest Author Dr. Keira Barr

I’m HONORED AND EXCITED today to feature a post authored for Circle of Hope by world renowned dermatologist, author, speaker, and mindfulness expert Dr. Keira Barr. Her work has been featured in MindBodyGreen, Reader’s Digest, Glamour, SELF, and, and many other prestigious publications. Enjoy!

Do you stress about feeling stressed? You’re not alone, and there’s good news….you can use that stress to your advantage, starting NOW!

In my book, “The Skin Whisperer”, I dive deeper into this, but if you haven’t had the chance to read it yet, I want to share some insight and tools to help you get the most out of your emotions. 

Because here’s the thing, there will always be experiences, situations and interactions that have the potential to make your palms sweaty, cause your heart to beat faster and raise your blood pressure.

But it’s how you perceive stress that makes all the difference regarding how you process it. Do you see stress as a threat or danger? Or do you view stress as an opportunity to challenge yourself?

When you see stress as an opportunity for personal growth, your heart may race, and your adrenaline goes up, but you get a jolt of energy which differs from the fight or flight response in several important ways that work for you rather than against you:

  • You feel focused rather than fearful.
  • You can tap into your creativity, resourcefulness and physical capabilities more readily
  • You release different levels of stress hormones.

The outcome is that your level of confidence, concentration and performance is amplified. What’s more is that people who are able to think about stress more like an opportunity and less like a threat report lower depression, anxiety, have higher levels of energy and increased life satisfaction. Plus from a skin standpoint, this means fewer wrinkles, frown lines and more youthful looking skin. Hands up if you want that? 

If your tendency is to want everything to be simple, predictable and secure,  then now is the perfect time to shift your perception about stress and try on a different lens. Here’s how:

First, change your response to “What if?”

When you are in stress mode, the default answer to “what if?” is usually a negative. For example, you are about to start a new treatment regimen and you’re worried it won’t be effective. “What if it doesn’t work? What if the side effects make me sick? What if I spent all this time trying something and it doesn’t make me better. Time wasted?”

Now let’s flip that script and reframe your response. “What if the treatment is a huge success? What if all the time I spend going to treatment is an opportunity to read those books I’ve had on my wishlist? What if this treatment helps make my recovery easier?”

Two very different responses to the same question. One puts you into defeat mode with associated feelings of depression, anxiety and overwhelm and the other into possibilities mode boosting your resilience, energy and creativity. 

Next, include variety into your day.

Do you allow for flex time in your schedule or are your days planned out to the minute? Don’t get me wrong, having a schedule especially when juggling work, family and social obligations are useful and necessary. But rigidly sticking to your plan may backfire and be counterproductive to your overall sense of wellbeing, creativity and performance. Giving yourself permission to allow flexibility in your schedule and more importantly by intentionally creating opportunities to shake things up from your typical routine will increase your resilience (and perhaps spark some unexpected joy from the novelty!)

Lastly, try new things like start a random hobby or join a group.

Does the idea of trying something new make your stomach do flips? Does the idea of change make you feel anxious and overwhelmed? Trying something new and pushing you out of your comfort zone is uncomfortable. I totally get it. But it’s in the experience of discomfort that you grow and develop new skills. So start small and/or start with something that’s meant to be fun like taking up a new hobby. Taking an art class, or music lession or joining a meet-up group of like minded people in your area of interest are great ways to introduce change and to challenge yourself in bite-size pieces. By stepping into an opportunity to try new things it’s not only a great way to reduce stress, recharge your creativity and get in the flow, it also builds your resilience, improves your performance and bonus…makes you happier.

Stress doesn’t have to be stressful. It’s a reality that you can leverage to your advantage starting now. You got this!

Adapted from blog at:

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dr. Keira Barr is a holistically-minded wellness expert, author, speaker and physician with more than twenty years of experience in medicine, mind-body health, and clinical research. Dr. Barr is a dual-board certified dermatologist who helps women address the skin they’re in – literally and figuratively – to achieve greater physical, mental, and emotional resilience so that they look, feel and perform their absolute best.

Blending her medical expertise with cognitive science and her own health struggles, she has lectured throughout the world on health topics, teaching communities and health professionals with compassion and a unique perspective. Her passion is bringing forth a whole-self approach to skin health and bridging the gaps between science, soul and connection in medicine.

Dr. Barr’s expertise has been featured on national television, radio, podcasts as well as outlets including MindBodyGreen, Reader’s Digest, Glamour, SELF, and

W: www.drkeirabarr.comE: hello@drkeirabarr.comB:
I: @drkeirabarr

P.S. Looking for a holistic approach to skin wellness? These articles here and here in MindBodyGreen can help.
P.P.S. Ready to make your skin GLOW? Get your FREE Glowing Skin Cheat Sheet HERE!
P.P.P.S. Skin giving you issues? Check out my #1 Internationally Best Selling book “The Skin Whisperer: A Dermatologist Reveals How to Look Younger, Radiate Beauty and Create the Life you Crave”

Acceptance in Mindfulness Meditation

What does practicing acceptance in mindfulness meditation mean?

As you may recall, the 3 important aspects of mindfulness meditation are present moment awareness, nonjudgment and acceptance. This post completes a 3 part series to discuss these in more detail. You can find the other two posts here and here

One definition of acceptance is “the act of receiving something offered.” 

As acceptance relates to mindfulness, it is the act of allowing “what is” to simply be, and accepting the current moment’s unique, precise details as they are unfolding. It requires an attitude of openness, curiosity and intrigue. 

Acceptance is the process of welcoming and allowing emotions, thoughts, and experiences to be, without resisting them. It requires of you that you develop a new relationship with experiences, one where you allow them to unfold without resistance or manipulation or judgment.

Another way to state it would be “acknowledgement”. You acknowledge and allow what is coming up for you.

Let’s use an example from my own meditation experience…

I’m sitting on my meditation cushion, cross-legged and upright, eyes closed, hands resting gently on my lap. Very zen-like, right? 😉 I am all ready for this great, calming session…when what in my wandering mind does appear…thoughts! To do lists! Etc! 

Thoughts are bound to arise during meditation. As they do, you simply note them as part of your present moment experience. You may say to yourself “That’s thinking” or “thinking is natural” or thinking noted”, and then return your attention to the breath or mantra. There’s no judgment or dwelling on it, no labeling, just a simple noting. 

As a result of acknowledging the thought, feeling or emotion, the experience changes into one of letting thoughts and feelings come and go as they do without trying to change or rush them.

If you’d like to practice the skill of acceptance, you can check out some of my guided meditations at

How Mindfulness Can Help You With Waiting

If you are a person with cancer, you have done and will probably continue to do, lots of waiting…waiting in waiting rooms, waiting in exam rooms, waiting for test results, waiting for chemotherapy to infuse, waiting on the radiation table. It might seem daunting and endless.

If you are a healthcare professional, without a doubt, your life is also filled with waiting in other ways…waiting in traffic, waiting in line at the grocery store, waiting for the next patient encounter.

It is easy to get hung up in this perpetual state of waiting…waiting for the next thing.

Today I want to offer you the concept of NO MORE WAITING!!

That’s right, if you change your mindset on waiting, you can change a huge part of your life.

Instead of twiddling your thumbs or fretting over the next thing while you are waiting, be present in the moment.

Eckhart Tolle put it best when he said:

“ Give up waiting as a state of mind. When you catch yourself slipping into waiting…snap out of it. Come into the present moment. Just be and enjoy being.”

Eckhart Tolle

Take time to notice your 5 senses. What do you see around you? How does the clothing feel against your skin? What sounds are in the room? How does your drink taste? Are there any noticeable smells? Get in touch with the aliveness in your body at that moment. 

The only real time is here and now. You can’t afford to miss it.

Present Moment Awareness: Tips and Tricks

As you’ve learned from prior posts, there are three main tenets of mindfulness meditation, of which present moment awareness is one. (The other two are nonjudgment and acceptance.) In this post, I’ll share some helpful tips for keeping your awareness on the present moment during meditation.

This is one area where many new to meditation struggle. The mind can be busy…and you simply cannot turn off your thinking!

But I have great news! You don’t have to stop thinking! You’ve probably noticed that the more you try not to think, the more thoughts and judgments start to arise.

Instead of resisting, allow what is happening to be your present experience.

What is present moment awareness?

present moment awareness is placing your attention on what is happening now.

If what is happening now is that your mind is thinking, you simply step back from identifying with the thoughts, and instead identify with the observer of the thoughts.

Here are some tips and analogies that have helped me through the years to become more present during meditation:

  • Imagine you are standing on a train platform, and a train is passing through on the tracks in front of you. The train is your thoughts, and you simply watch them stream by without assigning any meaning.
  • Use your breath to ground you in the present moment. Pay attention to the flow of air along each area of its path. You can start off by practicing some 4-7-8 breathing as I’ve taught you here.
  • Simply count your breaths. Count each in-breath and each out-breath up to 20, and then start again at 1.
  • Imagine your mind is the sky. Your thoughts are the passing clouds. Notice the space between the clouds, the blue sky peaking through. Drop into that space.
  • Use a mantra, a simple phrase that you mentally repeat. One of my favorites is “so hum”, meaning “I am.”
  • Say yes to whatever emotions or feelings are arising during meditation. Go to that part of your body where you feel the emotion most strongly and study how the emotion feels in your body. Is it hard or soft, rapid or slow, does it have a texture or color?
  • Imagine you are seated on the bank of a river. The gentle flow of water passing by is carrying your thoughts away like leaves floating on the water’s surface.

Hopefully these tips will help you during future meditation sessions as you cultivate your sense of presence. The more you practice, the stronger you will become at this skill.

“Don’t worry about anything. Even if you find your attention wandering, there is no particular ‘thing’ you have to hold onto. Just let go, and drift in the awareness of the blessing.”


What is Grounding?

Recently I’ve become interested in grounding…and not the kind where you send your teen to his room with no supper. Grounded meditation is meditation where you make direct contact with the earth. Sometimes it is also called earthing.

The easiest way to achieve this is through making contact with the earth’s surface with bare feet or hands. However, grounded meditation studios, chairs pads, and blankets are becoming more widely available.

Why consider grounding? I’ll explain in layperson’s terms, and then we will dive into some of the medical literature.

The earth has a natural, subtle electrical charge. This is why electrical circuits are often connected to the earth through a grounding wire for safety, which allows an alternate path for electricity to flow back to the earth in the case of a short-circuit. When a circuit is “grounded”, it is safe.

Being grounded applies to people as well. Our bodies are full of electrical circuitry, containing trillions of cells which transmit information at multiple frequencies to maintain function of the heart, muscles, nervous system, etc.

Grounded meditation allows for the electrical system of the body to reconnect to the earth to reset.

What happens when you make direct contact with the earth? One theory is that excited and mobile electrons from the earth’s surface are able to spread over the body and enter the body where they can have antioxidant effects.

Grounding has many benefits, such as decreasing inflammation, reducing pain, normalizing sleep, improving the immune response and reducing stress, to name a few.

So…is this just a bunch of woo woo, or is there scientific evidence that this works?

Scientists have shown measurable changes in human physiology from grounding. For instance, when studying grounding’s effect on inflammation, they have studied chronic wounds and can see visible decrease in the inflammatory signs of redness, warmth and swelling.

Thermal imaging camera data has also been collected showing the effects of sleeping grounded on reducing full body inflammation.

Furthermore, studies have shown that sleeping grounded for 8 weeks normalizes the stress hormone cortisol and improves pain. The participants reported better sleep and less pain.

Additional studies have been done on electrophysiology, heart rate variability, and the immune response.

If you are interested in reading an excellent medical review on this subject, click here.

In this modern day, our lifestyle has led to less direct contact with the earth, and this disconnect may be a major contributor to unwellness.

It is quite possible that your path to wellness is right under your feet.

Meditation for Nausea

Many patients and oncology professionals never think to use meditation for nausea…

but did you know that clinical studies have shown that meditation reduces nausea?

It can be a useful addition to other anti-nausea treatments prescribed by your oncology team.

Two meditation techniques that have been shown to be helpful are:

  • guided imagery
  • and progressive relaxation.

Guided imagery is a type of meditation that uses all 5 senses to create positive mental pictures in the mind. Progressive relaxations are those meditations in which the awareness is moved through the body allowing each part to relax. Typically, you are guided to tense and relax different muscle groups while attending to the differences in sensation.

You can find several progressive relaxations on my website:

Try adding these techniques to your other nausea treatments and let me know what you think!

Nonjudgment in Mindfulness Meditation

Nonjudgment in mindfulness meditation is one of the three main principles. When you practice mindfulness meditation, you develop your ability to:

  • remain with the present moment,
  • cultivate an attitude of nonjudgment,
  • and foster an attitude of acceptance. 

Today, let’s dive in to a more in-depth discussion of nonjudgment.

What exactly is this skill? 

Every experience we have is filtered by the mind. The human mind is constantly judging things, labeling each experience as “good” or “bad” or “neutral”, labeling each emotion as “good” or “bad” or “neutral”. Naturally the mind seeks to increase the good and move away from the bad. The mind tends to ignore neutral things altogether. 

Mindfulness meditation teaches us to turn off the egoic judging mind and just observe. When you step back into an observer role, you notice the moment’s experience for what it is without giving it a label. 

You learn to simply take note of thoughts and feelings that arise without assigning any meaning.

Judgment is suspended.

This pause in judgment trains your mind to act less and be present more. By simply being present in this moment, you realize that this moment is whole as is. You welcome a deep sense of gratitude for the gift of being in your life, right here, right now.

For guided meditations to start or continue your practice and improve your skill of nonjudgment, check out my website at

Yoga During Radiation Treatment for Breast Cancer: A Featured Publication

If you’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer and will be undergoing radiation therapy, regular yoga during radiation treatment may be beneficial for you!

Today I’m discussing the results of a randomized trial done at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston (1).

163 women with stage 0-III breast cancer participated and were put into one of three treatment groups: yoga, stretching or “waitlist” (no yoga or stretching.)

The yoga program required 3 60-minute classes per week during their 6 weeks of radiation therapy that included:

(1) preparatory warm-up synchronized with breathing;

(2) selected postures, or asana (forward-, backward-, and side-bending asanas in sitting and standing position, cobra posture, crocodile, and half-shoulder-stand with support); 

(3) deep relaxation (supine posture); 

(4) alternate-nostril breathing, or pranayama; and

(5) meditation.

The stretching program included standing, lying down, and sitting positions that were similar to the physical movements in the yoga exercises (eg, horizontal arm stretch, breast stroke, neck stretch, quarterback throwing a football), but without the mindfulness and directed breathing components.

The waitlist group was observed without any exercise or mindfulness intervention. 

The study assessed differences between the 3 groups at the end of radiation treatment and 1, 3 and 6 months after treatment.

They evaluated general quality of life, fatigue, sleep disturbances, and cortisol levels (a stress hormone).

They found that quality of life was improved for the patients who practiced yoga/meditation compared to the waitlist group at 1 and 3 months post treatment. 

Patients who did yoga or stretching also had less radiation induced fatigue by the end of treatment.

They also measured cortisol levels in the patients at various time points throughout the day. (Cortisol is a hormone that is involved in the stress response.) The “steeper” the downward decline in cortisol levels from morning to evening, the better the body is regulating the stress response.

The study showed that the yoga participants had steeper cortisol curves at the end of RT and one month later compared to the waitlist group.

In other words, the yoga participant’s bodies had better stress regulation.

This may even have implications for survival. Several other studies have shown that a blunted (flatter, less steep) cortisol response is associated with tumor progression and decreased survival.

In sum…

Doing yoga/meditation during radiation therapy improves… 

quality of life


and the stress response.

It is generally believed that daily practice is best, but this study shows that at least 3 times per week for 60 minutes is beneficial too.

If you are going through radiation for breast cancer, you may also find this meditation I lead this morning entitled “Meditation for Fatigue” to be helpful.

Loving Your Body After Breast Cancer

“I look ugly.”

“The scars are so obvious.”

“This is not me.”

“I’m afraid of what my husband will think.”

“I’m not entering any bikini contests.”

These are actual responses from patients about how they feel about their breasts post-treatment for breast cancer.

As a radiation oncologist, one of the things I see my patients struggle with time and time again are the physical changes the body goes through during treatment and resultant effects on body image.

Most women associate some portion of their concept of self with the physical body. For instance, you may identify as female and along with that, associate breasts with the female form. Your concept of beauty may partly be tied to the breasts. 

“I’m big-chested” or, “I’m petite with small breasts” may be subconsciously a part of who you think you are. Afterall, this has been your body for your whole life and your body shape since puberty, right?!

When the breast is changed by treatment—scars created, size and shape changed, the breast is removed—this can shake your sense of self and body image to the core.

How can you use mindfulness to help you process these negative feelings about your body?

Here are 4 suggestions:

  1. Spend some time contemplating who you are.

You are not your physical body. You are the conscious observer of your thoughts and feelings, whom some might call the soul or the true self. You are pure consciousness. Your true self is resilient and cannot be injured. Being completely at peace with the body you have now and the circumstances of the here and now starts with your connection with your true self. You can strengthen and deepen this connection through meditation. Give yourself permission to come home within yourself to the level where the true you resides. Your true self has remained untouched by cancer.

2. Sometimes just being aware that what you are experiencing is a normal and common reaction can be helpful. 

In fact, it’s so frequent that I’ve posted a meditation on my website which walks you through a mindfulness exercise to help you to love your body. It is day 9 of the free 10-day series:

3. Try a thought download and thought model.

A very helpful tool called a thought download (stream of consciousness writing on the subject of your body right now) and thought model (a method for tweaking your thoughts and feelings about your body) can be a great way to sort through your current feelings and then generate the ones you want.

You create your reality through the thoughts you are thinking.

I wrote about this method in detail in this blog post:

4. Use the law of attraction. 

The law of attraction states that the thoughts you are thinking now will bring about your future reality. So practice thinking positive thoughts about your new body. Ask to love your body, believe in your heart that this already exists for you, and it will become your reality. Ask. Believe. Receive.

Learning to love your body post treatment can be difficult for some, but I want you to know that you have the power to create any feeling you desire about your body. Everything you desire is within you.

Using Your Breath for Stress Relief

This is the final Monday of my Stress-free September series. This morning I led a meditation where we talked about using your breath for stress relief. It is an excellent tool for grounding you in the moment and relieving stress in the body. You can listen here:

What happens in the body when you feel stress?

A hormonal cascade is activated which results in the production of cortisol and adrenaline. These act on the body to increase your respiratory rate (and more). 

(Graphic Courtesy of

One way to counteract this rapid breathing and its ill effects is to be more present with your breathing in times when you feel stress.

I have previously written about 2 breathing techniques that may be helpful:

4-7-8 breathing

Diaphragmatic Breathing

Another useful technique is prolonging your exhale compared to your inhale. So for instance: breath in to the count of 4, then extend your exhale to the count of 8.  Extending the exhalation triggers the parasympathetic nervous system, which is the system involved in calming the body…decreasing your respiratory rate and slowing your heart rate. 

By prolonging your exhale, you send a message to the brain to calm down and relax. You can therefore disrupt the hormonal cascade that is resulting in the physiological effects of stress.

The next time you feel stressed, I hope using your breath for stress relief is at the forefront of your mind.

Conscious breathing with awareness and intent dissolves your stress.