Rising Through Resilience: Dr Cyrina Bullard and Liz Rutledge of ‘Sustainable Happiness Together’ On The Five Things You Can Do To Become More Resilient During Turbulent Times
An Interview With Savio P. Clemente
Do not let stress accumulate in your body. Liz: The secret to relieving stress is to figure out what works for you: going for a run, dancing, punching a pillow, or screaming. It’s easy to “spin up” when we are triggered by traffic jams, or people cutting in front of us in line, the news, social media, etc. But if we can take the small amount of time it takes to just pause before reacting and get present in the NOW — this moment — the present moment — we create space between what happens to us and our thoughtful response to it. This is mindfulness….
Resilience has been described as the ability to withstand adversity and bounce back from difficult life events. Times are not easy now. How do we develop greater resilience to withstand the challenges that keep being thrown at us? In this interview series, we are talking to mental health experts, authors, resilience experts, coaches, and business leaders who can talk about how we can develop greater resilience to improve our lives.
As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Cyrina Bullard and Liz Rutledge.
Resilience experts Cyrina Bullard and Liz Rutledge partnered in 2019 merging their knowledge and expertise by creating in-person wellness workshops. They had to pivot when the pandemic hit and now do business as Sustainable Happiness Together with a collection of online wellness courses. They also work virtually (and in person when possible) with organizations, corporations, and school districts to provide transformative wellness education and coaching.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory?
Cyrina: Yes, I have walked, and at times ran, on a non-traditional path! Having almost died three times in my life, I now realize this life is a gift! How can we best embrace this gift of life? In 1994, I started my career as a pharmacist. But, then, in 2016 I had to recreate myself after suffering a devastating second head injury, after which I was no longer able to practice pharmacy. Since I realize this life is a gift, I need to be the director of my life. Over the next three years, I became certified in the Science of Happiness by UC Berkeley, in the Science of Wellbeing by Yale University, in Resilience by HeartMath®, in Conversational Intelligence®, and I became a Life Mastery Consultant. I am inspired to help people Catch Happiness® and live out their gift of life by design, not by default!
Liz: I’m a mom of three kids and it’s been quite a journey. I raised them in two countries and my husband traveled a lot because of his work. Nothing like bringing little lives into the world to not only humble you, but force you to work your resilience muscles! My parents separated when I was eight and divorced when I was 12…probably the most pivotal age for many kids. I was also hit by a car that year…nothing like smashing a windshield with your head to wake you up and force you to learn about being resilient. I am passionate about educating people to learn Mindful Sustainability — mindfulness and sustainability. I am formally trained by Mindful Schools, but those inevitable life lessons trained me to be resilient and implement mindfulness in my life.
Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
Cyrina: While practicing pharmacy, I began to see an increase in the number of teenagers being treated with antianxiety and antidepressant medications. This caused my heart to be heavy and made me think about what this meant for their future. I started doing research and was introduced to HeartMath®. This incredible resource has over 25 years of verifiable data supporting its tools and techniques to help people be more resilient, decrease anxiety, and many other benefits. I am obviously thankful we have medication to help people, although we are an overmedicated society. This was the impetus for me to become certified in many other modalities to help people more naturally on their life journeys. With that said there are many times when medication is necessary and if paired with these tools you can see added benefits. Implementing various healing modalities can potentially decrease or eliminate the need for medication.
Liz: In 2014, I learned that a 14-year-old boy in my community had taken his own life. It deeply disturbed me and I longed to help people not choose suicide — a permanent solution to a temporary problem. This planted a deep desire in me to teach kids, teens, and adults mindfulness tools to help them navigate through challenges. Ultimately this led me on my career journey. But, ironically, a very personal experience in my family taught me a valuable lesson for my career. Our usually very happy son experienced deep depression in his last two years of high school. We tried many options to support him — change in diet, encouragement to try mindfulness meditation/breathwork, get together with friends, exercise, get out in nature, and talk therapy, but none of those things worked. Turns out that he fell in the small category (8%) of people who struggle with depression for whom it is a chemical imbalance. He started taking antidepressants and finally experienced some motivation. Then, when he started college, he found his way out of depression. He now has friends, Chess Club, rock climbing, and gets outside daily. He is doing much better, and we are thrilled. Our experience caused me to realize that the mindfulness tools I teach don’t work for everyone or every time. I had been naive and was humbled. Having said that, I do think the earlier children are introduced to Mindfulness, the better chance they have of being more resilient. A quote from the Dalai Lama that inspires me to do what I do is: “If every 8-year-old in the world is taught meditation, we will eliminate violence from the world within one generation.”
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
What makes us unique is that we have curated the best wellness techniques in one place for people to efficiently learn all sorts of science-backed tools for their wellness tool belts. Cyrina’s company is Catch Happiness® and Liz’s Company is Sustainable Three and we have joined forces to create Sustainable Happiness Together. Merging our knowledge and missions has enabled us to reach more people and have a positive impact on our world.
We have over 50 years of combined experience — between trainings, self-help courses, therapy, certification programs, purpose and passion work, hard knocks, and doing the deep dives (for Cyrina quite literally since one of her near-death experiences was when she fell off a 21-foot waterfall in New Zealand)…. We’ve also had our own opportunity to practice resilience. We were doing in-person wellness workshops and had all of the venues booked and dates selected for 2020. We were ready for the big success! Then, when COVID lockdown happened, all our gigs were canceled. We pulled up our big girl pants, worked those resilience muscles, and pivoted to online courses. And now, we can reach even more people with the work we do!
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Cyrina: I met Jim Bunch in high school. Little did I know he would play such a significant role in my life 30+ years later. We went to high school and college together and were friendly acquaintances. He founded The Ultimate Game of Life and helps the world to become a Happier, Healthier, and Wealthier place with the tools he shares. We both live on the opposite side of the country from where we grew up and live in different states. It was a “crazy circumstance” of how we were placed in each other’s lives again 25 years later.
Jim has partnered with Gina Pigott and they are a dynamic duo bringing wonderful things to our world! They inspire people to realize their own greatness with the knowledge they have gained on their incredible journeys. I am grateful to both of them for inspiring me to evolve into my best self and have a happy, healthy, and wealthy life!
Liz: Having my parents support me, no matter what, has been my strongest motivator. Specifically, I’d like to share how I felt supported when my mother recently sent me an email. She said “Guess what? I am convinced that what you are teaching is working FOR YOU. The greatest evangelism is keeping your mouth shut and living your faith. And you are doing that. So, I am going to sign up for your whole course collection.” What she wrote warmed my heart.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
Cyrina: A definition that resonates with me is by HeartMath®: resilience is the capacity to prepare for, recover from and adapt in the face of stress, challenge, or adversity. I love the idea that preparing for potential challenges can help us bring our best selves forward and be able to respond instead of reacting to challenges or situations. Also, I believe resilient people are mindful, take a minute to breathe, reassess their options, and take one step at a time to make opportunities out of the challenges they face.
Liz: Resilience is being able to deal with challenges by identifying what’s happening, thinking through options, picking yourself up and executing a plan as quickly as possible…again, and again, and again. (It’s like that ping pong ball in the toilet bowl that just won’t flush down…it just keeps popping back up again). Resilient people have things happen to them that might knock other people down for good, but resilient people turn those things, or challenges, into opportunities. They never give up and don’t sit in their story for long, if at all.
Courage is often likened to resilience. In your opinion how is courage both similar and different to resilience?
Cyrina: Resilience and Courage can intersect; they both have the ability to transport you to another place in your life! In general, this process is in two different ways: being able to adapt for resilience and making a potentially dangerous leap for courage. You can be resilient without courage and be courageous without resilience, especially for those daredevils out there.
Liz: Courage is similar to resilience in that you have to be brave to take the steps to bounce back from life’s hard knocks. Both resilience and courage might involve just sitting still for a bit to develop a plan, and then taking action. In some situations, it may take courage to NOT say something or take action. Courage without resilience is not sustainable. You might need courage to do something scary — and need to be brave. But, once you’ve taken courageous action, you may need resilience to navigate the consequences of the action.
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
Cyrina: Dr. Edith Eva Eger, without a doubt, is the quintessential example of resilience. I feel so very honored to have had the opportunity to meet her, learn from her, and create a conscious connection. Dr. Eger is a holocaust survivor and was very vulnerable sharing her story in THE CHOICE Embrace the Possible. When she was a teenager, she was taken to Auschwitz where she endured tremendous trauma and lost both of her parents who were killed by the Nazis. With her inner strength and resilience, she was able to overcome her very dark and torturous past filled with unthinkable experiences. She kept moving forward, not letting her challenges defeat her spirit! In her book, she shares the beauty that blossomed after an extremely challenging time in her life. She is an illustration of the strength that is inside of us that we can harness to move through hard times. Dr. Eger is an inspiration and a gift to our world. I’m very thankful she had the courage to share her story! Her story is one that has the power to inspire our world to be more resilient.
Liz: Cyrina! I edited her book C3 Creating Conscious Connections and learned the nitty gritty details of her life experiences. Her three brushes with death are incredible examples of resilience. You’ll have to read it to get all the particulars, but the most impactful one was when she was in a coma for 18 days and hospitalized for two-and-a-half months…unable to walk, talk, feed, or clean herself…it was incredibly humbling for her and might have broken her spirit had she not had such a strong inner resilience. She now talks, walks — and, heck, she even runs! She is an incredible inspiration to me.
Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?
Cyrina: After suffering spinal cord and traumatic brain injuries, they told my family I would most likely not be able to take care of myself nor work as a pharmacist ever again. With a lot of hard rehabilitation, support, encouragement, love, and celebrating every small victory, I was able to prevail. Having a positive environment, thoughts, activities, mindset, and people who empowered me, helped me rise above the odds.
Liz: The person who told me this was impossible was me! When I was pregnant with our third child, my husband was offered an expatriate consulting job in Australia. He told me about the offer, and I said, “no way!”. At the time, I was five months pregnant, and our two children were only two and four-years-old. Pregnant women aren’t supposed to fly after five months of pregnancy, and by the time we moved, I was seven months pregnant. We had to find a place to live, a car, a hospital, an obstetrician, and two schools for the younger kids. My husband did a lot to make it all happen, and we did it! He usually traveled four days a week and, one year, he even spent more nights in a hotel than at home. Despite that, we launched our kids Down Under and they are super flexible, resilient, and amazing travelers as a result.
Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?
Cyrina: I experienced a huge setback with my second head injury, having to deal with daily migraines and magnified memory challenges, which made it impossible for me to practice pharmacy. There was a lot of physical and mental pain. I experienced depression and a lot of uncertainty. Fortunately, I was able to work through these challenges and was able to come out the other side stronger. I was able to use science-backed tools to help me find calm and happiness. I was inspired to do public speaking, write my first book, start a business, Catch Happiness®, and partner with Liz to create an overall well-being collection of courses, the Winning Wellness Experience Course Collection. This time in my life illustrated that there can be scary and dark days, but there are glimmers of light that shine through the darkness. I continue to move forward and have chosen to give birth to a new, and sometimes even more exciting, path. This makes me want to share the secret code P3; you can place it on your mirror, screen saver, or wherever you want, to remind you that you have Purpose, Passion, and endless Possibilities! Game On!
Liz: I used to get sick with upper respiratory illnesses my entire childhood and into adulthood. This continued from birth until I was 35 years old. The first year we lived in Australia, I had a cough for weeks on end. Then, in January 2007, my best friend of 32 years died very suddenly. It felt like the rug had been pulled out from under me. Losing my best friend was like losing a part of me. That loss inspired me to take a self-improvement course. It was an intense weekend program. I coughed through the entire intro course and the advanced course. But, in that course, I learned that oftentimes old resentments hold us back from living our best lives. Through lots of self reflection, journaling and transformative conversations, I let go of long standing resentments…and let go of my cough. I’m now 50 and (knock on wood) no longer suffer from those bouts of chronic cough. I now know how to recognize when I’m starting to develop a resentment and tackle it quickly. I also have learned how to be very in tune with my body and if I start to feel an illness coming on, I’ll take steps to boost my immune system, rest, or whatever it takes to kick out the pathogen quickly.
How have you cultivated resilience throughout your life? Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?
Cyrina: Being struck by lightning at the age of 11 was definitely a lesson in resilience. I was unresponsive when my parents found me, and my mom had to give me CPR to bring me back to life. Then, my family had to work quickly as a team to get me to the hospital. This experience made it very clear that it takes team effort to make it through this life journey! My family has played a supportive role in my life through the many challenges I have faced. Cultivating a supportive team in our lives can help to nurture more resilience when life gets challenging…. Investing the time and effort in developing these relationships will give you a good ROI.
Liz: My mother is a professional musician and my sister and I were often in performances. Hence, we were raised to be able to recover quickly from mistakes while performing. Probably my best story of resilience was one time when I was performing a flute solo in church. I was feeling nauseous during the service. Just before I had to play, I went to the restroom, threw up, and came back and played my solo. My mom still talks about that all the time. I think she was impressed with my ability to honor the belief that “the show must go on”. I’ve used that ability many times since…in performances in NY’s Carnegie Hall, Europe, and in the Sydney Opera House as well as when doing public speaking. I’ve used that attitude to run marathons, get through three natural child births, and while on international trips when challenges were super intense.
Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.
1-Listen to your body. When you are stressed, take time to do some heart-focused breaths.
Liz: While on a SCUBA trip in Australia with my family in 2019, I experienced feeling like I was suffocating. I never had any trouble like that previously in 20 years of SCUBA diving. I tried several times to dive but kept having that sensation. On the third dive attempt, I started coughing in my regulator, I surfaced and was coughing up blood. I was medevaced and in the hospital for four days with immersion pulmonary edema. It was scary and I felt very alone because my family couldn’t come with me. If I had not listened to my body, I’m not sure what would have happened. Slow, heart-focused breaths helped me remain calm and able to make sound decisions for myself while in the hospital.
In general, when I feel tension or stress in my body, I’ll “drop in”, get very still and go inwards, focusing my attention on only my breath.
2-Be present in the moment.
Cyrina: My life journey has definitely illustrated the importance of being in the moment. Being present with my current situation allows me to navigate the frustration of dealing with workman’s compensation challenges since my second head injury — which occurred while I was working as a pharmacist. I can’t tackle all the challenges at once. My strategy when I feel spun out is to slow down, take deep breaths and get still. When I am calm and present in the moment, I can see more clearly what the next logical step is and then deal with my current challenge one step at a time. But also, we never know what our days will hold and if we are not present, we are missing out on different gifts in our day. I love the popular saying “the past is history, the future is a mystery and the moment is a present”. Oftentimes people will worry and overwhelm themselves trying to control the future and suffer regret from past events. If we are able to get present and just be, we can be more resilient and experience life more fully by noticing the gifts placed on our paths!
3-Do not let stress accumulate in your body.
Liz: The secret to relieving stress is to figure out what works for you: going for a run, dancing, punching a pillow, or screaming. It’s easy to “spin up” when we are triggered by traffic jams, or people cutting in front of us in line, the news, social media, etc. But if we can take the small amount of time it takes to just pause before reacting and get present in the NOW — this moment — the present moment — we create space between what happens to us and our thoughtful response to it. This is mindfulness….
But sometimes, sitting still doesn’t fit the bill. At times, it’s more helpful to alleviate stress by moving our bodies. Getting outside and walking around the block can do wonders. Go for a run or a bike ride. Can’t get outside? Jump up and down in place or shake out your hands. Roll up all the windows in your car and crank up the music and scream it out.
Cry. Did you know that when manganese builds up in your body, it increases the stress hormone, cortisol, in your system? A good cry releases the excess manganese…and gives our nervous systems a reboot.
Cyrina: When we exercise, we produce positive chemicals in our bodies that can lead to happiness and help to relieve stress. When we are proactive in our day we are able to introduce different activities that will help our mind and body to be more resilient.
As a pharmacist, I like to encourage a daily D.O.S.E. of happiness:
D — Dopamine
O — Oxytocin
S — Serotonin
E — Endorphins
These are the “feel good” neurotransmitters produced by exercise.
I truly believe that I survived my bike accident because I not only exercised my body, I also exercised my mind, and mindset. This helped to create inner strength and resilience.
5-Meditation, being silent, and listening for your inner guidance.
Liz & Cyrina: One of the best tools we have in our resilience tool kits is mindfulness meditation and breathwork. Because we tend to be shallow breathers, we forget to benefit from our lungs. Our lungs are with us from the moment we are born to the moment we die. Tapping into the breath, paying attention to the expansion and contraction of our lungs, can be a super powerful tool.
When we get quiet, we can think more clearly, focus, and make better decisions. We can hear that “still, small voice” within us. But just like any new habit, sport, or foreign language, if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it. And, it takes regular practice to strengthen that resilience muscle.
Science has shown all sorts of benefits of mindfulness meditation including an increase in myelin sheath formation, axon density, and it even increases our brain’s gray matter! Regular meditation allows our nervous system to find calm in the sea of chaos. We keep our cool better, we make better decisions, and we have better focus for problem solving…a key skill in resiliency.
We both meditate every day. And whenever we get together — whether in person or over Zoom — we meditate before starting our work. It helps us get grounded, present, and ready to focus on what we need to accomplish.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
Cyrina: Start with teaching young children about meditation, being mindful in their moments, and their decision-making process. Maybe this could be a 15-minute class that is started in kindergarten and continued throughout their education. This will help foster a more mindful culture that will help to propagate more peace in our world.
Liz: My dream is for every teacher in every classroom to guide their students to do a one-minute “Mindful Minute” at the very beginning of every class. That one minute out of each class period would be recouped ten-fold. Students would have more focus, better test scores, be kinder, more calm, and there would be less need for repetition and discipline.
We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them :-)
Oprah Winfrey would be the ultimate breakfast or lunch date for both of us! We feel she illustrates phenomenal resilience! In her adult life, she was told she was not “fit for TV.” She sure showed them! She did not allow herself to be limited by others or herself. She has helped our world become more mindful, resilient, and conscious of the decisions we make in our moments. She uses her influence to propagate growth in others. We would love to create a conscious connection with her and for the opportunity to learn and grow from her insights, connections, knowledge, and experiences.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Please start with our course collection at https://winningwellness.learnworlds.com
(our contact details and social media links are there as well)
The Winning Wellness Experience Bundle has all of our Mindfulness, Resilience, Happiness and Visioning courses AND our six co-creator classes that round out the experience with a short yoga practice to alleviate stress and anxiety, mindful eating and food preparation, mindful fitness, mastering the nap, learning about our nine environments and how we can optimize them, and turning challenges into opportunities.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!