BONNIE GRAY is the author of the new book, "Breathe: 21 Days to Stress Less and Transform Chaos to Calm." She loves encouraging women to experience deeper intimacy with God and refresh the soul with His love and rest. She guides women to live inspired, detox from stress and celebrate their calling as the beloved.
"Breathe" offers scientific and scripture-based methods to help you stress less, care for youreslf, and create new rhythms of rest. As a starting point, Bonnie offers a free quiz. Take this Soul Care Quiz to lower stress and anxiety – and learn what type of care you need to flourish in your life with God’s peace and joy. When you take this FREE Personal Wellness Assessment you will receive a stress less analysis - and discover which of the 4 types of soul care you may be missing - so you can restore calm to your body and emotions with God's peace and joy. Break free from worry, stress, and anxiety and take better care of you. You are God’s beloved!
How It Works:
Answer each question that touches on a different stressor. You will receive an email that helps identify areas of soul care you may need most to replenish your well-being.
An inspirational retreat speaker, Bonnie touches thousands of lives helping women through topics of soul care, stress recovery, and emotional healing through storytelling, visual arts, nature, prayer and meditation. Bonnie’s powerful writing is featured on Relevant Magazine, KLOVE, (in)courage, MOPS, and Christianity Today. She lives in California with her husband and their two sons.
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Host, Stephanie Nelson (00:00):
Let's welcome Bonnie Gray to the Pivotal People Podcast. Bonnie is the author of a wonderful book I've just read. Everyone needs to read it. It is called Breathe 21 Days to Stress Less and Transform Chaos to Calm. It is out this week so you can find it on Amazon and all kinds of other book seller platforms. Bonnie is a soul care mentor, kind of a play on self-care, but soul care and she's the author of award-winning books on this topic. She herself has healed from P T S D, so she really knows what she's talking about. She is passionate about helping thousands of listeners detox from stress and flourish and emotional wellness with God's love through soul care, Bible study and prayer. She is a trusted voice. She writes for credible Christian publications like Christianity Today and she has a super popular podcast called Breathe the Stressless podcast. Welcome Bonnie. It is so great to have you here.
Guest, Bonnie Gray (01:07):
It's so comfortable to be with another kindred spirit to talk about this topic that's so important to all of us. So thank you for having me.
Host, Stephanie Nelson (01:15):
Well you're welcome. And I was, we were talking before we started the podcast, I read Bonnie's book. I am buying it for my friends. It is, uh, you know, mental health. According to Bonnie's statistics, 42% of people in our country suffer from some version of mental illness. And I have taken, I'm a real fan of mindfulness, you know, mindful practices. I've taken a course, I've read the book multiple times. I'm also a real fan. I waved the Christian flag. I love bible study, I love prayer, I love quiet times. And what is so unique about Bonnie's book is that she has married the two concepts of secular mindfulness and biblical study and prayer. She's married those two together and it makes so much sense. It makes so much sense and I haven't seen anyone do this before Bonnie. So thank you so much for this book. And not only is it full of ideas, but it's practical strategies. So could you tell us a little bit about why you wrote the book, you're thinking behind it and then we'll really dig into the specifics.
Guest, Bonnie Gray (02:19):
I'm just so happy that you feel it marries both God's word, scriptural basis and then the practical solutions for lowering stress and anxiety. Because I was hit with panic attacks and I did not know earlier in earlier season of my life why they were happening. My body was telling me something was wrong. Every two hours I'd wake up with panic attacks and I was in a very peaceful time in my life. I had just become a new mom of two boys and I had been single for most of my thirties. So I had already been working as a single career woman. So I wasn't worried about money. Those were some of the big things, money, I just, uh, met my husband in my thirties. It was a very loving relationship. So I didn't know what was wrong. I was very active in my church, really connected to the community and love God. Read the Bible, pray I say all these things not to give myself accolades, Stephanie, but as women we are so good at pouring out to others. We're really focused on taking care of others and doing what we feel would bring God glory. And yet when our body's telling us something isn't right, it's a very scary feeling. Mm-hmm.
Host, Stephanie Nelson (03:32):
<affirmative>, and you talked about that in your book and you talked about this, this was learning from me that these kinds of symptoms can surface after we've been through the hard stuff. Like your body and your mind can finally relax from whatever hard stuff you were dealing with before and then it surfaces and isn't this the truth? Doesn't this, you know, our, our parents' situation, our home of origin might surface in our marriages later when, so talk about that, what people can expect.
Guest, Bonnie Gray (04:04):
Yeah, this was the really big life-changing aha moment for me because a lot of the books that I did read talked about mental health from a perspective of shame when it came to kind of faith-based books. Like if you're, if you're praising God enough, praying enough, bringing God glory enough, focusing on God, trusting him enough, then you won't be worrying. You won't struggle with anxiety or depression. That was the general message I got. Mm-hmm <affirmative>, what are you driving me enough of? And then the second message I got that was from self-care was a lot of what I would call at the time I felt it was just kind of self like I'm just focusing on myself and I'm just doing all these things that I felt were very like woowoo stuff. Like oh well uh, you know, you can't hack it in life so you've gotta separate yourself and focus on pampering yourself.
Like these were the negative self-talk that my mind was receiving from these two opposite and they're incorrect by the way. And that's why I wrote this book to address it because it turns out when I secretly went to go find a therapist, I didn't want anybody to know in my church I was a leader in my church. And this often happens, I found out for with encouragers people who are leaders, the P T S D expert said to me, Bonnie, did you know that a soldier doesn't return? A soldier doesn't experience anxiety and panic attacks when he's fighting, when he's brave, resourceful on the battlefield, it's only when he returns home when he's safe, that's when his nervous system is able to relax and able to express what his body and emotions could not in the heat of the battle. So that's when I asked him, I said, oh, I went through those, you know those the list of things that are going well in my life.
I said, but why is it happening now? And he said, well, did you know that emotional abuse, verbal abuse has the same impact as physical abuse? And that's when my mind went back to my childhood. I didn't experience physical abuse Stephanie, but I experienced a lot of toxic dysfunctional family dynamics. And so that's when I realized the light bulb went on. Um, my therapist was a Christian therapist and he said, Bonnie, it isn't because your faith is flawed, it's because you have been strong is because you have been leaning on your faith. Now it's time for you to heal now because you're in a peaceful place, you're able to now take this journey towards healing. So it changed it completely from a place of shame to now a place of faith like, oh, this is how you want me to exercise my faith in all of us. Even if you have not been through a rough childhood, everyone now having survived the pandemic, everyone has survived losing something, whether it's a loved one, it's grief, loss of finances, transition, health, relationships, just our sense of normalcy is lost. So all of us has been through emotional trauma. And so that's why this whole topic of depression and anxiety is so important to talk about because there are things we can do. And it's also, it's also not a place of shame.
Host, Stephanie Nelson (07:32):
You only mentioned in one paragraph just so people can realize you're the real deal when we talk about challenges in our childhood. And as you talk about those surfacing later, I am very impressed that you were the first person in your family to graduate from high school and then you went on to put yourself through college and now you have an unbelievable ministry. So it does stand to reason that for a very long time you've been pushing through, pushing through, pushing through and as you said, as women and as encouragers, uh, we almost feel guilty when we take time for self-care. You have a really neat soul care quiz and we'll have this in the notes, but you encourage people to take that quiz because there are four areas of, I'm not looking at it, but emotional, physical, wellness, spiritual four areas where we might need attention. And then you can, you know, you can begin on your area once you've done the quiz.
Guest, Bonnie Gray (08:33):
I want to encourage everybody to take this quiz. It's at soul care quiz.com, soul care quiz.com, and it covers four different areas of wellness. And I thank you for bringing it up, Stephanie, because once I learned about my diagnosis that I had anxiety and I needed to heal, I had no idea what that word meant. Heal like how do you heal emotionally? And so actually I learned that there's four areas that affect our emotional wellness. Obviously there's emotional overwhelm, there is physical wellness, there is spiritual wellness, and there is social wellness. And I explained in the book these four different areas, how they connect to what God wants us to do. Because I had to ask God, I said, God, I feel so guilty, I wouldn't even know where to start or what to do cuz I never had that permission. I don't even have that in my experience.
I knew how to be strong, I knew how to, you know, fight through and be in survival mode, but I didn't know how to rest, how to choose joy, how to choose peace, not just with my mind but actually with my actions. And so these four areas was how I had to start like learning the ABCs <laugh>. And so if you go to take soul care quiz.com, you'll be able to see which area you're in need of the most. Because when we're overwhelmed and our body's not feeling well, we just kind of feel hopeless or even in despair because we don't know where to start. But if we just know one area that we can focus on, it's much simpler.
Host, Stephanie Nelson (10:11):
Well, and that's so practical. So let's get into some of the practicals here. Here are things I loved about Bonnie's book. One of the things of mindfulness, if you just look at secular mindfulness, and I would love it if you would explain this was the light bulb moment for me, neuroplasticity, you know, the ability for us to actually change the way we think in the Bible. The talk Paul talks about, uh, transformation by renewing of your mind. And this is actually scientifically backed to show that the we can do things. We, you have so much great research in your book, the footnotes are fabulous. You go through, you can find so many sources of studies that show that things that we intentionally do can change the pathways in our brain. I've talked too much cuz you're the expert, but could you sh explain more of that to give people practical strategies?
Guest, Bonnie Gray (11:04):
Yeah, I think that one of the most powerful things that, um, a lot of people learn as they read through this book is that when the scripture says in Romans 12, two that God can't transform us, don't be conformed to the pattern of the world, but be transformed by the renewing of our mind. I want to share that there are two parts of our brain and this connects to being women and even men as leaders being overly responsible. And this is unfortunately, one trait that we have when we're very eager to encourage others is emotional burnout. The main cause is being overly responsible. We hide our emotions and we say to ourselves, I'm fine. And so we put those negative emotions aside to get things done, but they don't go away. They trigger the stress hormone cortisol and they make us feel anxious and they cause us to ruminate and worry.
So the myth is that we try to feel better by thinking our way out of stress. We figure if I try to think more about my problem or I try to think correctly by repeating the truth, I already know I'm gonna stop stressing. But this is the truth to neuroplasty, we have to nurture our way out to relieve stress. We do not feel better by thinking our way out of stress. We have to nurture our way out of stress and the reasons, because our brain has a pathway. Every time we worry, what happens is in order to change that feeling, we have to take action. We have to take an action to change how we feel. So we don't wait until we feel better to do things that would bring us joy or peace. Many times we put that off. We say, I'm so stressed out, I have this problem, or I have this situation, I have no time.
I'm not in the mood to do anything that is wellness. So I'm just gonna have to keep praying, quote unquote. But yet God created our brains so that when we take action, our mood changes. And this is really, really important to hear. I want to share, there's a 10 minute practice we can do. It's taking a walk. Now we hear a lot about this. Maybe if you're into wellness, you'll read articles about it that a 10 minute walk can lower stress. But here's the thing, as people of faith, our mindfulness goes beyond just the physical action. As we pray, when we, we want to activate all five senses. Studies show when we take a walk, we want to look at what's around us. We want to listen to the sounds of nature. We want to smell whatever scent we, you know, might be after the rain.
It might be some flowers in spring. What is it that we smell? We want to be able to access our tactile. So if we see, uh, I do this, you see a pretty flower, maybe I'll just touch its pedals. The point is what makes a difference from secular mindfulness to biblical mindfulness is that we know that God is with us and he created those things in nature. We use that time to pray. We use that time to talk to God about things that are bothering us. So biblical mindfulness is being aware of God with us as we take that 10 minute walk. And studies do show when they compare mindfulness without prayer versus mindfulness alone, it's spiritual mindfulness that is more effective in lowering our stress hormone cortisol. So this is proven. Now, one thing that I often like to talk about when women tell me and men who are leaders will say, I just don't have time.
It sounds great Bonnie. And then I like to talk about the science, the way God created our brains because how he changes and transforms. So the word for transform in scripture is metamorph. It's the same word that the butterfly from a caterpillar changes in to having its wings and brilliance of color. There are two parts of our brain. Left brain is the logic part of our brain. That's where we problem solve. That's what we lean on to schedule things and figure out solutions and get things done. And then there's the right brain, which is the emotional part of our brain. This is where we feel. So, you know, those five senses I talked about? And that walk, which is so powerful, 10 minutes of taking a walk lowers cortisol more than an hour at the gym.
Host, Stephanie Nelson (15:38):
I wrote that one down in my notes. I thought that was pretty good. In fact, after I read that, Bonnie, I called my son who's in a high stress job and I said, I shared that with him, which by the way is backed with a study. I mean Bonnie has all the notes for this, these studies. But isn't that a neat idea to think that a couple of times during the day you could go out for a 10 minute walk and achieve that benefit? You know, because an hour at the gym is an all or nothing deal. Like I don't have time for that today. So you do nothing, right?
Guest, Bonnie Gray (16:09):
Yes, exactly. You know, and you also think that, well what is that gonna do? That's so, you know, some, some of us that are just really effective and productive and wanna get things done, we just feel like that's so silly. 10 minutes is not going to help me. But once you learn the science and, and thank you for bringing that out, Stephanie, in the book there's a bibliography, I let you know it's not from me, it's from studies done from different wellness and medical journals that this, this is you
Host, Stephanie Nelson (16:39):
And the other practical strategies and you know, you're just gonna have to buy the book to get all of them. But what opened my eyes where there are so many small things that all of these things, the studies showed either suppressed cortisol or, you know, increased the positive of emotional hormones. So dopamine, what's endorphins? We lower cortisol. What's the, what are the three, I'm missing the third one. Yeah,
Guest, Bonnie Gray (17:04):
So these are all released when you do take walk. Serotonin is the habit. Serotonin and in fact, okay, I'll give you all three and I'll tell you about serotonin. But serotonin is the happy hormone. Dopamine is what gives you that energy, what they call, you know, they, they would call runners high and you'd think you'd have to run, but actually you get it from even just walking and looking at beautiful things in nature. And third is oxytocin. Oxytocin is that calming hormone that we often hear about that mothers have as they, uh, take care of their children. But you get it from just tactile, tactile, uh, using your hands. And so this dovetails, uh, back to the right brain. So your right brain is where the emotions reside. The right brain is the artistic side, the right brain is creative, the right brain is all these five senses.
Now studies show which brain, which part of our brain lower stress the most. It's not the left brain, it's the right brain. So this is very effective. You talked about calling your son. And so I have two boys. We're here in Silicon Valley. This is very high pressured competitive environment. And I raise them to learn this, that when you are feeling stressed, you need to do something. Because the way your brain is wired, the more you don't feel like you're in the mood for it, the more you wanna take time out for that 10 minute walk. Or for instance, if you like music, you like gardening. I don't know what that hobby is or that interest. And a lot of times we will just deprioritize it. It's last on our list and whatever we're interested in, it gets the leftovers or not at all. And we think that's okay because that's extra.
But in fact, the way God created us, our bodies and our brains, that is the detoxifying action. Like God put that in us, not for extra. It's for stress relief. And I love how you said Stephanie, all these 10 minute practices that are in the book, they're very quick even brewing a cup of tea. Again, think about tea, how it, it just touches all the different five senses <laugh>. And we always feel like that's just so insignificant. But no studies show they worked with nurses. If they stopped for just a 10 minute break to drink some tea, their cortisol levels were lowered. But they have to add, you wanna add serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin. And many of us struggle with being able to fall asleep at night after a long day. We think we're exhausted, we should be able to fall asleep, right? We're so tired.
But yet those are the days we just lie. Then we can't fall asleep or stay asleep. Will the hormone called serotonin? That's the happy hormone. Guess what? At night your body takes that serotonin and converts it to melatonin. Your body converts the happy hormone serotonin that's in your body, converts it to melatonin that helps you relax to fall asleep. Melatonin is one of the largest over-the-counter supplements that people take because they wanna fall asleep. And yet the way to naturally produce melatonin in your body is by doing more things throughout the day that are pleasant and make you feel peaceful or joyful. So that just elevated a lot of things that we feel are extra or just luxury or waste of time, waste of money, waste of resources. Those are the things that allow your body at night to converge to melatonin so you can fall asleep. I mean, think about when you're on vacation, right? You, you're just doing things that bring you joy or peace. And that's when we tend to rest and sleep better. So it's not just that's right, they're all connected. Our body, our spiritual makeup as to what gives you joy or peace. God uses it so that your body can release these wonderful chemicals and hormones.
Host, Stephanie Nelson (20:59):
And if we can think of it, you know, you gave the um, analogy, which I loved, could you just share the oxygen mask, the whole idea that um, you know, they tell us on airplanes, you have to put your own oxygen mask on before you can help put your children's oxygen mask on. Southwest Airlines actually says, and if you have to decide between your children, start with the one with the most potential <laugh> just terrible. But Southwest is always funny. I I I sorry to get off on that tangent. Your book is divided into these four wellness categories. So different things you can do to address. I actually took Bonnie four pages of notes on your book. There's so much good stuff here. But one of you know, many, many things can stimulate these positive hormones and we, we don't even think of it like I love this.
There is a Harvard study looking at flowers can actually create calm. I mean here are all these mood enhancers and whether it's stimulating positive hormones or suppressing negative hormones, it's still positive. So looking at flowers, they did a study. If you look at flowers first thing in the morning, it actually starts, it uplifts your mood first thing in the morning. I go to Trader Joe's, I see those beautiful flowers, I say, oh my gosh, that's a waste of money. I can't spend money on that. Guess what I'm gonna do every week? I mean, what a wonderful idea. We all like to look at beautiful flowers and think about this giving a bouquet of flowers to a friend for that reason. Other things, I love the cup of tea cuz I drink tea all day long. I love that you talked about the social wellness and you talked about social media and we all have a little report on our phone that tells us how much time we spent on, you know, on our phones in a week.
And you said, what if we were to spend that same amount of time with an actual friend? What a moot science has shown, what a mood uplifter it is to spend time talking to a friend or time with a friend. And you give all kinds of practical strategies for how to fit that in your life and make that a priority instead of it being the last thing. Like I've just given a few of these simple practical strategies, but I want people to realize that this book is not only like full of good ideas but really a toolkit. It's a reference book you have on your website and I'm gonna give all these links in the show notes. But you have a bible study that goes with it. You also have a small group guide. I'm a leader of a women's small group. We're gonna be doing this. Can you tell us more about resources that people can look for to help incorporate this great stuff into their life?
Guest, Bonnie Gray (23:38):
I think that the small group that you're gonna be leading is the most powerful thing because there's a power of three that I talk about in the book. We find that when Jesus, during his toughest time, he always brought John and Peter and James. And it's interesting that he has these three with him. When he goes, he is a little girl and in Ecclesiastes it says A court of three strand is not easily broken. So this is a really important concept for resiliency. We need other people in our lives, the way our brains are created by God. We have to talk about the things that are going on, not just what we're doing but how we're feeling. So this resource helps everybody to share their stories. And once we realize, we learn, hey, even just sharing how we feel and what is going on that is going to help us release stress and it releases those good happy hormones.
So the small group is really important. Even if we just have three people going through the book and practicing these things every week. And I loved how you talked about the flowers and I would love to be able to hear what are some of those other practices that you have in your notes that you said, oh this is really good. I can definitely use this. Because that's what got me to overcome panic attacks, anxiety and over ruminating. We all worry, but we wanna be able to release those worries and not have them consume us. So I learned and I had to put these practices into my daily life, my weekly rhythm, and even some monthly rhythm. So this book will help you. There's 21 different ways, 21 different stressors and 21 different solutions and 21 actions you can take. It is a toolkit because I want you to be able to grab them, learn them, practice them together with friends is the most powerful because it's fun, it's fun, it's fun to be able to like, hey, this week it's buying flowers.
Which ones did you get? And it's interesting, Jesus said, don't worry about tomorrow, look at the flowers, how they're thrown away and burned in a few days. But how much more valuable are you? Cuz someone will say, but Bonnie did, they're just, they die in a few days. And I said, that's how much God loves you. He wants you to experience that beauty even for a few days. You are worthy of that beauty. And it is interesting study show when we do look at the flowers, our body lowers cortisol and our mood is kept boosted up throughout that day.
Host, Stephanie Nelson (26:05):
Well what I love about your book is all of these strategies we're talking about, they're all pleasant. Every single one of them is pleasant. None of this is like you gotta do, you know, 30 pushups or 30 sit-ups. No, you get to take a walk with a friend. The last part of your book, I just talked to my husband about it this morning, is the power of new experiences. You know, I am a creature of habit. I do the same routine all the time and I think that's what makes me happiest. But when someone says, let's try this new thing, I'm kind of reluctant, okay, I'll just do it because I like them. And then it turns out it does something in your head, Bonnie. It's fun. It is. You know, it changes your thinking a little bit. And you talk about how to rekindle relationships.
I've been married 32 years, how to rekindle relationships. Simply doing new and different things together will spark these happy hormones. And so these, you know, you said here, create new memories with Jesus alone and with those you love and your world will feel renewed with excitement, meaning, and purpose. And oh my gosh, isn't that that I, I circled that one. That one was amazing. So this is something we all need and um, we need it for ourselves. But guess what? This is something that the people we love need. So what a beautiful gift. Your book comes out on April 7th I believe, is that correct? It's April 4th. April 4th. April 4th, okay. April 4th.
Guest, Bonnie Gray (27:34):
Same week as Easter. So it's really a springtime of renewal. An Easter. Easter. I love that person's heart.
Host, Stephanie Nelson (27:42):
I love that. Well I just wanna thank you so much for your time. I wanna say it'll be in the notes, but you can find everything, all of her resources at her website, which is the bonnie gray.com and that's gray with an a, the bonnie gray.com. Yes.