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Transforming Stress Management in Chronic Care
Episode

Dr. Conrad Aquino, Chief Experience Officer of Stress Free Initiative

Transforming Stress Management in Chronic Care

A lot of people are in need of effective tools to manage stress and improve their overall well-being.

In this episode of Insights Out, Dr. Conrad Aquino, Chief Experience Officer of the nonprofit Stress Free Initiative, talks about his journey of overcoming stress-related health conditions and how it led him to found the organization. He explains the detrimental effects of chronic stress on health and well-being and shares insights into his approach to eliminating stress by adjusting one’s expectations and embracing life as it comes. Dr. Aquino highlights the need for a shift in the healthcare sector towards prevention rather than just treatment, emphasizing the importance of addressing the root causes of stress-related ailments. He also discusses his work with healthcare providers and employers to promote a service-oriented approach and implement stress-reduction strategies in various settings.

Listen to Dr. Conrad Aquino as he unveils the secrets to leading a stress-free life!

Transforming Stress Management in Chronic Care

About Dr. Conrad Aquino:

TEDx speaker, multi-award-winning author, life coach, nurse, and physician with over 20 years of healthcare experience, Dr. Conrad Aquino goes beyond seeing patients. He is driven by the bonds he builds with the patients over the course of time and the enjoyment he holds in keeping them healthy and well. “Treating the illness is only secondary to what I do — caring for the person within the patient,” is the adage he goes by. In a modern era when healthcare professionals are overwhelmed and focused on curing the disease, Dr. Aquino looks within the patient and sees a person with a story. Yet even the physician that he is, his life is not without extreme challenges. But this has allowed Dr. Aquino to attain a stress-free life and to find a greater calling, which he has shared in his multi-award winning book, “Life Should Be Simple and Easy: If You’re Doing It Hard, You’re Doing It Wrong.”

 

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Dr. Natanya Wachtel:
Brands that can connect with their audiences more viscerally and more authentically will always be successful. With the Insights Out podcast, you will get access to deep and detailed conversations with the heads of leading organizations to understand how they are making their customer relationships work best and how we can all become more aligned to deliver strong value exchanges and better realize the benefits. I’m your host, Dr. Natanya Wachtel. Welcome.

Dr. Natanya Wachtel:
Welcome to another episode of Insights Out, a spotlight on modern solutions that put customer data to work where we unearth game-changing intelligence, we talk about predicting customer needs and insights, and we seamlessly connect all of this into measurable action everywhere your brand touches your customers. Today in this episode, we have with us Dr. Conrad Aquino, the Chief Experience Officer of the 501(3)(c) nonprofit Stress Free Initiative. He has dedicated his life to helping individuals live stress-free lives, and this mission is rooted in his personal battle with a heart condition that’s exacerbated by stress. This episode will spotlight the connection between Dr. Aquino’s work and the broader health and wellness system ecosystem, including clinicians, pharmaceutical companies, representatives there, and biotech policymakers, and MedTech. His insights will resonate with our focus on using customer data and truth to predict needs across a diverse spectrum of health and wellness, and reflects a synergy between reducing stress and enhancing overall well-being. I’m sure everyone listening today, no matter what walk of life they are, will benefit from this very, very special episode. So, my dear friend, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your journey that led you to forming this amazing company?

Dr. Conrad Aquino:
Really, well, thank you, Natanya. So it’s funny how our passion usually stems from our personal experience, right? And once we have that deep-rooted experience that happens within us, then you have that dream to actually share what you have experienced to others, and that’s kind of what happened in my case. And I had a huge battle with stress, and just like what you’ve mentioned, I did have heart conditions, it was a stress-related heart attack that happened multiple times throughout, even started at my younger years as a teenager, and it didn’t stop at that. It continued with anxiety attacks, continued with stomach ulcers, and nightmares, and what have you. And I reached a point in my life where all these stresses combined brought me to a very low point, like rock bottom, and through this rock bottom, I started to question life in general. Like, what is life? Why am I here? I just want something super simple. Yet it’s very difficult to get to that point. I just want to live a life, a place that I can call home, live with my wife and kids, and, you know, just have something super simple. But it’s very difficult to achieve that with all the stresses that we are going through. And with my questioning about life also came a questioning about the higher power and what is the higher power’s role in our life, in my life specifically, because, its, feels unfair that I’m not a bad person. I mean, we’ve all done something wrong.

Dr. Natanya Wachtel:
The why me part of it all, right.

Dr. Conrad Aquino:
Right. Yes, exactly the point.

Dr. Natanya Wachtel:
Am I being punished with this affliction? Especially when you’re en route to being an agent of care for others as a clinician, right? Which obviously, I know you’re going to talk about, has its own stresses in and of itself. But you were trying to get a sense of rational world, right? Why me? If I’m generally trying to be a good person, I’m one of the helpers, why am I afflicted with this life-threatening condition? Is that, that’s what you’re?

Dr. Conrad Aquino:
Yes, exactly. And it seems so unfair that the higher power chose this kind of life for me when I’m very much willing to help, so the end point was doubting the higher power. Like there’s something wrong with this picture here. And in that low moment of my life, enter this random, unexpected person that eventually became my mentor. And this mentor showed me like there’s another way to live life, and that kind of just opened up every possibility about life. And from that day on, that I started grasping and understanding and actually applying what this mentor told me, I’ve been stress-free ever since, for 15 years now.

Dr. Natanya Wachtel:
It is incredible. So I had the privilege of seeing you speak recently at the conference that we hosted, and it was quite powerful. And you talked a lot about the elephant and the elephant that was sitting on your chest, right? And also the elephant in the room. There was a lot of interesting allegory, and everyone related. The conversations were so inspired by you, but I think it would be great for this audience to hear a little bit about what it was, because I remember what was on the slide, but I don’t want to steal your thunder. What was some of that shifting vision or the statement that sort of was that reset for the way you looked at your role in the world and the way you looked at managing not only the stresses that you had been having to date, and the constant stress of the fear of your own mortality from your condition, but also the ongoing or upcoming anticipatory stress. So if you could maybe share some of that in terms of like, how would you do it? Because at the high level anyway, because I think that was really powerful, and it’s so simple and so beautiful, but yet it is an entire paradigm shift.

Dr. Conrad Aquino:
You’re absolutely right. You’re absolutely right. So through the years that I’ve had the stress-related conditions, I tried every trick in the book. You know how they say there’s 100 ways to skin a cat? I’ve tried each and every one of them. Actually, I’ve tried 99 of them, and they, this mentor told me the one, okay? And that one, of course, is the easiest of all the 100. And when you think of that single one, if you do that single one, that’s the easiest, all the 99 doesn’t compare to this easiest option. And what he mentioned to me really was he described to me what stress really was. Stress is created from the difference between our expectations and what actually happens, our reality, right? So let’s just pretend you wake up today, today’s a Monday, and you think you know it’s going to be a good day today, right? Our expectations. And then, as the day progresses, you forgot the creamer for the coffee, and you go into traffic, someone cuts you off. And just being a Monday is too toiling for us to just go through, you know, and it’s very difficult, and this is reality. This is what we’re expecting, we’re expecting a good day, but this is reality.

Dr. Natanya Wachtel:
Our perfect day, right?

Dr. Conrad Aquino:
Yes, exactly. And what happens is the difference between these two is what creates stress. The greater the difference between the two, the greater the stress, the smaller the difference, the smaller the stress. So I tried every trick in the book to try to just, you know, get rid of the stress. And that would mean like thinking positive but thinking positive, sort of helps you just rationalize to yourself, it’s like sweet lemonade. You know this pipe that I’m here, maybe there’s a silver lining, so it still doesn’t get rid of the negative, right? It’s, sometimes it just emphasizes the negative. And also maybe like avoiding the negatives, which is very difficult to do. The negatives always come at you no matter what. I’ve also tried distraction, like going on vacation or getting inebriated, but as soon as that temporary period is done, you’re back to your stresses. You’re back to your negatives. Also, same thing with, let’s say, meditation, mindfulness, it kind of gets you out of the moment, but once you’re back in that reality, then the expectations in reality, it kind of sets in, and the stresses appear. So my mentor told me there’s only one way to do this, because what you’re doing really is just to live with the stress, how you cope better with the stress, how to manage the stress. What if you didn’t have to manage stress because we can get rid of it altogether?

Dr. Natanya Wachtel:
Yeah, there’s a military, I’m only interrupting also because I want to have a short clip, and that was so much in one answer. So I was just going to be a little clip of the military phrase: embrace the suck. So that’s step one, right? So now let’s go into what you’re about to say. Thank you so much.

Dr. Conrad Aquino:
Yes, you’re absolutely right. So what you mentioned, embrace the suck. Just suck it up, right? And that’s kind of the mentality, even in the old mentality, just suck it up. It’s just what it is. But what if there’s something else that you could do that can alleviate all of this? And that’s what my mentor said. So the only way you can do this is you just take away the expectation. As soon as you remove the expectation, there’s nothing to compare reality with, and when you’re not comparing anything with reality, then there’s no gap between anything. And when there is no gap, the stress ceases to exist, and you just simply allow life to happen. And it was mind-boggling for me to think about that. Like, what do you mean by allow life to happen? Well, how do you know? So my mentor asked me, how do you know how your life is supposed to be? I was like, I don’t know that, but this is what I want it to be. And because I want it to be this way and this is what’s happening, then the stresses still exist. But if we allow life to happen the way it’s supposed to be, then we don’t really have to worry about anything else, right?

Dr. Natanya Wachtel:
Right. And so can you talk us through a little bit high level, how this shift in your personal lens, on your place in the universe, if you will, and the power of what we can do within our minds to reset our mindset as well as our total health and essentially thwart this mortality trigger that’s still there, it’s still within your body, that condition. But you have kind of alleviated that constant fear of an event, as you described to me at the conference, right? So can you talk a little bit about now that you know, how you came from taking on this new perspective and being a clinician to creating this organization that you have and what sort of it’s all about?

Dr. Conrad Aquino:
All right, so first of all, I was super skeptical. I wasn’t really having it when my mentor told me, just let go of all of your expectations about life, I was afraid that I would have to let go of my career and let go of the good life, let go of all of these things, and I wasn’t ready for that at all.

Dr. Natanya Wachtel:
Which is great that you admit that, because I think a lot of the things we talk about in grit, in resilience, in mastery, you also have there’s readiness, and readiness is a big part of it.

Dr. Conrad Aquino:
Yes, you’re absolutely right. And the only way we become ready is when the desire to change becomes greater than the desire to remain the same, yes.

Dr. Natanya Wachtel:
You have that slide up. So I was kind of wanting you to say it. Yeah, no, because I think that’s again, you know, you can kind of dismiss these as quips, or if you really look at them profoundly, they can really shift a perspective on how to move through life.

Dr. Conrad Aquino:
Right, it’s just like we all want to become billionaires, right? But we’re very satisfied and content with where we are right now. Although the paycheck limits the money that we make, we’re not ready to take the risk of going into a business that’s steady, certain paycheck that comes every two weeks or every so often. We love that we’re comfortable with that, and we don’t want that change until the desire to change is greater than the desire to remain the same, so yes.

Dr. Natanya Wachtel:
So with that, you felt now really positively affected, and you decided to shift your career away from the steady paycheck and take a risk, which is more stressed by conventional standards. And so, tell us about this nonprofit that you formed and what your aims are here.

Dr. Conrad Aquino:
Okay, certainly. So the nonprofit is really my way to be able to share this experience with other people. I feel like this experience shouldn’t be bottled up just with myself, the same way that my mentor showed me how it is, I’d like to show others how it is as well. So we, me, and my mentor, and another friend of mine, we gathered together to create this nonprofit for others to change others’ lives, and in order to do so, we need to have a greater reach, and so, the nonprofit was idealized and tried to actualize. And in this nonprofit, what we did was we created sort of a roadmap, a guidebook, and the guidebook is entitled Life Should Be Simple and Easy; If you’re doing it hard, you’re doing it wrong. It’s a multi-award-winning publication, and it shows us a roadmap. Instead of having it in chapters, it’s actually in weeks. So it has six chapters in total, so total of six weeks, and this week is more of a self-discovery. Once you are able to discover what it is about yourself, about life, then you’re able to also provide that experience to yourself and live that stress-free life. And we do that also locally, we try to reach out to communities that are underserved, that really need this opportunity, really need to hear that there’s something out there that not a lot of people are talking about. But it is possible to live without stress, without the anxiety attacks, without the depression, without those nightmares, and that’s what really we’re doing.

Dr. Natanya Wachtel:
I think that’s incredible, and I thank you, but I think you’re understated, I think, in the rarity of why you’re such a great ambassador for this, because really, truly, a lot of us are aligned to you, right, in mental health and just being a human being and wanting to not feel as much stress as possible and how it affects us in the cells. But you have a legitimate barometer, if you will, that is no joke, and you’re living that every day. So I feel like the authenticity that you bring to it in terms of what you have at risk from not following your own advice is incredible. And that’s why I just wanted to like, amplify that to anyone listening, and as well as we go on some endeavors together because it’s really powerful. No, basically you can’t argue with that, right, but within that and as a follow on, so that’s the feeling. Can we talk a little bit about some of the results, either anecdotally or firsthand, you’ve either seen yourself or from other clinicians in terms of the impact of these shifts in mindset, in terms of things like managing chronic diseases or in the world of mental health? You know, it doesn’t matter where you draw from, but I think some, tying some maybe outcomes to it, and I know you have those, so that’s, so the audience knows.

Dr. Conrad Aquino:
Yes, absolutely.

Dr. Natanya Wachtel:
Because think that’s where sort of the rubber meets the road in terms of impact as well.

Dr. Conrad Aquino:
Right. And stress is not a bad thing at all. We are supposed to experience stress, but not in a chronic sense. We’re supposed to experience acute stress. And acute stress is usually, you know, when a lion is charging towards us or when there’s a fire or when something like that, that’s when acute stress is absolutely needed because it’s a fight or flight mechanism that we need to get those hormones out, the cortisol out, so we can think better and do whatever it is that we need to do to escape this scenario. However, our modern day, the modern era gives us this kind of lion attack every single moment of our lives. The bills that we have to pay, the annoying coworker that we have every day, you know, the deadlines that we have to meet, it’s just so much. And this type of stress, when it happens to us in a chronic sense, it shifts that balance of hormones where we have more cortisol, where you have higher blood pressures, and so many chronic diseases that are related to these stresses. And even your autoimmune disease are also related to stresses, and these are things that we have to try to avoid. A lot of the medication or the treatment that we have right now is not to decrease the stress, but hey, let’s put a bandaid fix here. You know, pharmaceuticals, make medications and all of these, let’s treat you because there’s something wrong with you and it’s treatable. Let’s just give you this and we’ll have that. Which is a good idea, yes, but we still have not addressed the root cause of these issues. And being able to address these root causes, getting one thing. Did you know that there is 20% more heart attacks that happened early Monday morning? Yes. And that’s, you know, because.

Dr. Natanya Wachtel:
Good thing we’re doing this podcast on a Monday afternoon, that was all part of it. But, you know, I think within that that’s a really important thing to say. So there’s also sort of the kind of maybe more known to the public, you know, the mainstream outside of those in clinical practice around the effect of stress on some hormones and some of the effects of chronic stress on things like autoimmune, but also even things that are maybe less talked about and thought maybe you could talk about that too, where the body shuts off certain processes so that it can function on what it perceives as a renewed focus on things like being ready to run because of what we do in the olden days, if you will, if that was a trigger, right? So things like arousal, so meaning getting less pleasure out of life, having an effect on your relationships, like there’s so many layers that are within here that aren’t talked about that also are vital to healing and feeling our best in life.

Dr. Conrad Aquino:
Yes, I like what you said, that where this chronic stress that we’re feeling really shuts down our ability to enjoy life and to, you know, stop and smell the flowers because we’re always in that fight or flight scenario where we need to do this, need to do that, and which is very difficult now to just rest and enjoy life. And as soon as I got to that point, it was just, like what you mentioned, it was a euphoric calm that really just came to me and that I experienced. Some people call it maybe inner Peace or however you’d like to call it, but it is real. Who knew that it was achievable in this lifetime? And that’s just, what something that I’d like to share to everyone so that they can enjoy life to the fullest, and not just figuratively, but literally.

Dr. Natanya Wachtel:
That’s amazing and obviously very inspiring. I was wondering if you could share either some advice or perspective on how you think clinicians, whether we’re in internal medicine or specialists, whether it be in cardiology or endocrinology or what have you, anywhere where there’s chronic disease or just general wellness or integrative medicine, how would you love to see or how have you seen, either way is fine, how are they determining where this fits in their guidelines, when they’re doing their longitudinal care, when they’re going through looking at blood results and the Rx prescription refills or A1C or whatever that is? How do you see this fit, or how do you help make them see this kind of fits in the treatment paradigm today?

Dr. Conrad Aquino:
That is a little bit more difficult because we have to change as a society, and it’s not just that one person that will make that change, and the health and wellness sector as a whole is not quite ready for that change yet, because we’re still looking at the bottom line. And as long as we’re looking at the bottom line and not the actual health and wellness of each person and each individual or as a society, then it’s going to be difficult to make that shift. However, I’m already starting to see some shift, and this is coming from the payers, your insurance companies.

Dr. Natanya Wachtel:
… the bottom line is a pharmaco…

Dr. Conrad Aquino:
Exactly …

Dr. Natanya Wachtel:
…, you de-prescribe, you reduce chronic impact. You basically reduce the burden of care for them, you pay for your treatments because you will need less, because you will be better, but the benefit to the person is that you will be feeling better.

Dr. Conrad Aquino:
Yes, which is a very good like secondary intention. It might not be my primary intention to do it, but it’s a very good side effect of doing this, and I love that from what’s happening now. And even the US government is already starting to implement a lot of these things because Medicare, Medicaid, they don’t want to spend more, and they’re already implementing some things to provide better patient outcomes. They’re already forcing the healthcare providers through payment penalties, through star ratings, and other incentives that they use in order to provide better patient outcomes, decrease your hospitalization risks, and decrease emergency room visits. So it’s happening. The intention is not quite there yet, but the bottom line is also driving that. And eventually, I’m hoping that as a whole, as a society, we’re going to see that that we need to focus on prevention rather than treatment.

Dr. Natanya Wachtel:
Excellent. Thank you for that. And obviously, I’m personally quite aligned to that. And the rally cry was just made that much stronger, when you have that sort of everybody-wins model. So everyone who has skin in the game financially still wins. Everyone who actually wants to live life a little better still wins. So it’s amazing, but they have to be willing to look at things a little differently, take in some new modalities, and know about them. So with that, in terms of knowing about them, do you have any current plans, or can you share some of your plans with the Stress Free Initiative in terms of maybe working with employer groups or different kinds of groups to help essentially do training and leverage all of what is in your six-week course and book to different kinds of groups and what you’re doing there and or what you hope to do?

Dr. Conrad Aquino:
Yes, absolutely. So currently, I am working with some healthcare providers to try to change their way of thinking. The service should be number one in their list of priorities, and the service is the best patient care ever. So I’m working with a few healthcare providers right now to try to think that way, and eventually, it will trickle down to the clinicians, the people that see these patients at the bedside to be able to do that. And also, after the conference that we had, I was able to connect to some of the employers as well, some companies that are willing to undergo that type of training to be able to see that in a different light, because it is something that needs to be seen and heard in order to change, you know, the lives of the many, but we have to start with one.

Dr. Natanya Wachtel:
Absolutely, and so I was just thinking too, and again, this is on purpose, asking these questions so we can get an audience hopefully to resonate with this and reach out to you, but also, you know, as we talk to more groups independently and together, to look at, let’s just say, traditionally high-stakes areas in certain life stages. So because you happen to be a clinician, and when you were talking about at the conference, also med school and residency, so maybe looking at med schools, anyone representative from training organizations like that to think about this for the students and to have it in the training for when they need it for bedside manner, right? So sort of as an individual human going through a very stressful time in your life, here are some tools, because there isn’t much of that in the curriculum and or services. And I know many a clinician who have either been on this podcast and or have anecdotally shared with me why they left because of that stress, why they left practice. They either didn’t complete their residency or they never went into practice afterwards, and were felt that it was not acceptable to have that kind of stress during that experience, they were not supported in that, they were perceived as having flaws. Yet, you know, it can be grueling and depending on the specialty, you know, some are working within oncology and children and pretty eviscerating stuff. And then I was thinking other areas like government and law and finance, you know, where there’s rigorous you’re taxing your body and your mind for more than an eight hour day, and other areas in terms of, you know, laboring and construction and areas where we might not think of these things, but those folks would be under constant stress of a different kind, and where their physical body is also taxed all the time. So I’m just trying to see, you know, it’s a question that’s almost rhetorical, but can you see this working in all those kinds of areas as well? For those who …

Dr. Conrad Aquino:
I don’t see why not, just like what, the quote that you mentioned earlier, embrace the suck. That’s how we were trained to deal with any type of stress, you know, just live with it, just suck it up. Which is not really an effective way to deal with the stresses. And unfortunately, we were brought up this way and we’re bringing up kids in, or this newer generation in the same way. And we’re not changing the process and we’re not giving them, just like what you mentioned, the right tools and resources to be able to do this the right way. And if only we gave them the tools, if only we taught them how to do this the right way, then everything would be better, and not just in medicine, not just in med school, any life as well, anyone who experiences stress, definitely we’ll help.

Dr. Natanya Wachtel:
Yeah, and I think you brought up a good point. And when we think about, in young people, sort of a different lens that’s come to light, it’s been in the mainstream, it’s been talked about in a lot of the psych journals and papers about the more modern parenting style that’s helicoptering or tigering or however you want to call it, where in fact, not only are young people, you know, are having more stresses, they’re not able to actually work through them on their own because they’re sort of that autonomy gets taken away by being micromanaged, essentially, and all the decisions of their life. So then they have even fewer skills around what to do until it usually becomes a breaking point, right? Like a collapse, a self-harm, you know, something like that, lashing out, whatever that may be. So at every life stage, it seems like these kinds of tools would be invaluable, and so with that, I would love to say, if you can tell this audience a little bit more about how best to get in touch with you, and as well as some of the things you would, if you had a wish list, what are you hoping for in the coming months?

Dr. Conrad Aquino:
Sure, absolutely. So people who would like to connect with us go to StressFreeInitiative.org. We have our social media links there. You can connect with us with social media, you can send us messages. We also shoot out through our social media motivational quotes, empowering quotes for self love, and the website will also have the guidebook that is there. The guidebook is available on paperback, on Kindle, or an audiobook. It makes it so much easier for you to be able to access this. And every book that you purchase will go towards our non-profit cause to also help locally in our underserved communities to be able to do that.

Dr. Natanya Wachtel:
Well, thank you so much for your time today, and it was wonderful speaking with you and seeing you again. It’s been a whole week and a half, I think, but it was really another world away and I wish you all the best of luck and can’t wait to see what’s next.

Dr. Conrad Aquino:
Well, thank you very much, Natanya. It was a very much a pleasure of mine to be able to be here today.

Dr. Natanya Wachtel:
Thank you for listening to Insights Out. We hope you enjoyed today’s episode. If you have a specific topic in mind and you want us to discuss, please reach out to us by visiting NewSolutionsNetwork.com. See you next time!

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Things You’ll Learn:

  • Chronic stress can have detrimental effects on an individual’s overall well-being and health.
  • Reevaluating expectations and embracing life’s uncertainties can significantly reduce stress levels.
  • Addressing the root causes of stress is crucial for long-term well-being, beyond merely treating its symptoms.
  • Implementing stress-reduction strategies in various settings, including workplaces, can significantly improve overall well-being.
  • Equipping individuals with effective tools and coping mechanisms is essential for managing stress and enhancing quality of life.

Resources: