We All Have Stress
It was a Tuesday evening. I arrived home from winning an indoor
cricket grand final feeling on top of the world. Everything was good
in my life; everything was going to plan. Little did I know that in a
moment, everything was about to change.
Everyone deals with stress. Everyone deals with challenges. In fact,
a life without stress and challenge wouldn’t be much of a life at all.
There would be no growth, no learning, no impetus for change and
no sense of achievement. Much like a gym-goer tearing apart his
muscles in the gym so they can be built back up again, better and
stronger before the next session, challenge makes you adapt, learn
Major, minor, or happening right now - if you’re reading this book,
you’ve experienced stress. You are NOT alone.
For many of you, this stress will feel overwhelming. For some of you,
it will feel like too much, like you can’t go on. For others, it will be a
nagging stress that hangs around in the background. Maybe you stay
on top of it, pushing it into the background and going about your
normal, happy life.
The truth is, whichever of these camps you fall into, stress is having a
massive impact on every facet of your life.
It affects your moods, your work, your relationships. It affects your
family and all those you love. Most of all, it affects you!
Even if you feel like you are on top of it, like you can bury it and move
on, that constant effort to keep it down, to suppress it, to be ‘happy’,
is slowly drowning your energy, your happiness, your creativity and
We never get taught how to deal with stress at school, do we? And it
is not something that comes innately. Our brains are wired to deal with
acute stress. The kinds of stress we would have dealt with for millions
of years of evolution, like running away from a sabre-toothed cat. The
stress was short lived. You either fight or you run. You survived or
you didn’t. Either way, it was over quickly and you moved on (or not).
The kind of stress we deal with in our modern lives is different
though, isn’t it? It might be money, it might be relationships, it might
be family dynamics, it might be work or a lack of time... the list goes
on, and will be different for everyone. These stresses are chronic. They
often affect us for years or even decades rather than moments.
The problem is, we are wired to deal with stress in our ‘lizard brain’.
It is the oldest part of your brain and includes the brainstem, the
cerebellum and the amygdala.
This innate way of dealing with stress is very intelligent. In times of
stress and insecurity, the lizard brain causes us fear, driving us towards
safety and security, and away from change, growth and uncertainty.
It can even cause us to lash out to protect ourselves. Sound familiar?
Do you sometimes feel paralysed? Do you sometimes feel like you
just want to retreat from the world and pretend none of this is going
on? Do you sometimes want to avoid talking to people so you can
avoid those difficult conversations, avoid owning up to your reality,
avoid the idea that maybe there is stuff you should be doing to
change? Do you ever bury things so deep that they overflow and spill
out of you in anger and resentment and frustration? Welcome to the
It is a great way of dealing with acute stressors, and is there for a
reason. What it is not, however, is an intelligent way to deal with
chronic stressors, to develop beautiful relationships, to love or to
create the life of your dreams.
When you’re stuck in the lizard brain it can seem impossible to
change. In fact, your lizard brain is doing everything in its power to
stop you from changing because it wants to keep you safe. This is one
reason it’s so hard to break free from habits or recurring struggles -
even if you know they’re unhelpful.
It’s even more frustrating when you look around and see other
people dealing with stress constructively, changing and growing
and developing. From an intellectual point of view, you can see the
benefit in that.
It makes sense to change; you want to change! And that’s exactly
what you are trying to do... but for some reason you just can’t make it
stick. You read articles, you read books, you listen to audio programs,
you get advice from all your friends, maybe you even seek professional
guidance. It all helps, but still there’s something holding you back.
Some invisible anchor you just can’t seem to let go of.
Maybe you just aren’t worthy? Maybe you aren’t smart enough? Or
patient enough? Or clever enough? Or disciplined enough? Maybe
you just aren’t as good as everyone else?
The truth is, while you can’t eliminate stress (and nor would you want
to), you can change the way you deal with it. You can bounce back,
you can remove the dark cloud that is hanging over you. You can
learn to live again, to love again, to be joyful about life again and
to see the opportunities life brings - not just the challenges. You
can reclaim your own destiny and start to live the life you always
How? We’ll get to that soon, I promise.
So Why Would You Listen to Me Anyway?
It’s a great question and not one I feel I have a great answer to. I wrote
this book because I was asked to write this book. Firstly by people
who know me, secondly by people who have listened to me speak,
and finally when I was also asked by a book publisher, I decided this
story needed to be told.
I can’t tell you whether you should read it or indeed why you should
read it, only you know the answer to that, and in truth you probably
won’t know the answer until you are too far into the book to quit
I can’t even tell you why I think you should read the book, because to
be honest, until people started bugging me to write it down, I didn’t
see my journey as anything extraordinary. I had some challenges, I
worked through them and I got on with my life. It was only when I
saw my journey through other people’s eyes that I realised the unique
environment, skills and perspective I had that had helped me along
What I can tell you is what other people have told me about this story.
Firstly, it was that there are not enough men who talk about these
things, and that the absence of male voices and role models when it
comes to mindset is a big part of the challenge with men’s health in
our modern world. Secondly, I was told it is a rare thing for a man
to be willing and able to communicate these things in a way that is
not only scientifically valid, but also respectful and positive. Thirdly, I
was told it is uncommon for a man to be in touch with his emotions
and able to share them in the way that I do. The combination of
these things make this is an important book for me to write and an
important book for men (and women) to read.
My take on all this is, while it’s flattering, it’s also giving men a bad
rap. I think all men deep down have these same tools and skills
within them, waiting to be released, and I am just fortunate enough
to have the inclination, the environment and the platform to share
this message and hopefully to draw that innate wisdom from more
That is why I wrote this book and why I created my group coaching
program Exercising Resilience (www.exercisingresilience.com).
Your Story is Enough
The last five years have been a journey of delving into and learning
more about myself. More about how I relate to other people. How I
deal with stress. How I deal with challenges and opportunities. And
most importantly, how I see myself and my ability to control my
There are some things I’ve done OK at that I would like to share with
you. There are other things I haven’t done so OK at that I would also
like to share with you, in the hope you might learn from them and
not make the same mistakes.
Sharing your story always comes with a little self doubt, doesn’t it?
We all have that small voice inside that says, “Who are you to speak
up? Who are you to share?” The first time I shared this story and this
journey, I was on stage at The Wellness Summit in Melbourne in
front of 1000 people! You can imagine how I felt.
My first thought about my story was, ‘Is it enough?’
My good friend Carren Smith was speaking at the same seminar.
She wrote an amazing book titled Soul Survivor, and the journey she
went through was incredible. When her partner committed suicide,
she struggled so intensely that she travelled to Bali to commit suicide
herself. While she was at the Sari club, the Bali bombings occurred.
She was literally right in the middle of it. She lost two of her friends
who had travelled to Bali purely to keep her company and try to help
her through. She had a massive head wound to recover from, as well
as a whole lot of guilt.
That’s massive; that’s a huge thing. I knew Carren was going to be
sharing part of her story and I couldn’t help but compare it to my
own. ‘Maybe my stuff isn’t that important to talk about’, I thought.
Maybe it’s not enough. ‘Maybe I didn’t have enough stress to really be
an authority on this topic. Maybe I am not qualified to help people.’
I thought about that, but the more I mulled it over, the more I
realised; it’s not about how big or dramatic your stressful story is. It’s
not about how bad it looks from the outside. It’s not about how other
people perceive what is going on inside your head. It’s about you!
And I know for you, reader, there is stuff that goes on inside
your head. There are stressors you have had in your life. There are
challenges you have had in your life. And some of those will have
been massive. Many of you will have had more stress than I have
had in my life, and dealt with it even better than I did. Many of
you will have had stressors you have really struggled with. Most, if
not all of you, have stressors you continue to struggle with. Some of
you will have challenges that outsiders will see as being really small
and insignificant. Some people might look at them and say, “Why
is that stressing you out?”, “Why are you worrying about it?” But
to you it is something really important. For you it is something that
massively impacts your life, your mental health, your productivity,
your happiness and your passion. No-one else gets to decide whether
something stresses you out or not. No-one else is inside your head.
No-one else in the whole world is experiencing exactly what you are
through your own personal filter of past experiences.
So I realised my story was enough. That it is worth sharing. Because
there’s information I would love to offer and a journey I would love
to share, in the hope you get something out of it.
Equally, your story is enough, too. Whatever you are going through,
this is an opportunity to recognise it, to own it and maybe even talk
to someone else about it. Because if it matters to you, chances are it
will matter to the people who love you as well.
Redefining Rock Bottom
I love this quote from J.K. Rowling: “Rock bottom became the
solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.” I read it recently and it
resonated with me profoundly. I absolutely loved it. Something about
those words really hit home. It made me realise what a wonderful
opportunity I was presented with. A clean slate!
When everything had fallen apart, when I had been forced to
question everything, I realised I’d been given a gift. That gift was the
opportunity to start afresh. The opportunity to look at everything I
was currently doing with fresh eyes, almost as an outsider looking
in. I was given the opportunity to analyse my entire life and decide
what was working for me and what was not. The opportunity to
choose what I wanted to retain in my life and what I wanted to leave
behind. I was forced to rebuild much of my life from the ground up.
To reshape an image of myself as a person and a professional. I look
back and I am so grateful for this opportunity. At the time, it wasn’t
so easy to see it that way.
One of my favourite affirmations has always been, “I choose to
believe that The Universe is conspiring to help me”. I remember
the first time I read it (though I’m not sure where) and actually
found it challenging. It seemed wishy washy. A bit too over-the-top
optimistic. A little too spiritual and a touch too unrealistic.
But then I had someone explain it to me this way. They said, “It might
be true, it might not. It is just as likely to be true as not, and we will
never know definitively one way or the other. If you choose to believe
it, you will see meaning in everything you do and everything you go
through. It will help you to see the opportunities in the challenges,
and the gifts in the stressors. It will help you stay solution-focussed
rather than problem-focussed in your life. Or you could choose not
to believe that there is a reason why things happen, or even worse,
that The Universe is conspiring against you. Both of these may also
be true, but they are far less empowering. These beliefs will make life
harder for you, they will make it harder for you to see the benefits
and the opportunities in the challenges. The choice is yours.”
So I decided to choose to believe that The Universe is conspiring to
help me, even though it can be really hard to see at times. And I truly
believe that simple quote was one of the things that most helped me
get through my journey and be the man I am today.
Journey. There’s an interesting point of reflection. I started thinking
about my own, back to when I started as a health and wellness expert.
I look back at the person who I was and think ‘Wow, I was pretty
naive!’ I was sharing information I thought I knew a lot of stuff
about… and I have learnt a lot since then. I have so much more to
share with you since then. I have a lot more compassion for people
since then, and a far better understanding of what people go through.
Because, really, up until that point I had lived a pretty blessed life. I
was born into a family with two wonderful parents. My mum and
dad are just fantastic. Two salt-of-the-earth country people. My dad
came from Ceduna, my mum from Pinaroo. Dad was a cabinet maker,
Mum was a hairdresser. They worked hard. Dad had his own business
and they both dealt with a lot of stress because of it. They worked
really hard to send me to school. They took out loans against their
house so they could send me to a great private school. I was loved
my whole life, and had a wonderful home. I was well looked after. I
met my partner when I was 20, and together we moved to Sydney.
We had a great life together. We got married, returned to Adelaide,
and moved into a beautiful old house in the hills. It literally had the
white picket fence. As well as that, I had two beautiful children and
owned my own chiropractic practice. I had written a book, was cohost
of Australia’s #1 health and wellness podcast show, and life was
pretty good... right?
You might be looking at that checklist thinking, ‘Tick, tick, tick. That’s
all pretty good!’ However, here comes the inevitable ‘but…’.
I was out one night with my mates. We had gone to play indoor
cricket. I have a great bunch of mates who are very supportive. Many
of whom I have been friends with for a very long time. We played
indoor cricket and we won the indoor cricket grand final. Tick, that’s
When I came home from indoor cricket, my wife was sitting on the
end of the bed. As soon as I looked at her, I knew something wasn’t
right. You know when you have been with someone for a long time
and you look at them and you just know?
She said, “Brett I need to talk to you.” I thought, ‘Gee, this never ends
She said “Brett, I don’t want to be in this relationship anymore...”.
I didn’t know what to say.
I was dumbfounded.
This conversation was beyond my comprehension.
Over the next few days we kept talking. I tried desperately to find out
what had gone wrong, what I had done wrong and what I could do to
fix it. To make it better. I have always been a good problem solver, so
I felt sure that if I just applied those skills and worked hard I could
make things right. For the sake of myself and my kids, I would have
done literally anything. I would have sold my soul and my own life
ambitions to try and fix it (which in hindsight would not have been
a long term solution either).
I moved into the spare room immediately. Within the space of three
days, I moved out of my house. Within the space of three weeks, I
found a new house and moved in, because she had made it very clear
that was what she wanted.
I was lost.
I felt sad. I felt alone. I felt like a failure. I felt like I had let my kids
down. I felt like I had let my wife down. I even felt like I had let my
That was my Rock Bottom.
I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be a Chiropractor anymore.
I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to do The Wellness Guys (podcast)
I had no idea what I wanted to do anymore.
I lost motivation for everything.
It was really tough.
What I realised was that my motivation, my why had always been
that white picket fence with that beautiful family, with my two little
kids. And all I wanted to do was have a successful business, a beautiful
home, and create a beautiful healthy environment to support and
raise and nurture that family. And without that I just didn’t know
where I was. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know where to go
Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face. I had a
great plan. It was going well - or so I thought. But not everyone
agreed with my plan; they weren’t quite on board. And so everything
changed. Everything changed in a moment.
I learned a lot about myself in those first few weeks, and I learned
even more about myself in the following three years.
About three weeks after I separated from my wife, I got a letter from
the Chiropractic Board of Australia. That is generally not good!
Someone had gone through all 400 pages of my website, scrolled
back through about five years of my Facebook feed and read every
article in my blog to find things to complain to the Chiropractic
registration board about. And there I was, staring at the laundry list
of complaints. I looked at things I had said about controversial issues
in health and wellness in Australia and around the world. (I won’t go
into them now for obvious reasons, but I am sure you can imagine
the gist). A couple of those I looked at and I thought, ‘OK, that isn’t
my field of expertise. I am willing to take it down and not talk about
Others I looked at and thought, ‘Far out, this is just not right!’ One
example was an article I had written about birthing interventions.
I had done research, used statistics, showed the effects of birthing
interventions and the cascade of events that can happen when you
introduce those birthing interventions. With two small children -
both of whom had been born at home in beautiful natural births
(which were completely amazing experiences) and both of whom
were happy, healthy and thriving - I was really passionate about
sharing that information. I had shared a whole range of information
I just wasn’t happy about taking down.
So I got back to them and said, “Look, I am willing to take some of
these things down but I am not willing to take these others down. I
can’t see how that could possibly be a breach of the guidelines, and I
definitely can’t see how taking it down and censoring it is in the best
interest of the general public”. What ensued was an investigation
into me by the Chiropractic Board of Australia which has resulted
in (amongst other things, and on the advice of my lawyer), not being
able to sell my book How to Eat an Elephant anymore. I had about
300 health and wellness articles on my website drbretthill.com and
I was advised to take those down, too. I was contacted by AHPRA,
the governing body above the CBA, to let me know they were
considering pursuing a criminal investigation against me because
I was in breach of the Advertising Guidelines of the Chiropractic
Board of Australia.
Because I said “outrageous things”.
One of the things I said that was so outrageous was that, “I choose
to eat well, think well, move well and get regular chiropractic care in
order to maintain my health”.
Who thinks I shouldn’t be able to say that?
Talk about censorship! We need to do something about this, because
it is not right. The bullying of alternative health practitioners that is
going on at the moment is not right.
You may have seen it on social media. The stuff that happens to
Pete Evans and the Bubba Yum Yum cookbook. The stuff that is
happening to Gary Fettke… it’s just not right.
I think it is anti-science and dangerous. The first step of scientific
theory is hypothesis. If people aren’t allowed to challenge the status
quo, if people aren’t allowed to challenge what is going on, that is
going to be bad for science. We are not going to have new hypotheses.
Because where do new hypotheses come from? They come from
outside the status quo, they come from outside the norm. Imagine
if we went back to a time when doctors recommended cigarettes
to patients to reduce throat irritation and coughs, and to “offer a
helping hand to good digestion”? Imagine if no-one was allowed to
challenge that claim because it was accepted by doctors? Who would
benefit from that? Not the general public, that’s for sure!
You can probably see from my rant just how much this was stressing
me out, just how much I care about this topic. And when you care so
much about something, when something is a big part of your passion
and purpose in life and you feel like your expression of that is being
blocked, it really has an impact. It causes an incongruence between
who you are and what you perceive you are able to do, and it starts to
eat away at you.
My role as a father was impacted in a similar way. Over the last three
years I have dealt with challenges around maintaining the care of my
kids, which I found particularly difficult. We have an environment
where it is really tough for a dad, who is a good dad, who looks after
his kids, to be given an even chance. I think that is not right!
We live in a country where almost seven people die by suicide every
day, and five of those are men! The highest number of these are middleaged
men. When it comes to parenting, men are treated as second
class citizens. Fatherhood is often considered less significant than
motherhood (if not in legislation then at least in the interpretation
and implementation of the legislation) - and the ones who most
affected by this are the kids. Good dads are left feeling undervalued
and unheard. Their cries for equality for the benefit of their children
are at best ignored and at worst ridiculed by a society that pigeonholes
male roles just as much as it has ever done to females.
It’s fair to say that the last three years have been stressful. Some is
ongoing. At the time of writing this, I have ceased to sell my book, I
have deleted my entire past social media history, I have removed all
the articles from my website (on my lawyer’s advice) and at the time
of writing this I still haven’t heard back from the Chiropractic Board
of Australia about whether they are going to criminally prosecute me
or not (I ended up getting a warning). Fortunately, the issues around
separation, divorce and child custody have been resolved… but coparenting
still remains challenging at times.
During this process, I realised I had two choices.
I could either wallow in it, or do something about it. And for me, it
wasn’t really a choice. I recall speaking to people not long after I had
gone through the separation and they would say to me, “How do you
do it?” And I would say, “What?” And they would say, “How do you
keep going? How do you rock up to work with a smile on your face?”.
And my answer was, “I don’t know”. I had never thought of it before.
I didn’t even realise I was making that choice.
In the end, my answer was, “Well, what’s the alternative? What’s my
other choice?” I could either wallow in self pity and be sad and lonely
and miserable, or I could decide to move forwards. To me, that’s just
not a choice - so I decided to move forwards.
As you will see throughout this book, this wasn’t a snap realisation
- this was the result of a process of self work and self discovery that
took time and effort. My goal with this book is to document my
journey so that hopefully my trial and error can serve as a road map to
make this process easier for those who follow. And selfishly perhaps,
by helping others, it can add one more layer of meaning to show me
why my journey was worthwhile, too.
The Four Phases of Learning
At the end of each section of this book, I am going to invite you to
take action. After all, without action, this will become just another
book on the shelf.
I encourage you to put aside your resistance (or that guilty habit of
saying, “I’ll do it later...” - knowing full well you probably won’t).
These action steps might help, they might not. The only way you will
know is to give them a red hot crack. At the very least it will prevent
you from sitting down somewhere in ten years time thinking, ‘I wish
I had given that a go and I wonder whether that would have actually
made a difference.’
You have nothing to lose, everything to gain, and the chance to
become a more self-aware and compassionate human being. Before
you jump in, it’s handy to understand the four phases of learning:
1. Unconscious Incompetence (you don’t know what you don’t
2. Conscious Incompetence (you realise there are gaps in your
knowledge or skill set)
3. Conscious Competence (you are able to bridge the gaps, but
only with great awareness and hard work)
4. Unconscious Competence (you have ingrained the new
knowledge or skills to the point where you can just do it
without conscious thought)
These hold true for any changes you want to make in your life.
As you work through this book, you will come across areas that
stand out as needing improvement. This can be confronting, but rest
assured - it’s a good thing. Look for those uncomfortable feelings
because they are often signs of an opportunity for change. By being
aware and open to the idea that there may be scope for improvement,
you open yourself up to the possibility of going from level one to
level two (becoming aware of your incompetence). This is a really
important step, but only the first step. Being aware of where you
are and where you would like to be is great - but nothing changes
without action. You can only move from level two to level three with
conscious action (and sometimes a little trial and error). This is where
I believe documentaries like The Secret let people down. People started
to think that if they just thought about things in the right way, if
they just visualised their goals well enough, what they wanted would
materialise. The reality is, you need vision accompanied by action.
Are you ready to expose things about yourself that you have been
pushing down? Are you open to opening up? Is it time to understand
and change the way you handle stress - and in turn, live a happier and
more fulfilled life?
If so, you’ll need to get uncomfortable, you’ll need to push through
the resistance and you’ll need to crack that brain of yours open a
little and examine what’s inside. There’s no doubt about it - it’s tough
(unsurprisingly, that’s why so many people remain stuck in stressful,
unhappy situations). If you are ready, read on. And get serious about
taking those steps, because they’re the real secret that will transform
your knowledge into action.
So, if you want to have an experience where you are opened up to
new possibilities - and maybe make some realisations about yourself,
the way you handle stress and the way you go through this life - read
on. But if you not only want to become aware of the way you are
creating your life, but actually make changes, I strongly encourage
you to DO the actions at the end of each section. If you need help
working through these actions, then I urge you to consider my
Exercising Resilience group coaching (www.exercisingresilience.com).
Don’t deny your stress. Don’t be ashamed of your stress. Be honest
about it, recognise it, acknowledge it and see it for what it is: an
opportunity to grow.
Write down (in order) the five things in your life right now that are
causing YOU the most stress, and give them a score out of ten in
terms of how strongly they impact your life.