Stress. One of the most frequently used words these days, but when did it begin to be used as a psychological concept? Can more recent stress research help us in our daily lives? In this blog series, I hope to share ideas and information that you may find useful.

While Hans Selye, the father of stress research, is credited with coining the term in 1936, it is more accurately attributed to an earlier researcher, Walter Cannon, who developed the term stress in his work relating to the fight-or-flight response in 1915. Selye later defined it as the “non-specific response of the body to any demand”. In response to some external stressor, Selye described the ‘alarm’ stage, mobilizing our physical resources to deal with or escape the stressor. Then, in the second stage, we attempt to adapt to, or cope with, the external stressor, or ‘resistance’. Finally, the state of ‘exhaustion’ occurs with repeated exposure to the stressor and inability to cope or escape. (Kennard, J. HealthCentral)

The adverse effects of chronic stressors are particularly common in humans. Our high capacity for symbolic thought may elicit persistent stress responses to a broad range of adverse living and working conditions. People attempt to cope, but too often learn maladaptive patterns of coping to stressors, such as worrying, anger, micro-managing, defensiveness, over eating, poor sleep habits, and substance over use. It can become a vicious cycle of stressors and stress-triggered responses impacting vitality, relationships, health and feelings of living the life we value.

We read about the staggering levels of distress and symptoms of burnout in health workers. Healthcare delivery is inherently complex, unpredictable and challenging, more so in times of pandemics. On a daily basis, clinician teams and administrators are faced with multifaceted responsibilities and demands for time, attention and compassion that can lead to stress, fatigue and burnout. (Leiter & Maslach, 2009). Contact with ailing patients and their relatives creates further complexities, potentially impacting psychological and physical health, quality of life and performance.

While many clinicians are higher than average in resilience, it is a misconception that resilience is a static condition. It can be degraded. The complex brain phenomenon called ‘resilience’ is protective, but not iron-clad protection, against persistent stressors. Indeed, in a recent survey, it was found that resilience is on the decline in all roles in healthcare (Press Ganey 2021).

What I find to be very exciting is that stress research has shed significant light on therapeutic modalities that can be readily learned to change how our brains respond to stress triggers and to more effectively navigate stressful situation aligned with what we value. This is referred to in research as ‘psychological flexibility’. Building psychological flexibility, in turn, is protective of our resilience.

Psychological flexibility. Now that is a concept to start bringing into one’s vocabulary! In the next part in this blog series, I will explore more about the stress response and what we can do to change it.

Author: Pennie Sempell, JD, CEO StressPal

StressPal CEO, Pennie Sempell JD, presented at MGMA Medical Practice Excellence Conference in Boston 2023 on the topic “Stress Less: Ways to Identify Cost-Saving Burnout Prevention Solutions”

She presented at both the live event in Boston and the virtual event.

CTeL summit on the Hill with updates from Senators on telehealth, with panel presenter Sempell on burnout and telehealth.

Expanded access and inclusion to entire healthcare workforce safeguards individual resilience, improves interprofessional communication and fulfilment

SAN RAFAEL, Calif. – July 13, 2022 – StressPal, a leader in evidence-based resilience training for clinicians, today announced that StressPal Frontline: Essential Resilience Self-Care and Burnout Prevention now offers post-training modules throughout the subscription and on renewal, and up to 24 Continuing Medical Education and Interprofessional Education credits for a wide range of clinicians and healthcare teams, jointly provided by the Postgraduate Institute for Medicine and StressPal.

The StressPal program unifies leading intervention strategies in practical, focused learning for immediate application, in a video-rich experience that’s personalized by the learner, to cultivate psychological flexibility, resilience and interprofessional capacities. The accredited content, interactive videos and peer-mentoring tools are delivered to users conveniently in a confidential, secure environment. The core training is designed in bite-sized modules for completion over 4-6 weeks with resources, and new ongoing post-training support modules reinforce the skill-building.

The new post-training module includes 10 robust modules of interactive materials available to subscription model learners after completion of the core training. Learners and coaches interact with peers in their own dedicated online community and use the program’s platform to disseminate wellness news on any device, and in real time. Compelling storytelling in an animated, video-rich environment creates an immersive experience that is concise, engaging and easy to follow.

The increased credits available for the StressPal Frontline Continuing Education Activity are:

  • Physicians – maximum of 12 AMA PRA Category 1 Credits
  • Nurses – 12 contact hours (ANCC)
  • Psychologists – 12 continuing education credits (APA)
  • Healthcare Team – 12 Interprofessional Continuing Education credits

“Burnout and poor well-being impede a strong culture of safety in medicine. A rising number of clinicians and non-clinicians report dismay and symptoms of depression, anxiety and burnout, and are leaving, or plan to prematurely leave, their profession. Unfortunately, individual resilience is neither an innate nor a static condition.  It can be learned and ameliorated, and it can be degraded by persistent stressors, and by our own stress triggered-responses,” said Pennie Sempell, CEO and Co-Founder of StressPal. “While we may have little control over external stressors in the short run, we can gain control over how we respond to stressors and align our responses with what we value. Leadership can meaningfully support their workforce, and mitigate risks, by protecting the resilience of their broader teams and staff.  We are excited to offer StressPal Frontline as a concise, brain-based continuing education activity, and as a ready-to-use platform for the organization’s teams and mentors to interact, meet and share in real time, on any device. This dual approach of high value content and a private peer community is powerful.”

StressPal Faculty: James Monroe, PhD, Pennie Sempell, JD and Karen Knecht, MSN, RN-BC

To learn more about the StressPal Frontline: Essential Resilience Self-Care and Burnout Prevention toolkit, visit Discounted team bundles are available for organizations.

About StressPal

Clinician-led StressPal recognizes that the uniquely complex challenges facing healthcare communities, and all its stakeholders, requires collaboration across multiple sectors, and excellence in innovation of specialized, adjunctive “tools” for the organization’s toolkit as they engage in systemic approaches to reduce factors contributing to burnout, manage risks, and create workplace environments conducive to well-being for the entire healthcare workforce. StressPal innovates low cost, efficient, and best practices digital behavioral medicine tools with engagement and interactivity at its core. For more information visit


Press contact information:
Lacy Herman
Anderson Interactive