Women In Wellness: Shauna Springer Of Stella On The Five Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Help Support People’s Journey Towards Better Wellbeing

Women In Wellness: Shauna Springer Of Stella On The Five Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Help Support People’s Journey Towards Better Wellbeing


Your personal soundtrack. There are songs that have deep personal meaning for each of us. Combining these into a personal soundtrack is a powerful exercise.

Today, more than ever, wellness is at the forefront of societal discussions. From mental health to physical well-being, women are making significant strides in bringing about change, introducing innovative solutions, and setting new standards. Despite facing unique challenges, they break barriers, inspire communities, and are reshaping the very definition of health and wellness. In this series called women in wellness we are talking to women doctors, nurses, nutritionists, therapists, fitness trainers, researchers, health experts, coaches, and other wellness professionals to share their stories and insights. As a part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Shauna Springer.

Shauna ‘Doc’ Springer, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist, best-selling author, podcast host, and one of the world’s leading experts on psychological trauma, military transition, suicide prevention, and close relationships. As Chief Psychologist for Stella, Dr. Springer promotes a groundbreaking approach to addressing psychological trauma by integrating biological and psychological therapies.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers would love to “get to know you” better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?

Ihad an unconventional upbringing, even by California standards. In some ways, my childhood was like an extended form of military bootcamp. Those who would characterize my childhood as abusive would be missing the point — along with exacting standards and incredible pressure, we were also loved and supported. I think my parents made a conscious decision to raise us in a very different way from the privileged families in our community. Their parenting style was a conscious attempt to balance the privilege we enjoyed.

My parents woke us from a very young age, at 5 a.m., to run laps around the local track several times a week. We were put under continual pressure to perform in school and in sports. We were sent, alone, to other countries, to be of service. My first solo trip was at the age of 10, when I was sent to Mexico City with a photo of a missionary family I had never met. I was told to find them at the airport and be of service to them. We provided food and medicine to people living in the Mexico City garbage dump. That is one of many experiences that is forever seared into memory. Men with sores on their bodies hunting for glue so they could get high and forget their pain. Kids with no shoes kicking around a ball made of wadded rags, on a field of broken glass, the callouses on their feet so thick that they were not cut. That was the first of many trips like that. In this way, we were taught to tolerate discomfort, to navigate people and cultures very different from our own, and to prioritize a life of service.

It wasn’t an easy childhood, but I don’t think I would have become a trusted Doc to our nation’s warfighters and first responders without going through this crucible. And I don’t think I would have been able to develop deep insights about how trauma impacts all of us if I hadn’t been able to earn this trust with those who regularly witness and experience extreme human suffering.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? What were the main lessons or takeaways from that story?

As a trusted healer, I have a deep vault of fascinating stories, but there are a few that changed the entire course of my career. Here is one of those.

I was in the last six months of an 8-year tour of duty at the Department of Veterans Affairs. One of my patients had served as a medic in special forces. True to form, like an Operator, he went far beyond most patients — relentlessly pushing himself to heal. For example, because his life was initially ruled by irritable anxiety, I counseled him to rebel against this form of control. Most patients might engage in an “anxiety exposure” — putting themselves, temporarily, into a situation that creates anxiety. This patient got a job at Sears, where he was sure to be faced with a daily horde of frustrated customers.

One day, he asked me if I had ever heard of a treatment called Stellate Ganglion Block. For those unfamiliar, Stellate Ganglion Block (SGB) involves injecting an anesthetic medication into a cluster of nerves in the neck, a few inches above the collarbone, as described in this article in Forbes. This was many years ago and there was very limited research on this procedure at that time.

But within the special forces community, it has long been a “go-to” treatment for helping special forces operators reset their fight or flight system and optimize their functioning in the warzone.

My patient had a clear understanding of how SGB would work to reset the fight or flight system because he had been a medic. He asked me to arrange this treatment and to be in the room with him while he had it. At the VA, providers typically send electronic referrals and see their patients again when they return from another provider’s care.

In this case, at his request, I went down to the pain clinic, put on a lead jacket, and stood next to one of my colleagues as he placed the injection in my patient’s neck. My patient’s blood pressure initially spiked because of his anxiety about the procedure. Because he trusted me, though, I was able to use my voice to rapidly bring his blood pressure down, in real time. You don’t usually get to see this kind of thing in most therapy sessions — you only see what’s on the outside. For me, this was a powerful reminder of how our psychological and biological systems are connected.

A few minutes after the treatment, his face changed. The deeply etched tension lines suddenly relaxed, and he began to cry, huge, gulping sobs. It was distressing at first until I saw that he was also smiling. He told me that it felt like ‘someone had taken a thousand-pound weight off his chest.’

I told him to go home and rest. He ignored my advice entirely. Instead of resting, he zeroed in on the most powerful trigger of his trauma — a picture of a brother in arms that was killed in combat. He picked up the picture, turned it over, and read the handwritten inscription that had previously triggered panic attacks. He had a totally different experience this time. In short, he was no longer triggered by it. He missed his brother, but he experienced a wave of love and an overwhelming feeling of peace.

In the weeks and months after that injection, we had powerful new traction in the work we did. This experience changed something fundamental about how I view trauma recovery. It revealed a huge missing piece in how we support trauma patients. You would not treat a knee injury with physical therapy before doing surgery to repair the damage. In the same way, when people are traumatized, we need to treat the biological injuries to their brain first, and then deliver therapy. Ever since I treated this patient, I have advocated for the combination of powerful biological treatments, paired with skillful psychotherapy.

This patient set me on a path that led to me helping launch Stella, which now has about 40 clinics across the United States, Israel and Australia. Stella has treated over 8,000 patients since 2020. We have made SGB and other cutting edge interventional mental health treatments available for everyone, civilians and veterans alike.

It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about a mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

In some ways, I feel like I made the same mistake repeatedly over more than a decade of clinical practice. What I failed to understand, which most therapists still fail to understand, is that if we do not treat the biological injury associated with post-traumatic stress, people cannot deeply engage in therapy at the same level.

In other words, for many years, I had been treating people who were in the wrong mind state to benefit from psychotherapy. They were overwhelmed by the intensity of their fight or flight symptoms. They weren’t sleeping. They couldn’t concentrate. They were distracted by the ticker tape of horrifying scenes of trauma in their mind’s eye. They felt out of control in their bodies, and therapy only heightened their feelings of helplessness.

Many refused treatment because they were rightfully concerned about being re-traumatized.
Therapy with so-called “best practice approaches” was so painful for some of my patients that they dropped out of care entirely. Against my better judgment, I repeatedly sent others home to drive on the freeway while they were still in a distracted, hyper-activated state.

One of the patients who dropped out of care was a Marine that I held in deep respect. Since I’m often invited into private circles of Marines, I met him again years later at a private fire pit during the Marine Corps birthday. It was hard for me to meet his eyes. I felt I had done him a disservice. While I was an early career psychologist, powerful people insisted that these types of therapies were the most effective, “best practice” way to support people with trauma symptoms. But my gut told me otherwise. It was hard to meet his eyes because I had unintentionally violated a deep personal code as a healer to do no harm.

I now have clarity that the prevailing model of addressing trauma can harm people.

I now see that “trauma-focused therapy” is not the same thing as “trauma-informed therapy.”

I now know that we must treat the biological injury first, and then engage in therapy.

We must restore calm and control before asking people to go deep into the cave of trauma and wrestle with their private demons.

Treating the biological injury first is trauma informed it is compassionate, and it is the right thing to do. This is why I am totally dedicated to changing the model for how and when we treat post-traumatic stress injury, with a combination of biological and psychological approaches.

Let’s jump to our main focus. When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?

I am doing two things to make a bigger impact in the world.

First, I am working tirelessly to help people change the model for how they address post-traumatic stress injury. I am advocating as a psychologist for those in my field to align with physicians that offer innovative, biological treatments. I believe that this kind of ego-free, deep collaboration with skilled physicians will get people who suffer the best outcome.

A second way I’m having an impact is through my writing and speaking. One of my unique gifts is to see what I call “the story behind the story” and books are away to scale insights.

There are some areas where I can “see the matrix” and deliver a range of novel insights to help change and save lives. For example, I have deep clarity on why our first responders and warfighters die by suicide. I understand how to help people heal from grief and trauma, and how we can all create and maintain successful close relationships. In my last two books, I focused on trauma with a specific focus on warfighters and first responders. In my next book, I’m going to write for all of us, focused on the topic of broken relationships, separation and divorce as one of the most devastating and common forms of trauma. In this book, I’m going to share a range of insights for how two people can become irreplaceable to each other.

I don’t have a title yet for my next book but it’s writing itself in my head with each week that passes.

Can you share your top five “lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing?

When I think of “lifestyle tweaks”, I think of small changes that have a lot of impact on our well-being. Here are five examples of a much longer list in my head.

1. Your personal soundtrack. There are songs that have deep personal meaning for each of us. Combining these into a personal soundtrack is a powerful exercise.

Ask yourself this question: If someone made a movie about my life, what soundtrack would I make to pair with it? Pull from the old stuff you remember from childhood, as well as more recent tracks that speak to you. Finding those songs, thinking about why they speak to you and putting them together in a particular sequence is a war chest for times of struggle. Listening to this music has the power to help shift our mind state and remind us of who we are. For some of my patients, their soundtrack has even pulled them out of a suicidal crisis.

I actually have several soundtracks to help me engage different mind states. For example, I have a soundtrack I call “Closer to God” that helps me connect with my faith. I have a soundtrack called “Possibility” that stimulates my thinking, opening up new perspectives on long-standing problems. This is the one that specifically engages my creativity. I also have a “Moto” soundtrack — which is my go-to workout mix to help me get in the right mind state to push my body. Music is primal and these soundtracks help me lead myself to different places.

2. A ritual for conscious repair. It’s very important to have a regular ritual to restore your physical and emotional energy. Your ritual is deeply personal and unique to you. For some people, it might be vigorous exercise while for others it might be taking a bath, sculpting a piece of clay, making some art. or writing in a journal. Spend some time figuring out what helps you recharge your batteries. Once you know what that thing is, make it part of your weekly rhythm, even if you have to schedule it in your appointment book. You might consider pairing it with your soundtrack or at least launching your ritual with the first song in your soundtrack. Doing this will give you a comforting sense of predictability and consistency as you commit yourself to a personal ritual of repair.

3. Scrum board. The scrum board is a simple tool that Navy SEALS use to manage their tasks. It has four columns. In the first column is “backlog.” The second column is “do,” the third column is “doing”, and the fourth column is “done.” If you’re like me, you have way too many balls being thrown at you to catch at any given time. Like many people these days, I’m overwhelmed with the amount of requests and demands on my time and attention. Prioritizing what I need to focus on is critical to my success. I use a scrum board and small post-it notes to plan my priorities and catch things from falling through the cracks. Mentally, it’s very satisfying to move things from left to right as I see myself completing them. It’s kind of like a daily checklist — on steroids — and it helps me immensely.

4. Appointments with friends. Book time with a friend every single week. To continue with the last theme, there are too many demands on all of us to remember our need for social downtime. If I don’t book time with a friend into my schedule every week, before I know it, I’ll go several weeks without doing anything but work and family related responsibilities. We all need to find and maintain our Tribe. This is critical for our emotional wellness. So, I connect with trusted friends very intentionally. Booking appointments with friends is a great antidote to feeling lonely in a world that moves too fast.

5. Cross body bags and flat shoes. This “lifestyle tweak” comes from a recent talk I attended with retired special forces combat controller, Dan Schilling. I was already doing this behavior, but his new book, The Power of Awareness, which focuses on personal safety, validated the choice of using cross body bags and shoes I can use to run, or kick. Predators exist. When I made the shift from heels to short boots, I felt less like “potential prey”, and this was good for my global wellness. Since that time, I’ve made a decision to dress in a way that allows me to move my arms and legs, and to defend myself if necessary. As I wrote about in my last book, I was once attacked, and had to fight this person off. If someone ever attacks me again, I want a fighting chance.

If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?

This question about starting a movement is not theoretical for me. Stella is the start of a movement. Stella calls us to recognize that we’ve missed the need to treat the biological injury that occurs when people are exposed to trauma. When we treat the biological injury before engaging people in psychotherapy, they’ll get a much better outcome, and the process will be much more compassionate. Stella IS that movement. I am proud to advocate for this seismic shift in how we treat those with trauma through my role as Stella‘s Chief Psychologist.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?

1. Speak like a surfer (if that’s who you are). I began my graduate training at a university in the Midwest. My first supervisors tried to discourage me from “sounding like a surfer.” But the thing is that I grew up close to the beach in California, and I was just speaking in my local dialect. After many years of being socialized to have a “more professional delivery,” I returned to speaking like a surfer in some ways. My patients respond to my authenticity. It builds trust and rapport to show up as the person I am. Looking back, I wish someone had told me to honor, rather than change, the natural way I communicate with my patients.

2. Trust is the currency that matters. Psychologists spend a long time in graduate training. We develop specialized expertise, and we are socialized to see ourselves as experts. But if you don’t develop deep trust, you are never going to get the truth about how someone is suffering. And any treatment plan you created isn’t going to help someone heal. You must be able to see the story behind the first story they tell you. And trust is the currency you earn that allows people to reveal their deepest truth. This principle is true not just for the work I do, but for anyone in a leadership position — your effectiveness will be unleashed — or blocked — to the degree that you can earn and hold trust with those on your teams.

3. Get comfortable on the hot seat. I wish I had known there would be tremendous, continuous pressure to support the status quo. We think of healers as gentle souls. I’ve encountered plenty that act like street fighters when it comes to defending their approach to treating patients with trauma. I do not agree that our current “best practice” approaches are actually “best practice.” Sometimes when a bunch of people are saying the same thing, they’re all wrong. Sometimes the status quo is maintained because there hasn’t been anyone brave enough to challenge the powers that be and present an alternative view. I was prepared for this fight because of how I was raised. I will persist in speaking the truth as I see it — regardless of external pressures from others in my field — because that’s who I am. But having a heads up that I would live on the “hot seat” would have been helpful.

4. Different kinds of Warriorship. I wish I had known earlier in my career that doing this work requires a type of warriorship. Every effective healer has a bit of the warrior in them. They must have a warrior inside them if they are to stand shoulder to shoulder with those who are in fear and pain. It’s critical to convey to patients that they can say whatever they want, and you will be solid and stable in response. People who have trauma need this kind of strength and stability in their healers. Not everybody can offer this. I wish I had embraced my warriorship earlier in my career. Understanding and accepting that side of who I am would have been helpful earlier in my career. I would have acted on what my gut was telling me sooner, about how our current model isn’t the best model for treating trauma.

5. Doctors and Docs. Finally, I wish I had understood earlier in my career that there are two types of healers. There are ‘Doctors,” and there are “Docs.” It’s not about the degree — it’s about a person’s approach to practice. Doctors feel that they are the identified “expert” in the room — the vital asset to bring their patients’ healing. They create a system of rank in the room. I know now that Trust Outranks Rank when it comes to healing work. Patients frequently conceal their pain and drop out of care with Doctors.” A “Doc” earns their trust and can facilitate a fundamentally different level of healing. As I look ahead, I am going to be training people who will serve as Docs on my team at Stella. Not everyone can serve this role. It takes some unique qualities and specialized training to become a Doc.

Mental health is a big topic at the moment. Why is this so important to you and the work you are doing?

We’re on the brink of huge changes in the field of mental healthcare. Everybody’s really excited about the new treatments — for example, Ketamine, Psilocybin, and MDMA — that are becoming available. What I’m not seeing is that many people are balancing their excitement with a thoughtful focus on patient safety. The truth is that these new treatments are as dangerous as they are exciting.

In helping launch Stella, I promoted the concept of “responsible innovation” as a guiding principle for the company. Responsible innovation means that we are not afraid to innovate, but we will do so in a way that prioritizes patient safety. As these new treatments come forward, unfortunately, it will be a “Wild West” at first. Those who are most vulnerable — patients who have already suffered from trauma — are going to be further damaged. The only way to avoid this will be to use trusted, expert guides who balance innovation with patient safety. This is why Stella exists and this is the core mission we’re here to support.

Ultimately, with the right insights and the right support, we can heal. We’ve all been burdened for far too long with ineffective healing models and approaches. Countless people to include our strongest and bravest citizens, our warfighters and first responders, are suffering in silence. And we’ve lost too many irreplaceable people to suicide. We must innovate like lives depend on it…because they do.

What is the best way for our readers to further follow your work online?





Thank you for these fantastic insights! We wish you continued success and good health.

About the Interviewer: Wanda Malhotra is a wellness entrepreneur, lifestyle journalist, and the CEO of Crunchy Mama Box, a mission-driven platform promoting conscious living. CMB empowers individuals with educational resources and vetted products to help them make informed choices. Passionate about social causes like environmental preservation and animal welfare, Wanda writes about clean beauty, wellness, nutrition, social impact and sustainability, simplifying wellness with curated resources. Join Wanda and the Crunchy Mama Box community in embracing a healthier, more sustainable lifestyle at CrunchyMamaBox.com.



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