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Sabrina Runbeck: “Building Mental Immunity”

Building Mental Immunity: For every one negative experience, it takes 3 positive ones to replace. We can combat unpredictable internal and external roadblocks in life by identifying and diminishing self-sabotaging tendencies that block us from creating harmony. As a part of my series about “Mental Health Champions” helping to promote mental wellness, I had the pleasure […]

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Building Mental Immunity: For every one negative experience, it takes 3 positive ones to replace. We can combat unpredictable internal and external roadblocks in life by identifying and diminishing self-sabotaging tendencies that block us from creating harmony.


As a part of my series about “Mental Health Champions” helping to promote mental wellness, I had the pleasure to interview Sabrina Runbeck.

Sabrina Runbeck, MPH, MHS, PA-C is a cardiothoracic surgery PA with more than 10 years of experience in public health and neuroscience.

Runbeck is a cardiothoracic surgery PA with more than 10 years of experience in public health and neuroscience. After overcoming burnout and a draining career, she became an International Peak Performance Speaker to recharge and empower ambitious young professionals, allowing them to rekindle their original passions and thrive there. She is also the host of the Powerful and Passionate Healthcare Professionals Podcast, author of an upcoming book about professional Asian women, consistent contributor on Instagram and LinkedIn, and she owns the website, SabrinaRunbeck.com.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit how you grew up?

When I was 12 years old, my life was uprooted. I moved around the world, then to the U.S., and a few months later I was spending all my weekends selling goods at a local flea market with my broken English. For a long time, this was my family’s only income. I thought this was a normal teenager’s life. I was just trying to navigate life in a different country while figuring out who I was.

Before coming to the U.S., life was much simpler. I only had to go to school, get good grades, be the leading student in my class, and have fun with my friends. Everything else from household chores to preparing for food were all taken care of.

Growing up as an Asian woman, I embraced the power of working hard. I had to get up early and work with my family, among other things to better my family and myself. I put on a “mask,” let’s call it my “not-crying mask,” while continuously finding a way to get to the next level. I held a mentality back then that if I don’t push myself no one will. I think my efforts paid off when I got two master’s degrees and broke into the highly competitive cardiovascular surgery field.

Strangely enough, despite how many marks I was able to check, I was not satisfied. This is a common saboteur for professionals called “Stickler,” and my version of it is “Miss Nothing is Good Enough.” I then decided to break out of my comfort zone to become an international speaker to empower women in healthcare like me. Myself, too, as I had to learn to neutralize “Miss Nothing is Good Enough.” I stepped outside of my comfort zone to become an international speaker to empower women in healthcare. With the right system they can have both — a powerful career and a passionate life without feeling overwhelmed, underappreciated, or being undervalued.

You are currently leading a social impact organization that is helping to promote mental wellness. Can you tell us a bit about what you or your organization are trying to address?

Busy and ambitious healthcare professionals are burning out at record times while experiencing severe mental trauma during this pandemic. Reports also found that they are among 20% of the death rate caused by COVID-19. The stress will likely linger — we just passed the second wave, and now there’s a potential third wave on the way.

Healthcare workers are put in a tough spot, making impossible decisions and working under extreme pressure. They want to show up as the best practitioners but they are already overworked. A national medical research database, Medscape, found that 64 percent of physicians are more stressed out yet receive little support from their organizations during COVID19.

After overcoming constant work-related stress, I now empower busy professionals to restore their mental immunity, reboot efficiency, and create a life they love. They need to have this to advance. At the moment, I’m coaching individual healthpreneurs and leaders, as well as organizations, on how to become influential and attractive to potential talents with these three steps:

  • How to combat unpredictable internal and external roadblocks in life by rebooting mental immunity
  • How to get more done with less time while feeling energized throughout the day by having daily micro-vacations
  • How to get the recognition you deserve and contribute to your organization in a more meaningful way

Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?

I’d say it all began a few years ago. I came to work in what you’d say the least-optimal state possible — barely enough sleep, with a fever, and cramping hands. Perhaps the worst thing on the day was that my hands were inside a patient’s chest during his open-heart surgery. A fellow nurse gave me a DayQuil to keep me going, which I did, but then my body would refuse to move the next day.

I called my boss to take a sick day, and his response was “Just don’t make a habit out of this.” I was so frustrated, feeling so unappreciated. The treatment we give to our clients is full of compassion and respect, but that to our teammates, and even ourselves, is often anything but.

My incident isn’t unique, and that’s the most worrisome detail here. I was not living a sustainable lifestyle. I have to take care of myself. I stepped back and did significant research to find a strategy that will get myself out of constant exhaustion and feeling that I wasn’t doing enough. I went back to my roots of neuroscience and public health research, and discovered ways from other experts to create a system that turned my life around — so that I could turn yours around if need be! Now I’m a peak-performance speaker, and people have told me that going through my program “is the best thing I did in my adult life” and that they were “finally able to find my excitement again.”

Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?

My ex-husband used to say, “You are really not a good speaker,” “Look at the big well-known speakers, you don’t have that charisma,” “You shouldn’t speak on camera anymore” and more are the things he had said to me. So, I joined other programs, but nothing seemed to be working for me. I got overwhelmed, discouraged, and burned out before I even got started. Then my ex’s words would ring in my ears again. I could have stopped, but I didn’t.

Also, one of the most common questions people ask me is, “Sabrina, how can you just keep going and be bothered when things don’t work out?” My answer has been of course I’m upset, angry, or disappointed. I’m not a saint and don’t want to be one. For the longest time, I put on a tough front and finally after my divorce. I realized I have to honor my emotions. And I’m certain that I’m not the only woman who feels this way, considering the number of women experiencing work-related stress is 50% higher than for men of the same age. In fact, this pandemic has skyrocketed the stress level of those with a high demanding career, such as healthcare workers.

The reason I became an international peak performance speaker so that I can help young female health professionals overcome this stress and realize their distinct contributions to their fields. Nothing beats standing on stage, speaking and seeing the attendees’ expressions react to the message. So much is lost if it gets to be blog posts or text messages.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

There was this example in the New York Times best-selling book “The Compound Effect” by Darren Hardy that I really took to heart. Let me show you an example.

May I make you an offer?

I will give you a choice right now and you can have 1 penny today that will double every day for the rest of your life, or you can get 10,000 dollars onetime payment tomorrow.

What would you choose?

If you have picked to receive a onetime payment, what made you make this decision?

If you picked to take the penny today, how long do you think that penny will become 10,000 dollars?

In fact, you only have to wait for 31 days.

Hardy taught me that we can compound money as well as our time, knowledge, and resources to achieve greatness. “Greatness comes from small beginnings,” indeed! I, like the penny, choose to multiply, connecting with like-minded people to advance farther. Through the power of mastermind, I am now joining 18 Asian women to co-author the book Asian Women Who BossUp. We are now standing together to show that women, especially Asian women, that they can be successful on their own and that whatever stereotypical views of us out there are being dismantled.

None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?

One of my best experiences was learning from well-known speakers attending the Growth Summit that Brendon Burchard, Dean Graziosi, and Ethan Willis hosted. Watching the stage of amazing speakers, I noticed only three are female. How is it that 70 percent of consumers in the self-help industry are women, but most of the motivational speakers are men? I was inspired to be one of those women on stage, who used their stories to emotionally connect with their listeners and empower them.

I then went all-in as a speaker, studying under Pat Quinn and Pete Vargas III in the Stage to Scale program. I participated daily and helped my fellow classmates perfect their speeches. I also took the courage to compete in two international speaking contests Rise Up A360i and Toastmasters.

I learned from several top named coaches and trainers, but the system that had the formula I needed was Knowledge Business Blueprint, or KBB, created by Tony Robbins and Dean Graziosi. After joining KBB my momentum really picked up. With a love of teaching, I volunteered to be a mentor right after joining the KBB Facebook community. I am currently running my own virtual summit and podcast as well as appearing on other people’s conferences and stages on a weekly basis.

According to Mental Health America’s report, over 44 million Americans have a mental health condition. Yet there’s still a stigma about mental illness. Can you share a few reasons you think this is so?

  1. Fear: People often want to stay away from things that they do not understand because their brains often create false notions about the unknown. Unlike physical illnesses where they can be confirmed through imaging and lab testing, mental ones are harder to detect and quantify, and are often manifestations of our thoughts.
  2. Shame: Mental fitness is just as important as physical fitness, meaning you have to keep growing and mastering it. People with mental health conditions will believe in their limitations, and some of them can be irrational, and inhibit their natural ability to tell the brain to kickstart the healing process.
  3. Culture Gap: Many cultures, such as Asian, have been known to be superstitious. They often see mental illnesses as evil spirits causing emotional disruptions. Younger generations, in their adoption of U.S. culture, are more likely to accept that mental wellbeing is an important part of life. That said, older generations don’t place as much emphasis on this, and with their hierarchical influence they can make stigma the more popular perspective.

In your experience, what should a) individuals b) society, and c) the government do to better support people suffering from mental illness?

  1. Individuals: Whether you believe something is true or not true, you are right. The number one thing we can change to recover from mental illness is our attitude. Any emotion only lasts 90 seconds or less, and it’s processed in the midbrain. Negative emotions like sadness, regret, anger, and disappointment cause our thoughts to linger — that is what’s causing us stress. From one brief emotion we create a story in our head that we would play over and over again. The negative stories we created hold us back. With the right training, we can empower our minds to quickly switch to a positive and natural state after we have processed our emotions. Then we can react accordingly, and usually positively.
  2. Society: Synergy and compounding effect can create significant changes. Therefore, collectively bringing positive awareness to discuss the importance of our mental wellbeing is a great outlet. Time can also shift our views. Leveraging thought leaders to speak their stories can show that mental fitness is a key component of life we need to focus on.
  3. The Government: Many health insurances still do not adequately cover mental health, although mental health and substance abuse parity are requirements under MHPAEA. However, each state and its insurance plan are not covered in the same manner. Therefore, many therapists do not take health insurances, and that in turn will limit patients’ access to help.

What are your 6 strategies you use to promote your own wellbeing and mental wellness? Can you please give a story or example for each?

1 ✅ Building Mental Immunity: For every one negative experience, it takes 3 positive ones to replace. We can combat unpredictable internal and external roadblocks in life by identifying and diminishing self-sabotaging tendencies that block us from creating harmony.

2 ✅ Change Your Story: Ambitious professionals make difficult decisions daily, an experience that can injure them morally or develop them psychologically. When we pivot our perspectives with logic, we can turn a bad day into a good day, a problematic situation into an opportunity.

3 ✅ Bring Out Your Inner Genius: Although most people are not burning out in their careers, they feel conflicted and stagnant. They lose their excitement and drive. Going with the flow versus being in flow are two different things. Once you are done, circle the ones that you truly enjoy doing and “star” the ones that you wish you can do more.

4 ✅ Redefine Your Values and Goals: When people lose the reasons why they began their career journey and cannot create novelty, then they lose aim in life. Before diving into any new project, write a purpose statement.

5 ✅ Boosting Energy Instantly: In our “always-on” culture, the lack of energy leads to lowered focus and increased irritability. When done right, taking a two-minute micro mental vacation can create stamina and focus to brighten your day without reaching for another Monster or visiting the gym. Use this audio exercise to instantly bring back your focus and energy: SabrinaRunbeck.com/Energy

6 ✅ Getting Things Done Fast: When we have meetings back to back, we lose boundaries on when to stop, even if it is just to take a bathroom break. Increasing screen time also disrupts family time and sleep. We have to say “No” gracefully and get into a flow of positive momentum, then we can stop wearing busyness as a badge of honor.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a mental health champion?

When I picked neuroscience as my primary field of study, I actually wasn’t sure what I was going to gain from it. My initial interests in this subject surfaced after my mom got into a car accident and had to go to a neurophysiologist for treatment.

Our mind has so much potential, and yet we don’t know about how to tap into this.

As I devoted myself to personal development and career performance, the very first book that grabbed my attention is High Performance Habits: How Extraordinary People Become That Way by Brendon Burchard. The audio version of this book is free for anyone to listen to on The Brendon Show podcast.

If you could tell other people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

We are all experts in our own field. You have a special genius within you that will naturally come to you and is unique to you. Unfortunately, we would need to take a lot more time and energy, if we want to be experts in all fields.

Therefore, when we all take small actions to share our natural genius and our skills to serve others, we can create significant changes — like the compound effect. You might be the missing piece of puzzle that would create a riffle effect of positivity.

Like the Dalai Lama said in The Book of Joy, true happiness is not seeing any external validation or feedback of who we are and how we are performing, but by simply providing service and bringing out the joy of giving.

How can our readers follow you online?

I’m very active on Instagram.com/SabrinaRunbeck, FB.me/SabrinaRunbeck, and Linkedin.com/in/Sabrinarunbeck

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

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