Elizabeth Lombardo

Municipal leaders who have experienced mounting stress over the past few years can find their way out of the “Red Zone” at the 2023 MMA Annual Meeting & Trade Show in January, when noted psychologist and author Elizabeth Lombardo will share her advice for improving mental resilience.

The author of several books on boosting mental health and a frequent guest on television shows such as “Today” and “Fox Business,” Lombardo will be the keynote speaker on Jan. 20 during the MMA’s first in-person Annual Meeting since 2020. As she does with her books, media appearances and coaching, Lombardo will offer effective strategies for managing stress.

Called the “Head Coach for Happiness” by former NBA star Shaquille O’Neal, Lombardo has made a career of helping people manage their anxiety. The demand for her expertise has grown since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, which triggered significant increases in stress, anxiety and depression nationally.

“There is an increase in anxiety, and a lot of it has to do with what we call ‘learned helplessness,’” Lombardo said during a television appearance on “Las Vegas NOW” earlier this year. “Learned helplessness is this notion that ‘There’s nothing I can do,’ and I think a lot of people right now are feeling that as things are going on with [the] omicron [COVID variant] and other things going on in this world. That increases their stress, and that stress is not helpful to their life.”

Based in the Chicago area, Lombardo, who has a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Drexel University, has written extensively on topics including happiness and perfectionism. She started out as a physical therapist, but switched careers after realizing she wanted to help people with their psychological pain.

Lombardo’s 2021 book, “Get Out of the Red Zone,” explores the concept of a mental state in which stress and other negative emotions significantly disrupt people’s lives. When unpleasant feelings dominate, she says, people find themselves in fight-or-flight mode and caught in a cycle of negativity that interferes with healthy decision making, effective problem solving and productivity. In the extreme, this distress can cause poor communication, damage relationships, and prevent people from experiencing happiness.

“In the Red Zone, we tend to think differently, we tend to act differently,” Lombardo told “Las Vegas NOW.” “This is when we become overwhelmed. This is when we focus on what’s wrong. This is when we become much more irritable with our loved ones. So the goal is to acknowledge that, ‘I’m in the Red Zone,’ and get out of the Red Zone as soon as possible.”

According to Lombardo, this distress costs U.S. companies more than $300 billion annually due to increased absenteeism, turnover, and health care expenses.

Over the past three years, municipal leaders and employees have grappled with a public health crisis, increasing incivility, staffing shortages, budget uncertainty, climate change impacts, policing issues, and many other challenges, pushing some toward Red Zone territory.

Lombardo’s research-based advice for getting out of the Red Zone includes body movement and music playlists, among other strategies. She emphasizes the importance of self-awareness, so people understand when they’re about to experience stress overload.

“The key is to identify your triggers,” Lombardo told Gurus magazine in July. “Everyone has triggers that put them in the Red Zone. Once you identify those triggers, you want to deactivate those triggers. It’s only a trigger if we let it.”

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