Cynthia Ackrill M.D. is a leader in the field of stress management and an expert in the critical relationships between lifestyle choices, performance capacities, and leadership effectiveness. As the only physician trained in neuroscience and wellness and leadership coaching, she travels the world to teach better ways to lead and thrive in the face of stress and constant change.
She leads workshops to reduce the waste of human capital, health, happiness, and profits lost to stress and ineffective leadership. And she continues one-on-one and team coaching and create realistic stress strategies and advance performance and leadership goals.
Dr. Ackrill earned her B.S. at Duke University and M.D. at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, and practiced primary care medicine for over a decade before taking time off to raise her daughter. It was her daughter’s ADHD that triggered a deep interest in neuropsychology and led to her study of brain mapping, neurofeedback, and biofeedback for a variety of mood and behavior challenges, including stress. Fascinated by how humans struggle with behavior choice and change, she trained in wellness and leadership coaching.
In addition to her extensive integrative medical training, Dr. Ackrill is certified by Wellcoaches, Wellness Inventory, The College of Executive Coaching, and Team Advantage, and has advanced training in positive psychology, motivational interviewing, and peak performance. She contributes widely as a stress and behavior change expert to a range of media- radio, TV, and print- including Katie Couric, Huffington Post, eHealth, SPA, Today’s Practice, BAR Association, IMF, Daimler, Corning, AIBTM, Employers Association. She is dedicated to finding real life strategies based in neuroscience and the science of human performance and to making the learning process engaging and fun.
She is on the faculty of Kent State Institute for Excellence, Federal Leadership School, Davidson Centre for the Professions, and The Healthcare Coaching Institute and a coach for The Physician’s Leadership Institute. Currently Dr. Ackrill heads the Workplace Stress board of the American Institute of Stress and has served on the board of the International Society of Neurofeedback and Research. She is also a charter member of Heartmath.
Cynthia was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland, and currently resides in Asheville, North Carolina. She is actively deciding on a move in the next year.
How did I move from the practice of medicine to an all-consuming desire to stamp out stress and support leadership excellence? First by experiencing all the pain and ravages of stress myself.
As a young doctor, chronically sleep deprived, with more on my plate than humanly possible to handle, I was sinking under the weight of 24/7 responsibility for the care of real live humans—my patients and family. I was overwhelmed, exhausted, and having a hard time remembering if I fed the cat, let alone maintaining any perspective on what really mattered in life.
At the same time, it became so obvious to me that patients who struggled with stress were far more likely to get sick and feel worse, and far less likely to heal, be happy, or take good care of themselves. I witnessed the rise of cynicism and decline of joy in fellow stressed practitioners. And I saw gifted leaders, brilliant professionals, and yes, me, all make poorer choices under unrelenting pressure.
How sad to see this entity, stress, lay waste to talent, passion, and health. I became fascinated with resilience and how we could improve it in ourselves, and in so doing not justavoid illness and burnout, but thrive in a highly demanding life. And since I never was an “in-the-box” thinker, I started to explore.
I spent 10+ years working in applied neuropsychology, mapping and training brains in a variety of conditions, essentially looking under the hood to understand human behavior and performance. I learned the physiology of stress and how the mismanaged stress reaction hijacks your brain, compromising every other normal function of human performance. And I learned tools to dial down that reaction to access peak performance and well-being.
I then trained in coaching, first wellness, then executive, to bring these strategies to leaders, CEOs, physicians, and attorneys to help them run businesses and practices that bring out the best of their human capital. I studiedwith leadership coaches to learn the nuances of how communication styles and leadership approaches affect success vs. stress. And I continued to study the science of peak performance and positive psychology.
I am convinced that self-leadership is a pre-requisite to excellence in leading others and that learning to manage stress is a non-negotiable requirement. Feeling empowered is critical to productivity and health.
Science shows us that we are all systems, from our cells to our selves to our organizations and world. And thus, real change demands a systems approach. This is true for practicing medicine, reducing stress levels, or improving organizational effectiveness.
I’m incredibly inspired by helping others (just like it said on my medical school application!). There is nothing more rewarding than a client moving from being stuck to experiencing the disproportionate professional or personal rewards of making just tiny shifts in daily life, or rediscovering joy or passion that was drowning in the stress.
It’s a thrill to see a leader leap forward with confidence or to witness a dysfunctional team creatively collaborate to realize a big, hairy, audacious goal. And it’s a blast to see “aha’s” in an audience seeking better ways of handling the challenge of life. It’s been a very different path… and real privilege!