Marianna Paulson: The Auntie Stress of Anti-Stress

March 2022

Marianna Paulson, a former Thunder Bay resident and now stress coach in Surrey, B.C., not only provides words of wisdom to help her clients deal with stress and anxiety, but lives and breathes her advice every day. Set on a mission to cover as much territory as possible, Marianna is tackling her goal one municipality at a time. She’s now walking her fifth municipality – New Westminster – and enjoying every step of the journey, proving that when you’re in tune with your surroundings, it’s easier to push the negative thoughts away and focus on what is good and right with the world.

I had a chance to chat with Marianna and learn about her adventures, how to be in control of our thoughts, and how to create a life that is less stressful and more enjoyable. This is what she had to offer:

In your website you state, “It’s in you to change.” What do you mean by this? Can you give some examples? 

We can be motivated and inspired extrinsically by people, places, things and ideas. I’ve found that once a person can see and feel the benefits of whatever they’ve decided to do, that’s when behaviour change is successful.

As a stress coach, I teach my clients the techniques. At first, they may feel that nothing is different, but once they become aware of how they’ve changed, it’s powerful.
I had a client who came to me because he had social anxiety. He was motivated because he had to do the toast at his friend’s wedding. He said that he could never enjoy an NHL game because he was always looking for an exit. His anxiety was ruling his life.

We were talking and he told me that he didn’t think it was working. I then asked him what he had done that week. “Oh, I watched the Canucks play.” I asked how that was. “I was able to watch the whole game.” We laughed when I said, “So, nothing’s working, then?” 

An analogy I like to use is a paper cut. When we have it, we are very aware of it. When it heals, we forget all about it. We just carry on doing what we do. Stress can be like that. When we’re soaking in negative thoughts and feelings, we’re very aware of it, but once we’ve transformed them, we get on with our lives. 

>You grew up in Thunder Bay. What are your favourite memories of the city? 

I grew up on a farm on Oliver Road. When I was a teenager, I couldn’t wait to leave.

Now that I live in a large metropolitan area, I appreciate how easy it is to get around Thunder Bay. One time I whined to my boyfriend, who is now my husband, that it took twenty minutes to get from Port Arthur to Fort William. If only I knew! During rush hour here, it can easily take that to go four blocks!

Some of my favourite memories evolve around my time teaching swimming and lifeguarding at the LU pool and on Lake Superior, and cross-country skiing at Kamview and Centennial Park. The accessibility and beauty of nature was definitely a great part of growing up in Northwestern Ontario.

You took on the self challenge of walking every street and alley of North Delta and White Rock, Tsawwassen, and Ladner, and now you’re working on New Westminster. Why did you do this?

I have lived with rheumatoid arthritis for 44 years. Part of my self-care philosophy is to get regular exercise. With surgeries and joint destruction, I’ve had to eliminate a number of activities that I once enjoyed. I’m now down to swimming and walking, plus Essentrics (check it out at and qigong. When the pool closed during COVID-19, I needed to challenge myself – and get out of the house! My friend suggested that I walk North Delta, because “Surrey is just too big!” At the time, I thought, North Delta is big, too. I’ll never finish it.

What benefits did it bring to you and your life?

As we all know too well, the isolation and boredom of the lockdown was hard. I’ve lived in this area for sixteen years, but I either drove or dog walked the same routes. “Operation North Delta” and the other walking projects provided much-needed novelty. It kept my joints from seizing up and allowed me to get some cardio, especially on those big hills. Some areas were like walking longer and higher versions of Ambrose Street in Thunder Bay! If I were to do this walking project in Thunder Bay, I’d start in Current River, then I’d mix it up by going to Rosslyn, followed by Academy Heights.

My walking projects gave me a chance to have face-to-face contact, albeit physically-distanced, and I even got some gardening ideas. I came across green spaces that I never knew existed. As the library was closed, I appreciated all the little free libraries scattered along my route. To this day I keep books in my car to make the exchange. 

I get a great deal of satisfaction from saying that I am now working on walking every residential street in my fifth community.

What did you learn from this walking experience?

With consistency, patience, and determination I can accomplish more than I expected.

Would you say that, in a way, the pandemic has been a blessing in disguise as it opened us up to different experiences that have been forgotten as people got too wrapped up in their busy lives?
I know people have struggled with the fact that life was put on hold. It amazed me how creative some people became. We saw that with the many memes, the baking projects and other things people did to alleviate the boredom and frustration of lockdown. 

Can you describe some of your favourite scenes on your walks and tell us why?

When I was walking the North Delta one day, I came across a Rock n’ Folk band rehearsing in a garage. It was a joy to hear live music, once again. In White Rock it was all of the staircases that led to, where else, but the beach. I would have counted them if I knew that there were so many! And in Tsawwassen there was a glorious sunset overlooking the Strait of Georgia from Fred Gingell Park. It was eerie to see no activity at the border crossing going into Point Roberts, USA.

And in Ladner I was amazed at how well they’ve preserved history – which is rare for here.

Can you describe your favourite encounter – person or animal – on your walks and tell us why?

We had to take our dog Holly for her final trip to the vet on February 27th of last year. We decided that rather than go home to an empty house, we’d do Operation Tsawwassen. On that walk,
we were followed by a big grey cat. I found it comforting. It only happened that one time.

Did you have an “a-ha!” moment when something became crystal clear and gave you direction to navigate the difficult times you encountered?

I don’t know that I had any big “a-has,” but I do know that if I need to find a solution, or work something out, a walk helps to clarify things, even though I’m not actively thinking about it.

What advice do you have for others who may want to try walking every street in their hometown or city? 

  • It’s your walk, your way. Determine the parameters and how you’re going to do it. For example, my friend who suggested it, walked all the back alleys and into housing complexes. I decided I was only going to walk residential streets. 
  • Set S.M.A.R.T. goals: Small, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-based. 
  • Dress appropriately. Listen to your body and mind your posture. For more info check out: 2021/03/05/posture-proprioception-and-psoas/
  • Use as many senses as possible. Be observant. 
  • Watch, then guide your thoughts. (#5 will help eliminate “stinkin’ thinkin’”). If you’re rehashing arguments, complaining and soaking in negative thoughts, you’re triggering the stress response.
  • Find joy and gratitude in the small things - the extraordinary in the ordinary! Compounded, they make a big difference.
  • Finally, to get the most out of your walk you can check out some tips on my blog at 2021/11/25/how-to-get-the-most-out-of-your-walk/#

With spring around the corner and the snow melting, more and more sidewalks and trails will be available to enjoy a walk and put these de-stressing tips to practice. It’s the perfect opportunity to soak in what our beautiful city and wonderful people have to offer, and it always begins with that first simple step.

If you’ve accepted this challenge, I’d love to hear from you at

Donna White is an accomplished author and Jubilee Medal winner for her volunteer work with World Vision. Visit her website at

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