Modupe Akinola Chris Hemsworth Limitless

Meet Modupe Akinola, the Stress Psychologist Who Talked Chris Hemsworth Off a Skyscraper

In first the episode of the six-part National Geographic docuseries, Limitless, Chris Hemsworth shares how the constant scrutiny of paparazzi and the pressure of maintaining his Norse god-like physique often wake him at night.

“I’ll go to sleep fine and then at 2:30 there’s a shot of adrenaline and my brain will just start going through a checklist of things,” Hemsworth says into the camera. “Does that bother me? Does that bother me? Oh, that one good! Let’s think about that. Let’s tear that apart.”

When that happens, Modupe Akinola, Ph.D., a stress researcher at Columbia Business School explains that he’s losing more than sleep. Left untreated, chronic stress poses a serious risk to Hemsworth’s long-term health.

Akinola’s work examines how stress affects all aspects of health, from how tense and anxious you feel in stressful situations to how long you live.

To help Hemsworth better deal with his anxiety, Akinola teaches him powerful physical and psychological techniques to get him through some incredibly stressful situations including rescuing dummies from a burning building, floating with his hands and legs tied behind his back (no, thanks), and walking along a crane that’s jutting out from the roof of a Sydney skyscraper.

Here’s what we know about Akinola and her impressive career, which landed her a spot next to Thor himself.

She’s a Master of Mastering Your Mindset

Akinola’s research looks at why some people thrive under stress—while others buckle—and how stress response impacts everything from negotiations to creativity to wellness.

Having the right mindset about stress is critical, Akinola told Good Morning America.

“Do you think ‘Oh my goodness, stress is debilitating, this is a bad thing,’ or do you think stress is enhancing, it gives me the alertness, the focus, the energy I need to tackle this stressful situation,” she says.

Her research shows adopting the latter benefits your health.

“When you have a stress-enhancing mindset you’re more likely to see the walls of your blood vessels expanding, they’re dilating, blood is flowing more effectively and efficiently through your thoracic cavity,” she explained.

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She Teaches CEOs How to Chill

Akinola is the Barbara and David Zalaznick Professor of Business at Columbia Business School. Her focus: the intersection of psychology and business.

Among the lessons to her students: feedback doesn’t have to be stressful.

She puts them in a situation where they have to give feedback and monitor their stress response. “[I] show them how they did, how their body was responding, and then give them the opportunity to do it again having learned all of these things.”

The exercise can help the interactions become way less stressful, she says.

Every Monday, Akinola talks about the most powerful and surprising ideas in the business world on the TED Business podcast. After each episode, she gives a small lesson on how to apply the ideas from the podcast in your own life.

Our favorite example: to survive the gig economy as a freelancer, reframe rejection as the person who rejected you’s loss—not yours.

She’s Not Always Zen

Akinola is no stranger to stress. In an interview with Blackfilmandtv.com, Akinola admits that her stress comes from making sure the “integrity of your work is captured in the right way.”

“I’m a scientist at heart,” she said, “and so the stressors that I felt are more so, did we get this right? Does this truly capture the science of stress in a way that my colleagues and I feel really represents our work?”

She Practices What She Preaches

In Limitless, Akinola teaches Hemsworth a few meditation and breathing exercises, including box breathing and mindfulness meditation—techniques she learned to combat her own stressors.

She was so committed to learning them that she traveled to India to further her practice, she told Dan Harris on his 10 Percent Happier podcast. She even teaches a Stress Better course on the Ten Percent Happier app that you can use to learn her tips.

MIND GAMES