Category Archives: Stress Management

4 Ways to Mindfully Prevent Office Burnout

By Jae Ellard, Simple Intentions Founder and CEO

030817_4mindfulwaystoburnIn 2007 I collapsed from exhaustion at an event that I was producing. It was the culmination of far too many hours working, the lifestyle choices I was making (and not making), and the always-present stress of trying to be “perfect” at my job.

My doctor said my body was in adrenal fatigue and that my career was killing me. His advice? Get a new job. I knew that wasn’t the “right” conversation — yet I didn’t know what was. I chose to stay on, but went deeper into my own mindfulness practice to try to understand what had happened.

Over the next year, I discovered that the right conversation sits in the knowledge there is a choice regarding the type of relationship you want to create with your work.

For those of you flirting with burnout, you are not alone. According to the American Institute of Stress, 80% of people feel stress at work. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 75% of all doctors’ visits are stress-related.

There is hope, however. And it comes down to being present to what’s happening in your life, and acting with mindful intention to make some changes.

Burnout is not so much about the specifics of your job. It’s mostly about the choices you make (and don’t make) about how you want to live. Being aware of these choices, and approaching the inherent stressors in any job with mindfulness and clear purpose can transform our relationship with stress — and put work in its place. To start, here are some actions you can take in this moment to start to redefine your relationship with work.

1) Define the core issues

Can you pinpoint what causes the overwhelm? Is it a capacity issue? Do you have more work than hours to complete? Is it a skill issue? Is there a gap in the skills you have versus what is required? Is it a communication issue? Are you able to share what’s causing stress? This is your first step: Collect all the relevant data so you know where to focus solutions.

2) One step at a time

You didn’t arrive at burnout overnight, and the process to undo some of the habits you created will take time. Pick one behavior right now that you can consciously begin to shift. For example, create clear start and end times for work each day. The flexibility that technology and remote working offer can be overwhelming and contribute to burnout if boundaries between work and non-work time are not well-established.

3) Befriend your body

How do you hold stress? Maybe you grind your teeth at night, experience a knot of tension in your neck, or have trouble staying asleep. Now think about what helps you to unwind. Taking a lunchtime walk outside, going for a post-work run, or getting a weekly massage, as examples. Regularly tune into your body so that you can recognize the earliest signs that stress is present, and take the preventive actions you’ve identified to work through it before it overwhelms.

4) Share what you need

Professional stress can be extremely isolating; we often withdraw in order to “deal with” work issues on our own. But letting the people in your life know what you need to feel supported is essential for putting things in perspective and managing stress. None of us can do it all alone. Your colleagues and loved ones won’t know how to help if you don’t tell them.

 

[NOTE: This article originally appeared in the October 2016 issue of Mindful Magazine.]

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An Uncomfortable Conversation About Stress

By Jae Ellard, Simple Intentions Founder and CEO

WARNING: This content may be uncomfortable.

Just like balance, stress means different things to different people and stress impacts each person differently. What is stressful to you might not be stressful to your manager, coworkers, friends, or spouse. It is important to remember that when it comes to defining stress, everybody has their own idea of what is acceptable, tolerable, and comfortable. Before we talk about resolving stress when we experience it, it’s important to understand WHY we experience stress.

At its most basic, the answer is survival. Fight or flight. We want the ability to experience stress — it is what has kept us alive as a species. When we face danger, such as being chased by a wild animal, the body secretes into the bloodstream stress hormones (called adrenaline and made up of cortisol and a few other hormones), this initiates the body’s “fight or flight” response. This hormone cocktail causes a quick gust of energy, a burst of increased immunity, tunnel vision and tunnel hearing to help you move away from danger, and lower sensitivity to pain as not to distract you if you get hurt as you flee from the source of danger. After experiencing this flood of cortisol and adrenaline into the bloodstream, it’s important that the body and brain move to a relaxation response after the perceived threat has gone away so hormone levels can return to baseline. Research says it takes 40 to 60 minutes for this to happen.

If the body and brain don’t have the chance to relax then the body stays in a stress state because it perceives that danger is still near. When we were cave people, it was much easier to tell if a threat had moved away — the tiger was gone. In our modern world, many times the threat or cause of stress does not move away as quickly or in some cases at all, and our bodies and brains stay in a state of mild, persistent stress.

When the body doesn’t reach a rest state after a prolonged period of time, the result is a chronic stress state. Chronic stress can disrupt the immune system, sleep patterns, digestion, growth, and even reproduction. When the body feels perceived danger, it will prioritize its survival systems. Things like digesting lunch go to the bottom of the to-do list when the body thinks a tiger is going to attack.

As you are well aware, lots of things can cause modern day stress. The most common big stress triggers in life include moving, switching jobs, divorce, and death. Common situations that can lead to chronic stress states include unhealthy relationships, over-committing oneself, dysfunctional work teams, and unrealistic expectations of self and others.

Just as many people don’t know what balance means to them, the same is true for stress — many people are not clear on what causes them to feel stress in their daily lives. In my research, I’ve come to believe that most modern-day stress is linked to communication, or rather lack of it. And the topics we avoid talking about most often relate to our values. A lot of stress comes from the conversations we don’t have about our values with others as well as the conversations we avoid having with our selves. A great way to better understand what is driving your stress is to consider what conversations you are not having right now.

What stresses you out? Remember most modern day stress is linked to communication, specifically when we are hedging, when we’re not aware of how our complaints and criticisms are intermingled, and when we might be withholding to avoid feeling discomfort.

How do these situations make your body and mind feel? What symptoms let you know you are heading into the stress zone? For example, do you get stomach aches, skin rashes or headaches? Do you crave certain foods? We all have a stress “tell” — something our body does that sends a message to us to slow down and pay better attention.

What do you do to take care of yourself when you are feeling stressed? This is a big one as many people I work with haven’t considered how to intentionally care for themselves when they experience stress. We will all experience stress throughout our lives. But how do we want to manage it? Being active, time with friends and family, meditation, engaging in a hobby, being in nature — there is no wrong way to move yourself out of a stress state. Just know what ways feel right to you. The most important thing is to KNOW what is causing your stress, or what is likely to cause stress in the future so you can then nourish yourself when you encounter it. Know your answers and follow through.

As you reflect on your answers, begin to become aware of where your behaviors are supporting you and where they are sabotaging you. Notice the choices you make, notice when you feel in balance, notice when you feel out of balance. Then make the necessary shift.

[Note: This post originally appeared on Thrive Global]

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What Mindfulness Does For Sales

By Jordan Weinand, Founder of Glowsoul and Friend of Simple Intentions

011817_whatmindfulnessAll folks who sell for a living want to make the next big deal. The overwhelming pride you feel when you’ve helped push the quota past expectations is worth every ounce of work you put in. It feels really good when your boss is pumped enough to reach into the pocket and splurge on your success during happy hour too.

If there was a step-by-step guide on how to achieve consistent sales results, we’d all be eager to pay up.

Hard work and grit. Yeah, it makes sense that we need both of those, however, it’s not easy to teach those characteristics. On all accounts, it requires you to find it from within. If you’re not breaking yourself like Rocky Balboa, the next best way to find yourself is through Mindfulness.

Mindfulness is the mental state we reach when we focus our awareness on the present moment. During this state, we are acknowledging and accepting of our feelings, thoughts, and sensations. Mindfulness has tons of benefits, below are three that will help you sell the next biggest deal on your team.

Memory Improvement

Have you ever forgotten the fine details about your prospect’s needs and lost a sale because you couldn’t remember how exactly to tie in your service? I have, my pen only writes so fast! If I could ask for one superpower it would be a better memory.

There are ample ways of increasing the stickiness in your storage capacity. A few I’ve tried are: story-based association, poem memorization and reading books. Another, that has helped a ton is mindfulness and meditation.

The “Psychiatric Neuroimaging Research Group,” found there are structural differences between brains of experienced meditation practitioners and those who aren’t.

In this Harvard Gazette article, detailed by Sue McGreevey, MGH Communications, the group found increased grey matter (found in regions of the brain associated with hearing, emotions, and memory) in test subjects who practiced meditation for 27 minutes a day, over an 8-week span. This is helpful to know as I’ve personally noticed better detail recollection with meditating and mindfulness.

Gain Empathy

It’s been documented that since the 1970’s we’re becoming less empathetic and compassionate. Sarah Konrath from the University of Michigan says she’s seen a steady drop since 1990 in these areas. Mindfulness and meditation can certainly boost this lack of empathy. While long-term benefits of mindfulness include increased memory, stronger overall health and cognitive skill speed, increased compassion is the main focus.

When being mindful you’re often sitting in a quiet space for any length of time and guiding awareness to the present moment. The aim is to focus on the now and be thankful for all you have in the instant. The immediate effects often are an appreciation for oneself, others and the materials you already have. When I focus on mindful selling, I become appreciative of my managers, prospects and the opportunity to help. Showing empathy in sales has a sweet referral ROI along with a fast track to trust.

Lose Stress

Between a 50-call day, preparing demos for prospects and managing current partners, the mounting stress can be real, especially if you don’t have an outlet. In the same Harvard study, the subjects reported a lower stress level and did have lower grey matter density in the amygdala, a little nugget of grey matter involved with emotions and plays an important role in anxiety and stress.

Amishi Jha, of the University of Miami, thinks that while stress can be reduced in eight weeks of a mindfulness training program, the structural changes in the amygdala could push better studies in curing stress related disorders like PTSD. With less stress, you’ll be eager to keep your nose to the grindstone and build that awesome sales pipe, even if you have PTSD from being bombarded with NO’s.

Much of sales is mental. We are humans with a very curious, powerful structure upstairs that constantly is powered up. The mind needs massaging and relaxation. Feeling refreshed during long sales cycles grows your grit, improves your memory, shrinks your stress and forces you to be empathetic. Test it for a month and try to find favorable techniques. You’ll notice a quick turnaround on your overall perception of smiling and dialing. If nothing else, you will at least have 20 minutes of peace and quiet.

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Stayin’ Alive

By Jae Ellard, Simple Intentions Founder and CEO

[Note: This post originally appeared in the Oct. 2016 issue of Mindful Magazine]

In 2007 I collapsed from exhaustion at an event that I was producing. It was the culmination of far too many hours working, the lifestyle choices I was making (and not making), and the always-present stress of trying to be “perfect” at my job.

My doctor said my body was in adrenal fatigue and that my career was killing me. His advice? Get a new job. I knew that wasn’t the “right” conversation – yet I didn’t know what was. I chose to stay on, but went deeper into my own mindfulness practice to try to understand what had happened. Over the next year, I discovered that the right conversation sits in the knowledge there is a choice regarding the type of relationship you want to create with your work.

For those of you flirting with burnout, you are not alone. According to the American Institute of Stress, 80% of people feel stress at work. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 75% of all doctors’ visits are stress-related. There is hope, however. And it comes down to being present to what’s happening in your life, and acting with mindful intention to make some changes.

Burnout is not so much about the specifics of your job. It’s mostly about the choices you make (and don’t make) about how you want to live. Being aware of these choices, and approaching the inherent stressors in any job with mindfulness and clear purpose can transform our relationship with stress – and put work in its place. To start, here are some actions you can take in the moment to redefine your relationship with work.

Define the core issues

Can you pinpoint what causes the overwhelm? Is it a capacity issue? Do you have more work than hours to complete? Is it a skill issue? Is there a gap in the skills you have versus what is required? Is it a communication issue? Are you able to share what’s causing stress? This is your first step: Collect all the relevant data so you know where to focus solutions.

Befriend your body

How do you hold stress? Maybe you grind your teeth at night, experience a knot of tension in your neck, or have trouble staying asleep. Now think about what helps you to unwind. Taking a lunch-time walk outside, going for a post-work run, or getting a weekly massage, as examples. Regularly tune into your body so that you can recognize the earliest signs that stress is present, and take the preventive actions you’ve identified to work through it before it overwhelms.

One step at a time

You didn’t arrive at burnout overnight, and the process to undo some of the habits you created will take time. Pick one behavior right now that you can consciously begin to shift. For example, create clear start and end times for work each day. The flexibility that technology and remote working offer can be overwhelming and contribute to burnout if boundaries between work and non-work time are not well-established.

Share what you need

Professional stress can be extremely isolating; we often withdraw in order to “deal with” work issues on our own. But letting the people in your life know what you need to feel supported is essential for putting things in perspective and managing stress. None of us can do it all alone. Your colleagues and loved ones won’t know how to help if you don’t tell them

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The Energy Spectrum Of Work-Life Balance

By Jae Ellard, Simple Intentions Founder and CEO

[Note: This post originally appeared in Huffington Post]

Energy ca1007_energyn be described as a feeling you have, a charged or emotional thought you have, the way your body feels, or even the way the room feels in a meeting. You have energy. Your team has energy. The company, your family, and the world have energy. Each person’s and each team’s energy mingles and mixes together and has a resulting impact — sometimes positive, sometimes negative, and sometimes neutral.

If you are a manager, is it very important to have awareness around your own energy, to be willing to see the flow of energy of your team and, when needed, have a conversation with your team about the impact of their energy on team and individual balance.

This is where awareness as a business skill becomes important for leaders and managers. When you have awareness around your behaviors and some of the behaviors of your team, then you can see the impact these behaviors have in terms of the energy or lack of energy people might have, which directly impacts both the quality and quantity of work produced.

As a leader of people, you are in a unique position to be able to see the behavior of your team, which also means you have a choice to see where and when the energy clogs or gushes. You also have a choice to have an intentional conversation about what is happening for the benefit of both the individual and the team.

There are many signs of energy imbalance, some are easier to see and address than others. Most times at work, these imbalances show up as stress behaviors. Managers might notice lack of engagement, defensive behavior, poor collaboration, and ongoing health issues. Interestingly, both too much or too little energy can have a negative impact on teams and outcomes.

Too little energy leads to behavior in which people are either unable to engage or choose to be under-engaged, too much energy creates behaviors in which people are either over-engaged or choose to be enraged. The ideal energy state is that of sustainable energy, a scenario when individuals are able to sustain or balance times of scarce or abundant energy circumstances, resulting in a healthfully engaged state of being.

There are certain markers to each energy state that through developing the skill of awareness leaders can learn to recognize and address before individuals experience burnout or fully disengage from their current role and consider moving on.

UNABLE TO ENGAGE
This type of energy can take the appearance of “burnout” and is usually driven by inability or fatigue from managing too much change and stress. Many times this person may be struggling with multiple and/or major health issues, which results in them missing work or being distracted while at work.

UNDERENGAGED
This type of energy can take the appearance of a “victim” and is usually driven by lack of clarity in roles/commitments or low self-confidence. Many times this person is totally lost and overwhelmed with the work and unable to ask for support or assistance.

OVERENGAGED
This type of energy can take the appearance of a “martyr” and is usually driven by fear of not being “good enough”. Many times this is the person who takes it all on and is unable to do it all (or do any of it well).

ENRAGED
This type of energy can take the appearance of “passive aggressive” and is usually driven by lack of communication skills and/or an inability to express one’s thoughts and feelings. Many times this person is unsettled or angry about changes at work, volume of work, or type of assignments, and is lacking context between action and big-picture vision.

HEALTHFULLY ENGAGED
This type of energy can take the appearance of easy joy and light heartedness, with a positive “We’re in this together” attitude. Healthfully engaged people are able to clearly prioritize commitments, have open conversations about demands, and can identify stress triggers. They might have peaks of imbalance, but are able to understand the end point and are clear about what they need to do to sustain energy and engagement in those times.

There is no right or wrong way to begin talking to your team about energy states of imbalance. If you recognize any of the markers, have a conversation — an authentic conversation about what you have noticed. Try using opened ended questions to invite conversation and use phrases like: I’ve noticed (fill in the blank), tell me what is going on and is there is anything you need?

Regardless of the actual energy state many times people just need to talk it out and feel supported by leadership.

 

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Stressed? How Herbal Remedies Can Help

By Katya Difani, Herbalist and Founder of Herban Wellness and Friend of Simple Intentions

We all experience stressStress_0713. How we experience, recognize, and address it (or not), is very individual to each of us.

However, there are some common ways that stress can affect the body. One of the most common reasons people come into a shop like mine seeking herbal remedies is for stress. My first question is always, what does that mean to you? How do you experience stress? Because, for most people, when they recognize themselves as “being stressed” it’s due to a sense of feeling overwhelmed, a description of anxiety, trouble quieting their mind, and/or shoulder and neck tension.

Rarely does anyone recognize long-term symptoms of stress, such as fatigue, trouble sleeping, low immune function (frequently getting colds or flus) as “being stressed.” Surely their body does! And the reason is that when we are responding to stressors such as a high work load with impending deadlines, tension in relationships, trying to fulfill many obligations, believing we should be able to “do it all” and say “yes” to everything, etc. it stimulates the “fight or flight response” in our body.

Basically, the hypothalamus sends a signal to the pituitary gland in the brain, which releases hormones that travel through the body and bind the adrenal glands (which sit atop the kidneys), and then signals them to release epinephrine and norepinephrine to respond to the stressor, activating the body into action. Cortisol is also often released in larger than “normal” amounts, as it is the long-term stress hormone (among its many other necessary functions). Anyway, not to get too involved in the physiology, the take-home is that the adrenal gland stimulation is meant to occur, but the theory goes that evolutionarily speaking, we should respond to a short-term stressor, then relax.

If we are continually producing stress hormones, this can cause all sorts of imbalances over time, including fatigue, increased inflammation, and a weakened immune system. Also, our nervous system gets called into high alert in response to these stimulating stress hormones, so it can make it harder for our bodies to relax and “unwind” at the end of the day, exacerbating the problem and leading to many of the common symptoms people associate with being stressed.

How herbs can help.

One of my favorite things about herbal medicine, and why I was drawn to it in the first place, is that there are a plethora of plants (made up of their many plant compounds) that can help support our bodies acutely and preventively. There are herbs that can help our bodies adapt better to stress that were coined as “adaptogens” in the 1970’s by Russian scientists, because of how they can prevent long term effects of stressors on the body, and how they can help our bodies recover from long-term or acute stress after the fact. When taken 2-3 times daily on a consistent basis (as a capsule, tincture, powder, or tea) for a month or more, these herbs such as Eleuthero (aka Siberian ginseng), Schisandra, and Ashwaganda, can help restore that Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) axis function, and nourish the adrenal glands which have often been depleted because of overuse.

Many people notice increased and sustained energy throughout the day, better ability to fight infection, better sleep, and increased endurance (and much of this has been born out in clinical studies as well).

I like to combine these herbs with “nervines”, which calm and nourish the nervous system. Some of my favorite herbs include Lemon balm, Holy basil (aka Tulsi), and Passionflower for daytime or evening use.  Many of the nervines can help with symptoms of being “stressed out” by helping ease feelings of anxiety and tension, as well as helping to promote more restful sleep, with herbs such as Valerian root, Skullcap, and California poppy for a more sedating effect.

Ideally, we would nourish and support our bodies while undergoing periods of stress in our lives. This is an act of self-care that requires awareness. Along with utilizing stress-relieving techniques in daily life, herbal medicines can be another useful tool for managing, preventing, and recovering from the impacts of short-term and long-term stress on our bodies.

 

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Success With Stress Begins With Conversation

By Kim Lowe, Simple Intentions Managing Editor

stressed at workLast week we premiered a revamped version of our program, Success With Stress, a workshop format that helps participants become more aware of the specific stressors in their lives and learn proactive strategies to lessen the level, frequency and duration of negative stress.

Simply stated — and considering most of us are chronically stressed — our primary intention for this program is to open a conversation that helps people manage chronic stress that too often – and too significantly – leads to productivity issues in the workplace and health issues in our lives.

And indeed, this preview event spurred an engaging discussion. Interestingly, we spent as much time discussing the physiology of stress as we did the preventative strategies. People wanted to know: What happens to our bodies, physiologically, when we encounter stress? Importantly, what happens when stress lingers, chronically, in our bodies?

The short answer is: Our stress response is the same, whether from a physical threat or a relentless workload. Our heart rate accelerates and our blood pressure increases among other physiological responses. What’s key is releasing the stress, eliciting our relaxation response, which calms our bodies and returns us to balance.

You can see where this is going. Acute physical threats typically pass, naturally allowing the relaxation response to kick in. Somebody nearly sideswipes you in traffic, but once he passes, you breathe a sigh of relief and drive on. Our workload, on the other hand, may seem forever unrelenting. Who can relax when there’s always more to do?

The question came up during the workshop about how stress impacts our brains. We talked about the links between chronic stress and such diseases as high cholesterol, cancer and obesity. But especially for the high-achieving managers and business owners in the room interested in maintaining their intellectual edge, there was also concern about the impact of chronic stress on our brains.

In fact, emerging research reveals our greatest fear: Chronic stress may be shrinking our brains. Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, as well Yale have studied the impact of chronic stress on brain structure. This TED-Ed video, How Stress Affects Your Brain, explains it well. Altogether, the research links chronic stress to:

  • Increased activity in the amygdala, our brain’s fear center
  • Decreased activity in the hippocampus, where learning, memories and stress control take place
  • Decreased activity in the prefrontal cortex, the center of concentration and judgement
  • Decreased brain volume and brain cells

It’s our belief, based on years of client feedback, that chronic stress and its detrimental effects have gone too long unacknowledged and unaddressed, especially in the workplace, where negative stress can impact productivity, engagement and performance. And while there are proven remedies for releasing stress, including exercise and meditation, what’s less often discussed are proactive measures to approach stress and lessen its impact — things like giving up control and saying what we mean. These are foundational strategies to Success With Stress, and we’re excited to relaunch this program and start new conversations about stress at work and in life.

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