Separate your worth from your work identity. Many people measure their worth based on achievements, leaving people to have low self-esteem in times where they are challenged or stressed. YOU ARE NOT YOUR JOB. I believe we have to see ourselves as a whole being, with many identities, worthy of space in life. When we acknowledge this, we build our self-esteem internally and limit the need for external validation.

With all that’s going on in our country, in our economy, in the world, and on social media, it feels like so many of us are under a great deal of stress. We know that chronic stress can be as unhealthy as smoking a quarter of a pack a day. For many of us, our work, our livelihood, is a particular cause of stress. Of course, a bit of stress is just fine, but what are stress management strategies that leaders use to become “Stress-Proof” at work? What are some great tweaks, hacks, and tips that help to reduce or even eliminate stress from work? As a part of this series, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Abigale Johnson.

Abigale Johnson, LCSW is the Founder and Owner of The Boundary: a modern mental health practice. She has been in private practice since 2016 and is a supervisor at Bellevue Hospital in NYC. Abby also sits on the Advisory Committee for the CERTIFi Women in Leadership Program at Mercy College. You can read more about Abby here and get connected to therapy resources.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to know how you got from “there to here.” Inspire us with your backstory!

I have always been passionate about mental health and have been lucky enough to work in a historically-rich psychiatric department at Bellevue Hospital. So many patient stories have left me feeling inspired to do more, serve more, and open my eyes more. As I progressed upwards in the department, I was soon supervising staff and still yearning for direct patient care so I opened my private practice to keep doing the work. This allowed me to really expand my knowledge — from working with patients in acute crisis to those that may never touch the mental health system in that regard. And all of those patients are not so different in the end — all humans, all seeking stability, acceptance, and understanding of self. So here we are!

What lessons would you share with yourself if you had the opportunity to meet your younger self?

Be patient. I’ve always pushed myself to keep moving and shaking through life which has helped me immensely, but there are times to slow down and appreciate the present. I’ve really only started doing that now. I guess you really do get wiser as you age.

None of us are able to experience success without support along the way. Is there a particular person for whom you are grateful because of the support they gave you to grow you from “there to here?” Can you share that story and why you are grateful for them?

My husband has been a great source of support and encouragement to accomplish these dreams. There were times of self-doubt and he was there to squash it. He is the risk-taker, finding growth in challenges and trying new things with no expectation of outcome. It’s been refreshing to share this experience with him.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think it might help people?

I’ve been exploring using virtual reality in social work and therapeutic settings so that has been really exciting. It’s a tool that can be used in therapy to help us experience scenarios like never before, targeting depression, anxiety, phobias, etc. Nothing will take away traditional talk therapy, but to ignore the use of technology to enhance that experience would be criminal. Stay tuned…!

Ok, thank you for sharing your inspired life. Let’s now talk about stress. How would you define stress?

Stress is your mind and body determining where your “line” is at. Everyone has a different line, based on their own experiences and resources. When your line is crossed, like when multiple negative events happen within a short time frame, you can become stressed. This can create a change in mood (irritability, sadness, anger) or a physiological response (heart beating fast, sweating, tight chest, body fatigue/soreness). A common concept about the response to stress includes the “Fight or Flight (or Freeze)” response because stress is perceived as a threat by our mind and body. It’s helpful to identify your type of stress response first and then you can work on how to manage it.

In the Western world, humans typically have their shelter, food, and survival needs met. So what has led to this chronic stress? Why are so many of us always stressed out?

And yet still many people do not have those needs met, but for those that do — stress cannot be generalized. Stress is 100% subjective. What might stress me out might not stress you. I would argue that we haven’t fostered a society accepting of emotions and/or self-care, leaving many with no coping skills or emotional intelligence to manage their stress. When we allow ourselves to process situations in real time, move through whatever emotion comes up without judgment and use a skill to release this emotion, we can decrease chronic stress.

What are some of the physical manifestations of being under a lot of stress? How does the human body react to stress?

Everything from a racing heart, sweating, tight chest, body fatigue/pain, and headaches. You can have these physiological responses in the moment and also long-term manifestations if living with chronic stress. It can be exhausting to live in a state of stress — like those nonstop days at work with no lunch break where you find yourself plopping on the sofa when you get home and falling asleep at 8pm. This is why it is so important to complete the stress cycle — the release.

Is stress necessarily a bad thing? Can stress ever be good for us?

Not 100% a bad thing. Stress can certainly be a catalyst to getting stuff done, make us think outside the box, and test how we function under pressure. Sure, we want to reduce it as much as possible, but it’s inevitable for us all so it’s how we choose to use it that matters.

Is there a difference between being in a short term stressful situation versus an ongoing stress? Are there long term ramifications to living in a constant state of stress?

I think so. When you manage a short-term stressful situation, there is a sense of relief, catharsis, maybe exhaustion after the adrenaline. It will hopefully not live in your body beyond that time frame. For chronic stress, there are certainly risks to your health like sleep problems, high blood pressure, weight gain, and mental health issues like anxiety and depression. To never feel relief would be like living in a state of fear or threat, constantly triggering our Fight or Flight response. This constant trigger may have a stressed individual responding to seemingly every-day situations with outbursts of anger and/or sadness — an “over-proportional” emotional response that continues the stress cycle due to this creating tension in their relationships with others. We must work to complete the stress cycle, so we can properly use our toolkit in stressful situations. You can’t pour from an empty cup.

Is it even possible to eliminate stress?

No. I think one of the most challenging concepts about stress is the acceptance of it — you cannot eliminate the bad parts of life like sadness, grief, embarrassment, or stress. You have to learn to cope with it. It wouldn’t be human to have a life without stress.

In your opinion, is this something that we should be raising more awareness about, or is it a relatively small issue? Please explain what you mean.

I think addressing work stress definitely needs more awareness, especially at a time where work and personal life are beginning to blend together with the normalization of remote working. Every person could benefit from understanding their stress triggers and learning skills to manage them. Over time we may see a shift individually, but also collectively as a society. We can dismantle work cultures that take advantage of fear and stress as motivators for outcomes.

Let’s talk about stress at work. Numerous studies show that job stress is the major source of stress for American adults and that it has escalated progressively over the past few decades. For you personally, if you are feeling that overall, work is going well, do you feel calm and peaceful, or is there always an underlying feeling of stress? Can you explain what you mean?

When work is good, I’m good. I certainly have stressful moments even in times of calm at work, like maybe I have an urgent email to respond to or a crisis comes up with a client, but because things have been reasonably calm, I can manage this stress with my toolkit and bring myself back down quickly. If work is going through a rough patch, it can be much more challenging to tap into my toolkit or maintain proactive coping skills. I think what I find important to tell myself and others is that stress happens, we don’t always manage it the way we hope, and we must be kind to ourselves and limit the judgment of how “well” we handle our stress. Think about how you would talk to your friend if they are venting about stress at work, you wouldn’t be telling them “it’s not that bad”, “get it together”, “you should be handling this better”. So let’s try practicing that compassion for ourselves.

Okay, fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview: Can you share with our readers your “5 stress management strategies that busy leaders can use to become “Stress-Proof” at Work?” Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Set boundaries! You’ve heard it before, but boundaries are the key to mental health, managing stress, and building better relationships. Try signing off on time and not checking your email until the following morning. If this feels too drastic, then at the very least, do not respond to any emails after your scheduled work hours. You will have to sit in the uncomfortable feelings of this task, finding ways to cope (watching tv, making dinner, reading, working out, etc). When you succeed that first time, your mind and body will begin to associate this success to the task and it will become easier. Those uncomfortable feelings will shift or even go away completely, leaving you with a proper boundary with work.
  2. Separate your worth from your work identity. Many people measure their worth based on achievements, leaving people to have low self-esteem in times where they are challenged or stressed. YOU ARE NOT YOUR JOB. I believe we have to see ourselves as a whole being, with many identities, worthy of space in life. When we acknowledge this, we build our self-esteem internally and limit the need for external validation.
  3. Be proactive outside of work. By proactively taking care of yourself, you will have a better chance at managing stress as it arises. So instead of waiting until you are stressed to release it, plan to do things throughout the week that keep your mood up and cup of self-love filled. This could be working out, seeing friends, reading, journaling, cooking/eating well, and practicing good sleep hygiene.
  4. Recognize toxic patterns and remove yourself. If you have a boss who expects constant access to you with immediate responses, that’s a red flag for toxic. If you find yourself in boozy happy hours with coworkers that result in mischief, that seems a bit toxic. You can remove yourself from toxic work culture by quitting, but if that is not an option for you, you can acknowledge the toxicity and make choices to distance yourself from interactions with those people or the work space, focusing on your work tasks at hand and then leaving for the day. You can be friendly with coworkers and still choose not to be friends.
  5. Be honest with yourself. Is this job the right fit for you? Do you actually want to be a lawyer or are you fulfilling a parents’ dream? We sometimes find ourselves in jobs and industries that are just not the right fit. It’s important to self-evaluate in your work and be open to the pivot. The pivot means you can always search for other jobs, have coffee chats, even interview for new positions, but you have no obligation to commit. People often think that when they start the job search that means there is a certain end. You may find yourself actually validating the job you are in after researching others. It is helpful to remember that you aren’t stuck. There is always an exit plan possible, it just relies on your willingness to sit with uncertainty.

Do you have any favorite books, podcasts, or resources that have inspired you to live with more joy in life?

LOVE the book Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle. Obviously appropo to this interview, but it is one of my favorite books for the general population to really understand themselves with down to earth explanations about how your mind and body work together to create and reduce stress. They recently came out with a workbook for those who want to actively engage in the work or for therapists to incorporate with clients.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Oh boy, big question…
More people than you know have never been given the opportunity to learn about their emotions — what to call them, how to safely express them, how to understand how they affect our actions — so I think it would be beneficial to start implementing this learning at a young age. Emotional intelligence makes us better humans for ourselves and others, so if we can treat it as an educational goal, we may be able to enhance entire generations.

What is the best way for our readers to continue to follow your work online?

Follow us at @theboundarynyc on Instagram and check out our website to get connected to therapy, for upcoming clinician trainings, blog posts, and exciting new endeavors.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent on this. We wish you only continued success.


  • Savio Clemente

    Board Certified Wellness Coach (NBC-HWC, ACC), Media Journalist, #1 Best-selling Author, Podcaster, and Stage 3 Cancer Survivor

    The Human Resolve LLC

    Savio P. Clemente is a Board Certified Wellness Coach (NBC-HWC, ACC), media journalist, #1 best-selling author, podcaster, stage 3 cancer survivor, and founder of The Human Resolve LLC.  He coaches cancer survivors to overcome obstacles, gain clarity, and attract media attention by sharing their superpower through inspiring stories that make a difference. He inspires them to get busy living in mind, body, and spirit and to cultivate resilience in their mindset. 

    Savio has interviewed notable celebrities and TV personalities and has been invited to cover numerous industry events throughout the U.S. and abroad.  His mission is to provide clients, listeners, and viewers alike with tangible takeaways on how to lead a truly healthy, wealthy, and wise lifestyle.