Know where your stress is coming from. Make a list of all the things that are currently causing you stress (include everything that creates a stress response in your body). Create three simple steps that can help you do things a little bit differently, so you can reduce the impact that each stressor is having. Focus on one thing at a time, sort that out and then move on to the next one. This way, you won’t add stress by putting yourself into overwhelm.
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 Bronwen Sciortino.
Bronwen Sciortino is an internationally renowned Author, Simplicity Expert and Professional Speaker who spent almost two decades as an award-winning executive before experiencing a life-changing event that forced her to stop and ask the question “What if there’s a better way to live?”
Bronwen spends everyday teaching people there’s another way to live so they can tailor-make the life that allows them to be healthy, happy AND highly successful.
With her books and programs receiving international critical acclaim and 5-star reviews, Bronwen is sought as a media expert globally.
She works with people internationally through corporate programs, conference platforms, retreats, professional mentoring and in the online environment. She shares her secrets to success and inspires individuals to simplify their lives and embrace the concept of an economy of enough.
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!
After leaving university, I had no idea what I wanted to be doing. Then, a job came up in the Financial Services industry … and so began almost two decades of life working with businesses in Financial Planning and Funds Management. I was highly success at what I did. I was also a perfectionist.
I put myself under way too much pressure, for far too long and pushed myself until I broke. In less than sixty seconds I went from being a highly accomplished, award-winning businesswoman to being on the floor, my life shattered in a million pieces around me and unable to cope with even the basics of life.
Nowadays, stress, burnout, and exhaustion are topics that are frequently discussed and, like mindfulness and resilience, a whole sector of the health and wellness industry is devoted to teaching individuals how to prevent these adverse symptoms.
I experienced significant stress. I pushed straight through burnout. And I lived with serious levels of exhaustion. I fought my way through all of them. I was aware that something wasn’t right and that I was seriously unwell, but I kept pushing anyway.
To recover, I had to claw my way back to being able to engage in life, one painful step at a time. It took me two years of intensive, invasive and overwhelming work, looking into all the deep, dark corners of myself and rebuilding Bronwen 2.0. And that was just to get back to being OK with the basics of life. It took another year for me to be able to stand firmly in the vibrant, connected, and uncomplicated life I enjoy today.
I now devote all of my time to educating individuals how to design the ideal life for themselves, anywhere on the globe.
Today, I spend every working minute demonstrating to everyone that there is a straightforward and practical route to building a life that is successful, joyful, and healthy.
Life is as complex as we want to make it — I teach people that simple is the level of complex that gets you the best results.
What lessons would you share with yourself if you had the opportunity to meet your younger self?
There are so many things I would want to tell my younger self! Perhaps the most important are these:
- Always remember who you are. There are a lot of people in the world who are very willing to tell you the things that are wrong with you. That’s their opinion — and that makes it none of your business. You are perfect, exactly as you are. Remembering who you are will make it easy to find your next step forwards.
- Anyone who wants you to change, no matter how big or small the change, isn’t one of your people. Find the people who love and accept you exactly as you are — they’re the people who will help fill your life with joy, love and laughter.
- There’s a lot of noise in life, so choose carefully what, and who, you listen to.
- Let your light shine. You’re a beautiful, unique individual. There will never be another like you. Shine as brightly as you can so everyone can share in the talents only you can bring to the world.
- Even in the darkest, hardest moments, you are loved, guided and supported. Find your connection to your intuition and you’ll always have a true friend.
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?
There are many people who made a substantial contribution to my recovery and that helped me re-build my life, but my husband Jon is the one for whom I am most grateful.
I felt as though I lost everything in less than a minute when my life fell apart. Yet Jon’s life also underwent a significant transformation. He moved from having a self-sufficient, very active wife to having a totally dependent, seriously ill person that he had to take care of.
Neither one of us knew what had happened, what had caused it, or how to make things right. He took the initiative without complaining and saw to it that I had the assistance I required to bounce back and create a pathway forwards.
We found that while there was plenty of help (counselling, complementary treatments, medical subsidies, and the like) available for me, there was hardly anything for him as a carer.
For me, he was there. He gave me the freedom to take the actions I needed to take in order to become the “new me” going ahead. He was never grumpy. He never made it about him in any way.
But mostly, he consistently told me that he loved me and would always stand by me.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think it might help people?
I put my own life’s experiences to the test when developing new items. In order for individuals to have access to the simplest, most useful and effective means to build the things that work in their lives, I test out solutions and procedures and refine them.
I’m currently working on my next book, as well as ghost-writing the story of an Indigenous Elder, creating a set of mini-programs to help people reset their lives after the trauma of the last couple of years, and also creating a set of corporate programs to assist organisations in providing their staff with straightforward, practical and bespoke health and wellness training.
I have no desire to pitch someone on my ideal lifestyle or the methods I used to change my life. The likelihood that they will be useful to someone else is remote, because they are mine and were particularly designed and constructed to satisfy my needs.
So, everything I design and create provides individuals access to the skills and resources they require to build the ideal life for themselves.
Every project I work on aims to offer steps that each and every individual can follow in order to develop the answer that is best for them.
Why? Because the way we’ve been living isn’t working for us.
The negative effects of being persistently overstimulated and under stress have depleted the earth and caused it to suffer abhorrently. The long-standing way of life that encouraged us to push through and worry about our health later is no longer serving anyone.
It is time for us to do things differently.
Everything I create is designed to assist individuals to work out what they need, and then find the simple, practical and easy steps that take them there. My approach is “different” because I provide them with the means to go there through straightforward, doable stages that are ideal for them.
Ok, thank you for sharing your inspired life. Let’s now talk about stress. How would you define stress?
Stress is a state of mental or emotional strain brought on by difficult or demanding conditions.
It’s a typical and healthy physiological reaction to demanding and/or new circumstances. Stress affects both the mind and the body. Your body releases hormones like adrenaline when you are under stress. This then causes a chemical response in your physical body in an attempt to help you cope with the stressful circumstance you find yourself in.
Although everyone experiences stress occasionally, everyone’s experience will be unique. You can better manage stressful times if you are aware of what stresses you out, and how you react to various life problems.
Your body has evolved to respond to danger in a positive way by triggering the stress response, sometimes known as the “fight or flight” response. While you are under stress, your body releases hormones that keep you attentive and alert, so you are primed to confront problems as they arise.
When stress persists for a long period or you feel helpless and unable to handle what’s happening in your life, it becomes a problem. When this happens, it’s necessary to control your stress so that you may continue to perform effectively both at work and at home.
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?
It’s not uncommon to hear people say that stress is a ‘made-up phenomenon’ and that individuals should just learn to toughen up.
The reality is this: we are genuinely a lot more stressed today than we used to be.
According to Wikipedia, the fight-or-flight response, also known as the acute stress response, is a ‘ …physiological response that happens in response to a perceived damaging event, attack, or threat to survival.’
This implies that once a stressful situation arises, your body immediately has a physiological reaction. The sympathetic nervous system is triggered by the impression of a life-threatening occurrence and gets the body ready to either stand and fight, or to run away.
The fight-or-flight reaction can be crucial to surviving a circumstance that is actually life-threatening.
When a car almost runs you over, or when someone cuts you off in traffic and you have to swerve to avoid hitting them, or when you come across a poisonous snake while out for a morning stroll — all of these circumstances require the fight-or-flight response so your body can go into action.
The problem with the fight-or-flight response is that it hasn’t evolved over time to be able to tell the difference between truly life-threatening situations and the everyday things that put us under pressure.
It’s normal to feel overburdened by the pressures that are pressing down on you from all directions in your life. Let’s face it, we’re overstimulated, overburdened, over busy and life almost always feels like it’s out of control.
Here are some examples:
- Everyone wants something done — and NOW! — and the inbox is full!
- You’re about to miss your bus or train because you are running late.
- Because you’re time-poor, you hurriedly grab a quick dinner that is loaded with additives and preservatives.
- You didn’t realise that the new shampoo and conditioner you used to wash your hair with was loaded with chemicals.
- You took up a particular form of exercise and threw yourself into it several times a week, only to find that it isn’t the right exercise for you and is actually adding extra stress to your body.
- You had no idea that standing on the train platform and waiting for the train to take you to work was exposing you to harmful pollutants every day.
All of these commonplace actions and circumstances set off your body’s fight-or-flight reaction.
The fight-or-flight response is an evolutionary adaptation that helps you maximise your odds of surviving. However, technology and computing power have advanced too quickly for evolution to keep up.
This implies that your body is no longer able to distinguish between real life-threatening situations and those that aren’t.
According to multiple research studies, over 70% of people spend more than 80% of each day in the fight-or-flight position.
Due to the demands of modern life and your body’s incapacity to distinguish between something seriously life-threatening and something significant that we can control, if you go about your daily activities subconsciously, you will continuously be triggered into fight-or-flight mode.
Your ability to sleep will also be hampered by the combination of these factors. It is almost impossible to fall asleep if your body is on high alert and focused on protecting your existence.
The stress that is felt in reaction to the fight-or-flight response has recently been linked as one of, if not THE, key causes of the considerable rise in cardiovascular events (such strokes and heart attacks), auto-immune disease, and Type 2 diabetes.
And more people than ever before in younger age groups are feeling the effects of this notable increase. The prior age groups that were seen to develop similar diseases ranged from late 70s to 90 years of age. The current global average ranges from 30 to 40 years of age.
What are some of the physical manifestations of being under a lot of stress? How does the human body react to stress?
Every aspect of your life, including your emotions, actions, capacity for thought, and physical health, can be impacted by stress. The body as a whole has no immunity. However, since everyone reacts to stress differently, different symptoms of stress may be present. Symptoms may be hazy and similar to those brought on by illnesses.
Whilst everyone is different and therefore symptoms vary, here are some common symptoms that lots of people experience when they’re chronically stressed over the long-term:
- getting angry, annoyed, or moody easily
- feeling overwhelmed, as though you need to take charge or that you are losing control
- having trouble unwinding and calming your mind
- feeling unworthy, lonely, and miserable as well as having poor self-esteem
- avoidance of others
Physical signs of stress:
- low vigour
- nausea and vomiting, along with diarrhoea and constipation
- muscle aches, pains, and tension
- chest discomfort and a fast heartbeat
- frequent infections and colds
- loss of sexual inclination or capacity
- shaking, ringing in the ears, cold or sweaty hands and feet, and nervousness
- a dry mouth and difficulty swallowing
- clenched jaw and teeth grinding
- persistent worry
- flustered thinking
- forgetting things and being disorganised
- unable to concentrate
- poor judgement
- being pessimistic or just considering the negative
- alterations in appetite, such as not eating or eating excessively
- avoiding obligations and procrastinating
- increased consumption of alcohol, drugs, or tobacco
- having more anxious habits including fidgeting, nail-biting, and pacing
Is stress necessarily a bad thing? Can stress ever be good for us?
We constantly hear about people being ‘stressed out’, ‘worn out’ or ‘tired out’. And in the last decade we’ve certainly been bombarded with information overload on the harmful impacts of stress. Despite this, stress statistics continue to rise.
The increase in awareness around stress has given it a ‘bad rap’ and, as a result, stress is now a ‘bad’ thing. But like a lot of things, it’s not always bad to experience stress.
Long-term stress has detrimental impacts on our physical and mental health. But stress can also affect us positively in the short-term.
For example, imagine you have to give a significant presentation at work, or you have a deadline looming for a very important bid that could change the way your organisation works globally. You want it to be successful and you need everything to go right and for everything to be done on time.
The pressure surrounding the task increases the closer you get to the due date and, in response to the increase in pressure, your body starts to feel stress. Your brain releases stress hormones to alert your body that it needs to respond and in response, you start to experience some, or all, of the following:
- increased awareness
- intensified senses
- enhanced memories
- boosted efficiency of your immune system
- motivation to pursue your objectives
- assistance in concentration of required tasks.
While this list seems to contradict the list of manifestations that occur when you are exposed to long-term stress, the short-term stress response is completely different.
The key is to ensure that stress is only experienced in small, irregular amounts — this way, you get the benefit of the short-term responses.
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?
Your nervous system responds to threats by entering fight-or-flight mode. This causes your body to release a large amount of stress hormones, which in turn cause your body to react by telling it to get ready for emergency action.
Your muscles tighten and your heart beats more quickly as a result of the hormones flooding your system. Your breathing quickens and your perception sharpens. In case you need to move swiftly and forcefully to fight or flee, you need to be firing with all of these items.
Sadly, your nervous system is incapable of telling the difference between a genuine threat to your life and an imagined one. This means that regardless of whether the stress is actually life-threatening or only has a minor effect, your body will react in the same way.
Your body is in fight-or-flight mode if you are constantly under stress. This implies that your body is consistently being put under a great deal of stress — on both physical and psychological levels.
Constantly operating in this environment can have detrimental effects on your body’s health. Almost every mechanism in your body is disrupted by long-term stress. Your body’s reaction to stress is solely focused on giving you the energy you need to either fight or flee a perilous scenario. It doesn’t care if your immune system is working well, if your digestive system is operating normally, if your reproductive system is operating normally, or if your organs are capable of removing toxins from your body. It only cares about saving you when you are under stress.
Chronic stress prevents you from returning to the parasympathetic nervous system state, where your body is relaxed and your systems can operate effectively. By remaining in fight-or-flight mode, you put your body’s ability to function properly at danger for stroke, cardiovascular disease, obesity, anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues.
Your body can’t sustain the stress of continuously being in a stressful atmosphere.
Stress can also make a variety of health issues worse; for example:
- mental health issues (such as anxiety, depression, and so forth);
- pain stored within the body
- elevated blood pressure
- low energy
- auto-immune diseases
- digestive issues
- skin conditions (such as eczema, psoriasis, and so forth)
- cardiovascular disease
- obesity and persistent weight problems
- reproductive issues
- cognitive processing and memory problems.
Is it even possible to eliminate stress?
There will always be stress in some form in our lives. Life just works that way.
We can’t control the traffic. There will always be a cold and flu season. There are toxins everywhere we go.
Therefore, we will experience stress in some way almost every day.
The key, then, becomes about focusing on the simple, easy and practical things you can do to minimise the stress in your life and make sure that you are primed to shut down the fight-or-flight response when it doesn’t need to be running.
Consciously connecting with where your mind is at, what your body is doing and how you are feeling on a regular basis every day is a great way to tune in and see what you need to help you manage your stress in the moment.
Once you’ve checked in and gathered the information about what you need, the next step is to find the simplest way to give that thing to yourself.
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.
Yes! We absolutely should be raising awareness of the simple ways that everyone can step into reducing the impact of stress on their lives.
We’ve accepted that being stressed is ‘normal’ for too long. It’s time we updated the education and training available to help people create simple and practical activities that can identify the stress in their life, and then show them how to simply create steps that reduce the impact.
As humans, we’ve found a way to make life really complex … when simplicity is more than enough.
It doesn’t have to be hard or complicated to make a significant difference in the way you live. It also doesn’t have to take loads of time or cost a lot of money either.
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?
Stress at work does play a big role in the overall stress that we experience, but it’s not the only culprit.
Organisations have taken the blame for stress loads for a long time, and it’s true that some of our stress does come from our work and our work environment. But it’s not the whole picture.
Workplaces certainly have some work to do to help people get their stress under control, and for a lot of people if the work front is calmer then it can feel like there is some relief. But it’s also really important to understand that every individual is unique and therefore will have a different set of stressors that affect them than other people will.
Organisations can only solve the problem to a certain extent. They can’t possibly know what the complete solution is for every single employee within the company. The best they can do is provide a solution that gives information to individuals that they can then use to create a solution that works for them.
Despite the current practice of placing the responsibility for stress reduction on the shoulders of the organisation, if individuals truly want to reduce their stress, then they must take back the responsibility for their health and wellbeing and create the solution that is perfect for them.
Individuals need to understand where their stress is coming from — both inside and outside of the workplace — and then create a set of steps that will help reduce stress over the long-term.
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.
If you want to stress-proof your time at work, then it’s important to get your stress under control holistically. When you’re exhausted before you step out the door at home to go to work, it’s almost impossible to experience a lower stress level when you’re actually at work.
Here are five strategies to help you stress-proof your life holistically:
- Know where your stress is coming from. Make a list of all the things that are currently causing you stress (include everything that creates a stress response in your body). Create three simple steps that can help you do things a little bit differently, so you can reduce the impact that each stressor is having. Focus on one thing at a time, sort that out and then move on to the next one. This way, you won’t add stress by putting yourself into overwhelm.
- Find simple ways to swap things out. Maybe you discover that there’s a personal product you’re using that is placing a chemical load on your system, and that load is causing your body to experience stress. See if you can find a similar product that’s more natural that can reduce the stress load. Same goes for foods you eat — swap out additive and preservative laden foods for more natural versions of the same thing, and you’ll reduce the load on your body.
- Breathe. Yes, that’s it — just breathe. Abdominal breathing (taking long, slow breaths that go right down into your abdomen) is the only scientifically proven way to immediately shift your body from the fight-or-flight response back into a relaxed state. As little as six long breaths can have an immediate effect, allowing your body to relax and remove the stress load. Finding a few opportunities each day to consciously and deliberately do some abdominal breathing can make a significant difference to the stress load your body carries.
- Get outside. Spending time outdoors in the fresh air and in natural light has been proven to assist your body to release stress. Studies show that if you can spend time in a ‘green’ space (i.e. a space with grass and green foliage) for as little as 15–20 minutes a day, you can reduce your stress levels by up to 20%.
- Go for a walk. Walking encourages the release of brain chemicals known as endorphins. Research shows that endorphins promote relaxation and elevate our mood. In more great news, the research shows that it’s not necessary to walk quickly in order for it to relieve tension. Studies show that even a leisurely stroll can help you unwind.
Do you have any favorite books, podcasts, or resources that have inspired you to live with more joy in life?
Eckhart Tolle’s ‘The Power of Now’ is a favourite when thinking about powerful books that move and motivate the soul. There is no past (for it has already gone), and there is no future (because it is yet to arrive). Therefore, there is only now.
Yet we spend so much of our lives reliving the past; reworking what happened in case we can learn something about how we could do things better ‘next time’. Or, we spend time worrying about what might happen in the future. Neither of these brings us anything other than worry, stress and exhaustion, but we often find ourselves contemplating either — or both! — nonetheless.
The true power of joy in life comes from being present, connected and conscious in the present moment.
What is happening right now? Who are you, right now? How are you feeling, right now?
When you’re in the moment, the stress fades away, the pressure in your life has no power. True joy comes right here, right now.
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. 🙂
I would encourage people to see the world through the lens of love.
Society would have us believe that the best way to gauge where we stand in relation to others is to compare, judge, and criticise. We’ve been taught that the main goal in life is competition and that getting to the top no matter what it costs us (or others around us), should be the only aim in life.
Maybe war, greed, and a life full of illness and suffering would come to an end if we could perceive everything in front of us as a projection pointing in the direction of our next move.
We would simply let go of the things that aren’t important to us and align ourselves with what is.
We would celebrate everyone’s successes while still striving for our own. Instead of experiencing scarcity and rivalry for limited resources, we would start to live from a place of abundance for everyone.
What is the best way for our readers to continue to follow your work online?
I spend a lot of time in the online space and am frequently sought as an expert for media across all channels. I share a lot of my work through my online platforms that readers can access by connecting with me:
Website Link: https://www.sheiqlife.com/
Free Email Series: https://www.sheiqlife.com/7-steps-email-series/
Organisational Health & Wellness Kit: https://sheiqlife.com/product/organisational-health-wellness-planning-kit/
I also have an online program to assist busy professional women reduce stress and beat burnout that can be accessed here: https://sheiqlife.com/kiss-fbpw/
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent on this. We wish you only continued success.