Don’t let others’ stress get to you. This is a hard one! Whether it comes from higher-ups or direct reports, as a leader, everyone’s constantly reminding you of your responsibilities and what you need to do for them. People are always stressing at work, and it can be contagious. Be aware of this and don’t let yourself take on their stress as well. You’ll get more done and be more successful with that calm and controlled approach.

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 Dr. Alison Smith, the co-founder and chief scientist at Roga.

Dr. Smith is a neuroscientist who specializes in brain stimulation wearables for mental health. Her company, Roga, is a healthcare platform designed to help companies support their employees who are suffering with stress and burnout.

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’m not sure which family member planted this seed, but ever since I was five years old, I have had a fascination with brain injuries and I aspired to have a career that helped people to overcome that type of injury. Originally, I thought I would become a physician or a physiotherapist, but while attending university, I fell in love with neuroscience, and I ended up staying to complete my Ph.D. at the University of Waterloo in Canada. My work focused on finding a biomarker, from brain activity recordings, to determine if someone was responding to movement training. My work had an application to stroke research. Using technology in an unorthodox way opened my eyes to the possibilities that neurotech could give to people who were really suffering. At the time, wearable technology and the neurotech industry in Toronto was in its infancy. I wanted to be a part of the business world as a neuroscientist, but I had no idea how to make that happen. So, when I graduated, I became an adjunct faculty member at my alma mater and opened a medical writing business. Years later, something truly special started to happen in Toronto: neurotech start-ups started popping up, using technology that I had only seen in the laboratory setting. We were entering into a new age, and I wanted to be a part of it.

My leap into the neurotech industry was pretty quick as soon as I made the decision to leave academia. I reached out to a company building brain stimulation wearables for cognitive enhancement. I was offered a job on the spot. I worked as a neuroscientist responsible for high performance athletic research and product management, leading product launches. While speaking at a conference in Silicon Valley in 2020, I was approached by the person who would eventually become my co-founder at Roga. He asked to speak with me. He had an idea for a brain stimulation wearable to help people suffering with anxiety. I was intrigued because I had an anxiety disorder. Within 3-months, he asked me to join the team at Roga as a co-founder and we successfully launched our first product in the fall of 2022.

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

If I were to speak with my younger self, myself before the age of 30, I would say, “The greatest gifts you will be given are the connections that you make with other people. Stop worrying about overworking yourself and pushing so hard. All of your successes will be from the generosity of the people that you meet. So, relax…get curious about the people around you; ask them questions; build stronger relationships because that’s the best part about this life.”

Of course, I didn’t learn this lesson until I was 30. Hindsight is 20/20.

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?

Every single opportunity I have had in this life has come from the invitation of others. I have never secured a job, academic appointment, or business opportunity from a posting. Instead, my constant networking has opened every door I’ve walked through. My success is built from the generosity of people. I am most grateful for the support I have received from my Ph.D. supervisor, Dr. Richard Staines.

I met Richard during my senior year of university. I took his Introductory Neurophysiology course and absolutely loved it. I was so enthusiastic that he invited me to complete a Master’s and then my Ph.D. Richard is one of the most wonderful people I have ever met: incredibly generous, intelligent, astute, with a wildly prodigious emotional intelligence. He taught me not only how to have an impactful career as a neuroscientist but how to be a good human being too. When I’m stressed or having a challenging conversation with someone, I always think, “what would Rich do?” And, the answer is always, “ kind…figure it out”.

During my Ph.D. I contracted a serious chronic illness. I was barely able to function. But, Richard was there, supportive as always. He helped me find a way to succeed and to finish my dissertation. Completing my Ph.D. in neuroscience allowed me to have my ultimate dream career: chief scientist in a neurotech start-up. I’m forever grateful to the most incredible supervisor any graduate student could have.

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

Yes! I’m thrilled to share that I co-founded a start-up called Roga, we just launched our first product: a healthcare platform and wearable for the treatment of stress and burnout. We built it for companies that want to support their employees who are suffering with severe stress and burnout at work. We know that 72% of millennials and gen-Z’s have left a job in the last three years for mental health reasons, and since the pandemic and economic downturn, 76% of workers are experiencing high stress at work. Our solution reduces the symptoms of stress by 50% within the first 2-weeks.

The Roga wearable is a headphone-like device that plugs into your smartphone and connects with an app. The app provides on-demand video courses that teach people how to self regulate stress and communicate with colleagues more effectively. The app also contains guided meditation sessions designed by leading psychologists to help reduce stress. The “headphones” contain electrodes that actually send a gentle electrical pulse to the brain to reduce cortical activity associated with stress — so people can experience a greater sense of calm.

We’ve already seen it helping a lot of people who struggle with stress and burnout, especially at work.

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

The stress response is a highly complex process. From an evolutionary perspective, it’s built into our bodies to act as a survival mechanism. It’s there to actually keep us safe. When a danger is detected in our environment, our body has the ability to respond quickly to get out of danger. It is natural for our bodies to experience a stress response, but it’s important that the body is allowed to recover. In our modern age, constant stressors prevent the body from recovering. Over time, the stress response is not only triggered by life-threatening events, it is also triggered by seemingly simple environmental stimuli like a work deadline, an argument with a family member or a friend, or a persistent worry.

When the stress response is triggered, it causes a cascade of reactions within the body that results in the fight, flight, fawn or freeze response. Over time, the repeated activation of the stress response takes a toll on the body. And, research shows that chronic stress contributes to high blood pressure, clogged arteries, and can cause brain changes that may contribute to anxiety, depression, and addiction.

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?

Just like riding a rollercoaster, the body is designed to trigger stress responses to threatening stimuli, to prepare the body for fight or flight mode. But, once the threat is gone, the body is meant to recover. If a person perceives constant threats in their environment, their body never recovers from a stress response and chronic stress persists. Threats can be very “real,” such as survival needs, or physical discomfort like being dehydrated or exhausted. In the modern age, many people are programmed to constantly look for trouble in a way — constantly scanning for possible threats, based on our primitive need to survive and be on alert in case of danger. There are two areas of the brain responsible for this constant surveillance: the amygdala and the default mode network.

The amygdala are two almond shaped structures deep within the brain. They are the fear-center. Activity within the amygdala makes you feel intense fear. The default mode network (DMN) is a connected group of brain areas responsible for the creation of worry and rumination. Increased activity in either the amygdala or DMN triggers a stress response because it produces the perception of a threat in the environment. If you can calm the activity down in the amygdala and DMN, you can reduce symptoms of chronic stress.

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

In my research as a neuroscientist, I’ve studied how stress impacts the brain. When you perceive a threat, there is increased brain activity within the amygdala and default mode network, letting the rest of your body know that something is wrong, that you’re in danger somehow. This triggers the release of hormones like cortisol (the “stress” hormone) and adrenaline (the “fight or flight” hormone). These hormones send signals to the rest of the body to be prepared to fight or flee, causing shortness of breath, high heart heart rate, sweating, difficulty focusing, etc. Even things like hair growth, weight and appetite can be affected as you experience chronic stress. These physical symptoms in turn cause you to get more stressed, and your brain and body create a feedback loop, constantly triggering stress symptoms.

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

At its core, stress is meant to be a good thing: it protects our body from danger and serves as a red flag that maybe we’re stretched too thin, or that we’re putting too much stock in something we don’t need to worry about. This is perhaps the most important thing stress can do for us if we take the time to stop and listen to ourselves and why we’re stressed — we may be inventing threats that aren’t really there, or choosing the wrong ones to focus on. In this way, stress can help us realign and reprioritize where we’re putting our energy and effort.

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?

Yes, there’s a difference. We are built to respond to short-term stressors — like threatening situations. Our body is not designed to cope with chronic, unrelenting stress…especially from stressors that are not inherently threatening or dangerous. If chronic stress persists, research has shown that it can contribute to anxiety, depression, addiction, hair loss, weight gain/loss and changes in appetite, as well as sleep patterns, digestive health and more.

Is it even possible to eliminate stress?

It is best not to eliminate the stress response altogether. It’s there for a reason. We need it to recognize danger and to respond to it accordingly. Interestingly though, there are some people in this world who don’t experience fear. They actually don’t have activity within their amygdala or fear center. These people tend to participate in super risky activities like rock climbing without being roped in. Of course, it would be incredible to experience a fear free life, but it comes at a cost.

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.

Millions of people are currently suffering with chronic stress conditions. 71 million Americans have a clinical anxiety disorder; 76% of workers are suffering with chronic stress on the job. We have an epidemic of stress in our culture that is crushing the spirit of too many. We have a mental health crisis. We need more awareness. We need more employers to step up and support their employees. We all have to work to make a living. It’s important to meet stressed out people where they spend most of their time — and that’s at work.

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?

Before I developed an anxiety disorder, I took my work very seriously. I overworked; I constantly pushed my limits, and chronically anguished over the future. Was I doing enough? Could I do more? I constantly chose work over friends and family, and I paid the ultimate price, I developed a serious anxiety disorder. As my anxiety worsened, I found myself stuck, unable to leave my house alone. Anxiety is such a strong neurological adaptation. One panic attack can lay out brain connections that easily become incredibly hard to rewire. After losing such deep time to anxiety, I approach my life quite differently now. I thoroughly believe that I don’t need to push at work or in life any more. What successes I experience will naturally occur, and if they don’t, they were never meant to happen at all. I’m trying to practice a strategy of doing my best but not being hard on myself or searching for perfection.

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. Meditate early and often. This is well-backed by volumes of scientific research. Even just the simple act of taking a few deep breaths helps your brain slow down that hormone release and return to a state of calm.
  2. Make time for yourself to recharge. There is a difference between “pausing” and actively rejuvenating yourself.
  3. Get enough sleep. This is impossible to overstate. It’s easy to want to cut out hours of sleep when your schedule feels unmanageable, but you won’t make good decisions and won’t be able to handle what the day throws at you when your brain hasn’t recovered enough from the day before.
  4. Constantly ask yourself, “Is this a priority?” and if it is, respond calmly and with control. All too often we get caught up stressing over some aspect of the business and want to panic into some quick solution, but in reality we’ve lost sight of what’s really important and those quick fixes won’t help anyways. This is your brain just searching for problems again. Focus on the things that really need your attention, and don’t let your brain trick you into panicking. Instead, identify the priority, and make a plan to tackle it in a calm and controlled way. Imagine a surgeon: if you’re the patient, you wouldn’t want them to go poking around looking for things that are broken and then start cutting things open in a panic. You’d want them to be methodical and restrained, focusing in on what needs work, and then carefully fixing it.
  5. Don’t let others’ stress get to you. This is a hard one! Whether it comes from higher-ups or direct reports, as a leader, everyone’s constantly reminding you of your responsibilities and what you need to do for them. People are always stressing at work, and it can be contagious. Be aware of this and don’t let yourself take on their stress as well. You’ll get more done and be more successful with that calm and controlled approach.

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

By the end of the day, all I want to do is laugh. I love listening to podcasts before bed. I recommend: Smartless, Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend, and Mike Birbiglia’s Working it Out. I love to listen to comedians working through bits/jokes. Also, any reference or resource on meditation by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn.

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 love to collaborate with engineers and artists to develop an artistic experience combining neurotechnology and art: an experience where people can create art using the power of their mind only. Non-invasive neurotechnology is the future of mental health treatment. Allowing people to see its potential in a fun, immersive experience would open so many more doors.

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

You can follow me on LinkedIn at:

And follow my work with Roga at our website, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn or TikTok.

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.