Music and Movement Affect Mood — While we may not recognize it, music and movement affects our mood. Create a playlist of your favorite songs and move that body. I like to start my mornings with an all-out dance party and during the week I love attending Zumba and line dancing. It improves mood and elevates dopamine and endorphin levels — the feel-good hormones. I’m not saying I’m the best dancer, but it sure does create positive changes that provides a sense of positivity, happiness, and confidence. Not to mention it makes me feel absolutely amazing as I set the tone for the day ahead. Ok, so if dancing isn’t your thing, think about other ways to get the body moving (walking, weight training, gardening, etc).
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. Kennette Thigpen Harris.
Dr. Kennette Thigpen Harris, affectionately known as Dr. K is a well-known and highly respected woman of stature. In the speaking business, she is one who empowers and brings undeniable engagement. As a person, she is resilient with a story that literally impacts the minds of all. As an International Psychologist, with over 15 years of experience, she is a trusted and sought-after mental health expert who utilizes her skills and background to help companies create atmospheres that promote mental wellbeing.
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!
Ah, interesting question. Let me do my best to give you the cliff note version. Well, I actually started out pursing nursing; however, I soon learned that I had a squeezy stomach and I would nearly pass out at the sight of any type of bodily fluids. Although this changed my trajectory, I knew that I still wanted to help people. Cliche, maybe, but true. I knew I wanted to make an impact in the lives of people. This was a major life lesson that I quickly learned that it’s okay to change the plan but never the vision as I was passionate about reaching the outcome — impacting the lives of people. I then went the social work route where I worked with children and families that were involved in the justice system, child protective services, foster care and adoptions. I also supported thousands of individuals in the behavioral health arena.
After which, I started working in corporate settings. Along the journey, I obtained my degree in International Psychology. This is where I personally began to observe the impacts of workplace stress — whether self-induced or due to unrealistic job demands and lack of resources. Not only did I notice it, but I experienced it.
I can remember a specific time in my career when things became really, really difficult. The Monday blues turned into Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and even Friday blues. Now although this feeling appeared to happen overnight, it was a gradual process that seemed to creep up on me. I attempted to justify it as I was a superwoman with superhuman, supernatural superpowers and I could handle anything or so I thought. Now, I didn’t know it then or at least I didn’t acknowledge it then, but the signs and symptoms were subtle, at times, but they were certainly present. My symptoms just got worse over time due to not addressing them head on.
I can remember “THE DAY.” It started out as any other Friday in the office. You know, answering phone calls, attending meetings, responding to emails, finishing up projects, and of course counting down the hours to the start of the weekend. As the day progressed, I started to feel “off,” but I chalked it up to being a little anxious. As day turned into night, I began to feel even worse. It hurt to breathe, walk, or talk. At this point, my partner insisted that I go to the emergency room. I reluctantly agreed as I grabbed my work phone and computer.
I soon learned that the very thing that I was holding onto was silently killing me — literally. I was admitted in the hospital due to an inflamed heart. All because of stress. Yep, you heard me. All because of Stress. I thought this could not be happening to me or could it. The silent killer, stress, had snuck up on me and was staring me squarely in the face. I often wonder what other things people are holding on to that are silently killing them. Could be a job, relationship, past challenges, or finances. I mean the list could go on and on. It was as I lay in the hospital bed for a few days that I first acknowledged to myself that I was stressed out from doing too much of all the things. I was working around the clock, not taking days off, managing extraordinary demands, and not setting boundaries. During this pivotal moment, I made a vow to merge my expertise as an International Psychologist and Clinical Social Worker, working with individuals and corporations from around the globe, with my personal experience with mental challenges to impact the lives of others — especially those in the corporate space. I do this through my business, Welltrust Partners, where I assist corporations with keynotes, trainings, and consultations.
So, in a nutshell, that’s how I got from there to here.
What lessons would you share with yourself if you had the opportunity to meet your younger self?
I love this question as I often ask myself this while self-reflecting. There are so many lessons that I would share with my younger self, but the two that I will share in this moment, would be to understand the power of networking and to just ask. I can remember when I was conducting research in South Africa, and I had to get Institutional Review Board Approval. Well, one of the requirements was to provide a letter of recommendation from an individual from South Africa that could speak to my character. Well, there was one small problem. I knew absolutely no one from South Africa. I had historically been little miss independent. I can do it myself. I got it. I don’t need any help. I will figure it out on my own. Sound familiar to anyone else? So, I had two choices, give up on my research, hopes and dreams or figure it out and find a solution. I went with the latter. I scrolled through my rolodex. Ok, maybe not my rolodex but my contacts in my phone to see who I might possibly know. I had previously made one contact with an individual, during my travels, from East Africa. After calling this person and after about 8 additional connections, the power of networking and asking the right questions, there was an individual who was willing, able, and wanting to chat with me and write a recommendation on my behalf. Mind you this was all possible due to the power of networking and just asking. What I have learned is that most people want to help others; especially when you are doing things to make a positive impact. You can’t be afraid to ask. Have you ever heard the saying “a closed mouth doesn’t get fed.” This was indeed a humbling lesson in understanding the power of networking and to just ask as life does not happen in silo.
I know I said two, but I would love to share one more. The third lesson I would share with my younger self is you must see it before you see it, or you will never see it. Let me say that again. You must see it before you see it, or you will never see it. This statement is so powerful because you must know what you want, where you want to go and how you will get there. You must envision what the destination or the end goal will look, feel, sound, smell like, and taste like before you even get there.
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?
After discussing the power of connections there are so many individuals that I have met on my journey that have helped in some form or fashion, from providing advice, sharing their past lessons, sharing a small nugget, mentoring me, making introductions, providing opportunities, and saying “yes.” I mean I could literally go on and on.
However, the two people that have helped me have been my Mother and Father. I absolutely adore them. They have been my biggest fans cheering me all the way to my breakthroughs. Everyone needs a cheer squad to tell you the truth, hold you accountable, celebrate your wins, and encourage you when you fall. Mine just happens to be my parents.
They have been my safe place or my home base when things are absolutely amazing and when thing are absolutely challenging. They have listened to my outrageous big dreams and ideas and dared me to dream even bigger. My parents helped in building a solid foundation for me to build upon. You see my father is an Army Veteran and growing up living on a military base I quickly learned resilience, discipline, and how to manage change. My mother who is the only girl out of nine brothers, taught me resourcefulness, kindness, and gratitude. Together they taught me the power of compassion toward everyone I encounter and to not be afraid to create my own opportunities. I am so grateful for them!
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think it might help people?
Yes, I am currently working on a project that I am super de duper excited about! I’m releasing a book and a companion workbook at the end of January 2023 — Cut Yourself Some Slack: 52 Tips to Boost Your Mental Health for a Happier, Healthier more Hopeful You. The 52 tips that are including are some of the exact same evidence-based tips that I have implemented on my personal mental health journey or tips that I have taught others that have had much success. It contains lessons, self-reflection, thought provoking questions and prompts that encourages others to give their self a break as they protect and prioritize their mental health. It is a chance for others to develop as a person, work through pivotal changes, and live a more focused life.
So, if people are ready to give themselves a break and cut themselves some slack, I encourage them to take the journey towards a stronger and more balanced mental and emotional wellbeing. Trust the process, take action and get ready for the inner transformation that brings about outward results.
Individuals can grab a copy at www.drkennette.com/cut-yourself-some-slack
Ok, thank you for sharing your inspired life. Let’s now talk about stress. How would you define stress?
I would define stress as the silent killer. Many of us are walking around stressed out but because we are viewing events in our life as happening in silo, we describe it as something else. Can I first just say that many people use stress and burnout interchangeably. Please note there is a difference. While burnout is about “not enough”, stress is about “too much”. Too many demands, too much pressure, too much to do, too much on your plate, too much going on. If you have ever said, “I have too much to do. If I can just get through today, or tomorrow, or the next week, or the next month, then I will be okay,” you just might be experiencing some stress in your life.
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?
Now although individuals’ basic needs might be met, life is happening in record speed. Not to mention that we are experiencing new stressors that we have never encountered before. Therefore, the unknown, the uncertainly, and the inability to effectively cope are causing even greater stress. Think about it. You have COVID-19, the tripledemic, social unrest, the political climate, and climate change. All in addition to our normal everyday stressors.
Stress occurs when someone feels an imbalance between a challenge and the resources, they have to deal with it. I also feel that people are stressed out when:
- they refuse to acknowledge that they are stressed;
- they lack effective coping skills to mitigate and manage stress;
- they are perfectionist and striving toward something that doesn’t exist;
- or they have people pleasing tendencies.
What are some of the physical manifestations of being under a lot of stress? How does the human body react to stress?
Stress can impact us emotionally, behaviorally, and physically. It’s important that we are entuned to our body as many times we dismiss or attribute our physical symptoms to everything else, but stress. Physical symptoms of stress can include headaches, tiredness, body aches, increase heart rates, lower immune system, and low energy. It’s crucial that we begin to become aware of the physical signs of stress, that we acknowledge the physical changes in our body, and that we take action accordingly to connect the dots of the stress that we are experiencing.
Is stress necessarily a bad thing? Can stress ever be good for us?
Let me first say that all stress is not created equal. Although stress is often viewed as an exclusively negative feeling, stress can be good for us. Moderate amounts of stress have powerful benefits and when managed well it can be an ally versus and enemy. Stress helps you meet your daily challenges and motivates you to reach your goals. Remember, our bodies are wired to handle every day, normal stressors.
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?
We are not equipped to handle long-term chronic stress without ill consequences. Think of stress as experiencing an alarm system. When your body signals that we are threatened or under attack, we experience fight or flight mode. During this time, our body release hormones called adrenaline and cortisol. Typically, when the threat is over or the body understands it’s a false alarm, the hormone levels return to normal. However, when there is constant stress, the internal alarm continues to sound creating an abundance of cortisol. This overexposure leads to health challenges. Stress that goes unaddressed can lead to other mental health challenges such as anxiety, depression, or physical health risk.
Is it even possible to eliminate stress?
At the end of the day, a life without stress isn’t necessarily better or even realistic. Our bodies stress response is intended to help us react when something potentially threatening happens, to help us not only deal with it but to also learn from it. Here’s a tip for you. Change your mind. Change your life. Meaning, once you start thinking differently about stress and finding ways to manage, you will indeed change your life and your mental wellbeing.
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! Yes! Yes! Did I say, yes! Raising awareness around stress is no longer a nice-to-do. It’s a must-do. This is not just a small issue, it’s a ginormous issue that must be addressed now. You see, every single person has mental health. They may not have a mental illness, but they definitely have mental health which is strongly impacted by stress. As we continue to address stress, we must ensure that awareness increases, stigma decreases, and resources are available. One of the best ways to manage our mental health is to raise awareness about how to recognize and respond to the signs and symptoms of stress. The more we talk about it, the more we can reduce the stigma and raise ongoing awareness. Keep in mind that it’s more than raising awareness during National Stress Awareness month, but it must be infused into our daily lives and into our company work cultures.
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?
Here’s the thing, fifty percent of the workforce is stressed out. Yes, That’s fifty percent. There is always going to be the potential for stress but it’s about coping with whatever life throws at us. It’s about being resilient. It’s about understanding what’s within our control and what’s not within our control. Once we understand this, we will be well on our way to reducing stress and feeling calmer and more peaceful.
I would also say that self-compassion is a key ingredient in managing stress. Learning to be mindful of our emotions and the practice of embracing ALL emotions — the one that give us the warm and fuzzies and the ones that are more challenging. Feel the feeling — leave and release or step in and embrace. At the end of the day, cut yourself some slack.
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.
Just five? There are so many tips I want to share. I have tried some that were absolutely amazing and some that I felt were in left field. The important thing is to take action and find what works for you. Here are some of my favs that have worked for me.
- Recharge– As individuals we spend more time worried about recharging our cellphone than we do about recharging ourselves. Think about it. There are certain things we do that drain our cellphone battery life such as listening to music, streaming videos, or playing games. On the other hand, there are some things that we can do to allow our cellphone to save or gain battery life such as putting it on battery save mode, plugging up to a power source, or minimizing things that drain the battery life. Well, as humans this same concept applies. Recharge by understanding your energy gains and your energy drains. The goal is to do more of what gives you energy and less of what drains your energy. Energy gains can include sleep, meaningful connections in your life, exercise, listening to music, etc. Energy drains can include unrealistic job demands, lack of self-care, unexpected life events, certain people, etc. As you review the energy gains and drains think about your physical energy, mental energy, emotional energy, and spiritual energy.
How can you balance your energy?
- Say “No” — If you feel uncomfortable saying no, you’re not alone. It seems paradoxical but saying “no” strategically and respectfully can help you in various areas of your life to reduce stress. Take a moment to reflect. Is the ‘yes’ because you’re a people pleaser, your agreeable nature, or fear of being perceived as combative. Well, it’s time to say “no” without feeling the need to provide an explanation. Stop over committing. Remember, just because you are available to do something or can do something, does not mean that you need to. When asked to do or commit to something, ask yourself, “Do I want to do this thing, or is it that I feel I ‘should’? Will saying ‘yes’ bring me joy or meaning? Or will I feel dread or regret when this event or task rolls around?”
Here are just a few examples of how to say “no.”
“No, thank you.”
“No, but here is what I’m able to do for you.”
“Thank you for thinking of me, but I will not be able to commit.”
“I would like to, but I am unavailable until I finish this current project. Ask me again around April?”
3. Practice Positivity — Be intentional about practicing positivity. As humans we have between 60,000 and 80,000 thoughts per day and 80% of those are negative or irrational. Mind blown, right. Knowing that are default setting is negativity, we need to understand the power of positivity. The reality is that an event or situation leads to a thought, your thoughts lead to emotions, and emotions lead to your behaviors. Chose to replace negative thoughts by focusing on the positive things in your life. If it helps keep track of your negative thoughts in a thought journal and be intentional about replacing them with positive thoughts.
- Is the thought helpful?
- What purpose is the thought serving me?
- How does the thought make me feel?
If the thoughts are not helpful, serving you or making you feel good, it’s time to change your thoughts. I am not saying that we can prevent all negative and irrational thoughts, but we can certainly reduce them and decide not to be reduced by them.
4. Live Life on Purpose — Purpose helps to improve our wellbeing as we work toward something meaningful. To create your purpose, understand what’s possible, your gifts, what you value, and what you’re passionate about. Passion is what you love. Values are how you see the world. Possibilities are where you can make a difference. Gifts are where you excel.
When you know your purpose, it offers a compelling why and gives you a reason to move forward and do what you are doing. Secondly, purpose adds value to each action as you reach toward your expected outcome. Lastly, purpose boosts moral. When you know your actions are working toward achieving a positive outcome, you feel better about what you’re doing.
5. Music and Movement Affect Mood — While we may not recognize it, music and movement affects our mood. Create a playlist of your favorite songs and move that body. I like to start my mornings with an all-out dance party and during the week I love attending Zumba and line dancing. It improves mood and elevates dopamine and endorphin levels — the feel-good hormones. I’m not saying I’m the best dancer, but it sure does create positive changes that provides a sense of positivity, happiness, and confidence. Not to mention it makes me feel absolutely amazing as I set the tone for the day ahead. Ok, so if dancing isn’t your thing, think about other ways to get the body moving (walking, weight training, gardening, etc).
Can you think of that one go to song that positively impacts your mood? To be completely honest I choose my playlist based upon what type of mood I am in. Music can help process emotions, thoughts, and experiences. Music can encourage emotional expression and exploration. Music can even regulate mood.
So, what are you waiting for? Go ahead let’s listen to music and move that body!
Do you have any favorite books, podcasts, or resources that have inspired you to live with more joy in life?
There are several phenomenally powerful books that I believe supported me in living a more joyful life. Four of my favs are:
- The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz
- How To Love by Thich Nhat Hanh
- A Course in Miracles by Helen Schucman
- Cut Yourself Some Slack by Dr. Kennette Thigpen Harris
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, what a great and fun question. Well at the end of the day, I want to continue to impact the lives of millions by bringing awareness to mental health. So, I would say “Cut Yourself Some Slack,” would be the movement. This would be a movement to get people to do exactly that. As individuals become more aware and understand how to cope and have hope. As they learn to recognize and respond to their signs and symptoms. As they learn to protect and prioritize their mental health. As they learn to be just a little kinder to themselves. All these things will help to decrease stress and increase mental health.
What is the best way for our readers to continue to follow your work online?
Yes, let’s connect and be social!
Email: [email protected]
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent on this. We wish you only continued success.