Changing a fixed mindset around productivity is necessary to become stress-proof. Many feel that taking a rest, unplugging in the evenings and on weekends, or taking all our accrued time off can have catastrophic consequences. Building and leveraging support teams stop overwork and added stress, allowing you to unplug from work easily.
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 Julie Roberts. Julie is the Founder and Executive Coach at Amplify Living. After experiencing burnout throughout her corporate career, Julie took intentional time off to study rest, and explore solutions to overworking. Today she helps professionals build and leverage support systems they were never taught, so they can live fulfilling lives while still progressing in their careers.
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 appreciate the opportunity to join you and your audience today. Thank you for including me.
I started my career working at large international law firms managing professional development programs for lawyers. In my role, I also worked on the mentoring program, associate and partner candidate evaluation processes, diversity initiative, and women’s initiative. After more than a decade at large law firms based in Houston, Texas, and Washington, DC, I was ready for a new professional challenge.
For a short time, I worked in the nonprofit industry. Then, I launched a client relations department at a large family-owned car dealership owned and operated by my extended family.
Outside my career, I was an indoor cycling coach and have always been a health and wellness enthusiast.
I met a fitness pioneer who provides online workouts, multiple fitness studios, and at-home private training services to clients worldwide. After getting to know each other through our client-coach relationship, I had the opportunity to join her company to launch her largest studio to date in Manhattan. I moved to New York City and held several positions in the company, ultimately being a member of the executive team overseeing the membership and physical studio operations.
Throughout my career, I have always struggled with overworking and being chronically available to my job. My job has always been the third person in every relationship I have had. I consistently lived with a moderate level of job stress and constant worry about fulfilling my duties.
The COVID years added the stress of living in a pandemic, which impacted everyone personally and professionally. In addition, we were living with political and social unrest. I was living in Manhattan and had been living away from the support of my friends and family in Texas for over four years. My partner, now husband, Will, and I fled NYC for two months during the height of the pandemic. I was also still mourning my parents’ recent divorce, and Will had lost full-time work, as his daughter was entering college and his son was entering high school. To say that I felt stressed was an understatement. Teletherapy wasn’t helping.
I was burning out. And I had experienced burnout once before when I was working at a law firm. The symptoms of burnout are different for everyone. For me, burnout entails constant worry about my job, difficulty making decisions, dreaming of work every night, brain fog, feeling emotionally numb, a dysregulated nervous system, an irregular menstrual cycle, constantly feeling tired, and intense body aches.
Will and I worked remotely, so toward the end of the pandemic, we decided it was time to move. We left Manhattan and moved to Princeton, New Jersey, and live on a property situated on a nature preserve. Living in a smaller town surrounded by nature provided a much-needed respite from the outside world, but it wasn’t enough to rejuvenate me and overcome my chronic stress. I knew that I needed to take a more significant step.
Ultimately, I left my job. I loved my role, the company, and the team, but I knew I had to work on myself. I put my career on hold to heal and learn a better way to serve others through my work while living a full and meaningful life.
I found a new therapist who encouraged me to learn to “just be.” I had no idea what that meant. I had always been chronically busy. So, I began studying rest — the types of rest deficits and how to get rejuvenating rest. I talked to my female friends and peers. Almost every woman identified with overworking, feeling stressed out, and generally unfulfilled with no time for herself, friends and family, or interests outside of work.
Several months after I paused my career, I combined my professional development experience with my love for health and wellness to help others who struggle with overworking and living a full and meaningful life.
I earned a life and career coaching certification and developed a coaching methodology grounded in building and leveraging support systems that allow professionals the time for a fulfilling personal life, including rest, without sacrificing their careers.
Over the summer, Will and I married on our patio in Princeton with his kids, my dogs, and our parents and siblings in attendance. I cherish my happy blended family and am so grateful to spend my days helping others live the full life they have always dreamed of — the life I have finally achieved for myself after 26 years of working.
What lessons would you share with yourself if you had the opportunity to meet your younger self?
- You are enough. You are smart enough. You work hard enough. You are committed enough. You are worthy of everything you desire.
- Not all requests from others are urgent. Stop putting others’ needs ahead of your own. You can attend to your needs and meet deadlines and commitments. Prioritize yourself.
- Life is sweet when it is full and meaningful. Live a full life that includes rest, friends and family, personal interests, and a career. Make time for yourself in all these areas and keep your commitments to yourself.
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?
Jason Feldman, Manager of Helfman Enterprises, and Steven Wolf, Vice President of Helfman Enterprises, were very supportive when I had the opportunity to move from Houston to Manhattan for personal and professional growth.
Working with Jason and Steven allowed me an opportunity to apply my career skills in a new industry — the automotive industry — for which I am grateful. Additionally, we truly enjoyed working together. Steven and Jason have built and sustained such a collegial work environment that many of their employees have worked with them for decades, which speaks volumes.
Leaving the company was truly bittersweet. The three of us knew that I had to leave the comfort of my job and life in Texas to grow in New York. I still appreciate how gracious they were during that time. We are still very close to this day.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think it might help people?
Yes, I am very excited about a signature coaching experience I built to help professionals live full lives as they continue to excel in their careers.
In my research, I found that many professionals feel unfulfilled. They have achieved professional success but are disheartened because they thought that after years of achieving career success, they would have time for well-rounded lives. They earned impressive job titles, a comfortable income, and an enviable career, but they yearn for more. They want rest. They want deep relationships. They want to be the parent, partner, child, sibling, and friend that they promised themselves they would be. Over their decades-long careers, they did not learn the strategies and tools to build the well-rounded lives they always dreamed of.
The premier coaching program helps professionals build and leverage support systems they were never taught, so they can live fulfilling and meaningful lives without sacrificing their careers. These support systems, or “teams,” offer clients an opportunity to stop overworking and live more meaningful and fulfilling lives.
Ok, thank you for sharing your inspired life. Let’s now talk about stress. How would you define stress?
I define stress as a situation or action that causes me to be alert and provokes my nervous system to respond.
A more traditional definition of stress is a feeling or state of strain or pressure that can be felt emotionally, mentally, or physically.
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?
I believe we are stressed out because we do too much. Hustle culture, urgency culture, and performative workaholism tell us that our worth is based on productivity. This isn’t true.
We pride ourselves on how many tasks we can accomplish in a day but resent feeling chronically stressed and run down.
Western society tells us that rest is for the weak and broken. We are bombarded with advertising messages telling us that we need to optimize our tired and stressed-out bodies and minds with products guaranteed to give us what we are lacking to feel energized and accomplish more. Our social media feeds are filled with advertising for these quick-fix products.
I believe energy-promising drinks, vitamins, supplements, productivity apps, mindfulness apps, and other optimizing quick-fix products don’t relieve us of overworking and chronic stress. They support it.
We have been conditioned to believe that we are stressed and tired because we are defective, not enough, and need to be fixed. We are stressed because we struggle to perform in a society that is fueled by toxic productivity and undervalues rest.
What are some of the physical manifestations of being under a lot of stress? How does the human body react to stress?
Stress can activate stress hormones that produce physiological responses. The American Psychological Association reports that “stress affects all systems of the body including the musculoskeletal, respiratory, cardiovascular, endocrine, gastrointestinal, nervous, and reproductive systems.”
According to Cleveland Clinic, physical symptoms of stress can include:
- Aches and pains.
- Chest pain or a feeling like your heart is racing.
- Exhaustion or trouble sleeping.
- Headaches, dizziness or shaking.
- High blood pressure.
- Muscle tension or jaw clenching.
- Stomach or digestive problems.
- Trouble having sex.
- Weak immune system.
Brain fog and a disrupted menstrual cycle can also be symptoms of stress.
Knowing if your symptoms result from stress or another medical condition can be challenging because the symptoms are so broad. A doctor can help identify the source of your discomfort through an examination and performing medical tests.
When I was experiencing many of the broad symptoms of stress, I suspected I felt so poorly because I was suffering from an underlying condition like menopause, Epstein Barr, Lyme Disease, or an autoimmune disease. I visited two doctors, and after thorough exams and reviewing my lab work, both doctors determined that my symptoms were solely related to stress.
Is stress necessarily a bad thing? Can stress ever be good for us?
Experts distinguish between two types of stress — distress and eustress. Distress is commonly referred to as “bad” stress and can cause anxiety and impede our performance. Eustress is frequently referred to as “good” stress and can motivate us and boost our performance.
So, yes, stress can be good for us. Summa Health reports that good stress is vital for a healthy life, and the benefits of eustress can enable us to achieve our goals and build the lives we desire.
I often think of eustress as a stress originating from excitement or the anticipation of achieving a desired result. Examples are starting a new relationship, welcoming a new pet, starting a new job, preparing for a presentation, the possibility of winning a competition or game, earning a certification, etc.
But don’t discount the important benefits that distress provides. Much of our personal growth, development, and resilience is developed in times of distress.
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?
PsychCentral explains that short-term or acute stress can “help boost our energy, improve our memory, and motivate us to meet difficult challenges. On the other hand, long-term (chronic) stress can build up over time, lasting months to years.”
Long-term stress or chronic stress can cause the immune system to become overstimulated, resulting in a range of physical and mental disorders, such as burnout, anxiety, depression, addiction, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and autoimmune diseases, to name a few.
Is it even possible to eliminate stress?
Stress is inevitable and includes more than the curveballs we encounter in our daily lives. Stress accompanies every life event we experience, such as welcoming a child; earning a diploma or degree; entering or ending a partnership or marriage; launching, changing, or retiring from a career; and the loss of a loved one. We encounter stress in all facets of and every stage of our lives. You can say that life is a series of stressful events, with periods of rest in between.
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.
In my opinion, our western culture that thrives on toxic productivity has created added levels of stress that we cannot endure long-term. We need to begin talking about the value of rest and change the narrative surrounding it.
Rest allows us to regulate our nervous systems and recover from the daily stress we experience. Rest is necessary to recover from stress. There is no other way.
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?
Overwork and performative workaholism contributed to my desire to leave a traditional corporate environment and work for myself.
I believe that most people who work for others in traditional work environments, as I did for 25 years, feel compelled to overwork and display a commitment to their jobs that gives others the belief that their work is the source of their life’s happiness and their top priority when it is not true.
This mindset makes people chronically available during their free time in the evenings, early mornings, on weekends, during vacations, and when ill, which ingrains underlying stress that is felt 24/7.
Today, I work for myself and am my own boss. I take intentional rest and try hard to resist the urge to overwork. However, I periodically have stressful thoughts suggesting that my time resting would be better spent working. But I remind myself that bouts of temporary underlying stress naturally come with changing a mindset. Thankfully, with persistent practice, the underlying stressful thoughts have greatly diminished.
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.
I love this question. Here are my 5 Stress Management Strategies That Busy Leaders Can Use to Become “Stress-Proof” at Work:
- Take a Best Rest Approach.
Rest is an essential tool to tolerate and recover from stress and is the foundation of self-care. As I mentioned earlier, I had yet to learn how to rest properly. My idea of rest was binging Netflix, a hot bath, and a glass of wine. When I took a deep dive into the subject of rest, I found the work of Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith, a medical doctor who wrote the book Sacred Rest. Dr. Dalton-Smith identifies seven types of rest deficits — physical, mental, emotional, sensory, creative, spiritual, and social rest. In my opinion, her work provides a common vocabulary to discuss rest properly. The key to getting rejuvenating rest is to perform a restful activity that adequately addresses your rest deficit. For example, you had a difficult conversation with a co-worker and feel emotionally depleted. At the end of the day, you decide to rest and watch a movie. The movie was a heartbreaking drama that leaves you feeling even more emotionally depleted. We can agree that watching a movie is a restful activity but watching an emotionally charged drama when you already feel emotionally depleted is not rejuvenating. Playing with your pet, journaling, or watching a lighthearted comedy may have been better choices leaving you feeling emotionally rejuvenated.
Consider compiling a list of activities that are restful to you. Some examples of restful activities are:
- reading for pleasure
- walking in nature
- massage and other body treatments
- dining out
- listening to music or a podcast
- an activity that puts you in a meditative state — cleaning, organizing, physical activity, gardening, cooking, ironing, a drive in the country
- hot bath or shower
- time with pets
- watching television
- attending a religious or spiritual service
To put this list to use, I teach the Best Rest Approach. The Best Rest Approach has two parts.
1. When you feel stressed or depleted, pause, and ask yourself, “What kind of rest do I need?” Your answer will be one of, or a combination of, the seven rest deficits — physical, mental, emotional, sensory, creative, spiritual, or social rest.
2. Pick the best restful activity that will alleviate your rest deficit and leave you feeling rejuvenated.
If you complete a challenging work project and need mental rest, taking a break to scan your social media feeds or a brief activity away from your desk may do the trick. If you attend a work conference in New York City and feel sensory overwhelmed each day, a hot bath or reading a book in silence may be great grounding options. If you feel creatively depleted from a brainstorming session, a walk outside or eating lunch with a friend can leave you feeling refreshed.
The Best Rest Approach is a great strategy to relieve stress, and it takes about 20 seconds to perform. Being aware of what kind of rest deficit you are experiencing and performing your best restful activity for the deficit is the foundation of rejuvenating rest.
With practice, the Best Rest Approach quickly becomes second nature throughout the day and helps us recover from daily stress.
2. Practice Two Distinct Kinds of Self-care — Proper self-care makes us resilient and stress-proof.
I believe self-care falls into one of two categories — fleeting or penetrating — and we need both to feel fully rejuvenated.
Fleeting self-care feels rejuvenating, but the effects are temporary. Some examples are manicures, massages, a hot shower or bath, shopping, watching sports, playing games, eating comfort foods, etc.
Fleeting self-care is a great choice when looking for a break or a reward for enduring our day-to-day stressors, like after we endure a technology issue, finish a stressful work meeting, or deal with a difficult client. It makes us feel good but doesn’t offer lasting results like a new life stance, coping technique, or a solution to a problem.
Penetrating self-care can lead us towards personal growth and development, like new perspectives, coping techniques, and solutions.
Some examples of penetrating self-care are spiritual practices, coaching, therapy, conversations with a close friend, and personal development courses. Penetrating self-care often results in personal discovery and growth. Therefore, the effects are more long-standing or penetrating. Compared to fleeting self-care, penetrating self-care takes a little more commitment to get the results, but the benefits are well worth the time and effort.
Penetrating self-care can help us overcome chronic stress, relationship difficulties, overworking, and other deep-rooted problems.
Fleeting self-care practices are not superficial or bad. They do serve a purpose, and the short-term benefits are worthwhile. What is essential to recognize is that fleeting self-care rarely relieves us of our chronic or significant stressors the way penetrating self-care does. Fleeting self-care does not significantly relieve us of burnout, chronic overworking, or unfulfilling relationships.
Fleeting self-care, combined with penetrating self-care, is the best formula to feel rejuvenated and manage stress.
3. Take a “Team” Approach. The foundation of my coaching methodology is based on building and leveraging four distinct support systems, or what I call teams. The teams are Team You, Team Health, Team Home, and Team Work.
Building and leveraging your support teams prevent overworking and added stress. The great news is that we already have members on our teams.
Team Work comprises resources — people, administrative departments, vendors, professional organizations, and even software — that support your career. Every resource you have to support you in your career is a Team Member on Team Work.
Internal resources on Team Work are resources from inside your company or organization. They include the people you directly manage, your supervisors, mentors, and all supporting departments, such as human resources (HR), information technology, marketing, business development, payroll, benefits, the diversity council, women’s council, etc.
External resources on Team Work are resources from outside your organization that support you in your career. They include mentors and peers at other organizations, consultants, vendors, professional development organizations, networking organizations, and alumni groups that you belong to.
Your team also includes tactical things such as software essential for your job, such as legal research software for attorneys, the Multiple Listing Service for realtors, warehouses if you are a distributor, etc.
Here are steps to build and leverage Team Work:
- Identify Your Team Members — List every resource — every person, department, software, organization, etc. — you utilize to support you professionally. Every resource on your list is a “member” of your team.
- Evaluate Your Team Members — Go down your list and answer the following questions for each team member — Does this team member perform at or exceed my expectations? Is this team member reliable? Does this team member help me achieve my goals? Do I need more support from this resource?
- Look at the Big Picture — What is working well? Where are there gaps? What needs improving? What is missing? Who or what can you leverage to provide you and the team you manage more support? What are you tolerating (poor performance, unreliable resources, etc.)?
- Next Steps — Identify the next steps to leverage Team Work and begin taking action.
In the Team Work approach, we aren’t evaluating people in relation to their job description, vendors and service providers against their contracts, or organizations in regard to their missions. We evaluate our resources to determine if we are getting the support we need to excel in our job and career.
Many times, we “tolerate” poor performance or underutilize resources that are there to support us. When we tolerate poor performance and don’t call on team members when we need help, we take on the extra work, which causes additional burden and stress. This can go on perpetually.
For example, I worked with a leader who resisted reaching out to the HR department when she had a low-performing and verbally aggressive employee on her team. The team member’s low performance created overwork and friction in her department. The client was concerned that HR would perceive her as a poor manager.
Eventually, the client reached out to HR, and they helped my client to develop a development plan for her employee, and the employee was ultimately terminated. Because the client leveraged HR, a resource on her team, she was able to relieve herself and her team from the chronic stress they faced working with a poor-performing and hostile employee.
Sometimes when we are under stress, we don’t recognize and leverage the whole team of resources we have to support us. Build and leverage your teams to prevent overworking and get the support you need to do your job well and to continue to excel in your career.
4. Use the Mindful Calendar Technique — I will never forget the first time a client mentioned that she looks at her calendar daily, and there isn’t one entry dedicated to her. All calendar appointments are for work and family. She felt that her needs were not prioritized and would never be met.
This is very common. We often put our obligations to others on our calendar but don’t proactively block and protect time for ourselves.
Taking agency of our calendars is a way to manage our stress. I developed the Mindful Calendar Technique to avoid the stress of overworking and to keep our personal time, including rest, a priority, and a non-negotiable daily activity.
The Mindful Calendar Technique
- Put All Commitments on Your Calendar –No matter if your calendar is on paper or electronic, start inputting all your professional and personal commitments and social obligations onto your calendar. Examples — Work due to clients and supervisors; meetings; family commitments; social engagements; kids’ activities; vacations/time off, etc.
- Build in Time for Rest — Review your calendar and schedule time to rest and rejuvenate. Refer to your list of restful activities from the Best Rest Approach and calendar activities for yourself daily. Where in your day can you schedule time for yourself? It can be in short pockets of time throughout the day. Block this time on your calendar. Examples — 45 minutes for a workout; 10 minutes between work meetings to regroup and refresh; 30 minutes after work to chat with a friend; an hour before bed for a restful bedtime routine, etc.
- Reschedule Commitments, if Necessary — Regularly review your calendar and identify commitments that you anticipate will leave you feeling depleted — a problematic work meeting; a day with too many mandatory commitments; a social event that leaves you socially drained, etc. If your calendar is overbooked or has too many responsibilities that will leave you feeling depleted, consider rescheduling one or a few of the commitments to other days. Example — Your day is jam-packed. You must take your car to get serviced, do some client work to prepare for a work trip, lead a team meeting and have a benefit to go to that evening. Can something be moved? Can the car service be rescheduled to another day? Can you reschedule the team meeting? If the evening at the benefit feels too much, can you skip it? Can you prepare for your client on the plane? Where can you add in rest? A quick nap before the benefit? Twenty minutes to work out early in the morning?
- Review and Revise Your Calendar Regularly — Consistently review your schedule and adjust and rearrange appointments where necessary. As you manage your calendar, keep rest a priority, especially on difficult days. Protect your time to rest and rejuvenate. Keep your appointment with yourself. Piling commitments on your calendar, with no room for rest or personal interests, leaves you feeling depleted, stressed, and unfulfilled. Follow the Mindful Calendar Technique to protect your time, reduce stress, and feel your best.
- Remember That You Have a Choice — You did not create hustle culture, urgency culture, performative workaholism, or toxic productivity, so you don’t have to subscribe to it. (Read that again.) Changing a fixed mindset around productivity is necessary to become stress-proof. Many feel that taking a rest, unplugging in the evenings and on weekends, or taking all our accrued time off can have catastrophic consequences. Building and leveraging support teams stop overwork and added stress, allowing you to unplug from work easily. The only way to change a belief is to have a new experience around it. The only way to know that you can unplug at night, and everything will be okay, is to try it. The only way to know take you can take an unscheduled day off for rest and that you are better off for it the following day is to try it. The only way to know you can reschedule a meeting without retribution is to try it. The only way to know that your team can be successful when you take time off is to try it. It is impossible to eliminate stress, but you can begin to reject ideologies that compound it.
Do you have any favorite books, podcasts, or resources that have inspired you to live with more joy in life?
I have manifested so much joy lately by leading with my values, showing up for myself in new ways, and being vulnerable. Here is a quick list of resources that have inspired me along the way.
Sacred Rest, written by Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith provides me with a vocabulary to discuss rest.
The work of Gabby Bernstein inspires me to lead with my values and from a place of abundance and faith. Gabby says that manifesting isn’t about wishing but about becoming. This has been the foundation of creating my new life.
Esther Perel teaches me much about relating to others in work and relationships.
Brené Brown’s Ted Talk on The Power of Vulnerability is a life-changer. I strive to be more vulnerable every day.
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. 🙂
We can’t sustain hustle culture any longer. Workaholism is making us sick physically, mentally, and emotionally. And no matter how much we hustle and accomplish, we still feel unfulfilled.
The better way to excel in your career and have a fulfilling life, which includes rest, is by building and leveraging support systems.
I believe that rest is undervalued and the answer to overcoming so many of our stressors. The bogus narrative about rest, that it is lazy or for the weak, must change. Our health and happiness depend on it.
What is the best way for our readers to continue to follow your work online?
Readers can find me at Amplify Living, on Linked In, and the private Facebook group Amplify Living Community for Women.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent on this. We wish you only continued success.