Living true to your values — If you’re working in a job that you hate, it can be harder to find the daily stress worth it. Do you feel like your job aligns with your values, or what you find most important in life? If not, do you feel like your job at least sets you up to explore your values outside of work? If you’re having trouble knowing what makes you feel fulfilled, do a values assessment by ranking the top 5 most important things you must have in your life (success, family, knowledge, etc.). Having a job that makes you feel fulfilled or sets you up to be fulfilled can make us more resilient to the stress it may cause.
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 Kelly Skovron, LCSW, RYT.
Kelly is a mental health therapist and registered yoga teacher based in NJ. She is the founder of mental health private practice Feelings Forward Wellness, LLC (https://www.feelingsforwardwellness.com). She has been involved in the mental health field for 10+ years and specializes in holistic therapy for adults, especially those that struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to know how you got from “there to here.” Inspire us with your backstory!
I have always known that I belonged as a therapist. From a young age, I struggled with anxiety due to the pressures of life. When I learned about psychology, I became intrigued with understanding myself and others more deeply. Since high school, I have built my career toward helping others with their mental health concerns. I have worked in diverse environments with all populations. After working with individuals in the criminal justice system, I developed a love for aiding individuals through the turbulence of childhood trauma. Now, I specialize in holistic PTSD therapy for adults in NJ and NY and offer individual therapy, Ketamine Assisted Therapy, EMDR, yoga therapy, and more through my practice — Feelings Forward Wellness.
What lessons would you share with yourself if you had the opportunity to meet your younger self?
As a therapist, I feel compelled to provide compassion and empathy for my younger self. She sure has been through a lot! My younger self deserves a hug and a high-five at the same time. She was resilient and strong but also deserved not to have to be. Related to this topic, the lesson I would share with her is to appreciate her childhood as much as possible without rushing into the stress of adulthood.
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?
I am grateful for my sister, Roni. No one else understands the experience of my life as deeply as she does. Her support, friendship, and sisterhood gives me purpose. She has helped me grow to be more vulnerable, adventurous, and free-spirited. Not everyone is gifted with the opportunity to have a best friend that is also related to them. I am and for that, I am grateful.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think it might help people?
Yes! My practice is expanding to include more holistic mental health therapies. My drive is to provide healing for the mind, body, and soul. I recently started providing Ketamine-Assisted Psychotherapy. This type of psychedelic treatment uncovers a deeper unconscious aimed at speeding up the process of gaining insight and a new perspective on life. This helps others change their worldview and has been proven to effectively treat depression and PTSD. I’m so excited to now offer it to the public!
Ok, thank you for sharing your inspired life. Let’s now talk about stress. How would you define stress?
Stress is such a broad term and can have a multitude of interpretations. I would define stress as the overdrive of a person’s nervous system. This overdrive can look different for everyone. Some people present as anxious and some shut down. Either way, stress is the physical and emotional response to overwhelm.
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?
Maslow’s Hierarchy is a concept that ranks the prioritization of needs on a pyramid. At the bottom are our most basic needs — food, shelter, and sleep. Next are safety needs which include physical and emotional safety. As we achieve these needs we move into attempting to achieve love and belonging, esteem, and eventually self-actualization.
As Westerners are typically privileged with having their physiological and safety needs met for them, the effort then begins for belonging and esteem. Societal and familial standards influence what achieving these steps may look like which leads everyone to different renditions of success. It’s my interpretation that chronic stress lies in the constant pressure to meet the goals of the stage of life we’re in.
What are some of the physical manifestations of being under a lot of stress? How does the human body react to stress?
As a trauma therapist, I’m obsessed with the book The Body Keeps the Score by Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk, MD. This text references both the physiological and emotional impact of extreme stress in the form of trauma. While not everyone has experienced trauma, stress on a lesser scale takes similar forms.
Physiologically it has been studied that stress can alter our bodies on a biological level. Chronic stress can lead to alterations in DNA, brain chemistry, immune system functioning, and more. Referencing Dr. Van Der Kolk’s book, stress can also be stored in the body and cause physical manifestations of illness and chronic pain. Emotionally, a concept called the diathesis-stress model hypothesizes that a major stressor can kickstart a dormant mental health concern.
Either way, stress was never supposed to be a long-term ramification of everyday life. However because it is for so many, it’s greatly affecting the mental and physical health of our world.
Is stress necessarily a bad thing? Can stress ever be good for us?
Stress itself is not inherently a bad thing. Stress was evolutionarily necessary to survive. However, chronic stress is harmful. Our bodies have been designed to handle the small amount of stress needed to survive conditions our ancestors had to endure — hunting, gathering, and a nomadic lifestyle.
However, the human race has yet to revolutionize our body functioning in a way where chronic stress is not harmful to our systems. Stress is good for protecting us from danger when needed. Chronic stress is being in fight or flight mode constantly. You can only imagine why that’s destructive to our system.
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?
A short-term stressful situation could be defined as a stressful, non-repeating episode for a limited amount of time. Examples include stress from a test, a scare, or a time-limited projects. These are stressors that are not ongoing and provide a solution of non-stress at the end.
Ongoing stressors include abuse, poverty, anxiety, and poor physical and mental health. These are stressors that are continuous and do not have a simple solution. Long-term, constant states of stress have consequences on our physical and mental health. Chronic health and mental health conditions are either exacerbated or created due to long-term stress.
Is it even possible to eliminate stress?
I don’t think it would be healthy if we eliminated all stress from our lives. Stress is useful in the ways that it keeps us safe and motivated to achieve our goals. It means we care about ourselves in some way. I always note that too much of anything, whether that be stress or apathy, is never healthy. I do think that we should try every possibility to limit our long-term exposure to stress due to the implications I’ve talked about. However, I do not think eliminating stress is entirely possible. I almost feel like it is a necessary part of being human. There are differences, nevertheless, in the way that we react to stress that make the difference.
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.
Stress is a global health issue. Due to the design of society currently, people are more stressed than I think we’ve ever been. While there is more awareness and conversation aiding people in detecting it, I believe that societal structures like capitalism contribute to unhealthy levels of stress. As stated before, I don’t feel we can fully eliminate stress, but I do believe we need to learn how to cope with and handle it in healthier ways. I’m sure that the multitude of crises in our country is due to stress have some interrelation with not being able to cope with life stressors. Most notably, the opioid epidemic.
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?
I believe that job stress is a major source of stress for several reasons. Some people’s jobs (nurses, police, teachers) are inherently more stress-inducing due to the nature of their roles. Others are more stressful due to the emphasis they place on success. Overall, most people feel job stress because of the outdated systemic policies that are in place in the US that does not support the working class.
If we focus on the parts we can control, then we can work to feel peace even with a stressful job. Personally, I’ve placed more emphasis on my feelings around my work rather than the outcomes. Being a therapist is an inherently stressful job, but I’ve chosen to focus on the difference I make instead of the hardships I may face. I also emphasize a work-life balance in all ways I can to ensure that my job is not the only facet of my life. As far as sentiments of work ‘going well,’ success goals that focus on money, output, and productivity are more likely to cause stress and non-fulfillment. This is because these goals are vague and don’t always stop when reached.
Stress, outside of not having basic needs met, can be managed even with inherently stressful jobs. By paying attention to how our work makes us feel and the balance we want between work and life, I suppose people would be more likely to achieve a sense of peace. While we can’t rapidly change structural workplace issues, we can shift how we cope and feel about them. Stress will always be present if a person sets the bar for themselves higher and higher. This doesn’t mean you have to eliminate your work goals, but shifting priorities of making peace more important than success can drastically change how you feel. Make your health worth more than your job and success. Also, being able to set realistic, very specific goals can aid in having structure, and thus less stress, in knowing how to achieve a goal. For example, having a goal of “I want to be rich” is going to cause much more stress than a person who sets the goal of “I want to receive a 5% raise by the end of 2023.”
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.
Here are five strategies to manage stress at work:
1. Daily mindfulness practice — Numerous studies prove the benefits of daily mindfulness practices. Mindfulness is the concept of nonjudgmental awareness. It’s about focusing on the present moment exactly as it is. Mindfulness is not just meditation — there’s no expectation of a blank mind or stillness. However, it’s about giving yourself moments throughout the day to be fully present. Some examples are mindful eating, spending time in nature, or visualizations. The key is 100% awareness of the present.
2. Healthy habits — Building and maintaining healthy habits is at the foundation of being able to cope with stress. Have you ever tried to handle a stressful task while being extremely tired or hungry? It doesn’t always go well. When we create habits of good sleep, consistent exercise, and proper nutrition, we set ourselves up for success in being able to have room to cope with stress. Our bodies and mind need that foundation to have the capacity to deal with daily life.
3. Boundaries — We all know this word, but it can be challenging to implement them. Having boundaries in the workplace makes all the difference in creating a work-life balance. Some examples are turning off emails or your work phone after hours. It could be using all of your PTO days of the year rather than saving them. Not working through your lunch break. It looks like turning down assignments or saying ‘no’ to tasks when your plate is full. Implementing, but also maintaining, boundaries are key to not overwhelming yourself. Boundaries also set you up for better success because they give you the mental space to deal with work crises as they come.
4. Living true to your values — If you’re working in a job that you hate, it can be harder to find the daily stress worth it. Do you feel like your job aligns with your values, or what you find most important in life? If not, do you feel like your job at least sets you up to explore your values outside of work? If you’re having trouble knowing what makes you feel fulfilled, do a values assessment by ranking the top 5 most important things you must have in your life (success, family, knowledge, etc.). Having a job that makes you feel fulfilled or sets you up to be fulfilled can make us more resilient to the stress it may cause.
5. Organization — It seems simple, but it’s not for everyone. If your disorganization is causing you to forget assignments, miss deadlines, and mismanage your time, work will be stressful. Practice organizing your to-do list, creating routines at work, or having a calendar with reminders. Being able to keep track of your tasks will allow your brain to free up space for other things and keep it from being in too many places at once.
Do you have any favorite books, podcasts, or resources that have inspired you to live with more joy in life?
Journaling is so important to me! I think it’s a great way to reflect, be present (#1 strategy!), and process the stressors of daily life. It helps me create happiness because it enables me to let go of daily life hurdles. It also forces me to understand myself and what does make me feel joy. Here’s a popular journal from Amazon that I use! https://www.amazon.com/Intelligent-Change-Mindfulness-Reflection-Affirmations/dp/0991846206
I would also recommend the Insight Timer app (https://insighttimer.com) for free guided meditations and music to help with creating a practice of mindfulness. I’m an avid reader, so the books I’d recommend is Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life: The New Acceptance and Commitment Therapy by Steven C. Hayes for working on life acceptance (https://www.amazon.com/Get-Your-Mind-Into-Life/dp/1572244259) and Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle by Emily Nagoski, PhD and Amelia Nagasaki, DMA for work-related stress (https://www.amazon.com/Burnout-Secret-Unlocking-Stress-Cycle/dp/1984818325).
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, good question! I feel passionate about mental health so I would start a movement that would create accessible mental health treatment for all! It’s unfortunate that mental health is not considered as important as physical health. There continues to be such a stigma around asking for help. However, we all have a brain so we all have mental health! I’d recommend everyone to utilize therapy — even if it’s just to diversify their support network.
What is the best way for our readers to continue to follow your work online?
I can be found through my website, www.feelingsforwardwellness.com. I can also be found on Instagram — @counselingkelly and Facebook — Kelly Skovron, LCSW, RYT. If you’d like to work with me I am still accepting new clients from NJ and NY! Book a free consultation through my website to chat about your needs with me here.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent on this. We wish you only continued success.
Thank you so much for the opportunity!