In 2008, Erika De La Cruz lost everything after the economy crashed. With nothing to lose, she decided to take that moment and focus her energy on creating a business to help others turn their side hustle into thriving businesses. She interviewed women from various careers and asked them to offer tangible, attainable advice on setting yourself up for career success. With those interviews, she released the best-selling book Passionistas: Tips, Tales and Tweetables From Women Pursuing Their Dreams. De La Cruz  went on to found Passion to Paycheck — a conference and talk show about overcoming the stress of work hurdles and taking your career to the next level. “The world is understanding that, in the same way gym memberships are maintained, we also need a hub for personal mental fitness and support,” De La Cruz tells Thrive. 

De La Cruz shares the steps she takes to reduce stress and prioritize her well-being. 

Thrive Global: What’s the first thing you do when you get out of bed? Do you have a time-saving trick for the morning? 

Erika De La Cruz: I say a few gratitude lines in my head. And yes — my trick is always consuming something positive prior to my routine. The same way I have a glass of water before coffee, I also meditate before beginning a workday. This will save you loads of time in the long run because you’re starting everything from a more optimistic space!

TG: What gives you energy? 

EDLC:  Doing things that I’m only a complete “f**k yes” about!

TG: What’s your secret life hack? 

EDLC: Delegate, delegate. Even if you don’t believe you have the “resources” to create a team around you, you do. There is someone who is perfect for the thing you don’t want to do or are having trouble with. Sometimes we trick ourselves into thinking that if we don’t like a certain area, no one does. But that’s wrong. Ask for help; don’t take everything on yourself.

TG: Tell us about your relationship with your phone. Does it sleep with you? 

EDLC: Absolutely not. I do not even set an alarm using it. Even though a lot of what I do lives online and on social media, I spend a pretty significant amount of time without my phone. My well-being is number one. I actually have two phones. I call my second one my “safe” phone, rarely do I share the number — and it never rings. It’s safe to use for meditation at night or to do work online and on social media in the daytime — without in-bound text messages or calls interrupting.

EG: How do you deal with email? 

EDLC: I have a better grasp on email now. I used to dread and delay getting into my inbox. I totally transformed that by taking the time to figure out what fears were underneath. I discovered that deep down, I felt incapable and inadequate, and I thought my responses would reflect that, so I procrastinated. I have completely transformed that now! I am  excited to open my email every day, but that came from a commitment to discovering and transforming my mental barriers. 

TG: When was the last time you felt burned out and why? 

EDLC: When I felt too much “movement” during my week. I typically save two days a week to be make-up free, in yoga pants, and without meetings so that I can work deeply and feel a sense of freedom and productivity. I love a great event, TV project, or partnership, but my “perfect” week balances that with days that are just for me. Recently, I found myself saying “yes” to things I should have left off the calendar and didn’t find that freedom for a good seven days straight. I was definitely burned out. Having the habit of scheduling these days allows me to trust myself to incorporate that time when it’s needed. That’s the good part of keeping promises to yourself; you start to trust you.

TG: Share a quote that you love and that gives you strength or peace. 

EDLC: “The answer to how, is yes.” —Peter Block.

TG: How do you prioritize when you have an overwhelming amount to do? 

EDLC: I prioritize my mental space. Developing Passion to Paycheck VIP was motivated by the idea that every person should have a check-in space to curate their state of mind.

TG: What advice would you give your younger self about reducing stress? 

EDLC: Time to relax is not time wasted. It is time to regenerate yourself for the greatness you are destined for. You fill yourself, so that you can give back. 

TG: What’s your personal warning sign that you’re depleted? 

EDLC: I actually get tingles. I can identify them so sharply when I’m in a state of fight or flight. I feel restless and like I need something — food, completing a task, watching a movie — to feel OK. 

TG: With so many distractions and interruptions coming at us throughout the day, what are your tips to stay focused? 

EDLC: Set timers — 45 minutes, even 20 minutes — to finish tasks. Little bits of time seem much less daunting than an entire eight hours to accomplish everything.

TG: When you notice you’re getting too stressed, what do you do to course correct? 

EDLC: I remind myself that it’s normal. I immediately do something that makes me feel better (usually play an audio or video pertaining to positivity) or if I’m too stressed to be present with that content, I’ll start by putting on a show that makes me feel good. If you find yourself too stressed to decompress with positive content, get yourself back to neutral by tuning into something that makes you feel good. From there, there’s a much better chance for a new, relaxing perspective and paradigm to form.

TG: What’s a surprising way you practice mindfulness? 

EDLC: I count and take steps. I count to five with my hand in front of my face and I take five steps while I count. My eyes see my hand, my ears hear the numbers, and I’m moving while watching my fingers in front of me. It’s almost impossible for outside thoughts to rush in or take over because most of my senses are occupied. 

TG: Tell us about a small change you have made in your life to improve your sleep. 

EDLC: A couple of years ago, I was diagnosed “two years’ sleep deficient.” This video I posted after the year of sleep rehabilitation has helped many eliminate the stigma of anxiety/panic or a state of restlessness that doesn’t allow them to fall asleep. You have to get that you’re not alone: I consumed content from other successful people experiencing “sleep deprivation” like Tim Ferris, and it helped me feel normal. It took me a year of commitment to understand what worked for me. I sustain it because the cost of a rest deficit is so great. My life was paused for a year after two years of not getting enough sleep, and the benefit to sticking with it far outweighed the repercussions. What works for some may not for you, but you’ll find the hacks and practices that do. Some that worked for me are:

  • Not having company, being on a phone, or watching any T.V. with too much action two hours before bedtime. 
  • Ear plugs, a night mask, and not setting alarms in the morning if your schedule allows for it. I found removing any “pressure” like a wake-up call in the morning, allowed me to effortlessly fall asleep, and, ironically, wake up really early! 

TG: Tell us about a small change you have made in your life to improve the way you connect with others

EDLC: Taking the time to make sure I felt good in my own life allowed me to be present with others in theirs. When you establish a sense of peace, you really get that you are no different or separate from anyone else. As you start interacting with everyone as if they are a friend, they begin showing up that way all around you. 

TG: Tell us about a small change you have made in your life to improve your focus. 

ECLD: I discovered that “no” is a complete sentence. I used to feel such pressure to show up and take every call and meeting because I was operating from a place of scarcity. Developing the power and confidence to say “yes” only to what was serving my highest good was a game changer. Establishing a reality  that saying “no” should be a constant habit and not a rare one allowed me to see that opportunities are abundant, and I’d rather do a few things well than 100 things OK. Sustaining it was easy once I figured out that it works, and I began getting ahead in areas I cared about most.

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  • Lindsey Benoit O'Connell

    Deputy Editor, Entertainment + Partnerships at Thrive

    Lindsey Benoit O'Connell is Thrive's Deputy Editor, Entertainment + Partnerships. Prior to working at Thrive, she was the Entertainment + Special Projects Director for Good Housekeeping, Women's Health, Cosmopolitan, Redbook and Woman's Day booking the talent for covers and inside features. O'Connell currently lives in Astoria, NY with her husband Brian and adorable son, Hunter Fitz.