August 31, 2017 / Articles We Like / Stress / Work-Life Integration

On “Current Events Stressing You Out? Do This for a Saner, More Focused Workday”

Keeping up with the current events this past week – natural disasters, nuclear missile threats, protests and riots – is enough to put anyone on edge and induce low work performance and burnout. Whether it’s political turmoil or a reorganization at your company, employees who are concerned about their future are likely to be distracted and unproductive.

In his recent Fast Company article, “Current Events Stressing You Out? Do This For A Saner, More Focused Workday,” Art Markman shares some practical tips to help us keep calm, and stay focused and productive during uncertain times.

What do you think of his recommendations?

July 28, 2017 / Articles We Like / Stress / Work-Life Integration

On “How to Deal with a Boss Who Stresses You Out”

We’ve all had issues with a toxic boss at one point or another, but consistently dealing with a bad leader can make going to work each morning a stressful task.

In his recent Harvard Business Review article, “How to Deal with a Boss Who Stresses You Out,” Dr. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic shares some practical coping strategies for managing your boss’s dark side. Ultimately, even Dr. Chamorro agrees that the only sure way to stay on the good side of a volatile boss is by being an indispensable and valuable resource.

What do you think of his recommendations?

April 11, 2017 / Articles We Like / Stress / Work-Life Integration

On “Balancing Parenting and Work Stress: A Guide”

Being a working parent is tough. The stress of trying to achieve a balance between career and children can really take a toll on your personal and professional life. If you could ask hundreds of high-performing working parents for advice, what do you think they would say?

In her recent Harvard Business Review article, “Balancing Parenting and Work Stress: A Guide,” author Daisy Wademan Dowling gathered this advice to address some of the biggest working-parent problems. In her article, Wademan Dowling has come up with a list of specific actions that she believes “will work for you, your people, and your organization.”

What do you think of Daisy’s advice?

April 1, 2017 / Stress / Work-Life Integration / Wise Talk

WiseTalk Summary on Work Without Stress

­­­On March 24, Sue Bethanis hosted Dr. Derek Roger, founder of the Stress Research Unit at the University of York and director of the Training Consultancy Work Skills Center. His groundbreaking research at the University of York in England has made him one of the world’s leading experts on resilience and stress management. Derek is a British Psychological Society chartered psychologist and is a fellow of the international Stress Management Association. He’s authored more than 100 articles in the scientific press and is the co-author of this month’s leadership resource Work without Stress: Building a Resilient Mindset for Lasting Success.

Favorite Quote: “Resilience is the ability to negotiate the rapids of life without becoming stressed.”


According to Roger, “People say – oh a bit of stress is good for you. No, it’s not. No stress is ever good for you. What is very useful is pressure. And we make this distinction because it’s really important. Pressure is just a demand to perform. That’s all. Pressure will only become stress if you go on ruminating about it. That’s what rumination is. That’s when pressure is turned into stress.”  We are not genetically programmed to ruminate. It’s a habit we have developed and cultivated over time. According to Roger, there is a four step process to overcoming stress. 

Waking Up – We have a choice to not ruminate. Rumination is primarily a habit and it can be changed. It’s nurture, not nature. It’s not hardwired and you can change it. Roger says, “When the rumination bubbles up in the mind there is a point at which you can choose either to go on entertaining those what if only thoughts or not. And it is a choice that you make. Now the difficulty with that is that you do have to be awake to be able to make that choice.”

Roger believes that one of the problems with mindfulness is that people are using it as a means to an end. People want to be mindful so they can be happy.

As far as rumination is concerned you don’t need it in your life at all and it very plainly is a choice. Once you’ve “woken up” you can let go of the negative emotion and come back into the present.

Controlling Attention – Roger believes that when you ruminate, your attention gets caught in an unproductive loop, like a hamster on a wheel. You need to redirect yourself to areas in which you can take useful action.  An exercise that Roger uses with his executives is to draw a circle on a page, and write down all of the things you can control or influence inside it and all of things you cannot outside if it. Remind yourself that you can care about externalities — your work, your team, your family — without worrying about them.

Becoming Detached – Ruminators tend to catastrophize, but resilient leaders keep things in perspective for themselves and their teams. According to Roger, there are three techniques to try:

  • Contrasting: Comparing a past stress to the current one, i.e., a major illness versus a missed sale
  • Questioning: Asking yourself “How much will this matter in three years’ time?” and “What’s the worst that could happen?” and “How would I survive it?”
  • Reframing: Looking at your challenge from a new angle: “What’s an opportunity in this situation I haven’t yet seen?” or even “What’s funny about this situation?”

Letting Go – The final step is often the hardest. If it was easy to let it go, we would have done it already. Roger has three techniques that help:

  • The first is acceptance. Acknowledge that whether you like the situation or not, it is the way it is.
  • The second is learning the lesson. Your brain will review events until it feels you’ve gained something from them, so ask yourself, “What have I learned from this experience?”
  • The third is action. Sometimes the real solution is not to relax, but to do something about your situation. Ask yourself, “What action is required here?

Biological Responses to Pressure – Worrying is the same as rumination. You can use them interchangeably. Worrying interferes with our ability to processing information. There is an arousal process involving adrenaline and cortisol that is perfectly natural. These hormones are facilitating your awakening.  According to Roger, if you’re just sitting and dozing and suddenly there’s a noise behind you and you feel that slight shift in your body – that’s because of adrenaline. The adrenaline level has increased and that’s not a problem. It alerts you. it’s a readiness process. The problem is when it’s sustained.

There is a clear difference between acute stress and chronic stress. Much of the negative effects come from what’s called chronic stress. According to Roger, acute stress isn’t stressing at all, it is just pressure.

On Resilience – The thing about resilient people is that they don’t catastrophize. They don’t ruminate and they are able to keep a detached perspective. And what that means when they don’t catastrophize so they don’t catastrophize about what’s round the corner.

What we found most interesting:

Our lives are about demand because there is always something that needs to be done. That’s the simplest way to think about it. The pressure is constant but that isn’t a problem. Pressure is just a demand to perform. The difference is when you make the choice to hold onto the “negative stuff” and ruminate about it.

To learn more about Derek Roger, listen to the WiseTalk recording.

March 1, 2017 / Uncategorized

WiseTalk Summary on Fear of Difference

On February 22, Sue Bethanis hosted Janet Crawford, Janet Crawford, CEO of Cascadance, Inc. and co-author of Leadership Embodiment. As a scientist and pioneer in the application of social neuroscience to corporate culture, Janet has two decades of experience working Fortune 500 companies with her client organizations spanning the who’s who of Silicon Valley. A scientist and pioneer in the application of social neuroscience to corporate culture, Janet helps companies uncover and address the hidden biological roots of inequity.

Favorite Quote: 

“You really cannot think your way out of lack of sleep. Lack of sleep changes the brain and changes the way the brain is equipped to respond. Lack of sleep activates the amygdala to a very significant degree. So we know that you can’t think your way out of amygdala activation, but you can sleep your way out of it.”


What is going on in our brain when we experience fear?

Your brain is always assessing how safe am I versus how threatened am I. Janet says “one of the basic principles about the brain is that very little of what we do is the result of any kind of conscious decision. They are automatic responses because we have a pre-installed instinct that’s been fine-tuned and honed over millions of years of evolution. “

The prefrontal area in the brain is where most of our more sophisticated nuanced intellectual thinking takes place. We have these very basic automatic instinctual parts of the brain, and the brain tries to figure out how much threat there is in the environment. Am I being overstimulated? Is there a clear and present danger to me? The brain then calculates if it is much better off behaving in an instinctual unconscious way than trying to think through the situation. Conscious thought is incredibly slow, and we can’t go through this very cumbersome process of responding to the world when we’re in a clear and present danger.

On fear of difference:

We often think of this in terms of race and really obvious differences. But according to Janet, “we can fear somebody who has a different worldview from ours, who has a different religion from ours, who has a different set of beliefs from ours, even a different way of interacting with the world. Introverts and extroverts can sometimes be grouped. So any form of difference, but it’s a difference that we don’t understand and feel comfortable with, and that’s a really important differentiator.”

How we respond to fear:

 We typically feel a sense of nervousness, inability to focus well, inability to sleep well, irritability, a kind of rapid response of the classic fight-flight and freeze. But we don’t typically run away from things, or engage in fist fights, or totally clam up and freeze. But it can look like things like just shutting down around certain kinds of conversations, or saying snarky things to people or posting things on social media in a very erratic way. So we tend not to be good filters when we’re living in fear and we also lose the ability to be discerning and focused.

  • Freezing Up: This idea that somebody says something to you and you react so strongly, or you’re so strongly caught off guard that you don’t defend your boundaries, or you don’t say something or maybe what you say is unintelligible, or in one way or another you just lose your ability to respond in a way that represents you well or to respond at all. So a lot of people just shut down and they don’t say anything. And then later we’ll be quite angry at themselves. I didn’t say anything to this person when clearly it deserved a response. So that’s the shutting down fear response. And we can shut down around generalized anxiety to just kind of clam.
  • Fight Response: Another acute response would be saying something really inappropriate, or getting into a kind of a fight mode with somebody where we might use language that we wouldn’t normally feel proud of ourselves for using, or become combative with somebody or start to overtly compete with them in a way that doesn’t really represent our long-term interests.
  • Avoidance: We can also do things like avoid people just avoid answering their calls, avoid responding to them altogether which is, in essence, a little bit of a flight response, or we can just leave a meeting or cut something short because we feel overwhelmed.

On the Amygdala Hijack:

The amygdala are two almond-shaped structures in the brain. And what they do really is they measure the level of stimulation in the environment. According to Janet, “If the amygdalae sense that there is enough threat in the environment it triggers what’s called an “amygdala hijack”. Which is that the brain pretty much cuts off resources to the prefrontal cortex which is the part of the brain that does this nuanced thinking, can respond in a measured thoughtful sort of way, and reroute to your behavioral choices to the lower part of the brain which is more linked to these kinds of automatic and really brusque or abrupt kinds of responses to this fight-flight-freeze type behavior.”

When you get threatened you start to become less thoughtful, less resourceful. And if that threat is sudden or you just get too much built up the threat of stimulus in the environment the brain is going to just cut off your access to those higher thinking capabilities and send you into these lower responses. And when that happens in a kind of acute situation it’s called an amygdala hijack and you’re in that moment of hijack. You can’t do that much about it right in that moment because the part of the brain that you need in order to do something about it has had its resources cut off.

How to stay in control of our bodies and our minds:

Janet says, “Our brain evolutionarily is still operating primarily on a level of the African savannah instinctually not on the level of New York City. So there’s a lot that happens in our lives on a daily basis that our brains are not well equipped to handle.”

The basics are things like getting enough sleep (seven to nine hours a night), good nutrition, adequate hydration, time in sunlight, social time with friends and family, meditation, and exercise. All of those things that we just intuitively know make us feel better also are critically important to our brain functioning well.

Any time that we tell ourselves to turn off the distractions, turn off the screens, turn off the background noise, then go sit and be still and focus on one thing whether it’s our breath, or a mantra, or a prayer, that has a huge benefit to the brain in terms of creating a background sense of calmness. Think about where you can turn off the stimulus.

What we found most interesting:

A lot of people have this intuitive sense that it’s really good to connect with people who are in the opposing camp, but then they go into that conversation really unclear on what they hope to accomplish. In the back of their mind what they hope to accomplish is vindication or the other person to acknowledge that they’re right – those things are not likely to happen. What is likely to happen is that the other person is going to say something that you vehemently disagree with, and you’re going to go into an amygdala hijack.

Janet believes, “There is no shame in saying I’m not ready to have this conversation because I think it’s more important to have the conversation in a productive way than it is to just have the conversation. Having a conversation in a negative way can actually do more damage overall to the cause than not having it at all.”

What do you hope to accomplish with the conversation?  Prioritize things like:

  • I hope to accomplish a sense of connection with this other person.
  • I hope to find a place where we have commonality.
  • I hope that they walk away with a sense of me as a human being that they respect.

According to Janet we should, “Take a moment out before you have that conversation to ground and center yourself and think about the larger perspective on life and why this matters to you. While you can’t really pull yourself out of the amygdala hijack when you’re in the middle of one you can prevent one as you’re going into it.”

To learn more about Janet Crawford’s work, listen to the WiseTalk recording.

February 5, 2017 / Stress / Work-Life Integration / Wise Talk

WiseTalk Summary on the Upside of Stress

On January 26, 2017, Sue Bethanis hosted clinical psychologist and cognitive neuroscientist Professor Ian Robertson. Dr. Robertson is an expert at applying the latest psychological and neuroscience research to contemporary political, health, social, economic and business affairs in a very accessible manner. Professor Robertson discussed his new book, The Stress Test: How Pressure Can Make You Stronger and Sharper, a revelatory study of how and why we react to pressure in the way we do, with real practical benefits to how we live.

Favorite Quote:

“In order to control your anxiety you have to believe that you can.”

Robertson says in order to gain control of your emotional state, thinking patterns and behavior there is a fundamental prerequisite that must exist before you can exercise that control – you need to believe that it is possible.


Stress plays a huge part in leaders’ lives and can be both a hindrance and motivator. When your perception of a demanding situation exceeds your ability to cope with that demand – you feel anxious. Anxiety is the activation of the autonomic nervous system which prepares us for fight or flight. This is meant to prepare us to deal with short term danger or opportunity and also gives us the ability to focus.

Too much stress can be debilitating. A moderate amount is extremely good for the mind. Robertson explains that stress causes the brain to secrete a chemical called noradrenaline. “The brain doesn’t perform at its best with too little or too much of this chemical. There’s a sweet spot in the middle where if you have just the right amount, the goldilocks zone of noradrenaline, that acts like the best brain-tuner.”

Anxious responses are habits that we learn. To overcome a habit you need to engage in repetition in order to reshape and gradually replace your old habit with a new habit. Most of us are impatient and easily get demoralized or discouraged. Often, taking a medication reduces your belief in your own ability to control these habits and sabotage the hard work you need to do in order to change an emotional habit. People have a desire for a fast fix.

Robertson says that here is evidence that young adults that have little to no adversity in their lives end up becoming more emotionally vulnerable than those with moderate levels of adversity. “Paradoxically, there is a sweet spot of stress that people need to experience in their lives for them to achieve emotional resilience when they are adults. The overprotection of young people and having a slightly coddle existence means that they are going to be more emotionally vulnerable in the real world of work and all the stresses that go with it.” They experience symptoms of arousal because they have never really experience failure or threat.

Unlike animals that live in the moment, humans can torture themselves with past memories and anticipation of future ones. We can expand this indefinitely and make ourselves anxious long beyond the period of acute stress and make it become chronic.

According to Robertson, there are distinct techniques we can learn in order to reframe our approach to stress. “We can change the chemistry of the brain just as much as any antidepressant or anti-anxiety drug can, but we have to learn the habits to do that,” he says. Genes cannot be changed by environment or experience but the functioning of genes can. “We have the ability to shape our mental destiny.”

  • Breathe. Take five long, low breaths in and out. Temporarily apply a routine that you have practiced and anticipated in advance can change the chemistry of your brain and help you build confidence.
  • Set goals. Setting goals for ourselves also helps to change the chemistry of our brain. He says, “It could be as seemingly small as getting out of the house and walking 200 yards down the street — something that challenges you to a degree and gives you a feeling of accomplishment to have completed.” The good feeling you get when you achieve a goal increases the dopamine in our brain and part of the reward network. Increased dopamine is a natural antidepressant and anti-anxiety drug. This is where behavior is very important. If you are feeling anxious setting small goals for yourself can stretch you. Achieving these goals will allow your brain to create this natural anti-anxiety compound.
  • Squeeze your hand. According to Robertson, “One way to give the left frontal part of your brain a boost is to squeeze your right hand for 45 seconds, release it for 15.”
  • Visualize it.  Say the words “I feel excited.” Our mind only knows what emotion we are having by context. So, we can trick our mind to be excited instead of anger or upset. “Practice an imagined situation so when you actually come to that, you won’t have to try to remember how to handle it”, says Robertson. It will become a habit.
  • Posture. You can also change your posture out of the defensive, aggressive, or defeated posture into a calm and erect posture. Robertson believes that people who adopt a power pose actually feel more in charge or confident. Posture affects our psychological state and the functioning of our brain.

What we found most interesting:

“One of the greatest motivations that humans have is to feel in control,” says Robertson. Feeling out of control is hugely anxiety provoking and particularly so for some people more than others. If we can predict what is going to happen even if what is going to happen is no good you can engage in this amazing capacity of the human brain to plan and prepare. “Most people can adjust to most situations. The change is not comfortable, but you can get there.” The trouble with uncertainty is you can’t engage in mental preparation and planning. This creates a sense of being out of control. Being out of control is an extreme example of helplessness where you don’t believe there is anything you can do to change the outcome, and that leads to passivity. According to Dr. Robertson, “If I can predict something that is going to happen in my mind I can enact certain scenarios and anticipate certain outcomes (hopefully success). Once you stop taking positive actions it pushes your brain into a flight response. Once it is in that mode it is difficult for it to activate the reward and anticipation mode.”

To learn more about Dr. Robertson and his thoughts on shaping your brain’s response to pressure, listen to the WiseTalk recording.

February 8, 2014 / Stress / Work-Life Integration

Strength During Stress

Most executives have some periods of intense, unrelenting stress.  This can happen for example during a time the team is rapidly growing in numbers; during a mission-critical project where the stakes are very high; or during a time of crisis such as a major HR or legal issue.

At such times it’s a good idea to get back to basics, and remember that your body and brain are the only real tools you have for success.  These simple rules will help you to function at your best when times get tough:

  1. Exercise, even if it’s just “walking meetings.”
  2. Eat healthy, even if someone else has to get your food.
  3. Buy a water bottle you really like.
  4. Improve your sleep and break-taking hygiene.

For more on these 4 simple rules, read the full blog post here.

July 9, 2013 / Ask Mariposa / Stress / Work-Life Integration

Ask Mariposa – 6 Keys to Effective Delegation

James asks:  I am working long hours and am starting to feel burnt out. My manager says I am a high performing manager but I should be delegating more. So, I did.  Things are not getting done right or in a timely fashion.  I’m worried this will affect my own performance. What’s the secret to delegating effectively so as not to diminish results?

Barbara Baill, Executive Leadership Coach responds:

Effective delegation is a challenge for many high performers who are responsible for managing others.  Delegation is not a simple of task of tossing an assignment to one of your people on the way to a meeting and waiting for the final product. It does take time and attention initially, but, over time, you will find your employees growing in their capabilities and feeling more challenged and empowered. Eventually, the investment will pay off for all.  Here are some key elements of effective delegation:

  1.  Choose the right person who has the skill sets for the task. Discuss with the person why s/he has been selected for the assignment.
  2. Articulate the assignment carefully any specific timelines, requirements, performance standards, checkpoints and other expectations. If you have any sample outcomes (reports, slideset, etc) from previous projects, share them. Point the delegatee to other resources that can be helpful.
  3. Solicit questions, comments and suggestions from the delegatee. Gain commitment to take on the challenge.  Ask what support he/she will need from you and others.
  4. Empower the individual by informing others that the delegatee is leading the effort.
  5. Establish and conduct regular check-ins and monitor project progress. Ensure the individual knows how much communication you need to keep you well informed and in what particular circumstance immediate contact is required. Be encouraging and offer feedback and support but don’t take back the project.
  6. Ensure the person is recognized for successful completion of the work. (Don’t inadvertently take the credit – common mistake.)

These steps can help you become a master at delegating which will help you and your people continue to grow and will magnify the output of your entire team.

July 3, 2013 / Ask Mariposa / Stress / Work-Life Integration

Ask Mariposa: One Powerful Way to Reduce Stress at Work

Stuart asks: I am feeling increasingly unhappy at my job. My stress level is so high that it is affecting me physically and mentally. How do I manage my stress without burning out?

Anne Loehr, Executive Leadership Coach responds:

“Bad stress” is an ever increasing problem at work and it is essential to find ways to reduce it. “Bad stress” causes us to worry, experience fear and feel anxious. Any form of stress that makes us perform below our potential is considered bad stress. Bad stress increases the cortisol levels in our blood, which can lead to many problems such as high blood pressure, early onset diabetes, heart problems and central obesity (bulging belly).

There are many ways to reduce bad stress at work. I’m going to discuss one way now, so I don’t stress you out with too much info! 🙂

More and more people are using email, text and instant messaging as their chief communication tools for daily work life. It’s instant, it’s easy, AND it creates lots of stress! Researchers have identified three major problems:

  1. This form of communication lacks cues like facial expression and tone of voice. That makes it difficult for recipients to decode the meaning. It is the poorest form of communication because it only uses words.
  2. The prospect of instantaneous communication creates an urgency that pressures online communicators to think and write quickly, which can lead to carelessness.
  3. Finally, the inability to develop personal rapport over online communications makes relationships fragile in the face of conflict. Online communication is great for confirming meetings, getting an address or sharing a short piece of data. Unfortunately it is used for a lot of other communications which should be done in person.

Here are some tips:

Never argue by email. Save discussions, especially on controversial topics, for when more direct forms of communication are possible. Pick up the phone and/or set a time to discuss issues.

Keep it short. We’re talking less than 50 words. We have about 15 seconds of attention span to offer any incoming email. If you can’t get the message across in that time, either attach a separate document with all the details, or pick up the phone for the discussion. Or use the email to set the time for the discussion.

If you want to lower your stress levels, limit your email communications and switch to phone and face to face conversations for better results. It is more meaningful, more effective, and can generate new relationships in an already tense world.