Stressful lady in office

Female CEO offers advice on coping with stress

Kelly McNelis is the founder and CEO of Women for One.

Women spend a lot of time coping with stress.

As a wife, mom, businesswoman, author, and women’s advocate, I am a firm believer that you need to be willing to put your oxygen mask on before supporting others. I wasn’t always good at figuring out how to balance my needs with my responsibilities, so it’s been a work in progress. Certainly, there are times when it’s easier to be there for others, but I if I don’t make intentional time for myself, I end up getting burnt out very quickly.

When it comes to coping with stress, I practice a lot of self-care: going for walks with my dogs, getting a massage, spending time by the ocean, turning off my phone and shutting down my computer to read a book or just do something for ME. I’ve also become better at setting boundaries and taking power pauses. I make these priorities, and I encourage my family, friends, and employees to do the same.

How do you reduce stress at work?

Slowing down, taking baby steps, and focusing on one thing at a time is awesome. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for help! I know many people, especially women, who steamroll over their own needs because they’re trying to be everything to everyone. Don’t do that!

Let colleagues and managers know what they can do to help you bring your best self forward at work. And don’t forget to stop and breathe. This sounds so simple, but it’s one of the most profound actions I can think of. Even if it means merely taking ten deep breaths in a stressful moment, this simple act can be so clarifying and create space for new solutions to emerge. It gives us room to get real with what’s going on in the moment, so that we can actually ask (and give) ourselves what we need.

Is it possible to prevent stress at work?

I’m not sure we can ever prevent it. And honestly, sometimes those pressure-cooker moments can help me to generate my most creative ideas, so I try to welcome them for what they are. I believe it’s more about learning how to manage my stress. I do this when I create buffers of time between activities and appointments, because things always take longer than you might expect and it’s good to give yourself opportunities to recharge instead of always being “on.”

Creating boundaries around my “me” time is also important and has helped me communicate more effectively with everyone in my life. In fact, clear communication is a must. Transparency creates an environment of trust and respect, which makes it way easier to reduce stress!

Do you draw a hard line between work life and home life?

I don’t really compartmentalize all the different parts of my life. I might get a great creative idea for my organization in the middle of a dinner with a friend, or I might have a deep insight about my personal life when I’m meeting with a colleague. I think those boundaries people tend to make between their “9 to 5” and the rest of their life are somewhat artificial and unattainable.

For me, it’s more about not letting myself get to a point where I feel overwhelmed by any specific area of my life. When things start to feel joyless and draining, I prioritize those moments of recharging and rejuvenating myself, no matter what I’m dealing with.

How do you keep from becoming overwhelmed when coping with stress?

First, you have to become aware of the fact that you are stressed. This isn’t always straightforward. For some people, overwork and anxiety become more of a lifestyle than something to avoid or manage. This is why we need to get honest about the ramifications of what we are doing. After all, stress is one of the top contributing factors to disease and illness. We might be literally working ourselves to death!

I know that when I’m completely overwhelmed, I shut down, and this alerts me to the fact that I’ve spread myself too thin or placed too many expectations on myself. If this is the case for you, be compassionate, but also make sure that you step away from the situation. This can give you valuable perspective and the energy you need to get back on track. Usually, simply taking a power pause can help us to access our own inner resources and get really clear on what we need.

Also remember that you are not alone and that there are people who care about you. If you need to, turn to a trusted mentor, a therapist, a good friend who knows how to listen, or even a colleague or manager who might be able to alleviate the stress you’re experiencing.

What do you do to reduce stress in your free time?

I love alternating between stillness and activity. Sometimes I need to sweat it out and get out my emotions in a cathartic way—this might mean an hour of kickboxing or just venting about my emotions with a close friend. Other times, it might mean turning inward: journaling, meditating, taking a nap, or going for a walk alone. Most of all, it’s about checking in with myself to understand what’s really going on.

Many of us are disconnected from our bodies and emotions, so it’s just a matter of making it a habit to get curious and to ask, “How do I really feel?” instead of jumping into autopilot. When we check in with the most important person in our lives (US), it becomes so much easier to recognize what we need in any given moment, and to offer that to ourselves. Also, don’t be afraid to say “no.” I promise you, the world won’t end if you do!

How do you recognize when you are not managing stress as well as you think you are?

There are lots of warning signs. Certainly, getting to the point where I’m just operating on autopilot and can’t feel my body is a huge red flag. This happens a lot by numbing out with things like drinking too much, compulsive online shopping, binge-watching TV, overworking, etc. To me, that’s the nature of addiction: we shut down in the face of what’s really going on, and we use certain substances and activities to avoid our pain.

I also know I’m over-stressed when I get cranky and impatient with loved ones. This tends to happen when I’m overloaded with obligations and appointments, and when I don’t have a clear idea of how what I’m doing contributes to my larger vision and joy.

If the challenges in our lives feel like all pain and no gain, this is usually a sign that we need to build more sustainable habits that actually serve and inspire us. We can do this by moving toward what rejuvenates us, brings us effortless joy, and helps us feel that integral connection between our body, mind, and spirit.

 

Kelly McNelis is the founder of Women for One, a destination for women ready and willing to make life happen. She recently finished writing her first book, Your Messy Brilliance: 7 Tools for the Perfectly Imperfect Woman, due out in fall 2017 through Enrealment Press. 

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