How to Beat Stress and Find Success: 4 Powerful Lessons From Women in Health
This is not some glib article on easy tips for entrepreneurs to de-stress. We are in the midst of a collective mental health crisis, and depression and anxiety levels are surging.
From a biological and hormonal standpoint — heightened by society’s gender disparities — women are already nearly twice as likely as men to experience depression and anxiety. The gender imbalance is only exacerbated by the stark escalation in health and financial woes.
If you’re struggling, you are definitely not alone, and there is no shame in talking to your doctor and asking for help. No amount of tips and tricks should take the place of proper therapy or medication.
That said, if you’re an entrepreneur looking for some advice for coping with stress and taking care of your mental health, here are four lessons in stress relief from four powerful women in the health and wellness industry.
1. Embrace the power of transition
Kathryn Fantauzzi, co-founder and CEO of Apollo Neuroscience, knows a little something about stress. And not just because her company created the first wearable device scientifically proven to improve the body's resiliency to stress.
Fantauzzi’s “Apollo” device, which emits gentle vibrations that replicate heart rate, breathing rate and brain wave patterns that naturally occur in the body when it feels safe, was launched in January 2020, just in time for the start of the pandemic.
Fantauzzi quickly realized how easy it would be to fall prey to the Zoom slog that has drained and overwhelmed so many entrepreneurs who are now working from home. Without the day-to-day office routine (chatting with coworkers, taking a coffee break, walking to buy your lunch), it’s tempting to avoid transitions altogether.
If you're not going to be having in-person meetings, why get up and brush your teeth when you can sleep in until a minute before your first Zoom meeting? Why get up to walk your dog when she’s snuggling in bed with you as you work? Before long, you’ve spent the entire day in one place and are most likely in a state of low-energy and high-anxiety.
To reduce stress and boost energy, Fantauzzi intentionally schedules transitions into her day — lunch with her husband, time to stretch her legs — because, she says, “On any given day, I may go from pouring over financials, straight into a deep dive with engineering and then off to a press call — and I need to be fresh and in the right mindset for each.”
Fantauzzi suggests physically typing out specific breaks into your daily calendar to force you to make time to recharge. Sometimes all it takes is a five-minute walk and some fresh air to help you de-stress and transition into your next work task — so schedule both.
2. Break up with perfection, and befriend transparency
Brianna Cardenas, physician’s assistant, professor and creator of Healed and Empowered, a virtual pain management clinic, says that letting go of perfectionism — and being really vulnerable about stating your needs and limitations — is one of the best ways to zap away stress.
Cardenas lives with chronic illnesses, including Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a connective tissue disorder. As a disabled woman working with patients, she used to feel the need to overcompensate for her chronic illness — to go above and beyond in order to “prove” to her patients and colleagues that she was up to par. This often meant hiding her pain and trying to do more than was required of her, to the detriment of her health.
When Cardenas finally said “no more” to putting the perceived needs of others above her own, she not only felt her stress levels decline; she also discovered her true passion in life: teaching.
Cardenas says that self-worth should not be equated with productivity. She stopped working in a clinic when it became too hard on her body, and now teaches physicians assistants how to be more compassionate to people like herself, who live with chronic illness.
Her teaching style is all about transparency. With her students, Cardenas doesn’t hide a single part of who she is. If she’s having a bad pain day, she doesn’t try to hide it or push past it. She tells her students about her pain for two reasons: She wants to normalize disability, and she has found that being open about what she’s going through — and clearly stating her needs — has monumentally reduced her stress.
If you’re an entrepreneur who also happens to be a recovering perfectionist, take Cardenas’ advice to heart, as there is something very powerful about taking off your armor and being fully, unabashedly yourself. As Cardenas tells her students, there is strength in saying, “I don’t know.” The most compelling personal brands are likable because they’re human — flaws, quirks et al.
3. Find new ways to meaningfully connect
Jen Scott, communications director of Lazarus Naturals, a third-party tested CBD company for humans and pets, knows that beating stress is easier said than done. She learned this firsthand when she adopted Ramzi, a dog with severe trauma-induced separation anxiety. When Ramzi ran away twice by digging a hole under her fence, Scott’s vet recommended behavior modification therapy. But, as Scott would soon learn, modifying behavior without treating the root cause of anxiety just made Ramzi more stressed out.
That’s why she’s quick to point out that besides a joke answer of day drinking (which she does not condone or recommend!), there’s not always a simple solution for solving work stress. Ramzi ended up needing anti-anxiety medication — later replaced by CBD — in order to be calm enough to focus on behavior modification, so Scott knows that tips like grounding work and meditation (though personally helpful for her) may not be enough of a coping mechanism for everyone.
Still, her best advice is to find joy and connection. Rather than getting bogged down by seemingly endless Zoom meetings, she sees them as opportunities to form life-long connections.
Besides her sweet fur baby, Scott lives alone. As an extrovert, Scott could easily view working from home, without regular in-person interaction, as a stressor. Instead, she makes a concerted effort to make each Zoom meeting meaningful. She smiles, stays in the moment and doesn’t rush through interactions as she would in a busy office environment.
If you’re an entrepreneur or small business owner suffering from digital fatigue, why not take Scott’s advice and make Zoom meetings work for you? Instead of immediately talking about schedules and workflow, ask your coworker what show she’s watching to decompress after work. Take a minute to turn your laptop around and show her your sleeping fur baby. Forming a meaningful connection — even from a distance — is scientifically proven to reduce stress.
4. Prioritize non-busy time
Nija Clark, co-creator of The VGN Way, a gluten-free and vegan culinary community, is on a mission to take the stress out of healthy eating. With an emphasis on making veganism more approachable to the Black community, Clark’s goal is to show that plant-based eating does not have to be expensive, time-consuming or elitist.
Clark’s approach to vegan baking and cooking mirrors her approach to business and life — making something more complicated or time-consuming does not automatically make it better.
Clark knows that the moment and luxury of all-day sourdough bread baking has probably passed. And that’s okay. She says there’s nothing wrong with all-day baking and cooking marathons — or the sense of accomplishment that comes from successfully making a complicated recipe — but that making vegan food approachable also means making it easy.
Women have a tendency to give themselves brownie points for going above and beyond. It’s no wonder — even as children — girls are praised for overwork and encouraged to pursue extra credit, while boys are praised for their ability to excel with less effort. To reduce stress, Clark recommends letting go of the “more is better” approach and focusing instead on prioritizing “non-busy” time. That means that once you accomplish a task, check it off your to-do list and take a break.
Clark says she will set a timer for 30 minutes to allow herself to watch funny YouTube videos, read a book, have some tea — whatever she feels she needs in the moment to decompress. That way, she avoids burnout — and the compulsion to keep working just for work’s sake.