Brand Book Bites from Stressaholic

–  the book:  Stressaholic:  5 Steps to Transform Your Relationship with Stress

–  the brain:  Heidi Hanna, trainer, coach, and speaker, and CEO and founder of SYNERGY, a consulting company that specializes in customized health and performance solutions for organizations

– the best bits:  Other self-help books try to teach you to minimize stress, with mixed results.  Stressaholic explains how you can actually use stress to your advantage.  It’s all about changing how your body and mind react to it.stressaholic heidi hanna

Stressaholic starts by asserting “Stress is neither good nor bad; it just is…A life without stress would be stressful.  It would push us out of our comfort zone in the opposite direction, with a lack of stimulation for growth.”

So the opportunity is to and the key is through energy management.  Heidi explains,

“When it comes to our energy management and decision making, there are two leaders of our human operating system…The brain acts like a CFO, responsible for managing our most valuable resources.  The heart, which keeps us connected to what’s most important to us and steers us toward our most critical missions in life, is like our CEO…The key is to align the CFO brain’s attention with the CEO heart’s intention.”

The book then introduces the 5-step Stressaholic Recovery Process which focuses on the key internal triggers for the stress response – an overactive mind and an overwhelmed body:

  1. Rest – balance brain chemistry with strategic relaxation and recovery
  2. Repair – calm and nourish cells with energy-enhancing nutrients
  3. Rebuild – strengthen mental and physical fitness to optimize energy
  4. Rethink – optimize your perspective to see stress as a challenge instead of a threat
  5. Redesign – develop “BEATs”(boundaries, expectations, attitude, and time) that provide structure for ongoing energy management

Heidi concludes, “Our body is business relevant, because it is our vehicle to get through life…You must be responsible for the energy you bring to the world.”

–  the brand story:   The primary story in Stressaholic is our story – or rather the story we create and tell ourselves.   Creating a more resilient and energy-efficient operating system in our bodies and minds requires making taking care of ourselves a priority – something that doesn’t come naturally to high performers.  Heidi relates three concepts that she’s found particularly helpful as she’s created her story around taking care of herself first:

  1. I am not my thoughts. The brain can be our best friend or our worst enemy,” Heidi writes.  We must learn to question our thoughts and “reflect on the nature of what we’re telling ourselves…We have the power to change our thoughts, and we can reprogram the way our brain operates.
  2. Recovery is not optional.  “It is your responsibility to design the lifestyle that supports your unique rhythm and balance.
  3. Taking care of myself is not selfish.We need to change our stories so that they reflect how we are better able to serve our friends, families, clients, and communities when we are healthier and happier.

So true.

– the bottom line:  This isn’t the kind of book I usually write up but I felt it was a terrific resources with practical suggestions and exercises on an extremely important topic.  I hope you will find it as enlightening – and helpful – as I did.

Please take a listen to my interview with Heidi.  You’ll learn more about the points above as well as how addressing our relationship with stress is important to our business and organizations.


***interview transcript:

Denise: Lately I’ve been pretty stressed out. Maybe it has something to do with having just published a book earlier this year, but whatever the case I have been experiencing symptoms like insomnia, and moodiness and that’s why I was so attracted to the book Stressaholic: 5 Steps to Transform Your Relationship With Stress. I learned so much about why I’m so stressed and what I can do about it that I wanted to share this great resource with you, my listeners. So today I am talking with the author of Stressaholic, Heidi Hanna. Welcome Heidi!

Heidi: Hi, thanks so much for having me Denise.

Denise: Heidi, well you are the CEO and founder of Synergy consulting company which specializes in customizable health and performance solutions for organizations and your first book was a New York Times Best Seller called The Sharp Solution: A Brain Based Approach for Optimal Performance.  So you have a lot of experience helping people improve their health and productivity and performance and a great perspective on the kind of stress I have been experiencing lately I’m sure. Now your book suggests that I might actually be a stressaholic. What does that mean and how can I figure out whether or not I really am?

Heidi: Well that’s a great question. So you know, as, as you know writing a book and getting out there and spreading a message is quite stressful and of course when I did it I had no intention to ever write a book, um, but I got to the point where I realized there was this great information out there that I really wanted to share about neuroplasticity, but in a really easy to understand way and very applicable for people. So I write this book and go on this book tour, I’m trying to take some vacation and I realize that.. I can’t relax. I mean you know we talk about how busy we are and how stressed we are and everything and its like okay I’m going to try to schedule a vacation I finally, as a lot of people do and I’m sure a lot of your listeners do, book one day onto the end of a work trip, thinking that that is going to be enough for me to recharge my batteries, but you know I remember sitting in a hot tub at a beautiful spa, closing my eyes for about thirty seconds and feeling like this is absolute torture. There is nothing fun about this. I really just want to go back to work. And I forced myself to just sit in that moment and think about what was going on and I could literally feel like there was some sort of really uncomfortable detox process happening. That I didn’t really want to relax, I wanted to go back to work and that that’s okay because I’m really passionate about what I do and I know you are as well and your listeners are, but what is that doing to my brain and my inability to actually relax when I want to and it was that personal awareness and than looking at the clients I was working with who were having a lot of the same challenges that you mentioned, um and realizing that there’s something very addictive about the stress response from a neurochemical brain-based perspective. So of course I did what any stress addict would do and I decided to write another book. So it has been a journey and I feel a little bit like its confessional saying I am a stressaholic too, um you know unfortunately most of our world today is caught in the rat race and people don’t really realize that by trying to keep up with all of the constantly changing technology and all the information overload that we are actually rewiring the way that our brain works to crave that and become actually addicted to it.

Denise: Hmm, wow, that actually sounds a lot like me. So, unfortunately I don’t think I have to wait for confession

Heidi: Here is the quick answer. Usually when people ask me, you know I give them the short answer it is close your eyes, try to relax and let me know when that gets uncomfortable and honestly most people will say right away.

Denise: I was going to say in an instant.

Heidi: We keep telling ourselves we want to relax, but when we really try to do it its really uncomfortable.

Denise: Yeah. Now in your book you introduce the stressaholic recovery process. Can you give us an overview of the five steps of that process?

Heidi: Sure, and this again this is really a personal, is a personal experience of what I had to do when I hit the point where I realized that not only am I stressaholic, that I am relying on stress to provide stimulation, distraction, and validation for my life, and you know, with more time we can talk more about that, but that’s really the three main reasons I find people becoming addicted to stress. And that first one stimulation is just you know were exhausted. I mean I sound exhausted now, and I shared with you before we started that I just had a massage because that’s one of the things I do regularly, so I’ve got a little bit of massage head. Umm but really what I did is I thought, okay so if I’m going to rebuild my system, so I am going to try to break this addiction that I have to stress and being on all the time and train myself to relax better, what do I need to do from an inside out perspective? So looking at chemicals, cellular, you know the core of our being, what needs to be changed? And again keeping in mind neuroplasticity and human behavior and um health psychology I built you know from the base of this pyramid up looking at just getting adequate rest. So the steps start with rest and than repair and than rebuild than rethink and redesign and so just a couple of notes on each of those. The rest poses the most important it ‘s the base of the pyramid. If you’re not getting adequate rest, you’re not going to be able to do the other stuff so I always tell people to go back to that and that doesn’t just mean sleep, it means seven to eight hours of sleep every night, but it also means mental rest from what were doing. Taking more breaks, you know taking, closing our eyes and listening to some relaxing music. Learning to actually quiet our mind and do some meditation, which doesn’t have to be as complicated as everyone wants to make it, its just simple rest periods throughout the day. Then as you do that you can start to repair your system by adding things that are nourishing to both your mind and body.  So adding nourishing food adding some physical activity, um adding positive thinking and gratitude that we know nourishes the brain. Humor is a huge one for me. Add more humor and playfulness. That’s going to repair some of the damage that we have done, and give us some real nourishment at our core. And than rebuilding is when we can start to actually improve beyond where we were before, but we have to have adequate rest and repair first or else its like breaking down a muscle that’s too weak to repair and rebuild, um and we do that through pushing out of our comfort zone a little bit overtime. Um, having shorter periods of high intensity, high focus both mentally and physically. So going to the gym and doing interval training when you’re really pushing yourself and than having some recovery. And the same would apply to work really focusing hard for twenty to twenty-five minutes and than having a five to ten minute recharge break and building that into a routine, which is a healthy operation that we all need. And than once you do that you kind of recharge your system you can move onto how you think and what you do. So thinking more positively about stress and seeing stress as a challenge and an opportunity for growth is really important, um, moving forward so we can sustain a better relationship with stress, but you know all the positive psychology isn’t going to work if at a chemical level you’re you know in an adrenal fatigue or if you’re not sleeping its hard to think positively which is why that comes later. So its really thinking differently about the stress in our lives, and the last thing is redesigning how we operate coming up with, um, rituals that we do every single day, um, and I have five things I do every morning to jumpstart my brain to be in a better state to manage stress. So that’s, um, getting movement, thinking about my motivation, having some meditation and mindfulness and the last one is mirth which is humor so I look for something funny, I share something funny with my social media friends and than I go about my day, and all of those things add energy to my brain so that then when the stress hits its not as overwhelming. I have some sort of fuel in my tank so that I’m not, you know, in a state of deprivation. That’s really where the damage happens, when we feel like we don’t have the energy we need to deal with the stress in our life.

Denise: You know, in listening to you describe these steps, I realize and I also read in your book that a lot of our stress seems to be caused by our self-talk, you know like those messages that we tell ourselves or those tapes that we constantly play in our brain, and can you speak a little more specifically about how we can use our internal dialogue for positive outcomes as opposed to them increasing our stress?

Heidi: Yeah, absolutely. So as I mentioned the first three steps are what I consider the recharge process, and its important that we do those and think about our body not just our mind because our body and the actual fuel we have for ourselves will change the way the brain operates and it’s perception of stress. So I say that because as someone whose struggled with anxiety and depression since I was a child, I got frustrated a lot of times because I would try so hard to change my self-talk, and I couldn’t and it was like, you know, why do I keep failing at this? It was really understanding that I was so deprived of energy that my brain was trying to protect me by keeping me in a state of hyper arousal and that’s something, you know, I’m writing more and more about. I’m working on a new book on that topic. It’s just understanding that importance of recharging, but as you’re doing that you can become more aware of the self-talk that is happening. A lot of people don’t realize its what we tell ourselves about our experiences that determine the stress response. So if were in a situation that we see as challenging, um, for example I’ve had a terrible fear of flying and public speaking for a long time

Denise: Which is kind of ironic given your profession

Heidi: I know, but again stressahloic through and through right? Um, but you know if I would see that even now as I hit turbulence my first thought for over tens years well longer than that, but ten years of doing this profession was pictures of the show LOST, and you know pictures of movies and planes crashing, and so now when that happens I have trained myself to first picture that I’m in a Jeep in Hawaii and were going over some bumps because we are going to this amazing resort and the only way to get there is this bumpy road and its like you know the air being like bumps on the ground. It’s making a different story. Writing a new story that it still doesn’t make the experience comfortable, its still challenging, but it’s a positive challenge as opposed to a negative one. And we can rewire our habits of thought every single morning and in order to do this intentionally I really encourage people to start writing out, hand writing out your stories and your messages and what you’re telling yourself that’s getting in your way, and than rescript it. Come up with something else you choose intentionally to tell yourself in those moments and you have to practice it. It really does take time and practice and when we’re in survival mode we go back to that hyper arousal that’s going to keep us in that stress response, that negative response so you know it takes some practice, but if you’re going to become aware you can write it down and you can rescript it for yourself, than you can really change your whole relationship with stress.

Denise: That’s a great practical suggestion and that is one of the things I really appreciated about your book, was that there were specific actions, and exercises and practices that you outlined to give us a place to start. So thank you for providing that. I want to ask you one last question, which is that most of my listeners are business leaders and executives and we may understand how addressing our individual relationship with stress might improve our own lives, but why is it important to our businesses and our organizations?

Heidi: Oh my gosh we need a whole other call because that’s how big, but let me give you a coupe of things. My first thought, um, some of the basis on what I think is a priority to know because we have a short time. The first thing I want everyone to understand, um, and this is common sense, but most people aren’t aware of it in there day to day life is that stress is highly contagious; it is more contagious than the flu because you don’t even have to be around somebody to give them stress. You can send them an email, you can send then a text, you cannot respond. There’s all sorts of things that happen, and as a business leader your ability to cope with stress impacts every single person in your organization because if they sense that for some reason you’re having a difficult time coping with the challenges that are a natural part of the business there stress response is going to be aroused naturally because they’re looking at you there watching you to pickup those subtle cues that their brain may not consciously even be aware of, but if your little things like speaking too rapidly or walking to rapidly, you know, always being in a rush, always feeling like you’re late, that constant never enough time to get things done. When we communicate these messages to other people they start to feel that pressure as well, and we know that the stress response not only increases system wide inflammation, so its going to make people much less healthy and makes them burn out more, but it also clouds our thinking. It causes something called the emigdulla (sp?) highjack, which basically takes over the stress center of the brain and does not allow people to think creatively or outside of the box. So they’re not going to be patient, loving, and kind and give great customer service. They’re going to be in a rush just like you are, so I think its really about taking care of yourself but also realizing that what we do is being watched and those subtle messages are being picked-up by everyone around us any interaction that we have, and just by doing a few things like the things that were talking about and applying some good self-care strategies like getting physical activity in and taking more breaks and having more humor in the workplace, that’s going to send a totally different message that says you know what, things may be challenging from time to time, but we’re good, we’ve got this and than people can really dig in and give you their best energy and engagement.

Denise: Heidi, thank you so much for addressing this important topic, and for writing such a terrific book with practical suggestions and exercises for us to work with. How can my listeners learn more about you and your book?

Heidi: Oh, that’s a great question. Um, easiest thing would be to go to synergyprograms.com, that’s s-y-n-g-e-r-g-y-programs with an s on the end .com and that’s my website so you can look around the books are listed there. I also have a nonprofit I just started called Beyond Funny, um, which is all about the health benefits of humor in the workplace, so that’s another thing to checkout. They’re some videos and other things there as well. I’d love to hear from anybody if you have any questions or want some other tips I certainly would be happy, you can just click the contact us message there or send me an email at heidi@synergyprograms.com

Denise: Great, and one last question. You have a new book coming out soon; can you share just a little about it?

Heidi: I do, I’m so excited! So it is perfect for this topic too. So I decided to write a book called Recharge, and it’s basically because of what we’re talking about because myself and my audience and my clients and my friends, uh, everybody is so exhausted and understanding how to recharge. So like you said, what are the practical tools? So its investments strategies and your most valuable resource, which I believe is you and the energy you, bring to the time that you have. The whole thing should be super short, simple, quick tips you can do even with a busy schedule and something hopefully you can pass along to those that you care about as well.

Denise: Wow, that sounds terrific, I can’t wait. Thanks again for joining us today Heidi.

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