How To Lower Your Stress At Work

When I met Kelli Clay a few months ago at a conference and she said she helps people train their brains to stress less, I and everyone at our table sat up and said, “Yes, please!”

And after hearing her talk about her process over lunch, I knew she’d make a great guest blogger. As I’ve mentioned here before, I think there is a different kind of stress that results from social impact work. There’s all the “usual” stress that comes with running a business—or heck, even working at one—but the stakes are higher when you not only have your customers sand donors to think about, but those who benefit from your work as well. It can be a lot of pressure to juggle that triple bottom line.

If your chest got a little tighter at that thought, keep reading. Give Kelli’s exercise below a try and see if you can lower your stress at work to thrive in what you do.

How to Lower Your Stress at Work

Would you like to have a stress-free life?

When I ask this question during a presentation or workshop, everyone nods an emphatic yes. Today, I’d like to challenge that desire.

Benefits of Stress

Yes, you read that right. Stress has more to offer us than we might imagine.

First, stress saves lives. That is the purpose of the stress response in our bodies. If a rabid dog is chasing me, I want to be able to run fast, and if the dog catches me, I want my immune system to kick in, and my blood to clot so that I don’t bleed to death. The stress response provides those results.

“Okay,” you say, “but how often am I chased by a rabid dog? How is stress helpful in my everyday life?”

That question leads to the second benefit which is motivation. When I was teaching college classes I would ask my students, “Would you study this material if you didn’t have the stress of an exam looming?” Even my best students said they would not study without that motivator.

The third benefit is the energy that the stress response delivers. In addition to motivation, my students experienced a spike in energy that could be applied to learning when they felt tired.

Now you might say, “That is all well and good, but there is no way those benefits outweigh the detriments of stress, especially its impact on my health.” This is where the best news of all comes in: Recent research shows us that stress comes in different forms.

Different Types of Stress

In her book, The Upside of Stress, Kelly McGonigal writes about two different types of stress response: the “threat response” and the “challenge response.” Dr. McGonigal teaches us that when we perceive stress as a challenge instead of a threat, our bodies respond in a healthy fashion, similar to the way our bodies respond to exercise.

For example, in a threat response, our blood vessels become narrower, but in a challenge response they stay wide open, allowing lots of oxygen to reach cells for a boost in energy.

The key to moving our bodies from a threat response to a challenge response is to use our brains differently.

The more “primitive” parts of our brain (such as the limbic system) are wired to initiate the threat response to keep us safe. In order to initiate a challenge response, we have to use the parts of our brain more developed in humans (such as the prefrontal cortex). To do that, we need to change the way we perceive what is triggering the stress.

Consider the way a skillful athlete uses her stress response to improve her performance. Before she starts her tennis match you can see her breathing deeply, moving about, and focusing her mind. She is not thinking about how stressed she is. She is using the energy surging through her body by thinking about how she will rise to the challenge, hit the ball hard, and make the best shots.


Action Steps

We can use that same process in everyday life.

For example, when I am preparing for a presentation, I acknowledge that my body is having a stress response, but instead of fretting about being stressed I tell myself that my body is gearing up, and I am capable and can handle the challenge. I build on my past success and tell myself I’ve done this before with great results. Then, I tell myself that I am excited, and this will be fun. Last, I notice that excited feeling in my body.

My exact words may not work for you, so it is beneficial to come up with your own mantras to create a new perception.

Here are the steps I recommend to retrain your brain when it comes to stress:

  1. Acknowledge the response your body is having such as:

    1. the faster heart rate,

    2. the sweaty palms, or

    3. the butterflies in your belly.

  2. Reassure yourself that this is normal. Examples statements are:

    1. This is my primitive brain trying to protect me, but I’m not in danger.

    2. I am fine. This is just my body’s natural response to the challenge ahead.

  3. Encourage yourself. For example:

    1. Think about a success you’ve had and recognize that if you could do that, you can accomplish the task ahead of you.

    2. You might repeat something like, “I know I can handle this.”

  4. Choose a new positive, high-energy emotion such as:

    1. excited,

    2. enthusiastic, or

    3. thrilled.

  5. Invoke the new emotion you chose by:

    1. creating and repeating sentences that support the new emotion, or

    2. visualizing yourself responding to the situation with the new emotion.

  6. Notice your body’s response to the new emotion. If your heart is pumping fast now, it is because you are thrilled, not because you are scared.

Jack’s Success with the Challenge Response

I worked with a man in his mid-50’s that we will call Jack, whose company was being sold. He was a manager, had been with the company for 20 years, and his family depended on his salary. Jack was having trouble sleeping and he faced each day with a tight chest. He was concerned about his future and the future of his employees.

At first, Jack was skeptical. He thought this method was too simple and wouldn’t make a difference, but he agreed to try it. Every time he felt his heart racing and his chest getting tight, he would stop for a moment and notice those sensations in his body.

When he did, the symptoms decreased.

Then he reassured himself that his response was normal because he cared about what happened to his family and employees. He reviewed the problems he had overcome in his lifetime and decided he could handle this new situation.

Next, Jack decided he wanted to feel courageous and enthused for whatever came. To invoke those emotions, he stood up straighter and visualized himself walking into the office tall and strong. He repeated to himself, “The reason a company might want to buy us is because we made this company great. I have strong skills, and if we are bought, I will use those skills to support the new company, or possibly in a new position somewhere else.” He encouraged his employees in the same way.

A few weeks later, Jack was surprised to realize that he felt a calm excitement for whatever came next.

Jack’s situation has not changed. His company is still up for sale and he does not know what will happen, but he goes to work each day with enthusiasm and a sense of adventure.


You Can Do It

As simple as this sounds, it is not always easy. You have to practice it until you develop the new, neural pathways in your brain that make it easier, just like learning to ride a bike.

Don’t give up, thinking that this will never work.

There is solid science to back this exercise. Watch Kelly McGonigal’s TED talk to learn more. It has worked for me, my students, and clients—and I know it will work for you!

Instead of “stress-free,” embrace the challenge response and you can “stress less!”


Kelli Clay

Kelli Clay teaches people how to deal with stress through her signature program, "Train Your Brain to Stress Less and Thrive." It is more efficient and less time-consuming than traditional stress management, so if you need help managing the stress in your life, she offers a free telephone discovery session. And if you want quick, practical tips for stressing less, subscribe to her twice-a-month newsletter.

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How to Lower Your Stress as a Social Impact Business Owner

Kristi Porter, founder of Signify

I’m Kristi Porter, and I help cause-focused organizations understand and execute effective marketing campaigns so they can move from stressed to strategic. Your resources may be limited, but your potential isn’t. Whether you’re a nonprofit, social enterprise, or small business who wants to give back, I’ll show you how to have a bigger impact.


Heart For Impact, But No Head For Finances?

Quick note: During the summer, we'll only be publishing one blog post per month as we focus on some new activities and allow you some down time without falling behind on content.

Last month I celebrated three years as a small business owner. That’s right, Signify turned three!

It’s been quite the ride! Lots of highs and lots of lows. And lots of lessons learned—many of them the hard way.

In fact, the past year in particular has been a real doozy.

I’ve heard it said that entrepreneurship is a great way to magnify both your strengths and weaknesses as an individual. I’d say that’s pretty accurate.

For me, it’s had a lot to do with money.

The Many Sides of Money

What I’m discovering is that it’s not just about making, managing, or saving money, but the mental game of money (though the other things are super important, too). But in the category of “you don’t know what you don’t know,” I don’t think I understood how I actually interacted with money on all levels, and how that influenced the daily running of Signify.

My emotions, notions, preconceived ideas, and subconscious thinking have all played out in ways that I never imagined.

You see, I’ve always been very clear with my friends, clients, and tribe that I am someone who took a skill I had and monetized it. I wasn't someone that had a head for business and numbers, and decided what to do from there.

Signify has always been a way for me to professionally support the people and causes I already supported personally.

So, in a lot of ways, I’ve been playing catchup with the mental hangups about money that I’ve had all my life. And it’s cost me both literally and figuratively. It’s also made me less confident as a small business owner. In fact, I’ve wondered many times if I’m actually cut out to do this.

The self-doubt, negative self-talk, and anxiety make it hard to serve others. It’s difficult to make an impact when you’re worried about making rent.

To quote Kanye West, “Having money’s not everything, but not having it is.”

The truth is, we need money to keep the doors open, the lights on, and to further our causes. And if you don’t develop a better relationship with money, you’ll never make the kind of progress you’d like.

By the way, that goes for whether you have a bunch of cash in the bank or not. A scarcity mindset can do just as much damage as the lack of ability to mange money. Either way you slice it, that puts your nonprofit, social enterprise, or small business in a bind that can be hard to get out of.

These are the kinds of things I’ve been wrestling with over the past year. And, though I’m still learning, I’m getting better.

Enter Shanna Skidmore

I watched her webinar in January of this year, and just knew I needed to learn from her. Why? She actually made me feel like I could learn the business and finance side of running my business.

That, my friends, is empowering.

Feeling completely unqualified to run a business is no way to run a business at all.

And, like me, many nonprofit and social enterprise founders launched their organizations because they want to make an impact. It’s not that they necessarily want to run a business. Sure, that can also have its perks, but mostly, we just want to do our good work.

However, running a business means asking for money, whether that’s through a sale or a donation. So, it’s important to not only learn to manage the money well, but truly understand its value to your organization and cause. When you can do both of those things, you can more effectively grow and scale.

This is just some of the hard and necessary work I’ve been doing this year.

If this sounds like something you need to work on as well, then join me for Shanna’s last ever masterclass this Thursday, August 8th, at 1:30 p.m. EST.

That’s right, this will be the final time she gives her behind-the-scenes peek at how she built a multi six-figure business. I’ve learned so much from her this year, so I’ll be there, and hope you’ll join me.

We are now in the latter half of 2019. Don’t let another six months or year pass before you start dealing with your own money mindset and business finances. Your cause is too important for that.

A note from Shanna

“It is possible for women to make money doing what they love, create flexible schedules so they can be present mamas and friends, decrease the clutter and chaos that comes with building a business, and trade all that in for a life-enriching business!

For the past 13 years, I’ve been helping business owners understand their finances and build profitable and sustainable businesses. It’s what I do! My journey began as a Fortune 100 Financial Advisor and morphed into starting my own management consulting firm seven years ago.

And for the last time, I’ll be teaching my free masterclass, “How I Built a Six-Figure Business.”

Wondering if I’m the right teacher for you? I am if you’re dealing with problems like:

- Hustle with no results

- Client stress (pricing, always wanting more)

- Talking to customers and donors about money

- Overwhelm!!!!!

- Inability to financially plan well

- The feeling of being poor

- Fear about what to do next

- Living paycheck to paycheck

- Stress (with money and time)

I’m not going to share some complicated MBA program, but instead, what I believe are business fundamentals. Financial principles you don’t have to be a CPA to understand. Marketing concepts you don’t have to have a degree or tech wizard to implement, and success psychology you don’t have to pay a therapist to study. 

This is all something you, me, and our entrepreneur friends are all capable of doing—with a roadmap, of course! 

Let’s do this!”


Sounds good, right? Please consider joining Shanna for her final (and free) masterclass, “How To Build a Six-Figure Business With Less Than 5,000 Followers,” on August 8th. I’ll be there, too!

Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of great business and financial coaches out there. And it’s important to find the people from you can learn from. However, if you've always struggled with numbers and finances, then I’d encourage you to tune in.

I’ve learned bits and pieces from other gurus in-person and online, but Shanna is one of the only people to break business and financial principles down in a way that actually makes sense to me. And that’s a huge benefit because gaining understanding gives you the confidence that you need to make bigger breakthroughs you business.

Quick Note For Nonprofits

While Shanna’s content is mostly geared for female entrepreneurs of for-profit businesses, nonprofit founders have also found success with Shanna’s methods. In fact, here’s a testimonial from Signify community member and nonprofit founder, Chantel Adams.

"Shanna’s Blueprint Model gave me clarity on not only why I’m doing the work I’m doing, but also how I'm going to move forward to make it successful.

For years, I thought my core motivator was IMPACT, but she helped me discover that my real motivator is CREATIVE EXPRESSION. All that time I wasted trying to prove that the work I did mattered, when the reality is that work that flows from your identity IS the work that truly matters.

I have more energy, ideas, and focus than ever before!”

So, you may have to do some creative thinking with some of her principles in how they relate to your nonprofit, but it can be done. And if you struggle with some of the problems above, I guarantee you’ll still find value in Shanna’s teaching.

Shanna’s a smart cookie, and has helped me in my business tremendously, so I hope you’ll give her a chance. And, really, what have you got to lose?

NOTE: Shanna’s webinar has passed, but you can watch the reply here, or if you’d like to learn from her like I have, check out The Blueprint Model. Registration is open through August 14th. NOW has never been a better time to improve your relationship with money.



Kristi Porter, founder of Signify

I’m Kristi Porter, and I help cause-focused organizations understand and execute effective marketing campaigns so they can move from stressed to strategic. Your resources may be limited, but your potential isn’t. Whether you’re a nonprofit, social enterprise, or small business who wants to give back, I’ll show you how to have a bigger impact.


Learn to Clearly Communicate Your Mission

Quick note: During the summer, we'll only be publishing one blog post per month as we focus on some new activities and allow you some down time without falling behind on content.

Some things get better with time: wine, cheese, your favorite jeans, and your mission. While that last item may not initially come to mind, I believe it’s true.

You see, the more you talk about your social impact mission, the better you get at telling its story. After all, practice makes perfect. You need the time, experience, and feedback to know what points will resonate most with your audience. Plus, you’ll gain confidence the more you explain who you are, what you do, and why you do it.

Learning to tell your story well, and with confidence, is part of what will attract and retain customers and donors.

This, and more, is exactly what I discussed with my friends over at Funraise recently, and I’d love to share it with you, too.

Learn to Clearly Communicate Your Social Impact Mission

In the post, I’ll show you why it’s important to use every opportunity to talk about your mission, and I’ll also explain what you can do with that feedback.

Your mission may not change, but the way you talk about it might. And I think that’s a good thing.

Because when you repeat your mission over and over again, you’re refining it. You’re not only getting better at saying it, you’re proactively making it better. It becomes more succinct, more focused, and dare I say, more engaging.

So, if you’re wondering how you can get better at communicating your social enterprise or nonprofit’s mission, click the button below.

Now that you’ve read the post, let’s take it a step further . . .

 


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Learn to Clearly Communicate Your Social Impact Mission

Kristi Porter, founder of Signify

I’m Kristi Porter, and I help cause-focused organizations understand and execute effective marketing campaigns so they can move from stressed to strategic. Your resources may be limited, but your potential isn’t. Whether you’re a nonprofit, social enterprise, or small business who wants to give back, I’ll show you how to have a bigger impact.


Motivation is Overrated

Ever feel like you just don’t have the motivation you need to get you through your work week? Yeah, me too. PLENTY of times.

That’s the case for all of us. Even though you’re working for a nonprofit, social enterprise, or other cause-focused organization, having a great mission is unlikely to make every day a joy-filled experience. It’s possible that there is something going on externally or internally to derail you, or maybe you’re just having a “off” day. It’s natural.

So, when my intern, Kirsten, brought this topic up as a blog post she’d like to write, I jumped at it. It’s an issue that plagues even the most hard-working among us: What do you do when motivation is scarce?

Read on for the answer . . .

Motivation is Overrated

A few weeks ago, I heard my Marketing Research professor say something that completely changed my outlook on getting things done in school and at work. He stated, “Motivation is overrated, while discipline is underrated.” 

This statement spoke volumes in my world. So often, I wait for the motivation to get tasks done, and if it doesn’t come along, I end up rushing through the task as the deadline gets closer, and the work ends up being mediocre. 

I find myself spending unnecessary time searching for the right motivational playlist, reading a few uplifting quotes, or giving myself a pep talk in an attempt of encouragement. I’ve relied on motivation for too long, which is why discipline needed to be incorporated into my lifestyle. 

What I’m learning is that discipline can create a kind of ease to your career because it builds a routine and mindset to get things done . . . even when you don’t “feel like it.” With discipline, you don’t have to wait for inspiration because you already have an effective system on-call.

Motivation vs. Discipline

Motivation is defined as the desire or willingness to do something. Discipline, on the other hand, can be described as training oneself to do something in a controlled and habitual way. 

While motivation is what many of us crave on a day-to-day basis, it’s simply not possible. 

There may be times while working at a nonprofit or social enterprise when the motivation just isn’t there. Work may seem overwhelming, deadlines are fast approaching, the problem you’re solving may seem too big, or frankly, maybe you’re just having a bad week. This is when discipline should come into play to keep the work flowing.

Two key components of discipline are momentum and consistency. You can often create momentum by focusing on the bigger picture (remembering why you’re doing the work), and then take advantage of momentum once it’s underway. Let that be the push you need to get started. Then, show up again and again by finding a rhythm or routine you can maintain.

Consistency creates the habitual practice of discipline. Once it becomes second nature, you won’t have to worry so much about being motivated to do the work.

5 Effective Ways to Incorporate Discipline Into Your Work

Now that we’ve got the differences between motivation and discipline out of the way, here are some steps you can take to build discipline into your work week.

1. Cut Out Distractions

In today’s world, distractions are abundant. Social media constantly tempts us, friends call or text at the worst times, Netflix begs us to binge, and so much more.

One of the simplest and best ways to minimize distractions is to create a physical space that limits interruptions. Whether it’s turning your phone on silent, making sure your chair is comfortable, or removing clutter (both on your desk and on your screen), it’s important to design your workspace for maximum focus. 

If you work from home and find your thoughts drifting to cooking, laundry, and cleaning, you may even need to consider moving to a coffee shop or co-working space so that you can get more done.

Work with a team? According to an article by Inc. Magazine, three out of four people feel distracted while at work. Eighty percent of those surveyed also claimed that the number one distraction is chatty co-workers, with 60% saying meetings are another inconvenience. 

If you have a chatty co-worker, kindly remind them that you are working on an assignment with a deadline fast approaching, and perhaps even offer an alternative time when you can catch up. But try not to let them take your mind off the task at hand.

Meetings, however, are usually hard to avoid, so make an effort to do as much work as you can beforehand. Depending on your role, you may also be able to help keep the meeting focused and on track, so everyone’s time is respected.

2. Create a Plan and Prioritize

Before you jump into your To-Do List, create a sensible plan of what you would like to get done, and if possible, write it down or use a free project management software like Asana to track it. Each item should be thought out and prioritized. 

We tend to overestimate how much we can actually accomplish during a day, so this exercise will not only help you determine the most important tasks, but decide what will make you feel accomplished when the day is done.

Classy.org has a great article that mentions prioritizing work in nonprofits. One of the tips that was included mentioned prioritizing work in four categories: Important, Not Important, Urgent, and Not Urgent.

Work may be important, but not urgent; not important, yet urgent. Classy suggests focusing on the tasks that are important first, then order them by urgency. 

Alternatively, we previously offered suggestions on how to make time for marketing. These same ideas can be applied to any project or task at hand. 

The takeaway is to be show up intentionally for your day, and not to let it simply unfold.

3. Be Accountable

Accountability is all about being responsible, to ourselves and maybe even to others. It’s important to acknowledge that you are responsible for all the work that you create, whether you are an organization of one or thousands.

There are many ways to hold yourself accountable. One simple way is to track your progress, and reward yourself along the way. Just be sure to find something that truly feels like a reward, such as a break, a piece of chocolate, a peek at social media, or for some of us, the simple satisfaction of physically scratching an item off our To-Do List.

Another way to hold yourself accountable is through an accountability partner or mastermind group. Whether you choose one person or several people, make sure they understand your goals and needs, and won’t just be a yes-man. Even better, offer to return the favor so everyone makes progress on things that matter to them.

4. Be Consistent

As we talked about above, another surefire way to move from motivation to discipline is to be consistent. Consistency builds habits, which are powerful in keeping you on track when you just don’t “feel like it.”

Routines may not sound exciting, but they can in fact, lead to a thriving social impact organization. Once you become more consistent, you’ll find tasks become easier, and your workload may even feel lighter.

This article by Chron.com, suggests that consistency in the workplace helps with the appearance of the organization and higher levels of productivity. Compared to workplaces that change often, consistency shows employees that there’s order and stability in the organization. This also helps with productivity because learning new ideas and processes take time, whereas a routine allows people to get better at what they already know. 

Even getting to work on time or going to scheduled lunches can be a great start to building your routine. From there, take a look at these eight good work habits: wellness, self-presentation, timeliness, productivity, organization, attention to detail, follow-through and consistency, and initiative. Taking the time to develop these habits suggests that you are mature, trustworthy, and dependable—an employer’s dream!

5. Take Care of Yourself

Self-care is important as well. There are times to push through the day and work, and times that it will serve you better to stop and start again another day.

When you work for a cause, it’s easy to look at the important work in front of you and think there is no time to slow down. But if you do that for too long, it can lead to burnout.

Burnout can disrupt your newfound routine of discipline, and also makes it impossible for your best work to be done, which is what your cause deserves.

Think you might be experiencing burnout? In the recent Dice.com article, Burnout is Now an Official Medical Condition, there are three markers that define it:

  1. Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion

  2. Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job

  3. Reduced professional efficacy

The World Health Organization states that one must have all three markers in order to truly feel burnout at work. And a few ways to reduce burnout include having a creative outlook, having a support team, and taking vacations. It’s also important to note that if you’re feeling burned out, the time to address it is now. Don’t let it continue affecting you or your work.

While motivation feels great, and gives you a good start on building momentum, it just isn’t enough to accomplish your goals long-term. Discipline may feel hard, but it doesn’t have to be, and the good news is that it can be created over time and in stages. 

Remember, motivation is overrated. Discipline is underrated. 

Through discipline, work becomes easier and more efficient. And, in time, you will see the progress you desire, and your work will thrive!

“People often say motivation doesn’t last. Neither does bathing—that’s why we recommend it daily.” - Zig Ziglar


Kirsten+M+King+Marketing.jpeg

Hi! I’m Kirsten M. King, and I absolutely love anything dealing with marketing, from advertising to data and everything in-between. I also love to learn and expand my knowledge on current trends and issues.

As a recent marketing major graduate of Georgia State University, I look forward to taking my skills and using them towards a career in project management.

KirstenMKing,com

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While motivation is what many of us crave on a day-to-day basis, it’s simply not possible. Here’s what to do instead.

Kristi Porter, founder of Signify

I’m Kristi Porter, and I help cause-focused organizations understand and execute effective marketing campaigns so they can move from stressed to strategic. Your resources may be limited, but your potential isn’t. Whether you’re a nonprofit, social enterprise, or small business who wants to give back, I’ll show you how to have a bigger impact.