Manage Stress with Heidi Hanna

EZ 29 | Manage Stress


All stresses affect us physiologically in the same way regardless of whether it’s a physical stress, a mental stress, or an emotional stress. Dr. Heidi Hanna, PhD, joins us to talk about managing stress and how to respond to them and become more conscious, more self-aware, and more masterful of our own mental state when things happen. Dr. Hanna is the chief executive officer of Synergy, a company providing brain-based health and performance programs to individuals and organizations. She is also a Founding Partner of the Academy for Brain Health and Performance, as well as a New York Times bestselling author of several books, including The Sharp Solution, Stressaholic, and Recharge.

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Manage Stress with Heidi Hanna

We’re going to be talking about managing stress, one of my favorite topics that I talk a lot about. My guest on this episode is one of the world’s leading experts in that area. I want to remind you all that this show is called Executive Zen and the subtitle is to lead consciously and profit responsibly. When I think about leading consciously, a lot of people don’t necessarily know what that means. Let me say it this way, leading consciously means being awake, aware, present and on top of your game while you’re leading so that you’re fully present. Your resources are there. You’re aware of the conversations you’re having and the challenges you’re facing. You’re doing so in a way that is not judgmental, but you’re open. You’re letting things unfold in a way where you come to the floor, where you’ve got your very best self forward. That has all kinds of implications in terms of our leadership.

People who don’t lead consciously are people we might say that lead automatically. People who just show up and they do whatever they feel like doing and they’re not necessarily aware of their biases or their level of presence. The danger of leading in that way is that we have a tendency to miss opportunities. We have the tendency to alienate others and in many ways, we ended up causing ourselves and everybody around us a whole lot more stress. When you’re not present, then stress becomes much more of an occurrence. That’s why this is so important. We talked a lot about mindfulness and about being present. My background in this area of stress research goes back to my days as a chiropractor. When I was in my chiropractic practice, we studied physiology. We studied the work of Hans Selye, who was considered the father of stress research. This idea that stress affects us the same way regardless of whether it’s a physical stress, a mental stress or an emotional stress. All stresses affect us physiologically in the same way. He described something called the General Adaptation Syndrome. It causes an inflammation of your adrenal glands and all other glands, the release of certain kinds of neurohormones, and a change in blood pressure and pulse rate, etc.

He did a lot of research on animals and on humans about how stress affects us. There’s a whole physiological side to this conversation, but then there’s also a very practical side to this conversation, which is how does stress affect us in our work. How can we recognize the presence of stressors and make the distinction between good stress and bad stress? Can we, as conscious human beings, begin to realize that our stress doesn’t come from our circumstances but from how we think about our circumstances? That, to me, is one of the most important distinctions. We think of people coming off in traffic and therefore I’ve got to experience stress. That’s not true. Things happen and then we get to choose how we respond to them or at least theoretically, we get to choose that. As we become more conscious, more self-aware and more masterful of our own mental state, we can then decide which of the suggestions that are being made by the circumstances that we choose to accept. Visualize negatively versus reject and maybe shift to a more positive point of view.

Those are all the things I want to talk about. I’m very excited about this episode. This is somebody I love and appreciate. We speak the same language. She probably does it better than I do and has a lot of amazing and remarkable things to say. One of the defining features of the way I present is that I try to do it without a whole lot of pretense or cockiness. I try to do it in a very authentic way and there’s humor in what I’m saying. That’s one of the things I love about the person I’m about to introduce you to. This is true of her too. She’s brilliant, but she’s also authentic and she’ll be the first to tell you about her stressful experiences in life. Everything you’re going to learn now is accessible. We’re not speaking for a lofty perch, but rather we’re speaking from the trenches about how life affects us, how it affects our minds, our emotions, our physiology, our productivity and all that sort of thing.

My guest is Dr. Heidi Hanna, PhD. She is the Chief Executive Officer of Synergy, a company providing brain-based health and performance programs to individuals and organizations. Heidi is also the Executive Director of the American Institute of Stress and a Founding Partner of the Academy of Brain Health and Performance. Heidi is a New York Times bestselling author of several books, including The Sharp Solution, Stressaholic and Recharge. She’s been featured in many global conferences, including Fortune Magazine’s Most Powerful Women in Business Summit, ESPN Leadership Summit and the Million Dollar Round Table. Her clients have included Google, Starbucks, Microsoft, Morgan Stanley and WD-40 as well as the PGA Tour and the National Football League. Heidi is also a Certified Humor Professional with the Association of Applied and Therapeutic Humor. Her book, What’s So Funny About Stress will be released soon.

I had the good fortune of meeting Heidi in a beautiful place close by Cancun when we’re both speaking at The Happiness Vacationar. We were both sharing the stage for that event. I got to spend a bit of time with Heidi both on and off stage and I was delighted. Since then, we’ve had a few chances to meet up in San Diego. I got to meet her wonderful husband. I can’t say enough wonderful things about Heidi. I want to bring her on board here and let you meet her for yourself.

It’s so fun listening to you talk and now all the memories of Cancun and that Vacationar come flooding back and why we enjoyed talking so much about all of this stuff.

Since then, we’ve got a few miles under our belt. I know you’ve done a lot of traveling. Have you been anywhere interesting?

Where I am is I’m home and I find that interesting. I love that I chose to live in a place that I would choose. That was intentional for me moving to San Diego.

I love San Diego. There are a lot of people that I know who live in Burlington, Vermont, which is stunning and beautiful place but we have winter. I spent a couple months in San Diego and I’ll be doing it again.

EZ 29 | Manage Stress

Manage Stress: The number one most common stressor is feeling like you don’t have enough time to get it all done.


I grew up in Portland, Oregon. I went to college in Pennsylvania and then I lived in Florida for ten years. I was working with a client in San Diego and eventually decided to stay here. It’s been a good place for me. Not the easiest to get in and out of. I also share that because I remember being very intentional about where do I want to live that’s going to give me the type of energy that I need to go do the work that I want to do because that’s important. Not everybody can make choices as big as where they’re going to live but we all can make more choices than we realize to build up our own capacity to cope with the challenges in our life.

What you’re talking about is that sometimes we think that life doesn’t give us a lot of choices, but we’ve probably got more than we realize. When we seize that, we don’t automatically say, “I’m doomed, things are terrible, my life stinks,” then maybe we get to take control a little bit. We are empowered.

It’s about the oscillation, the rhythm and the patterns. We talked a lot about work-life balance. Even as I was listening to you in the introduction talking about stress and Hans Selye who started the American Institute of Stress, I’ve been reading his books for a long time. It’s fun to go back and read some of his old stuff, how on the mark he was with things that we’re now coming back around to now that we have more advances in science and technology. I was listening to your definition and we have evolved now to a new working definition of stress. That stress is what happens when demand exceeds capacity. A lot of us naturally focus on the demands, the circumstances and the things we have no control over.

When the brain is focused on that, it’s incredibly stressful. It’s chronic long-term stress. That’s very different from the shorter-term acute stress that we can grow from. I say that because demand is a part of that equation, but the part that we tend to have most control is around our capacity. Most of the capacity-building elements are common sense things that aren’t common practice like how we eat, how often we move, and how we sleep. Picking up and literally moving yourself to another state is not always very easy for people. Sometimes it’s like getting a better pillow or listening to a different music station that’s intentional or turning the noise off. There are a lot of micro shifts that we can make that over time seriously impact our capacity in each moment. A lot of what you’re talking about too is being conscious and making choices instead of being reactive.

Stress is what happens when demand exceeds capacity. Click To Tweet

I was thinking about this interesting analogy. My background is chiropractic. I had my chiropractic practice for many years. In my chiropractic practice, one of the philosophical distinctions between holistic medicine and allopathic medicine is let’s take the germ theory, for example. Germs cause disease. The holistic physician would say, “No, germs don’t cause disease. It’s your lack of resistance to them that causes the disease.” If you can increase your resistance, then you could be in the presence of the very same germs that somebody else might get sick from, but you’ve got better resistance.

It’s always the environment that either feeds the stimulation or fights it. You could say the same with weight management. A lot of people struggle with weight management because they think it’s calories in and calories out, but it’s not. I can’t remember the exact quote she uses but my friend, JJ Virgin, talked about this so long ago and got a lot of pushback that, “It’s not an equation, it’s not a formula. It’s a chemistry lab.” It’s how everything interacts with each other in the environment, that potential inflammatory issue or even life events. What is the environment that a challenge enters into in your life to either become stressed the way we think of stress? Being spread too thin, not having enough capacity to cope or being challenged stress that now gives us energy and information that we’d say, “I’m going to learn from this and I’m going to turn that into something positive.” Even things like exercising or getting a flu shot are stressful and then how we react to that allows us to become stronger the next time we try to have that challenge. I know that a lot of what we’re talking about, people are like, “That totally makes sense. It’s common sense.” What people need to realize is what does that mean for each person individually? What is your environment mentally, physically, spiritually and socially that the challenges in life are coming into? Where can you make those micro shifts to make it better and to be more resilient?

What are you thinking and how are you living your life? It’s great to talk about this theoretically. If you’re experiencing chronic stress like that diminished capacity as a result of the additive effect, there’s an additive effect when you just keep on getting stressed and stressed and stressed and you never get to recover. A lot of people are living their lives that way. They’re living their lives with one challenge after another without ever having built in any recovery time.

Let me give you a perfect example. I have now assessed over 20,000 people. We have something called the Stress 360 Assessment. It looks at lifestyle patterns. People can take it for free and it’s easy to do. It gives you an idea of what your demand versus capacity is in the moment and then that helps you figure out what needs to change. I put that out there. We’ve had over 20,000 people take it. The things we hear most about in the stress world tend to be things like finances, relationships and things like that. The number one most common stressor is feeling like you don’t have enough time to get it all done. I’m sure a lot of people in the audience are going, “That’s me.” You wake up and you feel like there’s not enough time to get it all done, which then adds to everything else.

My question for people then is what do you do with that? If you wake up and the first thing you think is, “I don’t have enough time to get it all done,” how do you adjust that? Most people, what they do is they jump on their phone, they check their email, they watch the news. Is any of that telling you that you now have more time to get things done? Probably not. It’s probably making it worse and you have now hijacked your brain from the time you get up in the morning to the time you try to fall asleep, toss and turn, tired and wired because you’re worried about not having enough time tomorrow. That may seem like a small thing but at that moment when you have that thought, what is the pivot that can give you more capacity? There are so many things. It could be listening to music. It could be finding something funny, meditation, inspirational reading, going for exercise and going for a walk. Just taking a few deep breaths.

There are so many shifts you can make that then tell the brain, “You haven’t gotten more time,” but now the brain is more focused on what’s most important. You’ve built some capacity to deal with the challenge of time. You’ve got more clarity and more confidence. You have changed the lens through which you see your stress, to be more resilient. To me, that’s where the magic is because we’re not going to get more than 24 hours in a day. No matter how much people say, “Hustle this and hack that,” it’s like no, heal yourself, fuel yourself and then you can deal with that more effectively. It’s such a small thing, but it can make a huge difference for people.

It’s a paradigm shift for people because when you’re a busy person, the last thing you want to do is to take time out of your busy schedule to do something that isn’t directly related to the thing you’re doing. What you and I both find again and again is that by taking those mini vacations or getting that music or having a moment of astonishment or humor or laughter, it may not be the thing you were trying to get done but it makes you so much healthier and happier and more productive when you build those things in.

Everybody knows that just because we’re talking about this, it doesn’t mean that we do this every single time that thought happens. I went for a very long run. I came back and I thought, “I need to meditate.” I have three things I do every day. I move, I meditate and I mirth. Mirth is another word for humor. It’s the emotional type of humor that we experience when we’re amused. To me, those three things are more important than taking medication. I did my long run. I had my moment of mirth. I didn’t meditate yet and I remember catching myself and I was justifying, “I laid in bed a little longer this morning, so I could call that meditation or the run was long.” The fact is we know we’re better when we do those things and the reactionary part of the brain that feels hijacked by the time pressure is always going to give us the best excuse to say, “You don’t need it. Don’t worry about it now. Start again tomorrow.” It’s the importance of that commitment to yourself and probably even more so commitment to someone else. If I say to my Stress Mastery community, “This month, this is what I’m going to work on,” and I go into a group platform where I check a box and everyone sees that I’ve done it. I did it 100% of the days because I will not let them down but if I let myself down, I’ll talk myself out of it in an instant.

EZ 29 | Manage Stress

Manage Stress: When stress is hijacking you, you’re not thinking. You’re reacting. You’ve got to shift that pattern first.


We are so much less accountable to ourselves than we are with others. It’s unfortunate, but it’s great to know because then we could build strategies that put us out in the public eye.

Don’t beat yourself up. Don’t think that we’ve got it perfect. We’re just two people having a conversation saying, “This is what I’ve learned. Here are the patterns I’ve learned to make better.” You mentioned the part of why I’m so passionate about this is stress, anxiety and depression. It has been my life story for a very long time. I feel like I don’t have a choice. I either have to do this or I almost can’t even think about what my life would be like if I didn’t. That’s become part of my story. I would love for the audience to think about that as well. How could you make self-care part of your non-negotiable strategy? Self-care should be part of your non-negotiable success strategy for every leader. If you are leading other people, you better be showing up with energy that says, “I have the capacity to cope with the challenges that we’re facing.” It doesn’t mean the challenges are going to go away. It means I can bring to this space and time that we’re together the capacity to cope. I’m going to help all of us navigate those challenges more effectively and we have to have the energy to do that. It’s not about time as much as it is the energy we bring to the time that we have. It’s super important.

I heard Tony Robbins doing an interview where he said, “If you can’t give yourself ten minutes for yourself, you have no life.” It’s very definitive if you can’t give yourself ten minutes as a gift to yourself to replenish yourself, to quiet yourself. I subscribe to the calm in the eye of the storm philosophy. I know there’s a storm brewing out there. I know I’m going to go into it every day, but can I be the calm in the eye of it?

It’s difficult for you to say, “I’m going to gift myself.” I don’t know the demographics of your audience, but I can say that women in particular struggle with the idea of taking care of ourselves. We think it’s selfish. One of the things I encourage people to do is you have to rewrite your story around the fact that you literally can only serve from a cup that has the capacity. You have to put your oxygen mask on first, everybody knows that. It has to become a non-negotiable so that you genuinely believe when I go for a run, I am making myself better for my husband and not from the standpoint of hopefully staying in shape. From a brain perspective, from a kindness perspective, I’m a better person when I do what I have to do to make sure I have the capacity. Otherwise when I don’t, and he knows this at the end of the day, I’m not a lot of fun to be around. I don’t want to be that person.

You have to make that connection to believe that I’m going to go do this thing. Even things like a massage, maybe a run is too extreme. I get a massage once a week and even when I do that, a lot of people would say, “That’s so easy. That’s so wonderful.” I can’t tell you how many times I want to cancel the massage because I got so much stuff I’d rather do. It’s a commitment because when I go do that, I’m better able to then get up on stage and speak and connect with people. I’m better able to connect with people on a daily basis. The self-care stuff is so critical. I need this to sink in for people because everything we talk about is just going to be a good idea until people rewrite their story about it.

Let me add an element to this because I love what you’re saying. It makes good common sense that if I don’t take care of myself, I can’t take care of anybody else. That’s common sense. In the trenches, at the moment, the moment you’re about to go for your massage, you can easily justify to yourself that there’s too much to do. One of the challenges that you and I face in helping people to orchestrate a new way of doing their lives, it is that. You alluded to this before. I’ve got a great quote for you, “The ego will always try to convince you that whatever you’re thinking is vitally important and you’ve got to be thinking it now.” There’s this element of mindfulness and this element of starting to develop the ability, to notice how your mind is taking you down blind alleys and not be so swept up by it. You are not your brain, you are not your thoughts. When they start taking you down those alleys, you’re like, “I know better. I sense that I need to be thinking. I need to be doing this. That’s what everything is telling me I need to do,” but no because wisdom has to trump obsession.

Let’s talk about that because you hit on a super important point. I don’t know how much we want to go into this, so I will let people know if you want to hear more about this and we don’t talk about it. This is the whole point of the TED Talk I did. Visualize a monkey. This is the monkey mind. We know that the monkey mind exists as the primal part of our brain as well. When I squeezed the little monkey, his heart pops out. It reminds me to lead with my heart instead of my brain sometimes because to your point, the brain is going to fire these signals to oftentimes hijack us for survival purposes. That’s the primal part of the brain. For me, when I catch myself, I call it catching the monkey. I catch the monkey mind starting to pull me off track and then I recognized that it is the monkey mind. This is not Heidi’s soul and my deeper purpose and commitment to something bigger than myself. This is me getting stuck in survival patterns. I don’t have to beat myself up over that. I don’t have to blame or shame myself. I just go, “Monkey mind.” If I have my Melvin monkey next to me, I’ll squeeze him. I give him a little love, “Thank you for trying to protect me, but we’re good. I’m going to stay focused on this bigger picture, deeper consciousness type of thing.”

Whatever works for people, you can even do the same if you’re with somebody that you love and trust. You can nudge people and you can remind people. If I was acting out and my husband said, “Your monkey brain’s taken off,” I’m not sure I would do that. There are other ways that you can shift those types of situations. He does know that humor works very well for me. He knows getting outside and going for walk works well for me. Sometimes when we’re in those reaction patterns, if we have someone with us, you have to break the pattern to get back to where we are. As leaders, we have to break the pattern for our self and know how to do that. We can help other people break the pattern. As you get to know the people you’re trying to lead, you can find what those non-conscious cues are going to be to help them shift. This is where I say you can shift stress fast.

It’s not about getting rid of the stress or the problem, it’s about changing from the monkey brain and to the human brain. That is not usually a logical process. That’s a bottom-up sensory process. It requires moving our body, getting some fresh air. That’s why I love aromatherapy because I can smell the aromatherapy. It changes my physiological state that then brings the blood flow literally back online from being stuck in the monkey part of the brain to expanding into the human part of the brain. This is where consciousness and choices and responses come from. We’re not reacting, we’re responding. There’s a pattern shift that has to happen. Most people think of stress management as like, “I’m going to think differently or I’m going to do things differently.” Understand that when stress is hijacking you, you are not thinking, you are reacting. You’ve got to shift that pattern first, ideally in some sensory state like movement, smelling something or listening to something. That’s why music is powerful. As the brain starts to come back online, you can navigate the conscious part of your brain more effectively.

Be conscious in making choices instead of being reactive. Click To Tweet

I’ll tell you my quote on that. I say, “Fix the mood before you fix the mess.” We think that we could think our way out of the state we’re in. What we can do is we can transform the state and then our thinking becomes more resourceful and then we could find the thoughts that are necessary. One of the ways is to get out of your head and into your body, into your sense of smell, taste, touch and anything other than think, think, think. You’re the ultimate expert on this in terms of how it affects business, how does it affect productivity in business. What happens when this becomes a priority in a company?

This is one of my favorite things to talk about. I believe the cure for stress, meaning we’re not getting rid of stress. We want stress. Stress is good. I say stressing is a blessing once you know how to use it for good. That’s very important. We don’t want to get rid of it. The stress epidemic, I believe the only way we’re going to change that is through organizations. Organizations are systems. They are communities, they are vision, values, purpose wrapped up into an organization. I spend a lot of time working with companies to create full-blown enterprise resilience programs. Not resilience just in health and wellness. Not resilience just in training and development, but I mean down to the sales, marketing, branding, PR, everything. It’s a lot of facts. It’s like a game to figure out how can you make this fit into an organizational structure.

I always require that we start with the leaders. The leaders are the ambassadors and it’s what everybody’s watching to see can we actually do that? Let me give you an example. I worked with the client. They have napping pods at their company and everyone thought that’s super cool. I thought it was super cool too. They have napping pods, they have free food and they have daycare. It was like, “This is where everyone wants to work.” I started asking people about that and the perception was they give us this so we won’t leave. They’re expecting us to work 24/7. They don’t want us to leave to go get food. They don’t want us to leave to go get rest. They don’t want us to leave to go pick up our kids. It was the first time that I realized that you can add all of these different interventions, but if it’s not connecting with your culture and what your tribe wants.

WD-40 is one of my favorite clients. We’re working on this whole massive initiative and I thought they have a resilient product. They should have a resilient track. We had the best time. I did an event for their global leadership. It was awesome. It’s not just the products. They want to be that. They want to be a tribe of love. Those are fun companies to work with. I’m going to talk about what people are doing well and the positive impact and then I want to talk about some of the challenges. I mentioned the challenge you can give people a fitness center, you can get them free food and you can get a massage, all that stuff, but that’s not what they want. Here’s another massive disconnect is if the leaders aren’t doing it themselves. Many companies say, “We want to have meditation and we went to workouts.” It’s like, “Where are the leaders?” “They’re too busy.” If they’re not taking the time and investing in the self-care strategies where their employees can see them doing it, it’s not going to work.

The perception is if I want to be them, if I want to advance my career, I have to kill myself to get there. I have to prove that I’m here 24/7. I have to respond to every single text or call within five seconds. It gives me heart palpitations thinking about it. That is not sustainable at all. We know that because we can read books about it. What does that then look like? It means leaders have to do what it takes to show up with that energy and the time that they have. You start to shift away from a time management focus to an energy management focus. That’s number one, which means shorter meetings, shorter calls, not expecting people to be constantly connected, and get people up and moving. Be mindful about how you plan meetings. There’s death by meetings happening today. There’s a meeting about the meeting, about the meeting. What a lot of leaders don’t realize is if you have employees in a meeting and they’re forced to sit there and they’re not being involved or included. They’re not getting a chance to speak up or participate, they shouldn’t be there because of the brain, the ego, whatever you want to say. The primal part of the brain is saying the whole time, “Why am I even here right now?”

Add multitasking, which is a massive issue. You’ve got a meeting about a meeting about a meeting with a bunch of people that don’t need to be there and they’re all doing something else. The energy in the room is so fractured and distracted that it’s disrupting everybody. We know that stress is highly contagious. If you’re in a room and one person walks in and they’re feeling stressed, they non-consciously are giving away all information about that from their heart rate to their breathing patterns, to the tone of their voice. That gets picked up. Regardless of what the actual issue is, everyone starts to produce more cortisol, more adrenaline and more inflammatory markers. They’re going, “I don’t know what this person is stressed about, but they’re in my tribe and I should probably be stressed and I should probably shift to self-protection too.” There’s a massive contagion effect. With that said, positively the good stuff is contagious too. When you show up, especially as a leader and you show up with confidence and clarity. I’m not saying there are no challenges. In fact, you need to communicate the challenges just as much because if you hold those back, everyone else is assuming the worst. They want to know why they’re not being included to the conversation.

There’s a confidence in taking care of yourself. Showing up and being focused, slowing down your role a little bit, even adding things like humor and play and amusement in a way that fits your culture. It’s what I call the power lead. Instead of starting with, “We’ve got to go and we’re late from this meeting and we’re going to be late to that meeting and we’ve got a long agenda and tons to do,” which totally stresses everybody out. You start the meeting by showing a funny video or having people share something funny that happened to them today. It could be 30 seconds, but you have shifted their brain to be in a state of calm so that they can focus and get more done in less time and you set very clear firm boundaries around time. If the meeting is 40 minutes, 45 minutes, it ends when it’s supposed to end and if you have to schedule another meeting that’s fine, but don’t run over. If one thing goes too long, people have to know what is the container for their time and their energy. That’s a lot to think about I realized. You can also create some organizational recharge rituals. Things like 50-minute meetings, 25-minute phone calls, having an alarm, not an alarm that’s alerting but like a music or something Zen that tells everybody when it’s 10:00 and 2:00. Everyone takes a fifteen-minute recharge break.

There are patterns you can create within the organizational system. It may seem small, but if everybody’s on board and the tribe is doing it together, it can have massive benefit. I want to say one last thing. An amazing research from my friend, Bruce McEwen, at Rockefeller University. He is the guru of all of the cortisol and hippocampus research. He discovered that cortisol is not a bad thing. Everyone thinks it’s bad. It’s actually important. When you experienced trauma and you have enough cortisol right after, it minimizes PTSD. It is a healing factor. The problem is when we produce it all the time, we start responding to it. He found that when you have cortisol and oxytocin, the bonding chemical, at the same time, it causes neurogenesis. It causes brain cell growth. There are only a couple of things that do that. Stress with people you feel connected to is very enhancing. I gave myself goosebumps. That’s always a sign I’m saying something important. Stress when we feel connected, when we feel like we’re on a purpose that matters and there are other people with us. When we have a tribe, it’s one of the best things we can do for ourselves. We don’t want to shy away from it. We just need that capacity. We need to be in it together. That’s a big thing we need to be talking about, especially for leaders.

EZ 29 | Manage Stress

Manage Stress: One of the biggest elements around our personal relationship with stress is our perception of control and having to control everything.


One of the things I do is close up magic. Back earlier in my career, I do it in restaurants. I’d go up to a table. I always love when they would say, “Stay away from table fifteen. They’re a pain in the ass.” That will be the first place I would go because nobody’s a pain in the ass endemically. They just happened to be in a bad mood. It’s amazing how quickly something like a magic trick can turn a bunch of grumpy people into joyful kids. I thought of that when you were talking about starting a meeting with something that breaks the pattern, something funny or something astonishing. There’s research about astonishment, as how that improves productivity. You brought up the thing about time integrity like start the meeting on time and end the meeting on time. How often does that happen? What degree of stress does that cause when you know like, “It’s ten minutes, it’s fifteen minutes,” and it never ends? Nobody’s going to say when it’s going to end so I’m stuck with the anguish of the whole experience.

What I’m realizing even as you’re saying that is what that’s tapping into even more than capacity is control. One of the biggest elements around our personal relationship with stress is our perception of control and so we have to control everything. What happens in a meeting when you’ve told me that this is going to go for 45 minutes and it’s 48 minutes and it’s 52 minutes or whatever it might be, I start feeling trapped. I already have other things I know I need to do. Now you’re taking something away from me. You weren’t honest with me about how long this is going to be. For leaders, it’s one of the signs that you’re not good at leading. If you’re leading people, there should be integrity around those boundaries and things like time and energy. It’s not just time. It’s, “I’m going to give you my best energy for the time-frame that we have and the only way I can do that is if I can go recharge my energy.”

Most people can’t go to the bathroom without being on their phone because they have to be checking in and scrolling. I just posted a poll about that on Facebook. The reason I posted it was because I have to go to the bathroom and I went to get my phone because I figured I might as well get rid of it. I was like, “Why do I have to have my phone when I go to the bathroom?” Maybe this is easier for women than men. We don’t need to get into all that, but the point is we don’t always have to be doing something.

If everybody could learn, “I don’t always have to be doing something,” that would be a major, massive shift in life all the way around because we are addicted to stimulus. We have this vague, unconsidered sense of oppression. We’re oppressed by time. We’re oppressed by our activities. We’re oppressed by the demands and the obligations that we have. It’s always there in the background. That is why I love talking about mindfulness because when you start realizing the stuff that’s impacting your brain at every one moment, like when you woke up to the fact that, “I don’t need to bring my phone with me to the bathroom.” When my friends were having a fight and I was aggravated by it, I went and I took a shower and I realized halfway through the shower that I was actually in the shower. My brain was back at the fight they were having. I wasn’t where I was and so be here now. All the things you’re talking about are ways being here now.

It’s always the environment that either feeds the stimulation or fights it. Click To Tweet

The more you do it, it can be challenging. It can feel lonely. If you’re fully showing up in your life, you start to realize how many people don’t. It took me a very long time to decide that I could be with someone and not drive them totally crazy. I’m very recently married. I’m a bit of a nag. This is the one thing I’m a bit of a nag about is he will pick up his phone and start looking at something. He should be able to do that. I’m sure I do that many times, but there are times where it’s like, is there something that’s important? I’m not going to stop him from doing something that’s important, but I catch so many people intuitively, instinctively grabbing it because you’re in the car and there’s nothing else to do. I don’t even have the radio on in the car. I don’t even need to be talking. Sometimes I just want to be here now. Can we just be present and not have to be trying to get through five more emails really quick because we have a moment? That’s hard when you’re committed to doing that and other people aren’t. It can be hard, which is also why I think it’s helpful to at least have a support system around you that says, “I want to do this too.”

It’s contagious. If somebody is dropped into the middle of a bunch of very agitated people and that person’s pretty firm in their practices, then they can start having an impact on other people. Why is Heidi calm? Why is Heidi smiling when everybody else is going crazy? Why doesn’t she feel like she needs to pick up all this stuff and do all these things? The opportunity is there. Can you share a couple of success stories about how this technology has helped companies to be more effective, more productive or maybe that sort of thing?

I stumbled into this work and only now have I realized the success stories that I have. I’ve never done a lot of promotion. I was fortunate to work with a company in Orlando called the Human Performance Institute. I work there for almost ten years. My two biggest fears were flying and public speaking and I ended up doing both, which was totally stressing me out. I was getting sicker and sicker as I was getting more successful on the surface. Then my third grandparent was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. I freaked out thinking about the health of my own brain. That’s the short version of my story. I started stumbling into this work with companies and now I can look back and I’ve had some powerful experiences. One was a company in Detroit. It was a utility company. I went in and consulted with them for a while and we built what I’m talking about now. I didn’t realize it. We took their health and wellness program and turned it into a high energy health program. It started to become about the energy you bring to the time that you have. We integrated nutrition and fitness and sleep, and then integrated positive psychology strategies.

We also had some ambassadors. We also took it out to the community and they ended up winning a big award that year about having this innovative health and wellness programming. It was such a great success story to see that. We piloted this with a small group of people and then as soon as that rolled out, we took it immediately to senior leadership. The C-Suite went through it themselves. All of them spent a day and a half with me to make sure the message was going to working with business leaders and entrepreneurs and people like that. The thing I’m most excited about is I’m working with a global brand called Reef, which is a footwear. They are mostly known for flip-flops. They’ve got some great flip-flops. They’re here in San Diego. We put together a stress mastery program that’s being used internally, but the thing I love about what we’re doing together is we’re building it into their brand. They’re now taking this idea of recharging your energy. I even created a Reef recharge specific four steps that go with the Reef.

It’s so much fun to be creative about that stuff. Their marketing, their PR, their media and their president were in the room when I did a recharge workshop for their employees first. They bought into it and now we’re doing a full media campaign next year. They’re building it into their entire marketing strategy. To me, those are the organizations that are going to do this right. They’re going to see that not only is this going to help our internal tribe, not just on healthcare costs, not just on stress management, but we’re going to take this and we’re going to own it. We’re going to build it into who we are as a brand. If you show up to work there and that’s not aligned with who you are, then you’re probably not going to be there very long. That may not sound like a good thing but any leader knows, you don’t want people who aren’t aligned with the mission. The key to me is how do you align the organizational mission with the personal mission so that every day when people show up, they’re not saying, “We’ve got this big global goal.” They’re saying, “For me to do my job, I have to master stress. I have to recharge. I have to have my accountability partners.” You figure out for each organization what does that mean for you, which is why this is not an off the shelf program. We have an off the shelf virtual training stress mastery solution that people can take. It’s fine. That’s great. If you’re going to integrate this, you’ve got to build it into your culture, your brand or your tribe.

EZ 29 | Manage Stress

Manage Stress: Any leader knows you don’t want people who aren’t aligned with the organization’s mission.


You have to know where you’re starting. I love that you said it’s built into the branding of the whole thing as well. This is who we are and this is what we’re putting into the universe. That’s why I lead consciously and profit responsibly. Go out into the world and demonstrate your philosophy and let your philosophy be one of your tangible takeaways.

Think about the conscious capitalism groups or the companies that got involved with that conscious capitalism, you know who they are because you feel it. They have a brand that makes you fall in love with them because if you’re aligned with that, you’ll feel that. People want to be more productive. They want to perform more. I shifted just instantly. I had Reefs before, which was funny but now I won’t wear anything because I’m part of this movement now. That’s what we want from not only our employees and our colleagues but our clients. We want them to feel like they’re part of something bigger, that brand loyalty. To me, it’s a win-win for everybody. You just have to integrate it into something in that human element of human capital. Can we show up? Do we have the capacity to deal with the challenges in our life?

Heidi, what I want to ask you right now is how could people take working with you to the next level? Where would people go? What do you like to tell them about you?

You can go to, which is my website. There is a lot of fun free stuff there that you can check out. The best thing is our Stress 360 Assessment. It’s at and the Stress 360 survey is 40 simple questions. It gives you a score. It also gives you customized training suggestions based on where you fall. You’ll see where you are compared to other people and also, it’s going to give you some free gifts and free training things to do. You instantly start to feel better. That’s where I would tell people to start.

May I also plug your podcast? Do you want to say a couple words about that?

The Stress Mastery Podcast is officially launching. I’ve got an amazing lineup and it is all about what the experts need to do personally to navigate their relationship with stress more effectively. It’s a pretty short show, but we just get right straight to the point and a lot of practical tips that people will enjoy.

Can they find that on your website?

They will be able to. Eventually, will be where people can get the show knows and the information. We’re in the process of setting that up.

I do want to mention my newest book, Buddha In the Trenches, which is about this very topic. I’ve got a free download of the book. If you go to, you’d pick that up. If you’ve enjoyed the show, please send your comments to me at or chime in on Facebook and let us know what you thought. Feel free to suggest a topic if you’d like. We always like to end our show with a metaphor, a quote, and a challenge for the week. My metaphor for this week is the pressure cooker metaphor. A little bit of pressure is good. It could cook your food. Too much pressure can explode the thing. Be mindful of how much pressure you’re allowing yourself to experience. The quote for the day is from Hans Selye who said, “It’s not stress that kills us, it’s our reaction to it.” Then our challenge for the day. I always like to have our guest issue a challenge for the day. Heidi, if you’re up for it, can you share a challenge with our audience?

Organically, my challenge is don’t take the phone to the loo. If you want a different challenge, my challenge is to create a recharge playlist and that is find three songs that you like, that help you feel like you’re getting your energy back. Maybe focusing in on an intention or inspiration and create a playlist. It could be three songs and use those throughout the day. Plug in at least three times throughout the day. That’s three songs, three times a day to pause and recharge and see how you feel.

I’m going to do that. That’s a great idea. Thanks, Heidi. It’s been so much fun. I appreciate your being here. Our next guest will be Matt Lund, the Executive Director of the National Wellness Institute. Share your thoughts and share this with your friends and subscribe to my podcast and visit us on iTunes and find me on the Executive Zen right on my website. Remember to lead consciously and profit responsibly.

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About Dr. Heidi Hanna

EZ 29 | Manage StressDr. Heidi Hanna is the Chief Energy Officer of Synergy, a company providing brain-based health and performance programs to individuals and organizations, the Executive Director of the American Institute of Stress, and a Founding Partner of the Academy for Brain Health and Performance. She is an NY Times bestselling author of several books, including The Sharp Solution, Stressaholic, and Recharge. Heidi has been featured at many global conferences including the Fortune Magazine Most Powerful Women in Business Summit, ESPN Leadership Summit and the Million Dollar Round Table. Her clients have included Google, Starbucks, Microsoft, Morgan Stanley, and WD40 as well as the PGA Tour and the National Football League. Heidi is also a Certified Humor Professional with the Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor although she won’t admit she’s funny. Her newest book, What’s So Funny About Stress, will be released this fall.

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