Attuned Leadership for Women Podcast
Stress to Strength Series, Part 1
Build Capacity Management
🎧 **Welcome to the “Stress to Strength” Series!** 🎧
🎙️ In this first episode of the series, Dr. Crystal Frazee uncovers a fresh perspective on stress resilience and capacity management exclusively for women. No clichés, no fluff – just practical, science-backed solutions to elevate your performance and well-being.
🌟 Delve into the real impact of chronic stress on your brain and emotions. Discover why “one-size-fits-all” stress relief methods fall short and how you can effectively close the stress cycle for lasting results.
🌞 But that’s not all – we delve into capacity management, the critical balance between high-performance and well-being. Learn the art of discernment, prioritizing what truly matters, and gaining the agility to thrive without sacrificing your health.
🚀 It’s time to go beyond surface-level self-care and uncover the secrets of stress resilience for women leaders.
Hit play now and empower yourself with the groundbreaking insights of “Stress to Strength, Part 1: Build Capacity Management.”
[00:02:58] What is stress?
[00:06:25] Workplace performance and stress.
[00:09:30] Completing the stress cycle is crucial.
[00:10:40] Changes in the amygdala.
[00:14:40] Women and stress in leadership.
[00:16:00] Effective stress management practices.
[00:17:02] Prioritize stress resilience for success.
[00:20:06] Capacity and performance relationship.
[00:23:29] Peak performance and stress management.
[00:27:28] Stress and body awareness.
[00:28:33] Learn stress resilience through the Somatic Attunement Method™.
Mentioned In This Episode:
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Prefer to Read? Here’s the transcript!
*Just a heads up – the provided transcript is likely to not be 100% accurate
Welcome to the Attuned Leadership for Women podcast. Today kicks off a new series called Stress to Strength. I’m your host, Dr. Crystal Frazee, and I just want to take a second to say that the whole purpose of the Attuned Leadership for Women podcast is to give you real solutions to the invisible challenges you face as a woman, and this series is going to be key in helping you do that. Stress resilience isn’t just a buzzword. It’s a powerful skill that can revolutionize the way you navigate today’s demanding workplace.
In this episode today, we’re going to dive deep into the impact of chronic stress on your brain, emotions, and overall performance and discover how stress resilience can help you break free from the invisible burdens and double standards that hinder your progress. And I’m going to show you how it will help you lead with more authenticity and confidence.
I chose this topic for our series to cover right now because summer’s in full swing and falls just around the corner where I’m at in the world. In my experience, summer is a time that can feel overwhelming. We already have full plates and high levels of stress, while also during the summer having an influx of changes to our schedules and lifestyles. In my life, summer means social events, more late nights, more travel, and let’s not leave out the event planning, chaperoning, and memory making for my two school-aged daughters. Plus, the wild idea I get every summer to have a patio garden and organize all the art that came home from the school year, and then to spend as much time at the beach as we can here in West Michigan. The weekends get packed and there’s just less space for recovery, so it’s so important that we have these skills baked right in.
In my experience, when we get to mid-September, women can feel walloped. It’s like they need a summer from their summer. And the truth is that cramming in more than you have the capacity for at any time of your life, not just summer, it’s stressful and it will take a toll. And not only that, but we’re already facing high levels of stress. And if we’re going to overcome the challenges that we face on a daily basis, we need a relevant, practical, and effective way to manage that.
This series is to help you better recognize stress in your body, build relevant stress-resilient skills, get better at capacity management, and learn Body Wisdom so you start the next season from a place of true strength. I’m going to give you specific skills from the Somatic Attunement Method, and it’s going to blow everything about time and stress management you’ve ever learned out of the water.
To kick off today’s show, in which the focus is to help make sure you understand what stress is, why women are more susceptible to its negative effects than men, and why chronic stress diminishes your capacity and performance, we’re gonna start by answering this question. What is stress?
Well, basically, any time the brain deems something as potentially threatening, whether it’s real or imagined, like an idea, it evaluates it. And if it seems relevant, it triggers a physiologic response, which is a specific cascade of events in your body that changes how you feel, think, and perform so that you can respond to that threat in a way that ensures your safety and survival. And then after the cascade is complete, your body has released all the stress chemicals, and the physiologic changes have been restored so you can then return to a state of calm and recovery, and that is the full picture of the stress cycle.
And really, your body is exquisitely designed to handle short bursts of stress. That’s why there’s a saying that zebras don’t get ulcers, even though they’re prey animals and face ongoing threats from predators. And contrary to what you may have heard, acute or short-term stress is a good thing. It boosts your immune system and gives you energy. It’s how you so brilliantly drive to work when you’re running late, handle being put on the spot in a high-stakes meeting, and spring into action so quickly when you hear your kid or your pet yelling for help. Acute stress mobilizes your body into action.
To help you understand an example of how this works in the natural world, imagine a fuzzy gray squirrel sitting on a branch eating a plump acorn with both hands. It’s immersed in the entire experience of opening the acorn and eating it, but then there’s a sudden roar of a motorcycle down the street, and the squirrel shifts instantly from this calm mode to a stressed mode that’s also called fight or flight. It gets a burst of energy from this increased blood flow to its arms and legs in a sudden release of blood sugar, and it flees behind the tree out of sight.
And once the sound is gone, it automatically discharges the remaining stress hormones by doing a number of things that brings its physiology back to baseline, one of which could be shaking its body. And these responses are primal and hard-wired into the squirrel, where it’s not choosing to do them. They’re just automatic. And because of that, it quickly effortlessly resumes eating the acorn because now its nervous system feels safe. It’s gone from fight or flight mode to rest and digest mode.
The squirrel moves between these normal nervous system states without any interference all throughout the day. You can watch it happen just by looking out of the window and observing a squirrel in nature for 10 minutes.
And quite frankly, the creatures that have the longest lifespans are the ones that manage stress the best because stress directly impacts performance and therefore an animal’s survival. Now, a squirrel’s performance is the ability to recognize threats and having the agility to move away from them.
Our performance, of course, takes on a few different meanings. So let’s take a look at workplace performance specifically for now. Imagine a bell curve where stress is on the horizontal axis and performance is on the vertical axis. On the stress axis, low stress is on the left and stress increases as you move to the right. Low stress causes an under stimulation, so performance is low on the left side of the curve. And high levels of stress cause overstimulation and results in low performance on the right side of the curve. Right in the middle of the curve, at the top of the bell curve, is where performance and also motivation, productivity and capacity management are the best. This middle part of the stress curve is called eustress and I’m going to spell it because I want to make sure you get what I’m saying. It’s E-U-S-T-R-E-S-S and it’s what I want you to be aiming for.
The way the stress cycle works is that it has a beginning, a middle and an end. The squirrel and the zebras that I mentioned move all the way through that stress cycle because they don’t have the same competing interests. They’re not resting behind the tree moving through the stress cycle and suddenly their Apple watch goes off reminding them that they’re going to have a meeting in two minutes so they disregard what their body needs to do. They don’t have the same ability to disrupt their body’s natural processes.
The problem for us is how our thinking brains interfere with these primitive stress responses so we don’t complete the stress cycle. I mean how many of you can resonate with the story of the squirrel where something really stressful could happen and you just immediately can shift out of that or does it sound more familiar to you that that stress lingers in some way?
What I see in working professionals is that we tend to continuously override our body’s messages and just push right through. For high-achieving independent professional women especially, stress levels stay high virtually all the time. If you’re a single parent or have other additional strain in your life then it’s even more true.
Maybe you can relate to this. Let’s say you had an intense interaction with a colleague where your stress response was through the roof but you don’t have time to allow yourself to move through the stress cycle completely because you do have something coming up in your calendar in just a few minutes. Instead of completing the stress cycle, the stress accumulates and then you keep working repeating that until you get to the end of the day and you get home and you feel physically and mentally tired, emotionally numb, and you just kind of want to be alone for 30 minutes in complete silence or to do something to zone out like drink alcohol, eat something that’s got fat, sugar, and salt like ice cream or pizza, or scroll social media before you feel like you can gear up to the next part of your day.
This is exactly why I say that generic self-care doesn’t work to lower the impact of stress especially for women. A one-hour yoga class or meditation is lovely but not effective necessarily at closing the stress cycle once so much has accumulated. Instead, I like clients to choose a few micro actions that they know are effective for them and to do them for 30 to 60 seconds five times throughout the day, for example, and we’ll get into what those things are that you can do in the next episode of this series.
Here’s the key message to remember. While occasional stress can be beneficial, prolonged and intense stress has negative effects and it’s detrimental if you don’t adequately close the stress cycle. Women specifically need to know how to recognize stress in their body, how to regulate that stress that they feel, and probably the most important of all, they have to give themselves permission to take the one to two minutes to do something about it throughout the day.
Get this. Ongoing stress actually changes the part of your brain called your amygdala that senses danger by making it larger. Crazy, right? The more stressed you are, the more your brain adaptively thinks it needs to be better at sensing danger to keep you alive. Over time, that means that a thought or a less stressful experience than it took before can now trigger a larger and larger stress response over time.
I’ve seen this with someone close to me in my life where if I just call her and she picks up the phone, she starts with, what’s wrong? What’s happened? Or with clients that have a thought, just an idea, trigger anxiety so high that they felt like they were being stalked by a tiger while they were sitting in the comfort and safety of their own home. The effect of this high level of stress over time making your amygdala larger is not only that your response to stress gets exacerbated, but on top of that, then it takes longer for your system to restore back to a state of calm. And then you’re going to need more frequent nervous system regulating activities to tell the brain that it can be less vigilant.
And the other structural change that happens in your brain that I want to point out with chronic stress is that it thins out your frontal lobe. That’s a part of the brain that you’ve used to get to your current level of success. So I’m guessing you don’t want anything altering it. The frontal lobe is your source of creativity and executive functions like decision-making, problem-solving, planning, and organizing. It’s how you sustain focus and is directly related to your ability to filter out distractions and concentrate. It involves your working memory and multitasking ability and helps you regulate your emotions, which is how you maintain your composure. So the changes caused by chronic stress to your brain are a big damn deal.
And what so many people fail to understand, health care providers and coaches included is that while high levels of chronic stress may be typical, it’s not normal. In fact, the higher your stress levels, whether for your work life or your personal life, the more you need to know how to buffer that stress so that you don’t suffer serious physiologic changes in your body that result in disruption to your daily life.
And this is very common, normal things that you hear about or typical, I should say typical things like insomnia, anxiety, heart palpitations, feeling like your heart is racing or beating out of your chest, memory lapses, brain fog, chronic pain, hormone disruptions and frequent sickness.
For women, the risks are even higher than they are for men. Women are three times more likely to have depression and anxiety and they have a much higher risk of burnout. Women are more likely to have cardiac issues because estrogen protects against heart disease. And as women get older and move into postmenopause, those levels of estrogen drop. So older women naturally have a greater risk for stroke and heart attack. And it’s only magnified by increased levels of stress. Lastly, women have a fourfold increase risk of autoimmune diseases compared to men. That’s partly related to how one of the stress chemicals, cortisol, increases inflammation and impairs the immune system.
My concern about this is how traditional leadership glosses over the ongoing levels of high stress women face that are both visible and especially invisible sources like the double standards found in every role that we play, the daily microaggressions we experience, whether in the workplace or just interacting with social media and the reality of the glass ceiling. And it fails to account for the toll all of the stressors take on us relative to our capacity and performance.
Look, I’ve personally experienced severe burnout and I’ve had clients with such high levels of stress that they ended up in the hospital with suspicion of really serious conditions like a stroke for one and a heart attack for the other. And interestingly to me, both of them were discharged with uncertainty about whatever caused their issue. Not a single provider they could remember ever asked them about their stress levels or their stress management skills. And these are smart, successful and experienced women who unknowingly had pushed through and overwritten their body’s messages about stress and had gone without learning stress resilient skills for a really long time.
Attuned Leadership is different because it acknowledges the invisible challenges you and other women face and the impact those challenges have on our nervous systems and teaches you to identify your unique stress signals.
What are the messages your body gives you when you have low, medium or high stress? What is the thing you need to pay attention to to say, hey, now you really need to do something about this? And then Attuned Leadership gives you the competence to know how to respond so that it’s effective to close the stress cycle on a daily basis. Stress resilience in my work refers to the fact that there’s no such thing as stress relief, but that the focus that I want you to be thinking about here is on effective stress management practices. And those practices have to fit into the time available in your day and they have to result in the changes you need for optimal functioning to be correct for you.
So let’s just take a second and envision what the professional world would look like where stress resilience was an integral part of education and professional development. I mean, is this resonating at all? Have you ever learned stress resilience in any of your professional development training or in your education? Was this a primary part of what you were taught that it would take to be successful in your field? And for most of us, I think we’d say no, definitely not.
But I’m so curious, why not? Because I really believe that it should be. If we imagine a world where understanding your body’s response to stress and if we were to shift the cultural message that it’s okay, in fact, is valued to prioritize your own regulation and that it becomes a core value for organizations, especially those that say they value gender representation at upper levels of leadership, the benefit of stress resilience to you as an individual is that you will feel better. You’ll do more powerful work and you’ll live longer. Isn’t that great? And the benefit to the organization is that you have sustainability. Their investment of you is going to serve them longer.
In my coaching and consulting work with attuned leadership, I consider capacity management a huge asset. It’s something that organizations should pursue and something people should put on their resumes once they learn those skills because it really is competitive. And as we move even further into our post COVID world, it’s more and more and more of an asset. Have you ever been in a job interview where they ask why you’re qualified for this specific position? Well, I’d like you to imagine if you were to answer with this response. Well, I can confidently navigate uncertainty and adapt to changing markets. I can maintain peak performance without succumbing to burnout or overwhelming stress. I have a strategic blend of resilience, innovative thinking and effective stress management techniques. And I’m well equipped to embrace challenges head on, maintain composure and lead others to do the same with ease. I think their jaw would drop and they would be very intrigued to learn more about that.
So I have a side note for a second here. If you or someone you care about is suffering from high stress or burnout and you want deeper support than this podcast series, I would love for you to know that you can sign up for updates on the release of my first book called Revive the Working Woman’s Unexpected Guide to Recovering from Burnout, which is a detailed workbook style, step-by-step strategy to build stress resilience. And one of my advanced readers has already said to me that she wants her HR department to use the book for their internal training programs for burnout prevention in her organization. So to sign up for book updates and be able to order once it’s released, go to www.crystalfrazee.com/book-updates/
All right, I think we’ve covered the basics of stress and how that relates to your performance. And now it’s really important for me to cover with you how stress is related to your capacity. And the truth is capacity and performance are synonymous. They’re directly related in a one-to-one relationship. Capacity is the amount you can do with your time and energy. It’s the maximum potential you have to handle all the challenges and demands that you face. And it’s easiest for me to think of it in terms of volume. So as a visual example, imagine that your capacity is represented by a drinking glass. And I have one right here. And this glass holds 16 ounces. Now that’s a finite amount. If I try to put more than 16 ounces in it, it’s going to overfill and it’s going to spill over. Remember the bell curve that I described earlier and the relationship between stress and performance.
And if the cup is spilling over, there’s more demand on you than you have time and energy to fulfill it. And so you’re stressed, you’re dropping balls, there’s over stimulation, you feel overwhelmed and your performance declines. And that’s how all of those tie together. If you’re like many of my high achieving clients, when they come to me, they’re already experts at keeping their cups filled to the brim and living in a state of constant stress. And they’ve been doing it since grade school, only as they’ve gotten older, the stakes have gotten higher, the stressors bigger, and their stress resilience hasn’t developed at the same pace. The secret is that you have to leave room in your cup to put stress management in there too. You have to leave time and energy for closing your stress cycle. Hence the specific attention I’m giving to capacity management skills because capacity management is the practical way that you implement all of this in your daily life.
So you have capacity unfilled, unused, and unallocated to have time and energy to effectively close the stress cycle and maintain your peak performance. And I know this is shocking to some of my high achievers because the thought of sitting idle with white space is so unsettling. And believe me, I get that. But that’s not what I’m telling you to do. That’s just not what it looks like.
Balancing your capacity just ensures that you can handle challenges without feeling overwhelmed. It allows you to succeed without sacrificing your well being. And when you do that, you feel more alive, you feel more capable and more satisfied, and you can put more of yourself into the projects and work tasks and life experiences that you choose to put in the cup.
There’s actually another really important component to capacity management besides just completing the stress cycle. And I call it discernment. And with discernment, that means you are really picky about what goes in the damn cup to begin with, so that you only put in the cup what’s going to really drive your results. And that means that you are really clear on your values and your priorities at home and work. It also means that you can give yourself permission to prioritize your limits, your emotional limits, physical limits, cognitive limits, so that you can easily say no when you need to. And you know that saying when you say no to something, you’re saying yes to something else.
Well, in this case, you’re saying yes to capacity management, to your own stress resilience. And when you prevent your cup from overflowing, then you are in a state of you stress, you’re functioning in the middle of that bell curve, where your performance is optimal. So many of the professionals that I work with, don’t know what that state feels like, because they’re always teetering over at the edge of the bell curve.
And this is part of what it means to be a great leader, to be able to identify for yourself and others how to drive results while staying within capacity. Leadership is finding this balance point of you stress for yourself, and steering your teams there as well. And that’s really the key to long term success. And here’s what will really blow your mind. When you learn to manage your capacity and your stress towards peak performance, where the signs of stress that you experience physically, emotionally and cognitively are minimal, and you know how to weave simple actions to close the stress cycle easily throughout your day. And you can discern what’s appropriate to go in the cup to begin with, the size of your cup will actually grow. That’s right, you get to upgrade from 16 to 24 ounces. And you can do even more, more than you ever thought possible without paying the price of your health or emotional well being, you’ll be able to grow your business, get a promotion, or have more influence as a leader.
I think that’s why my friends and colleagues over the years have asked me, how do you do everything you do? Well, I can assure you that it’s not because I have some innate gift, I do get stressed. And the secret really lies in mastering stress resilience, and embracing capacity management and the ability to know what to say yes to, and the ability to say no without hesitation. I know I’ve learned through the Somatic Attunement Method to feel my body’s signals of stress and to know when they go from low to medium, or medium to high stress. And then I practice what I call air quotes here on the spot regulation on the spot, which means I’m not waiting until I’m off work or until the weekend or for four more months until my next vacation to respond to that it’s not accumulating. I’m armed with this toolkit of very simple things that I can do that take just a minute. And I give myself permission to do them, because I know that I’m not invincible. And if you remember nothing else, here it is, when my body talks, I listen.
I want you to take a moment and ask yourself, what are the messages that your body gives you when you’re experiencing stress? And for most people, it’s easiest to imagine what they feel with high levels of stress. And start by thinking about that from physical sensations. What happens for you physically under high stress? For some people, it’s something really obvious like an upset stomach or muscle tightness, headaches, fatigue. For someone else, it might be a little more subtle, like it feels hard to take a full breath, or there’s difficulty sleeping or shift in your dreams.
But also ask yourself what happens emotionally? Do you feel increased agitation? So you have a shorter fuse? Do you have increased emotional sensitivity? I deal with this where I’m crying at the Nike commercial, or a radio jingle while I’m driving down the street. Or do you feel sometimes emotionally numb?
And then cognitively, most people don’t consider cognitive changes because of stress. But truly, you can have difficulty concentrating or experience challenges with memory and word recall, or feel like it’s harder to make short term memories or feel creative when you’re under stress.
So for the rest of the week, think about this and make sure that you’ve sat down and asked yourself, what does stress feel like in my body? And what behaviors do I have that change with different levels of stress, low, medium or high?
For example, I know that if I start picking a hang now and picking at my fingernails, that my stress level is high. And I catch myself doing that. And I know right away that I need to tune into my body and do some of those on the spot practices.
And I’d also like you to take a moment and just consider what tools you have in your toolbox to manage stress. What are the ones that you enjoy most that you’re doing on a regular basis? And is it really effective for you? Is it working? Try to find out where you have some gaps that I can help you fill. And for most people, that gap is that they don’t have things they can do on the spot. They don’t have something they can do in a meeting that doesn’t call attention to themselves so that they can respond to messages of stress in their body without having to also stop what they’re doing.
In the next episode, I’m going to teach you about the Somatic Attunement Method and introduce you to the specific skills you need to start listening to your Body Wisdom and learn stress resilience. I promise that everything I’m going to share will be practical, relevant, and not something you’ve heard before. So I hope that you’ll plan to tune in.
The best way to make sure you don’t miss a show is to sign up for my email list. I send weekly email with a link to the show with extra content related to learning the material we’re covering. And I only email you when there’s something in it for you. I hate spam as much as you do.
You can sign up for my email list and get immediate access at the same time to my free audio training called how to run your day without it running you. Don’t we all need that? It includes tips for stress resilience and time management. And I highly recommend you get ahold of it while it’s available. Just go to crystalfrazee.com/run-you-day/
Well, I’d love to know what you thought of today’s show. Please send me a direct message on Instagram @drcrystalfrazee or at the same handle on LinkedIn or by email at crystal at crystal frazee.com.
As always, if you haven’t yet, the most meaningful way to say thanks for the effort I put into producing the show is to leave a review. All you have to do is on your phone, go to the Apple podcast app, open up a tuned leadership for women and scroll down on that page past the episodes to the sections titled rating and review in purple text in small font, right there. There’s a link that says write a review and it’s underlined because it’s a link, click it and you’re golden from there. It’s easy peasy and reviewing helps so much.
I can’t tell you how much because it tells others why the show stands out and why they should listen. Help me spread the word and grow the movement for women to rewrite the rules for success and satisfaction. I hope you enjoyed the first episode in the stress to strength series until next week.