It’s hard not to get anxious today with the recession, inflation, political polarization, the great resignation, and much more. Learning how to deal with stress and anxiety right now is at an all-time high! Join Penny Zenker as he talks to the founder and CEO of Passion Fit, Reena Vokoun. Discover some tips and tricks on how you can deal with all this stress right now. Learn how to shift your focus from the chaos and into something positive. Start fighting back against anxiety today!
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Dealing With Anxiety In Times Of Uncertainty With Reena Vokoun
In this episode, we are going to talk about the anxiety that people are feeling about the future, about recession, inflation, and political polarization that continues to be a challenge. We have so many different things that are on people’s minds, including inclusion and the Great Resignation. There are so many things now that are swirling around us and that are causing anxiety and anxiousness. We’re going to talk about strategies to deal with that anxiety and stress.
I’m excited to have Reena Vokoun. She is the Founder and CEO of Passion Fit. She’s a bestselling and award-winning author, a TEDx speaker, a media spokesperson, and a certified health and wellness, employee well-being, and professional strengths expert. She’s got a lot of credentials behind her name. She is going to share with us those stress types of tips and tricks that we can all use so that as we are going through this turbulent time, we can do it with a little bit more ease. Reena, welcome to the show.
Thank you so much for having me. It’s great to be here.
What do you see people most anxious about? Where’s their focus? I talk about take back time and a lot about owning our focus. Where is people’s focus? Where does it need to be? Where is it and causing that anxiousness and where does it need to be?
I work with individuals. I also work with companies, nonprofits, and universities in different organizations. I see a wide variety of perspectives but the connector that I see amongst everyone is anxiety over the future. We’ve got all the things you mentioned with inflation and the Great Resignation. There’s also the pandemic.
There’s so much uncertainty swirling all around us. That uncertainty makes people feel insecure and not safe and not sure of what’s coming next. The workplace, as we know, is constantly changing. Policies are changing when it comes to things like remote work, hybrid work, or being back in the office. That’s also creating a lot of tension and stress for people. The focus for a lot of people is on what’s happening all around them, what they don’t know, and what things are changing.
As we’ve all heard from someone at some point in our life, change is the only constant. In terms of your question of where they could be to help them get through these tough times is to think about the fact that change is a constant. We have to embrace it but there are some things that we can control and ways to focus on managing stress and creating some calm and centeredness in our lives. I know that’s part of what we’re going to talk about. I’m happy to share those tips whenever it’s helpful.
You said that people focus on what they don’t know but what about what they do know? What about what is within their control? That’s a key human nature that we have a tendency to want to focus on what’s uncertain. All that does is send us into that spiral of negative thinking, catastrophizing, or feeling overwhelmed because there’s so much that we don’t know. How does one do that? How do I shift away from all of that focus on the uncertainty of my future? How do I get that centeredness to understand what I can control?
It’s taking that focus off externally and turning internally and in towards yourself and focusing on something that you can control. Let’s start with your breathing. I work with a lot of clients on mindfulness and mindset techniques and practicing mindfulness. Focusing on your breath is one of the easiest ways to focus on the present and on yourself. Diaphragmatic breathing is one that’s deep into the diaphragm or the belly.Take your focus off the externals and start focusing internally. Focus on the things that you can control. Click To Tweet
You inhale through your nose as you expand your diaphragm out and you exhale through your mouth as you pull your belly or your diaphragm back in. A lot of times when we’re stressed and anxious, we have shallow breathing in the chest, which can often cause us to hyperventilate. When we get deep into the belly, we start to calm our heart rate and breathing down, and slowly, our mind will start to calm down.
All of those thoughts and worries that are swirling around it in our heads that often keep us up at night will start to go away. Oftentimes we think, “My mind is going to drift again back to all those things that I’m worried about.” That’s going to happen. We can give ourselves some slack and give ourselves the okay that our minds are going to wander. It’s difficult to focus on your breath but the more you do it, the easier it will become. That’s the first tip that I would recommend is to focus on your breathing.
It’s always there with us. It’s amazing. We take it everywhere we go, our breath.
The second one is positive visualization. If you are having these maybe visions in your mind of things that could go wrong, your financial situation, job security, health, and well-being or that of your loved ones, focusing on that positive visualization will allow you to shift into imagery that is what you want it to be versus what you don’t want it to be.
If you can picture yourself being successful in your job, having that security, and feeling good about your finances. Maybe you think about your next vacation and visualize yourself on a beach and knowing that you have your life in order. That will help you to create the reality that you want. Positive visualization is a very powerful exercise that, again, you can tap into any time like your breath. You have control over that.
Sometimes I play the devil’s advocate. When my mind isn’t there, a lot of people say, “What I feel is fake. I can’t visualize something that I don’t believe is true.” What I do sometimes is visualize being in a place that makes me happy. I’ll go to the beach, especially during the pandemic when we couldn’t go anywhere. Why not just go there and do it like that in the context of going there in your head? If you’ve ever been to the beach before, you can imagine what it feels like to have your feet on the sand and put your feet in the water or to sit and feel the breeze.
Imagine yourself somewhere that makes you happy and that is more peaceful. Do you do something like that or do you suggest that as an alternative for somebody who can’t visualize themselves in a place that they’ve never been? If the future and being in a new job or happy and now they’re not feeling that way. Is that something that you would recommend?
If that isn’t motivating for you or calming for you, then yes. If it’s going to cause you more stress to picture your goals for the future, then shift to something that is more calming. I do that. I use this positive visualization exercise again with my clients. I’ll tell them whether it’s a beach, a waterfall, your childhood home, or something that does give you good positive feelings. Whatever it is for you personally, that is the place to go.
The former suggestion was more for if you’re somebody who is very goal oriented and you want to make your dreams a reality and you want to picture them in your mind. It’s like creating a vision board in your head. That’s where I would recommend that. I agree that it’s not for everyone and it’s finding whatever form of positive visualization will work for you.
I find with people that I’ve interacted with that, as you said, people are very goal-oriented if they’re in a good place. They can visualize themselves but when people aren’t in a good place, I have found that people have a harder time visualizing themselves in a good place. Meaning a place that they haven’t been to or can’t reference. That’s why it’s good to have some alternatives in terms of how can they access that anyway. It’s almost like also word sentence stem that sometimes I’ve used in the past where even though I feel uncertain about my future, what I can be certain of is, then blank so that we can also shift what we’re thinking to what we can be certain about.
Maybe it’s even picturing your loved ones, your children, your parents, or your pet. Anybody that brings you joy, having that vision in your mind can be very calming as well. The entire goal is to use your mindset, what’s in your brain, your breathing, connecting that mind to the body so that in the body, you feel less of that anxiety, that stress, and that tension.
I think the image that comes to each person’s mind is going to be different. It’s good to think about at that stage in your life what’s going to empower you and what’s not going to empower you because there could be situations where it may not always work to picture those goals. The third tip that I was going to share is practicing gratitude. Thanksgiving is the perfect time of year to think about the things that we do have.
No matter where we are in our lives, again, everyone’s going through different things and different challenges and hardships. Hopefully, you can pick something, big or small that you are grateful for. That exercise shifts your focus to a feeling of abundance versus a feeling of lack. Again, sometimes that’s not easy to do when things are not going right and you feel like the world is falling down on you and you can’t find something positive to think about.
If you can even, “I woke up. I have another day,” life, in and of itself is a gift. I’m breathing fresh air. There was a time when we couldn’t even go outside and we were wearing masks all the time. Being able to focus on something that you can be grateful for will also help you shift your focus as well and ease that stress.
I have used gratitude in some of the most difficult times of my life to fill me up with that positive focus because it shifts the energy of everything. The way you look at anything and everything from that point is completely different because you’re putting on a new set of glasses. You’re seeing things out a different window or in a different way and that’s huge if you can reset your perspective. I do it daily. I still do it. I’ve done it for many years, so I’m a huge proponent of gratitude.
I find that even in those difficult times as you said, you could find that one thing. I find that the more you do it, the more you recognize it like anything. You become good at it. You can appreciate the beauty of the leaves that are crunching under your feet or how beautiful the sky is when the sun’s coming up and it’s through the clouds or whatever it is.
I agree. It does take practice. Some studies might show that some people are naturally more optimistic than others. I do think that regardless of where you come from, it is a skill that you can teach yourself and you can learn with practice. I love getting out in nature. That is one of the best ways to get perspective and practice gratitude. I like to step outside every morning and breathe the fresh air and say, “I’m so thankful for another day.” It’s simple. It takes a few minutes in my morning and it makes all the difference for sure.
There’s also something for someone else. Doing good, getting outside of yourself, and helping someone else has a huge change in our spirit. That’s also something that people could do. I encouraged my son who is having a lot of challenges with anxiety. That was something that helped him shift his perspective. He volunteered at the SPCA, so he was around animals. Animals made him happy. He was doing good to support an organization that was supporting those animals find new homes. It’s a big component of that too.
It’s not to make our problems not be as big as they might be but it does make us feel like, “Maybe my problems are big but not as big as somebody else or that we all have struggles.” It makes you feel like you’re not alone. You can shift the focus outside of yourself for a purpose that’s bigger than yourself.
Those are things that people can access at any time when they’re feeling stressed. How do you suggest that people deal with that in the workplace? Do you deal with people in the workplace who are experiencing an overload of commitments and things like that? Do you have any specific strategies that you would recommend in the workplace that might be different from this?
I do work with people on workplace wellness and corporate wellness. It’s still something that you can do, whether it’s positive visualization, breathing, and gratitude. You could write that down maybe at your desk, during lunchtime or you can join together. A lot of companies are offering mindfulness sessions. Whether it’s on campus or remotely over webinars or livestream classes.
It’s finding for yourself times of your day when you want to do that more privately, whether you’re in your home office or your work office. Take those times to do those things when you need them most. If it helps you to also join groups or take advantage of employee well-being perks and different offerings that your company has, then that’s also a way for you to be able to practice these forms of mindfulness at different times.
A lot of people are experiencing this. Many of the stress and anxieties people are having are because of work. The workplace now is a very stressful place. It is causing a lot of uncertainty for people. Companies are realizing more than ever how important employee well-being is. It’s something I’ve been working on for many years. I’ve even seen the shift from pre-pandemic to now. Pre-pandemic, it was much more of nice to have.
It was, “If we have budget left over, we’ll consider that maybe next year. We need to see the ROI on it.” Whereas now, you always want to see the ROI on different investments that you make for your employees but people are realizing we need to be able to look at our employees as whole people and take care of them personally and professionally.
That’s something that I have a huge passion for. I worked in Silicon Valley in the tech and digital media industry for about 16 to 17 years before launching my company and getting more into the help and wellness space. One of the reasons I did that, I left my job at Google and my corporate career was because I saw that there were a lot of people who were burnt out and were facing health issues because of work stress. I wanted to help other people as well.
This isn’t new. The pandemic has only amplified the dysfunctions that we already had. It’s not like these are new problems. I want to challenge you a little bit and see what your opinion is here because a lot of companies are putting in different types of wellness programs but what I’m finding in some of the people that I’ve talked to is that they don’t have the time to take advantage of them.
Even the workload that is being given to them, it’s not like, “We have these Wellness Fridays and you can do this.” They’re not giving them the space to take advantage of those. Even though they exist, there’s this gap between the programs that exist and the people that can use them. How do people bridge that gap when it’s not being lived?
That’s very true. That is the reality. That was happening before the pandemic and it’s happening probably even more so now. There might be more offerings out there but then not enough time to make use of them. A lot of that stems from company culture. It comes from the top down, senior leadership. Teams within these companies and management teams need to be setting the standard and setting the example. If they are sending emails at 2:00 in the morning and expecting people to always be on and not giving people the opportunity to set boundaries and have some balance in their life, whatever that balance looks like for them, that can be challenging.
Employees are voicing that concern and saying, “I would love to be able to take advantage of all of these wellness perks but I simply don’t have the time because of my workload or my work arrangement.” With people going back into the office, they might be having to commute again. There are so many different stressors all around them. It’s voicing it and working with your management team, with your own team if you are a manager, and figuring out how you can communicate what your needs are.
Also, continue to understand your expectations because you still want to be productive. You want to be engaged, perform, and excel at your goals. If it’s at the expense of your own health and well-being and happiness on a consistent basis, that’s going to be a problem not only for you but for your employer as well. Raising your concerns, having a voice, and trying to work together to figure out some ways to rectify them is what I would recommend.
It’s hard because a lot of people, depending on the level of role and whatnot, don’t feel comfortable saying, “I’m going to go to that lunch thing that you’ve got there for me. I’m not going to be able to spend that extra hour completing this project or doing whatever.” This is my view and I’m interested in your picture with this. The boundaries that used to be there have eroded. It used to be held up by the organization or the environment.
A boundary might be leaving work and going home. There’s that transition that was there. Now in many cases when people are working from home, that’s not there anymore. We used to work in offices and those walls have gone down. All these natural boundaries helped us to stay sane at times, to be concentrated, to come home, to be able to shift into home life and have a little bit more balance. The onus is put back on the employee.
Employers are trying to do more but it’s important for the employee to recognize that this is happening. As individuals, we do have to be clearer on our boundaries and we do need to communicate those. It’s okay to work overtime once in a while for a project but if you are consistently asking somebody to work overtime over and over again, it’s important that there’s a conversation about it and not to feel like that’s taboo to have that conversation.
In some cases, that’s happening. That’s why the Great Resignation is happening because people are like, “I’m leaving because this is not working.” We have to understand that it’s okay to set those boundaries and have those discussions as long as you’re not like, “It’s like this and that’s it.” There’s a way to have that to say, “How can we accomplish this in a different way because it’s not working?”
Everyone’s different. Honestly, generationally, it varies. I don’t want to generalize in any way but a lot of the research shows that Millennials are voicing their opinions. They’re a lot of the ones that are leading the Great Resignation because they are wanting to set boundaries. They want work-life balance. Many of them are advocating for remote work. It could be some of the other generations, all the way up through Gen X and Boomers that are used to a certain style of culture. Maybe they’re the ones that don’t feel comfortable voicing their opinions. To your point also, if you’re earlier in your career, you might be a little bit more hesitant and vice versa.
It does depend on the individual. I’ve learned this in my career. I’m sure you have as well, Penny. At the end of the day, we have to advocate for ourselves because no one is going to do it for us. No one is going to be able to read our minds or understand what we’re up against, not only in our professional life but personally as well. Only we know when we’ve maybe hit our limit or we’re about to hit our limit or we’re at the point of burnout.You have to be the one to advocate for yourself because no one is going to do that for you. Click To Tweet
Unless we can recognize that and communicate that effectively, the ones that are going to suffer are going to be us. That’s an important lesson to learn at any stage of your life and any stage of your career. Take notice of it, take stock of it, and know when you need to raise your hand. I’ve been through it personally. I’ve experienced burnout, so I know how difficult it can be. It’s so important, especially for your health and wellness.
I’m curious, what’s your definition of productivity and why?
I would say my definition of productivity is working efficiently, effectively strategically, and intelligently to reach your goals. Why I think that is because all of us have gone through periods of life or maybe during our academic careers where we thought you have to work harder, more hours, longer hours. It was a badge of honor to be busy and always working. I’ve experienced that myself but that isn’t necessarily going to produce the best results and the best work.
It’s being able to think about how you can be productive and efficient with your time. I always tell my clients, “Focus on the 3 to 5 most needle-moving, strategic, important, and impactful goals versus setting a list of 30 goals that you may never achieve.” If you can do that and focus on the things that matter and manage your time accordingly, then you’re going to be more successful in not only reaching your goals but producing higher-quality work than if you burn the midnight oil constantly and there’s no end in sight. That’s how you burn out and do not achieve your goals.
I like it. I’m about efficient and effective too. You got to have that balance in order to bring it forward so that you’re not caught up in the speed of things and making mistakes. At the same time, you’re getting the quality that you want to deliver. Is there anything I didn’t ask you that you feel the audience needs to know?
I think we covered most of it. It’s important that without your health, it’s hard to be successful in your professional life and your personal life. Hopefully, more people are taking stock of their health. As hard as it can be to take time out of your busy schedule to focus on it, it’s critical so that you can also give back to other people, whether it’s your family, your employer, or your community. Take care of yourself and you’ll be able to excel in other areas of your life. We covered all the major points, Penny. I enjoyed our conversation.Take stock of your health because without it, it's hard to be successful professionally and personally. Click To Tweet
Thanks. Me, too, and hopefully, you folks. Maybe you have heard a thing or two before and that’s okay because maybe you heard it in a different way that’s going to make your ears perk up and go, “Now is the time.” That is what’s important. You can leave here maybe with an extra tip or with a realization that now’s the time.
To summarize what we talked about is that you may be focused and thinking about all that’s going on in the future, all that’s going on around you. The truth is that’s there and it’s not going to change. Things aren’t going to go back to the way that they were, so how do we accept where we are and focus on the things that we can control and be able to self-regulate so that we can bring out the best of ourselves?
We talked about breathing, visualizations, gratitude and maybe you also can refer to things that you’ve done in the past that work for you but maybe let them go. Maybe you’re not doing them anymore and you can bring them back into your life. Be looking for those things that support you. Go check out Reena and her website. I’m sure she’s got other great resources and things for you folks available. Reena, thank you for being here and thank you all for being here. We’ll see you in the next episode.
About Reena Vokoun
Reena Vokoun, Founder and CEO of Passion Fit, is a best-selling and award-winning author, TEDx speaker, media spokesperson, certified health and wellness, employee wellbeing and professional strengths expert from ACE, AFAA, IDEA Fitness and Gallup, award-winning ESPN Fitness Championships competitor, personal and professional development coach and consultant, content creator and marketer.
She graduated with a BBA in Marketing and Management from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and an MS in Advertising and Communications from Boston University. She spent years in marketing, sales and business development leadership roles for Google, Yahoo, Reebok, CNET, GE and Grokker.
Today, she serves companies, nonprofits, universities, schools and the media through Passion Fit products, services and content focused on fitness, nutrition, mindfulness, productivity and work-life balance.
Reena is featured as a TV health contributor on NBC, ABC, CBS and FOX, has been featured in Health and Women’s Health magazines, speaks to companies such as Microsoft, Google and Amazon, writes for Thrive Global, Shape and her own blog and has been a newspaper health columnist. She’s also published her first nonfiction book, entitled, The Wellness-Empowered Woman™, which is an Amazon Best-Seller, Mom’s Choice Award Gold Winner and Nonfiction Authors Association Gold Award Winner.
She’s on the Entrepreneurship Advisory Alumni Board for the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Alumni Council for Boston University and has been a Women in Management Facilitator for Stanford University. She was also nominated to be a candidate for Woman of the Year Silicon Valley, where she fundraised for blood cancer research for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
Reena is a wife, mom and first-generation-born Indian-American and lives in San Diego, CA with her husband and two sons.
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