When you are overstressed and about to reach that burning point, remember to breathe. By taking deep breaths, you will be able to bring yourself back to being calm. You need to be resilient and learn how to control your stress levels. Join your host, Penny Zenker and her guest Jodi Woelkerling on how to control your stress. Jodi is the owner of Jodi Woelkerling Enterprises where she coaches people on how to be resilient leaders. Jodi is also the author of World Class Leadership. Join in today’s conversation as Jodi talk about her new book and why resilience is so important. Learn how to control stress with her three levels to overcome it. Learn how to breathe in and breathe out all your stress today.
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Living A Better Life By Building Resilience To Stress With Jodi Woelkerling
On this show, we’re always looking for people to support you in your efforts to work smarter. We’ve had enough of working harder. It’s time to work smarter. We’re going to talk about resilience, resilience for the individual, the leaders and the organization. It couldn’t be timelier and more important to us working smarter.
Jodi Woelkerling is here with us. She is an upcoming author. She’s written the book, World Class Leadership. We’re excited to know a little bit more about the book. She’s also had decades of experience in the corporate world that has shown her that resiliency is the key feature of every enduringly successful individual, every leader, every organization that’s productive and collaborative over the long-term. That is our discussion. Jodi, welcome to the show.
Thank you so much for having me on, Penny.
Your decades of work and understanding leader of resilience, what’s makes you passionate about resilience? People who have decades of experience say, “My focus is in this or in that. It’s technical experiences in technology.” Yours is in resilience. Tell me how that’s come about.
I have spent most of my working life in the corporate world and in positions largely of authority and responsibility. While I did those jobs and was very capable at doing those jobs, I spent most of my working life in a state of stress to the point where it was affecting my quality of life. There was one stage a few years back where my health was being fairly seriously affected. General lifestyle, sleep and relationships were affected. I was a few years back on the brink of burnout. Sometimes your hardest point is when you have the biggest light bulb moments. There has to be something better than this and then started on a personal quest.You can't control events but you can always control your response. Click To Tweet
That started very much from, I wouldn’t say selfish, but from a personal focus. I originally looked for courses and education, formal and informal around how do I get myself back to a reasonable state and be able to perform in these roles? Yet it started as a quest very much from my own personal challenges. Once I got on top of that myself then it all almost automatically morphed into helping others. That almost automatically morphed into helping leaders, looking at business culture and how that makes a difference.
What is your definition of resilience? I’ve been talking a lot about resilience with companies around the world. I find it interesting that I have my own specific definition of it, which is a little bit different from others so I thought maybe you might as well.
From a personal resilience point of view rather than business resilience, it’s a slightly different thing. To me, it either fits into staying in a state of calm where you have that clear thought and that controlled reaction to things, either staying in that state or the other side of it, which people don’t think of as much is when you are feeling the effects of stress and your resilience is being tested. It’s being able to spot that in yourself, which to be honest is half the battle. Being able to spot that you’re being stressed, being challenged in terms of your state and then being able to bring yourself back to calm.
It’s not just being zen all the time because most people aren’t like that. It’s being able to spot it and bring it back to calm so that you are from that state of clear thoughts, more methodical, more productive point of view and being able to cope well with the things that happen in your life, which to a lot of extents are out of your control so you just have to respond.
I’m going to put it into my language. It’s the speed at which we shift from stress to calm to recognizing it. I added the speed part because the faster you recognize it and the faster you can shift, the less stress you’re going to feel.
It fits into that second half of the definition of being able to spot it and being able to bring yourself back to calm quickly.
You mentioned control. I’ve been talking a lot about control. When we try to focus and give our energy towards things that we can’t control that creates stress. Tell me how you see control plays a role in this. What is it about control that makes us want to do that? Give me some thoughts on control.
One of the core parts of being human is to want to have predictability and some sense of control over your life but the reality to a large extent is we don’t have control. If we’re driving down the freeway and there’s a major accident in front of us, we have no control over that. We have control over our response to it. We don’t have control over those events. That equates to almost anything in life.
I’m a big Jack Canfield fan. He has a formula that says, “Event plus response equals outcome.” You can’t control the event in most cases but you can always control your response. Largely, the combination of the two has a huge impact on the outcome that happens and how you get your element of control over what the outcome is of what’s happened.
What’s the emotional trap that gets us caught up in trying to control those things that we can’t control, those circumstances and respond in a way that’s not productive?
I’m going to explain it in a little bit of a different way. When I work with my clients on coaching, I work on three levels. I find that the track can be 1 or 3 of all these 3 levels, which is why I work on the 3 levels with people. The first level is if you are feeling stressed, how to bring yourself back to calm? People may or may not be aware that stress has a large physiological reaction. A lot of those at the moment are things that are tricking your physiology almost to bring yourself back to calm.
The second level is a lot of lifestyle things that make an enormous difference. The obvious ones are things like sleep, diet, exercise, work-life balance, meditation and mindfulness. They’re the lifestyle things that have an enormous effect. Mindset fits into that as well. How your mindset responds, how do you view things and how do you view them in a way that what’s the benefit out of this rather than what’s catastrophizing.Be aware of the underlying subconscious things that have a huge influence on how you respond to stress. Click To Tweet
The third level, which is the one that most people don’t think of and aren’t that aware of is people who are regularly affected by stress. I’m quite open in saying I was one of these people. There are quite often underlying subconscious things that have a huge influence on how we respond to stress in our life that we are generally not aware of. That can be beliefs about ourselves in the world. It could be values. They’re often things that go back to childhood things and decisions that we’ve made when we’re kids. I always find that I have to work with people on those three levels to get to the core of the issue and for it to stop being an issue.
The traps can be in any of those three areas. It could be an experience when we had when we were younger and we’re not even aware of. It’s a trap. Every time something like that happens or that type of person comes into your life, you get angry with them. We have these triggers. We don’t necessarily know why we respond to those triggers the way that we do. Being aware of it is pretty much the first thing that we have to do. I get that. If you’re not aware of it then you’re not going to be able to fix anything or change anything.
I shouldn’t say fix because we’re not broken. I always talk about unproductive and productive. If it’s unproductive, it means it’s not getting us the results that we want so we want to look for more productive solutions. That’s why I use that wording. Let’s talk about a simple way, if you could, for the readers. They’re stressed. What’s a trick on level one that we could do that would be a physiology hack that would support them?
It’s quite a range of these physiology hacks. One thing to remember is it’s not a one-size-fits-all. I’ll explain probably the one that works with more people than any others but it’s not going to work with everybody. If I explain one and it doesn’t work for you then you flip to one of the others. The most commonly known one is belly breathing. That’s where you sit upright. You breathe very slowly from the bottom of your lungs. You can tell that you’re doing that because your belly goes up, in and out as you’re breathing. The pattern that I find the most effective for this is a slow breath in a 4 and a slow breath out of 6. That’s partly tricking that physiology.
The military used the box breathing, which is 4, 4, 4. Is there any hold time?
It’s a very personal thing. With some people, the box breathing works. I find that the input 4 up to 6 works for more people than anything else. It often takes a little bit of practice. People find at the end of the six out breath that they’re looking for that oxygen hitch. It takes a little bit of practice to get into it but it goes to that physiology of longer out than in, tricks of physiology back to come. It’s a slow count so it’s like 1, 2, 3. It’s that speed. You want to do that for at least four cycles, more like 6 to 8 cycles a couple of minutes’ worth. Doing that alone for most people makes an enormous difference.
For the cerebral people who are reading, why does that make a difference? It seems too simple. You mean, “I’m going to be stressed out. I’m going to breathe a couple of times and that’s going to relax me. You don’t know the stress that I’m under.”
It goes back to physiology. To give you a little bit of the origin of the physiological response to stress, from an evolutionary point of view, it makes an enormous amount of sets. The origin of it is caveman times. You walk around a corner. There’s a saber-toothed tiger there. You are in a life-or-death situation. Your body goes into almost this automatic mode where you are giving yourself the best chance to survive so it’s fight-flight-freeze. Fight the tiger, it’s probably not recommended. Flight, runaway or freeze, and hope that passes by.
The modern version of this that most people can relate to is being in a car accident or a potential car accident. Most people will find when they’re in that situation that time slows down and they almost go into an automatic response mode. It makes a lot of sense because it’s to give you the best chance of surviving. Some of the things that happen physiologically when you’re in that state are your thinking part of your brain either shuts down or becomes a lot less functioning. The survival amygdala part of the brain switches on so you go into that automatic survival mode. Things like blood flow go away from your major organs so the core of your body and goes more to extremities. It gives you the best chance of either fighting, running away or whatever is the appropriate action depending on the situation. Things like your immune system don’t work as well. Digestion stops or slows down. There’s a lot of that biological cortex.There is no one-size-fits-all solution to dealing with stress. Click To Tweet
By doing something like the slow belly breathing, it takes that automatic physiological reaction and you are telling the body, “I am not in this fight-or-flight survival life-or-death situation. It’s okay to calm down.” Nearly all of these go to that thing of taking you out of that automatic fight-or-flight situation back to a common state of being. It’s because of nearly all of these work against that automatic physiological reaction.
One of the things that it’s affecting is your breath but one of the things that we do when we’re stressed is we breathe more shallowly and our heart rate goes up. I’ve heard it everywhere. We’ve studied some of the same things together. It’s pretty basic in the context that it’s physiology first. When we want to make a change, change the physiology first and everything else will follow.
It’s a much more succinct way of saying doing the opposite of what your body automatically does in that life-or-death situation.
I like to hear it like that. It’s controlling your body’s response. We do have control over some things. We might as well focus on the things that we can control instead of exhausting ourselves in all the areas that we can’t control. There are lots of people who put that into practice. They can do some deep breathing techniques. What else would you recommend for people to look out for or support in this time where people are feeling burnt out? It’s sustained stress. It’s not like a quick fight-or-flight situation. A lot of people are feeling like they’re on the verge of burnout like you were.
Unfortunately because we’ve had a year and a half of a very stressful situation, you’re spot on. There’s a lot of people who are very fatigued and close to burnout. The key thing to start with this is to focus on your own well-being. It’s personal as to what is the best thing for your own wellbeing or the best combination of things. The three core basics are sleep, diet and exercise.
The first three things that we say are, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead. Let me eat this Snickers or this fast food. We don’t have time to work out.” How do they do that? Do they have to attend another session of this show to find out how they find time to do those things?
If I go back to your topic of time management, to me, I generally find if you are stressed, fatigued and on the verge of burnout, you’re not that productive when you work anyway. I’m generalizing here but for a lot of people, if you’re at that burnout stage, you’re not that productive. It’s almost as if when you say, “I don’t have time for that,” is when you need more than the rest of the time. Make the time for that and make it a priority.
I know that’s easier said than done but you don’t want to get yourself to the stage like I did where you were either burnt out or on the verge of burnout where you’re in this almost emotional overload meltdown stage. You don’t want to get to that. You want to catch it before and make these things a priority. If we go back to diet, you said grab the Snickers. There are healthy alternatives that don’t take that much effort.
Protein bar versus Snickers. Look at the choices that you’re making, set yourself up for success and have the things that are better choices in your house and easily accessible.
It takes that little bit of pre-planning to have them on hand. When you go shopping, buy the protein pads. If you’re a nuts person, buy a bag of nuts, maybe some fruits. Things that are the healthier option to have on hand in the same way that you may have the Snickers bar on hand. If you go to things like exercise, it doesn’t have to be a big deal. The three things we exercise are to make it something that’s enjoyable and easy. If you have a huge exercise routine where you have to set aside three hours to do it, unless you’re dedicated, you’re not going to do it. Whereas if you’re somebody who is happy to get up twenty minutes earlier, throw on a pair of walking shoes and go out for a walk for twenty minutes before you start your day. It’s fantastic.
It doesn’t have to be something extravagant that needs a huge amount of time and a huge amount of effort. You don’t need to get equipment. That’s the key thing with exercise. Do something you enjoy. If you’re somebody who likes hanging out with your friends on the weekend and playing basketball or whatever is your exercise of choice, do it. For example, I’m somebody who hates jogging. I don’t like it. I never have. Am I going to do that as an exercise? No because the chance of me making it a habit and making it a part of my life is pretty unlikely because I don’t enjoy it.
If it’s fun, you’re more likely to do it and continue doing it. For everybody who’s reading, start small with little things, little pockets to do. How long does it take you to do those breathing techniques to do 4 or 8 eight cycles? It takes five minutes. While you’re on your way to the bathroom because you’re going to do that every day a couple of times a day, make it purposeful that you’re going to do your deep breathing as you do your walk. Incorporate it. There’s a thing called habit stacking that people can do. Incorporate it with existing habits that they have. After you brush your teeth, have a glass of water. Make sure that you’re well hydrated.
If you’re able to take your lunch, take a quick power nap. There are apps that help you to fall asleep and then will wake you back up afterward where you can take a quick nap for even fifteen minutes. I’m not a great napper, I have to say but when I do it even just fifteen minutes of napping off, I feel good. I post it on LinkedIn. I saw this article on the coffee nap. You have a coffee. It takes twenty minutes for coffee to kick in caffeine. You can take that nap. When you wake up, you get the benefit of the nap and the coffee at the same time. You can take a coffee nap. Apparently, Daniel Pink wrote about it as well, which I didn’t know.
I haven’t heard of that one so thank you.
I’m a big fan. I want to hear more about resilience. I’m also a big fan of transitions. One of the things that we have unfortunately lost by working from home is we don’t have that transition going to work, having a formal lunchtime where we have to go somewhere to eat lunch. We at least go somewhere to bring it back to our desk or to then go home. Those transitions are important. We need to create those transitions.
Hopefully, even in between meetings and things like that, that we can find little transition space to take some extra breaths. Take a walk or take the stairs somewhere. Between meetings, walk upstairs and walk back downstairs even if it’s in the same house. Create the transitions for ourselves to give us those little energy breaks.
You’ve made a good point around that transition time. Things like going to meetings, traveling to and from work, going to get your lunch, people didn’t realize that often was a state refix and a reset processor. You’re correct that that has been an issue that a lot of people working from home hasn’t been aware of.
Let’s talk about your book and then we’ll come back to what I didn’t ask you. Tell us a little bit about the book and some of the key points in the book.
It’s written for senior executives. Those are ten major things that I see repeatedly as cultural issues and insights around them so things as case studies. What’s the impact of them? How do they show? Why are they important and going through that? It’s very much designed for senior executives and around some of the cultural red flags. They’re in the position to be able to address them with awareness. If you’re not aware of something, you can’t address it. It’s largely an awareness piece directed towards senior leaders.
When you say cultural red flags, you’re talking about where the organization in jeopardy isn’t resilient. Is it around resiliency?
It’s all resiliency-focused but it’s around creating a culture where your staff is resilient.
Could you give us one of those tips and examples so that we can get it filled?
For example, one of the chapters is around organizations not having an accurate picture of the wellness state of their staff, which in a lot of cases they don’t. It’s one of those things, the larger the organization, the more likely they’re not going to have that accurate picture of the wellness of their staff. How does that take? How does that show? What are some of the things that they can do about it? How can they gauge what is the wellness state of this stuff?
Do you give them some tools that they can use? Is it through a survey where I could do a survey of my staff? Is it bringing people onto an app that has the answer to some questions and tracks them over time? What things?
The book is not solution-focused because the solution very much depends on the business. This is a general pattern. This is how it takes shape. It’s starting the process focus.
It was about awareness, so it’s then focusing on those things that you can notice in your organization. The next step is to what do you do about it. Is there anything that I didn’t ask you that you’re burning to share?
I don’t think so, probably just if people want to chat to me, how they can reach out. I’m sure you do that in the end anyway. There’s nothing else that’s jumping out as a burning emergency.
How do people reach you?
The easiest way is to look up my name on LinkedIn, and then they can direct message me. If you’re interested in the book, please reach out to me around the book. The other thing is email, Info@JodiWoelkerling.com. I would be happy to hear from you, and then we work out from there. If people reach out to me, I generally arrange a no-obligation chat so no obligation, no cost chat.
We’ll deep dive into where they’re at and then what we work out from there, “Is this something that I can help you with?” It’s very much focusing on their issues, concerns, challenges, and then we work out from there, whether we want to proceed or not, and whether there’s a real need benefit of working together. It’s the non-pressure version. I don’t like pressuring people. I’m getting them to say up front if they want to go ahead.
We’ve got to make sure that it’s a good fit and all of that good stuff. Thank you so much, Jodi, for being here. I appreciate you sharing the few tips that can make a difference for people to be more resilient.
Thank you so much for having me on, Penny.
Thank you all for being here. This is a hot topic. We talked about a couple of things. All you need to do is take away at least one little nugget from each of these sessions that you can put into practice. There were a number of things that we talked about that you can put into practice. The major thing is to stop trying to control what is outside of your control and start focusing and controlling the things that you can control. That’s the major message around resilience, how to overcome it, master it and be in control. The ultimate control is letting go and I’ve said that before. Thank you. I’ll see you in the next episode.
- Jodi Woelkerling
- LinkedIn – Jodi Woelkerling
About Jodi Woelkerling
Jodi Woelkerling has decades of experience in the corporate world. It has shown Jodi that resiliency is a key feature of every enduringly successful individual and every organizational culture that is productive and collaborative over the longer term.
The modern workplace is filled with constant challenges and competing priorities, both for the business at large and for the individuals within the business, and resilience is a key component of effectively navigating these challenges.
Jodi is passionate about assisting businesses to build an enduring resilient culture at the whole culture level, the various levels of leadership within the business, and at the individual level so that the business as a whole and the individuals within the business can experience the enormous benefits of an enduring resilient culture.
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