Managing Stress in Our Everyday Lives with Anna Goldstein

Tara: Hey, hey everyone. We are here with Anna Goldstein, who is our guest today on the Bold Leadership Revolution Podcast. I always like to start off and say we don't usually have guests on the podcast and when we do have a guest it's for a very specific reason. So Anna is with us today because one, I think she and I are going to have a conversation about something that is super important today, and that is ways that we can be managing stress and anxiety in our everyday lives.

Now, the reason why Anna stood out to me is I was actually on her podcast not too long ago and we were talking about the difference between being a high achiever and a high performer. And Anna was the best interviewer that I have ever had. So if you are looking for a podcast where there is really good interviewing going on, like someone with top notch interviewing skills, I want you to check out Anna's podcast. Give us your podcast name because I don't want to mess it up.

Anna: Profit with Purpose.

Tara: Okay, because I knew I'm going to be like, "Purpose with profit?" Okay. So Profit with Purpose. She is an incredibly deep and rich interviewer and so I was like, "You know what? She has to come on this podcast. We have to have a conversation." It's funny cause interviewing is not a skill set that I consider I have. I have conversational skills, and there is absolutely a difference between the two. So if you want to go see interviewing skills modeled really well, go check out Anna's podcast. But Anna, thanks for being here with us.

Anna: Well, I just want to say thank you so much for that nice kind interview. So thank you for having me. It's an honor.

Tara: Okay. So just tell us a little bit about you. You're really fascinating because what I know about you too that really is interesting to me is you're studying with a Buddhist nun.

Anna: Yes, yes. I'm very into Buddhist psychology and I find a lot of the kind of underlying principles to a lot of new age psychology, so to speak, positive psychology, the roots are in the ancient wisdom. I find that really going to the root is really awesome. So yeah, I'm obsessed with understanding the mind. Actually, I should say consciousness, really. I really see it more as consciousness because there's a difference between the brain and consciousness, right? The brain is matter, whereas consciousness is not. I really like to study how we can be happier because I think that's a wish that we all have. And yeah, I like to study the practical strategies and essentially mind training to encompass more happiness. And from there, we are going to be happier. We're going to be kinder to others. So that's really why I do it.

Tara: And you have a fascinating background because you were a competitive athlete.

Anna: Yes.

Tara: Tennis.

Anna: Yeah. I grew up playing tennis and that was really my introduction to understanding the power of the mind because when I was a senior in high school, I was seated two in the Maryland State Tennis Championship Tournament, which essentially means I was supposed to come in second place, but I knew I could win it. I saw a sports psychologist, and we did things like visualization, focusing techniques. I had mentally rehearsed myself winning this tournament so much that I showed up to this tournament and it was as if my body just already knew what to do, and it was the first tournament I ever won. I won it like a breeze because I had spent so much time visualizing.

And it was interesting to me because while I had spent nine years practicing hitting forehands, backhands, going through those repetitions, it was the first time I had prepared my mind, and so it was really clear to me the difference in my performance. That was really my first introduction when I was 17, and later on in my life, I came back to some of those tools and it helped me build my business in terms of, I use vision a lot because the mind thinks in words and in images, so I use imagery a lot. If we're stressed or anxious, we're often imagining a situation that's not going well and we think it's real.

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Tara: Yeah, that's so true. And I love how you brought us right back to the topic that we're talking about today around stress and anxiety. I have to imagine that as a high performer, as an athlete, that you have had to manage stress and anxiety on the field. You've had to manage stress and anxiety off the field. I know you're a mom. I think moms have stress and anxiety. You're a business owner, right?

It's funny too because we were talking a little bit about this before we started the recording, and my husband had just said to me this morning, he says, "Hey, I think you need to do a podcast episode about technology and how it's destroying business and destroying business owners because everybody is expecting this immediate response." He was sharing a story with me about how he was on a phone call with a customer and another customer had called in and his admin assistant said, "He's on a call. He'll call you back," and she messaged him through work chats, through Facebook so he could see that the call came in and next thing you know, his cell phone's ringing with this customer. He declined the call. Next thing he can see is his email is going off. The customer is emailing him. And then when he didn't respond to the email right away, he's getting a text message.

He's coming at this like this is a problem, like technology, right, is creating the scenario where leaders need to start to look at how they're navigating these things differently. He didn't say it was causing him stress and anxiety, but even you said it when you were hearing me say this earlier. You're like, "I'm getting stressed," and when I was listening to him, I'm like, "I'm getting stressed listening to this," right? But I think that today we are so underrepresenting how much stress and anxiety that we're actually under. I think we're not understanding the impact that it has on our bodies, on our nervous systems, on our brains, on our mental health. So where do we start?

Anna: Yeah. Well, I mean, we've had a massive increase in technology even over the past 10 years, right? I think I got my first iPhone maybe 12 years ago. That has, even just with the apps and the notifications and just the constant stimuli is that of course it's going to put our brains into some type of stress and overwhelm because it just is not part of how we're naturally wired, right, to get all of these notifications. There's been studies that there has been this massive increase in technology, but there hasn't been this massive increase in human happiness, right? And so while we have all this access to information, we're really lacking wisdom. That is really important because we spend so much time consuming and not enough time just being, right? So we get into these states of stress and anxiety.

And I just want to say that there's nothing wrong. I think it just is part of the human experience and that we want to actually embrace it. I like to use ... It's very common for people to identify with, "I'm anxious," right, or, "I am stressed," and when we get into that identification of, "I am stressed," or, "I am anxious," everything else becomes more difficult. So it's good to first name the emotion, right? And I like to use things like, "There is anxiety," and you can see it. You can recognize it, but it creates a little bit of space between you and the anxiety versus when you identify with, "I am anxious."

So the way that you word it in your head and the language that you use is very important for navigating it, because then you can start to develop strategies, because I always think there's two parts. There's the way that you're mentally relating to something and then there's really the strategic, practical way of setting up boundaries, communicating your needs clearly, managing expectations, right? So maybe it just is a conversation about expectations of, "Hey, I see your email and I'm going to get to you and when you email me, you can expect me to respond within 24 hours," versus five minutes, because I think some people have these unrealistic expectations that as soon as I reach out to you, I'm the most important person you're going to get back to me. There's two main parts, I would say, to it.

Tara: Right. So what I'm hearing you say is, first of all, we have to normalize the fact that stress and anxiety is here with us. I think that we're misrepresenting the stress and anxiety because we're placing a stigma with it, right? And so I don't want anybody to feel stigmatized that they're experiencing stress or anxiety, that that is actually a normal reaction to certain situations in life, especially as fast-paced as life has become, especially if we're not doing things to purposefully offload the stress from our bodies and our brains. And so then what I'm hearing you say also is to focus on the situation and not on the identity. The situation is stressful or anxious, but not to put it on your identity where you're saying, "I am stressed," or, "I am anxious."

Anna: Yeah, because then it gives you some space to think creatively, right? Because when we're stressed and anxious, it's very hard to think of creative solutions, right? I always want to encourage people to reduce as much stimuli as possible. If you can turn off notifications, right? You mentioned that your husband has an autoresponder.

Tara: Yeah, he does.

Anna: Those types of things are really helpful. Delete apps. Turn off your phone every once in a while. Have certain times that you check your email. So yeah, there are different ways that you can manage it. Stress is often wanting something to be different, right? You feel stressed because something is a certain way and you're wanting it to be different or you think that it should be different, and anxiety is often a future projection, like, "This might go wrong. Something bad will happen," right? And we're kind of always on guard for that because of our survival brain.

One really practical way that can really be helpful to manage this, and this is research done by Dr. Rick Hanson, is really taking in the good. And so it's looking for moments, because you start to train your mind to see things, see the good in situations like, "Oh, it's really good that this client wants my attention." That can be a good thing. "They want my business." And so you have to actually be very conscious of directing your attention towards the good and holding it for 10 or 15 extra seconds, so you really stay with it, because so often, we jump from one thing to the next without really taking in the good, right?

Tara: Yeah. When my husband and I were talking about it this morning, it was like, "This is a great opportunity for him to check to see if his boundaries are clear," right? And then because he immediately went into this, "I'm not available for clients like this anymore," and then I'm like, "Where are your boundaries? Are your boundaries clear? This is a great opportunity to make them even more clear if they're not clear already," taking that obstacle, right? Like Ryan Holiday, The Obstacle is the Way, finding the opportunity in the obstacle.

Anna: Yeah. Yeah. Turning adverse conditions into the path. Yeah, it's really helpful, because often I think we're always looking for comfort, right? And I think part of the training is really to understand that a lot of the time, comfort is actually uncomfortable. I think we have these associations mixed up a little bit. When we actually push ourselves into uncomfortable situations, it actually feels good, the outcome of whatever the discomfort was that you got through. It's like you get this adrenaline rush and this endorphin hit that it actually feels good.

Sometimes these things that we naturally go towards, "This isn't what I want. This is causing me stress and anxiety," to, "Hm, this is actually an opportunity to self-reflect and to maybe have a conversation that's a little bit uncomfortable about my boundaries," right? To really piece it apart there and figure out, "Okay, well, what is this teaching me? What can I learn here? How can I grow?" And maybe sometimes it is saying, "You know what? These types of clients I need to manage differently versus these types of clients or clients that maybe I don't work that well with."

So there can be many solutions. There's not just one fix, but the idea is to slow down enough because I think that part of the stress and the anxiety is that we're just moving too fast and we don't have enough space to actually reflect and to be with something enough to say, "Hmm, what's really going on here?" And we're at in that reactive mode. So slowing down, reducing stimuli is extremely important. And that can come from a technology standpoint, but it can also come from just taking a few deep breaths sometimes, just identifying like, "Oh, I have this sensation of anxiousness. Let me just take a deep breath. Let me relax and feel into," because from that place of calm, we can perform so much better when we're calm and relaxed. I mean, if any of you watch sports or have played a sport, you know that when you're stressed and you're anxious, your performance just goes down. It just does, your concentration.

Tara: Yeah. And what I want to share with what I'm hearing you say, we're talking about things like slowing down, being curious, practicing optimism, looking at things from a different perspective and practicing optimism, and now you're talking about calm. So what we know from a performance psychology perspective is those things are trainable.

Anna: Yes.

Tara: Right? So if you're listening to this right now and you're like, "Oh my gosh, I don't feel calm. I don't feel like I could be open and curious," or, "I don't feel like I'm as optimistic as I can be," all is not lost. These things are absolutely trainable.

Anna: 100%, and I think that that's really exciting because a lot of the time people do identify with, "I'm a stressed person," or, "I'm an anxious person," right? Overwhelm. Yeah. And I think that it's important to recognize that you're not just going to go from always showing up. Often, these patterns are memorized. These emotions are memorized. Anxiousness is something that we've memorized. It's often a habit. That can change and that you can start to say, "Okay, well, if I were a calm person, what would that look like? How would I respond? How would I show up? What would I think about my life and myself?" Maybe you would say, "I can handle this."

Tara: Yeah. I have a question, because I have a belief that it's hard to experience something like calm if you haven't experienced something like anxious. I think that sometimes we need the opposite or the negative to help us find the positive or the place that we want to be, because it's easier sometimes to say, "Oh, that's not what I want," to help you find what you do want.

Anna: Yeah, 100%. I mean, I think pain is one of our greatest motivators. Sometimes being like, "I'm so sick of being anxious that I'm willing to try on calm," or, "I'm so fed up with hearing myself complain about this, that I'm willing to do something different now," and then it really important ... You mentioned that something that's trainable ... it's really important to repeat, right? So you can't just do something once. When I mentally rehearsed myself winning that tournament, I didn't just do it once the one time I saw a sports psychologist. I saw her many times and I did it at home on my own. It was something I repeated many, many times.

Tara: Daily.

Anna: Yes.

Tara: More than once, even probably, daily.

Anna: Yeah. I'm running actually my first 5K. It's kind of embarrassing that it's only 5K, but I don't identify with being a runner. I was an athlete. I played tennis and it's short sprints, right? I was never really into long distance running, so it's really different type of kind of training for me. And I know I can run it easily. I just ran two and a half miles this morning very easily. But it's something that I still need to practice. I can't expect myself to run a mile if I haven't just ran a little bit before. The mind is very trainable. That's a beautiful thing. That's why it's so important to recognize that the core belief of confidence is that, "I can change," right, having this more growth mindset, that, "I can change," because so often we get fixed into thinking that, "This is who I am. This is how I am. This is the way that I've done it," and repeating those memories of the past versus recreating the ideas of who you want to be, how you want to show up.

Tara: One of the things that we were talking about was slowing down. You mentioned slowing down. I think that that's a really interesting concept for a lot of people who are achievement-driven and who have ambition and big goals. And I think to them, slowing down feels counterintuitive.

Anna: Yeah, definitely. I mean, I can totally relate to this myself. I mean, I'm not a perfect person, in case you didn't know. We talked about this actually on my podcast, how I've kind of teetered between a high achiever and high performer, and the difference, I think we actually addressed some of this, was slowing down, as being one avenue into shifting into high performance, because for example, the other day I was rushing in the morning and I was trying to put a lid on a jar and I was rushing. And so I turned, the lid fell off. I turned a little bit and I wasn't fully there because I was trying to get to the next thing and the lid would not stay on. And then finally I said to myself, "Pay attention. Slow down," and I just went and the lid went on. We have this idea that slowing down means that you're not achieving, so to speak, but that's not what it is. It's really about slowing down enough to stay focused and concentrated on a specific task so that you can cut through it more quickly, right?

So there's a kind of an analogy to this in terms of chopping down a tree, right? If you spend time kind of working on the ax that chops the tree down, in terms of, the analogy really is with the mind, right? Like if you spend time improving your mind through meditation ... There's many ways to improve your mind. I'm personally using meditation because that's what I use ... the amount that you can pierce through something is much quicker, versus if you have an ax and you're just trying to force the tree down because you haven't actually chiseled away to make the ax sharp enough to cut the tree down.

Tara: Yeah, sharpening the saw.

Anna: Yeah.

Tara: Right. I think that's like a Steven Covey term. Sharpen the saw.

Anna: Yeah.

Tara: Right, if I'm remembering my people correctly. But yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I mean, think about how more efficient you were when you slowed down to screw the jar cover on, right, than trying to do it fast.

Anna: Yeah. I mean, focused attention is powerful and that's where I think that we're getting so stressed and anxious is that our attention is so scattered. I had this insight myself, which was, "Am I unhappy or am I just unfocused?"

Tara: Oh. That's a really good question.

Anna: Yeah. Because I noticed that I was feeling overstimulated. I had put a bunch of projects on my plate and then I started to feel this sense of overwhelm, this sense of unhappiness. And I was like, "Am I really unhappy or am I just overstimulated and overwhelmed by all the things I feel like I have to do?" And as I started to cut things out, my happiness started to increase. Sometimes we think that we have to do more or get more to be happy and this is this lie that we've all been told, right?

Tara: Yeah. I just came back from a 30 day sabbatical and I've definitely had some of these takeaways myself, like finding things that would slow me down intentionally, so things like cooking, getting into cooking and really planning, looking for recipes that I enjoy and shopping for the ingredients and setting time actually on my calendar, giving myself an hour to prep dinner for the family and then sitting down together and enjoying the meal that I prepped and cooked and really slowing things down, and it's crowded out some of the lack of focus. It's crowded out some of the frenzy of rushing around because it's a time of day that I would find myself trying to do all the things. That 4:00 to 5:00 PM is like my witching hour. Work has ended. The kids are home. They need to be places, but now I'm like, "Oh, this is my time when I slow down and I prep dinner." And so bringing that focus in has definitely given me more fulfillment. I can definitely say that to be true.

Anna: Yeah. I was going to say, what happened to your happiness, right? And then when you're happier, what happens to your performance?

Tara: Yeah. Well, I think that the more fulfilled we are, the more fulfilled we become, right? It's like now we're starting to attract more of what we have and what we want because we're focused on it and we're not focused on a place of what we don't have. Instead of stomping around being like, "I'm so unhappy. I'm so unhappy. I'm so unhappy," you're like, "Oh wait, this is happiness. Oh, this feels good. Oh, I want more of this," right? It changes that internal dialogue a bit.

Anna: Yeah. And it doesn't mean that you don't necessarily do as much. It can just mean that you're bringing a different quality of attention to it, right? Because how often, if you're honest, right, are you doing something but your mind is in another place, right? But it feels really good to be focused. It feels good.

Tara: Yeah. It does feel good. So let's, because I always like to wrap up these episodes where people have some takeaways, and I would love for you to give them some takeaways on, since we spoke ... I think focus, right, is really the big theme around an opportunity to reduce stress and anxiety. But people are like, "Oh, the world is so distracting and unfocused," and the notifications. So maybe we can give them just some ideas on how they can start training their focus.

Anna: Yeah. Well, first and foremost, I think it's really making a decision of how do you want to show up in the world, how do you want to be, right? And having that vision, the vision of the future, the compelling enough reason why, you want to have that vision. And then it's really planning to get there and paying attention to when you are caught in the details of the drama of a situation, the problem, the details of problem and the drama of a situation.

Tara: Yeah. That's that awareness piece that is so important.

Anna: Yeah. Because that's really what a lot of the time the ego wants to go towards this problem, drama of the situation. We want to talk about it with others. We want to pull people in, even just mentally, right? And just coming back to, "Oops, I'm caught in the details, the problem and the drama of the situation. What's my vision? What does success look like for me? What do I need to do to get there?" Right? And if we can just recognize ... It's really just an awareness practice, as kind of cliche as that sounds, but it's just catching yourself. I mean, I have to work on this myself, like, "Oops, I have multiple tabs open. Let me finish this task before I move to the next."

Tara: I was going to say that awareness piece really comes when we turn off the notifications, we put the phone down, right, and we can be more present in the moment to catch the awareness that's coming up, like when you were trying to get the ... that part with the top on the jar, right? You tried to get it on. It didn't go on, and you tried to get it on and it didn't go on, and the awareness was like, "Oh, I'm rushing." It's like you say, "Oops, I'm rushing," right? "What would happen if I just slowed down and made sure that it was threading properly as I screwed on the top of the jar?"

Anna: Yeah. And I just want to say, as high performers, high achievers, there's a tendency to want to be perfect. This is not about being perfect. This is very, very gentle. Gentleness creates confidence. This is about being gentle with yourself. Gently notice and you make the adjustment. It's a very gentle practice. The idea is not never to get anxious or stressed. It's just not realistic. I don't know, maybe it is, but it's just to notice and to be able to label and to have some freedom in, "Oops. I'm getting anxious right now. Let me take a step back."

Tara: Yeah. I love the grace you give yourself when you word it like that.

Anna: Yeah. I mean, that's helpful. Beating yourself up, you don't need it. It's not going to help you. I think that gentleness is very, very important. It's subtle, but that's how you make really big changes is these really small, subtle conscious shifts, and for me, I celebrate those. Those are those times where I really take in the good. It's like, "Oh, I noticed."

Tara: Yeah. That's the power of those intangible wins that may not be numbers driven, right? If you're a business owner, it might not necessarily be revenue-driven or if you're on a journey, on a weight loss journey, it might not be driven by the scale, but they're those small intangible wins that really are the things that add up.

Anna: Yeah. Maybe the scale says the same thing that it did yesterday, but you noticed how you got triggered and what your pattern was after you got triggered. That's a win, because next time you have a little bit more awareness that you can get in front of that.

Tara: Yeah. So what I'm hearing you say is all of these things like slowing down and being curious and focusing on the situation and not necessarily putting it on your identity, I love the part about don't be perfect, gentleness creates confidence, all these things go into that ability to create the awareness that then drives long-term sustainable change.

Anna: Yeah. And it's what you do that nobody is able to really see. It's something internal that you will be able to sense, you'll be able to feel. Sometimes you'll be able to recognize it externally, but these are interchanges that will manifest externally. I love to use athletes as an example. When they are in a state of flow and they're fully concentrated, you can see it. You'll be able to know, and eventually you can get to that place. The idea is not to be in that place all the time. That's just not possible.

Tara: No, but probably like 10 to 15% of the time.

Anna: Yeah. But it's learning how to create the foundation that you can access it more easily and that you know when you're there.

Tara: Yeah. Yeah. I was listening to Dr. Michael Gervais. He's a sports psychologist. He works for the Seattle Seahawks and stuff like that. And he was talking about negative mind, positive mind and then no mind, and no mind is that place of flow and how you take yourself from having a thought that might put me in negative mind to moving you to a positive mind. And then once you learn how to move a negative mind to positive mind, negative mind to positive mind, you have an easier way of stepping into that place of no mind.

Anna: Yeah, and that's really where your performance is going to skyrocket.

Tara: Yeah, so thank you so much for coming by and sharing with everybody ways that we can manage stress and anxiety better in our everyday lives. I love that we've given people permission to feel their stress and anxiety and to give them the power to do something about it and put that back in their hands. Can you tell everybody where they can find you?

Anna: Yes, so my website is AnnaGoldstein.com. You can follow me on Instagram @selfinthecity and check out my podcast, Profit with Purpose.

Tara: Thanks so much for coming by, Anna.

Anna: Thanks so much for having me.

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