The idea of mindfulness used to be completely foreign to me. I’m a millennial female in sales. I’ve been in sales for different companies- from a large global manufacturing company, to now a tech startup, each with very different industries, products, processes, and cultures. There’s one common takeaway from each experience: it’s not easy being one of the only females on a team of mostly men. Research out of Stanford University has recently found that people are either doing one of two things: You build resilience and thrive, or your resilience suffers and you burnout.
Although women hold half of all jobs in the U.S. economy, they hold less than 25% of science, technology, engineering, and math jobs. And the numbers drop even lower as we move up into leadership positions. Unless you’re in education or healthcare, odds are that you are also working in an environment where you’re surrounded by mostly men. Research points to environmental and social barriers as the primary causes of these low numbers. These include outdated stereotypes and unconscious gender bias.
Dr. Tara Cousineau, one of our master trainers at Whil, suggests these feelings can trigger stress responses and neural chemistry that work against us. Women in male-dominated fields are more likely to report higher levels of stress, anxiety and higher incidences of depression than women in other professions. Some key predictors of women opting out of these fields include: lack of support and mentorship, feelings of isolation, and experiencing a lack of regard for our ability and leadership. Have you ever felt like you couldn’t be transparent in a meeting for fear of being labeled as “too emotional”? Or you couldn’t connect as naturally with your boss as your male colleagues could? Or you had to work twice as hard as your male colleagues to even be considered for that promotion? According to the World Economic Forum, not only do women make $.80 for every dollar a man does, they work 39 more days a year. So, we’re working more, making less, and at higher risk for stress and anxiety. AWESOME! I’ve definitely experienced this stress and anxiety at points in my career, however, mindfulness training has helped me identify when I’m creating unnecessary stress for myself.
Here’s how I’ve learned to stay at the top of my game in hyper-competitive environments, where disruption, constant change, and unconscious and (and potentially conscious) bias are the norm.
Manage your mindset
A new study by the Physiological Society found that women (in all fields) tend to experience higher levels of stress than men from daily life events.
There are two major sources of stress:
- External- created by situations in which we have no control (job, trauma, working conditions)
- Internal- the way you deal with life’s daily stressors and the stories we create in our minds about them (thoughts, feelings, memory, amount of sleep)
We have two choices as it relates to managing stress: change our external environment, or change the way we we perceive those stressors. For example, no one knows how to trigger me better than my own family (hence why holidays are so stressful for many people)! Terri Orbuch, a relationship expert and sociologist at Oakland University, states that family events themselves aren’t inherently stressful—it’s our perception of them that stresses us out. If we can learn how to manage our mindset about life’s events, we can take control of our mental wellbeing.
Understand the basics of how the brain works
We all know the basics of how to keep our heart, lungs, and muscles healthy. Exercise, eat fruits and veggies, don’t smoke, and stay hydrated.
However, do we know the basics of how the brain works?
Our emotional brain is always #winning… And not always in a good way. Also known as the limbic system, it processes things faster than the cognitive thinking brain. Have you ever sent that fiery email and the next day you wake up and think, “Shoot, I probably should have just given him a call.” It’s ok, I’ve definitely been there. Maybe you yelled at your spouse, and felt terrible a few hours later because you overreacted? It could happen to anyone. But less so, if you do some brain training.
Mindfulness training helps build a skill called “SBNRR”- stop, breathe, notice, reflect, respond. In other words, it helps you RESPOND to situations instead of REACT, as practicing calms your central nervous system. Imagine if everyone at your company would calmly, and methodically respond to situations and ideas, instead of react? How would this impact your wellbeing and company culture?
We are all born with some degree of self-awareness- the ability to monitor our thoughts/feelings on a moment-to-moment basis. Studies show that mindfulness training vastly improves one’s self-awareness. Since creating a consistent practice, I now understand my triggers. When I feel stressed, anxious, or angry about something, I LET MYSELF. Early in my career, I tried to combat stereotypes of women in the workplace and tried to hide any emotions I might feel. This only exacerbated the issue, and would come out in different ways (no one likes the passive aggressive person at the office, am I right?). Now, I take myself to a quiet area, let myself feel whatever it is that I’m feeling, tell myself it’s okay, and that this feeling will pass. I confide in a trusted friend or mentor, exercise, meditate, journal, then write out my action plan.
According to the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute, resilience is defined as the ability to bounce back from difficulty faster. Stress and disruption are happening everywhere, all over the country and the world-- even here at a mindfulness company (sorry, boss)! The key is to manage how you view the situation, understand your body and mind, have an action plan on how to deal with difficult situations, and PRACTICE. You wouldn’t work out 20 times then say “Ok, I’m fit enough!” It’s a part of our lifestyle, something we consistently do. Practicing mindfulness is a lifestyle. Our brains need the same amount of love and attention, because, as we age and our bodies decline physically, we depend on our brain to keep us happy! Give it a try- like anything, getting started is the hardest part.