Stress, and more so, stress at the workplace, has certainly been compounded over the past 15 months with Covid – a lot of people were and many still are feeling foggy. There have been a variety of workplace adjustments and while it may seem like we’ve “adjusted,” the reality is, it brought on another layer of stress.
Our guest today, Anna Tyrrell of Anna Tyrrell & Associates, ltd., and Common Ground: Conflict Resolution Services, ltd., is here to talk to us about workplace stress. She’ll provide self-help tips and simple strategies that you can do today to recognize stress and reduce its negative effect on your health, your family, and your work.
Transcript of Biz Chat Ohio’s podcast 1.6: Anna Tyrrell
Welcome to BizChat Ohio, the podcast bringing you big ideas for small businesses. Throughout this series, we hope to bring the best of small business news and industry trends from Ohio’s thought leaders, and just maybe something to help you run your business a little bit better.
I’m your host, Cathy Walsh, Director of the Small Business Development Center at Lakeland Community College, and I’m joined by my co-host and soul sister, Gretchen Skok-DiSanto, Director of Lakeland Community College’s Entrepreneurship Center and Business Advisor for the Ohio Small Business Development Center. Welcome, Gretchen.
Hi, Cathy. How are you today?
I’m really good. How are you?
I’m doing pretty good, thanks. When I think about all the work we’ve done over at the SBDC, you know, we’ve worked with a lot of wonderful business owners. We had the– we’ve had the pleasure of seeing them achieve all these successes and achievements.
But that’s what the outside world tends to see, right? All the good stuff that’s going on. And that’s what the entrepreneur may talk about or that’s what we as their counselors may talk about.
But more often than not, there’s a lot of stress that has occurred to get them to that point. They’ve had to work really hard. They’ve had to sacrifice. They’ve had to struggle. They’ve lost a lot of sleep to try to achieve in their businesses.
And boy, have we seen that in the last year. It has been a year that I hope in my career we don’t see anything like it again. We dealt with so many small businesses that were struggling– some that went out of business, some that have lost, you know, life savings. There was a lot of fear in caring about employees’ health and their own personal health. It was just a really challenging year.
So we want to talk about stress today. And I’m assuming you would agree with me, Cathy, on the appraisal of what a tough year it was and what we saw small businesses going through.
Yeah, it was very hard. And we as counselors did everything we could to help them on technical assistance, but I think sometimes just having somebody that they could call to help walk them through how to apply for a loan or how to get grants that were becoming available helped ease their mind a little bit about some part of what they were going through. But we could hear it in the voices of our clients as we talked to them.
I thought 2008 was a bad year for small businesses, and we dealt with a lot of uncertainty and stress during that financial downturn, but obviously, that was nothing compared to what we went through in 2020, and are still going through. Because businesses are now coming out of it. And there’s uncertainty as to how to come out of it and to grow and to find employees.
And you know, now there’s a whole new batch of problems. So nothing got 100% resolved. We’re still working with people, still trying to help them come out of that, but I think mental health really took– if it wasn’t being talked about before, and it certainly was being talked about before, it really came to the forefront in the past year. And I personally feel it’s an extremely important topic.
And so for our business owners who are often kind of siloed, they’re off doing their own thing– if you’re a sole proprietor, you have nobody to necessarily talk to about your problems and your stresses that are going on in your business. And I just want to talk about that and find out how we can assist or help or bring something that we don’t typically do with our technical assistance advisory skills. We don’t necessarily talk about mental health.
But let’s talk about that with somebody who is in that arena and can assist with that, because it’s very important. Did you want to add anything else to that, Gretchen?
No. No, I’m definitely with you. That’s why we have– and you’re going to introduce her, but that’s why we have our speaker with us today, is let’s shine a light on this topic. And I know a lot of people are talking about it, but we need more people. So we’re going to join, we’re going to join the crowd today and talk about the importance of mental health.
Well, and today we’re joined by Anna Tyrrell, principal of Anna Tyrrell and Associates. Anna has lived and worked in Northeast Ohio for over 30 years helping people improve their lives. She’s a counselor, a mediator, and a consultant in Northeast Ohio, and she has applied a problem solving approach towards managing life’s adversities and the challenges of relationships for her clients for over 20 years. She served the community and courts of Lake, Ashtabula, Geauga, and Cuyahoga counties, and she also provides training in service education and mediation services that might be useful for businesses and human resource professionals.
Currently, in addition to her practice at Anna Tyrrell and Associates, Anna is an adjunct professor of psychology at Lake Erie College. Her knowledge of neuro and psychological psychology has advanced her ability to help her clients understand and manage events in their lives. According to Anna, when you understand how your brain works, you can more easily work with your brain. This also leads to more effective interventions.
Anna’s been honored and recognized by the community and her peers with a number of awards. I’ll highlight some of them– the 2013 Woman of Distinction by the Girl Scouts of Northeast Ohio; 2010 Woman of Achievement by the Woman’s Center– Women’s Center, sorry– at Lakeland Community College; and 2002 Counselor of the Year by the Ohio Counseling Association. And she has other numerous awards and honors that she’s been given.
Anna, welcome today to BizChat Ohio. Gretchen and I are so pleased to have you with us today.
Thank you for having me. I’m happy to be part of this.
Hi, Anna. And I personally want to not only acknowledge the stress of the business owners we’ve worked with over the past year, but give them some insight into the importance of mental health and how to process stress and cope with it. And I’d just like to start out with some identifiers. How can a person identify that their stress or anxiety is becoming a problem that they need to start paying some attention to?
Yeah, thank you. I think most people understand when they’re stressed. They know that they don’t feel right and they’re not happy. When it becomes a problem, usually the symptoms just escalate to the point that it’s hard for them to concentrate. They feel unmotivated. They might feel more heart palpitations, shortness of breath, fatigue, a lack of focus and attention. Oftentimes people have some irritability in their digestive system that will come into play.
And then extended long-term stress may cause some other issues as well around compromising their immune system. But generally, when folks know that it’s a problem is when they’re having trouble sleeping and experience a lot of insomnia. There are times that they get overwhelmed. They don’t know how to begin or how to start, and like I said, that lack of motivation that they might experience.
Sometimes extended anxiety can kind of morph into depression. And so it’s hard for people to know which is which, you know, which one is the priority to address. There might be a hypervigilance that goes on around their work or their list of to-dos, or there might be that kind of hyporeactive response where they just don’t feel like doing anything and it’s hard to get motivated to do anything on that to-do list. So it’s when it really gets in the way of feeling functional. That’s usually when it becomes problematic for folks.
So a lot of physical, sounds like a lot of physical reactions are certainly what you can start looking for. And those are real. And like you said, the lack of sleep is certainly very common.
Yes. And I focus on some of those physical reactions because people identify them, but they’re easier to blow off. Often, if we target those and help, that does help alleviate the stress response that we get. When we look at the emotional response, what people will usually experience, you know, sadness, a sense of feeling overwhelmed, sometimes increased irritability, rash judgments or rash responses, real quick responses.
So that’s what people will experience a little bit emotionally. Or racing thoughts that they feel like they can’t stop. So those are some of the things that folks might feel a little bit more emotionally.
Some might feel a little emotional detachment from people, kind of like you’re wandering around a room. You know, you see those scenes in movies sometimes where the main character is walking through a room and everything sounds fuzzy and everyone feels distant. Some folks will go through that, too, with some extended stress or when they get overwhelmed.
So when people recognize that they have an issue, they’re experiencing the symptoms you just talked about, what can they do, or what do you suggest that they do for self-help?
First thing that we encourage folks to do is really start to pay attention and get some self-awareness of what’s going on. And when they’re feeling triggered– that’s a word that folks are using now– when they notice that they’re getting anxious or stressed, what’s going on in their mind and their body?
Some people will use their five senses just to ground themselves and think, OK, you know, what am I seeing? What am I hearing? What am I feeling? What am I– do I have any taste in my mouth? Are there any smells? That can be a good grounding exercise.
But one that Dan Siegel talks about, a neuropsychiatrist who does a lot of work on mindfulness training, talks about SIFTing, and that stands for SIFT, S-I-F-T, what are the Sensations that one feels in their body, what are the Images that they see or that go on in their mind, what Feelings do they have, and what are the Thoughts going through our head. And when we start to develop some of that insight, we start to target, what are some of the remedies that we can do?
It’s estimated– and this is a rough estimate– that we might process about 300 bits of information a minute. That’s a lot going on in our minds. And so what’s important is, what are we paying attention to? And our brain tends to go negative as a motivator to improve things.
However, what we tend to do as higher order thinkers is we don’t necessarily get motivated. Oftentimes, we tend to awfulize and get stuck in the catastrophe of our thoughts and how bad things are going to get. So it’s what we select to pay attention to. And if we’re paying attention to the awfulizing that may be unrealistic, then we’re not helping ourselves. So when we pay attention to the thoughts, we can choose how we’re going to think about a situation.
When we know what our feelings are, we want to gauge that. Are we overreacting to a situation?
When we think about the images, sometimes the images that go on in our head can awfulize a situation. And sometimes the images we see in how we’re responding to somebody else’s face we might not be reading correctly. We might make assumptions about what that face means instead of asking just the question. You know, you look confused– can you tell me what that’s about? Your face, I’m sensing that you’re angry– can you tell me more about that? You know, just taking a pause to get more information about what one sees.
And then when we know what our sensations are, then we can take some steps into targeting those. So when we look at the stress response, there are some key things that will happen in our bodies. And most of us are familiar with that, and we’re familiar with this fight or flight situation that happens, you know, when we are experiencing acute stress. And usually, one of the first things we’ll feel is a tightness in our chest or our heart is pumping fast or we start to get shortness of breath.
So what we want to do is the opposite of that. So if you feel your breathing accelerating, instead you want to take a good, deep, lower breath using the diaphragm. So that’s where we just take a big sigh [SIGHS] or just slow down and take a couple of deep breaths just to slow the pace down, particularly if we’re feeling like we need to react quickly. We want to do the opposite. Take a minute.
It’s OK to ask people, give me a minute to think, and to take a pause so that you can take a breath and collect your thoughts.
If one feels their shoulders tightening up, lower the shoulders. Relax them. Sometimes just doing a stretch, opening your palms– a lot of times when we get stressed we feel are our fists developing. You want to open your palms because that’s another way to reduce our stress.
So when we do the opposite of what our body wants to do with the stress response, that triggers the other system that we call rest and digest. So with an acute stress– and we’re designed for acute stress. So the acute stress response, which means a quick stress response, is that fight or flight, and then what happens after when we’re out of danger is we go into what we call rest and digest, which I can explain if we have more time for that. It is just helpful in a nutshell for people to understand when, whatever you’re feeling, you want to try to trigger the opposite response to help level yourself and get yourself to a better sense of balance. So that’s kind of like a quick tip in a situation.
OK, thank you very much. I mean, that’s– if I understand you correctly, when you feel that stuff coming on, you want to approach it right then and there with the tips you just gave. So it’s not like, Oh, I’m going to be doing this daily, or weekly, or monthly. No, it’s like when I feel this coming on, this is– I immediately, I have to get into the mindset of this is how I’m going to handle it. Right?
Right. And so when I help folks initially is become an observer. You know, just kind of witness yourself in a stressful situation and what happens. And that is enough to give yourself some pause so that you’re not reacting quickly and saying the wrong thing or being reactive. So it’s going to become an observer. And then, in your spare time, you want to practice some more mindfulness. So it doesn’t have to be concentrated.
You know, it’s easy to do before you go to sleep. Right? You’re laying there, ready to go to sleep, and you’re just left with your racing thoughts. Try to focus on breathing slowly, because if you practice doing that slow breathing and breathing through your belly, which means you’re pulling that diaphragm out, by practicing that, then when you go to use it during the day, your body already has that rehearsed and knows how to do it. And then you can work on some mindfulness.
A lot of times when you’re waiting to see the doctor or you’re waiting for your kid to get to the car when you go to pick them up from practice or something, a lot of times now we’re on our phones and we’re distracted from our own thoughts. But instead, take a few minutes and just think through what are your thoughts and where is your mind wandering to. Take a few moments to just do a scan where you’re SIFTing and thinking, what sensations do I have right now? What are the thoughts I have, the feelings, the images? And just practice it, because the more you practice it, like I said, then when you need to call on it, you already know how to do it. You’ve kind of started to set that pattern of thinking in your mind.
Yeah, because I was thinking for some people, it’s going to take some time and some practice to get into a habit. You have to practice it for it to become your more natural reaction to take a moment to yourself, take a breath, and just breathe. I see– I’m going to give a baseball analogy here, but I watch a lot of baseball. And you’ll see pitchers go up on the mound and before they throw out the first pitch, they just take a deep breath. And it just kind of– they’re probably excited to get out there. And so even if something good is happening, sometimes just taking that moment to just take a breath and relax your body all over can be really helpful.
You know, when you were just talking about other ways, like when you’re at the doctor’s office or maybe listening to something on your phone when you’re in the car, rather than what you’re normally listening to, music or talk shows, maybe a podcast like this one just to kind of remind you of those items or some other podcasts or self-help type audios that relax you while you’re in the car. That car time can be a really great time to just start using for relaxation. For people who aren’t really good at self-help, like they’ve never really had to think about this before, I think those are some really good tips to be able to practice and just find what works for you, right?
Right. Yeah, I think those are really good points, Cathy. Yes. We usually don’t recommend that people do relaxation tapes or–
Well, not while you’re driving. You don’t want to be too relaxed. No shutting your eyes or anything.
But I agree with you.
But just relaxing, you know, in some way.
There are so many great resources available for folks that it is pretty easy to get access to good information. So there are so many good podcasts available. There are great apps that teach relaxation or that provide practice and meditation. So they’re great self-help resources.
I know this is kind of a topic unto itself, but do you have any, like, quick tips or ideas or things that employers can do to help manage stress in the workplace?
I think, again, you know, always the first step is awareness. So knowing that it can be an issue and recognizing that when we do, we are mindful and pay attention to folks and their mental well-being, when we check in with folks, they’re going to perform better. We don’t always think about how we present ourselves, even when we’re walking through the hall. But if we are presenting ourselves lighter and pleasant, people feel that energy, as opposed to when you have an intense energy about you, people will feel that tension.
But there are also wonderful programs. A number of companies will have EAPs, or Employee Assistance Programs, where they have a contract that allows their employees to get some sessions that the company has paid for with a mental health provider, and it’s managed by an employee assistance program. So sometimes folks will get three to six sessions where they can manage their mental well-being.
Other ideas is just really being mindful of making sure folks do take a small break if they need to. And I try to remind people, especially when the weather’s nice, to get up from their desk and even just go outside for a minute, just to get a change of atmosphere and break it up a little bit. It really does make a big difference, just taking that little walk away from the desk and a change of scenery. And sometimes that’s a helpful thing to do.
And then, certainly, we know relationship matters. So checking in with folks and really being mindful of the climate in that environment is really helpful. Most people recognize their place of work tends to feel like a second family. And so I think it’s because those relationships matter and the tone of those relationships makes a big difference. Just–
I know communicating and being in touch with people and letting them know that you hear them can make a big difference. I’m sorry, Gretchen, go ahead.
Yeah, no, I was going to say that not long into the pandemic, I want to say maybe we were six months in or four months in, we have a psychologist at Lakeland, Dr. Ken Browner, and Lakeland actually offered for all employees a training session with him around self-help and how can we take care of ourselves during this stressful time. And boy, he covered a whole lot of tips. But I remember three that really stuck with me. And they’re so simple, but it was amazing how we forgot the really simple things when you feel all these things coming at you.
And the three things, and I think they still are– they’re going to hold true no matter whether we’re in a pandemic or not– number one, take a shower. [LAUGHS]
OK. I was–
Wow, that’s really basic.
Yeah, it’s really basic, but really, think of, like, how that really refreshes you, right? And I was going three, four days, I’m just worrying about homeschooling my kids. Take a shower. Always eat a good, healthy meal. And get exercise. They’re so basic.
But oftentimes, at least in my life, I’ve seen the stress just coming at me and I’m not doing the basic things.
You know? So yeah, and that’s very dangerous, right? We all have to just take those simple steps and what a world of difference it’ll make.
Right. I have someone in my building who was doing laps around the building, just taking a break and doing some laps to get his steps in. You know, so it is, it’s those little things that make a difference.
When I talk about the stress response, it gets a little more complicated, but I mentioned that fight or flight versus the rest and digest. So we can think of that as an on and off switch. But I also tell people to think about their stress as a dimmer switch. So when the stress starts to go up a little bit, what can you do during the day to bring it down? And in gaming, they have a thing called power-ups where you can earn extra points so that you– so you have a cushion of points.
So what can you do to build a cushion of feeling good against the onslaught of negativity that you might get? So a lot of us do this anyway. You know, we’ve got the snacks in our drawer, we’ve got pictures of our family at the desk or pictures of our vacation. They give us little breaks and reminders that kind of make us feel good. But what other things can you do?
So is it the music that you listen to? Is it taking a little walk outside? Is it going for a walk around the building? Is it just taking a moment to visit with someone, or to do a little mindfulness? So all those little things that you build into your day and being conscientious about it makes a difference, too, because when you’re conscientious about it, that is where your mind is as opposed to being distracted.
So it’s kind of like eating popcorn or eating pizza in front of the TV. When you eat pizza or popcorn in front of the TV, you’re going to eat a whole lot more than if you’re at the table paying attention to what you’re eating, right? Because you’re mindful. So that’s what we’re doing, too, when we’re thinking about how we’re doing things to make us feel good. We want to be in that moment, not doing it as part of a distraction.
I was hoping you were going to say eating popcorn is a good thing because I eat popcorn every day.
If that’s your–
It’s like– it is my little break in the afternoon.
That’s my little break, so.
Oh, that one.
Well, we’ve got time for one more question, Anna. At what point should someone seek professional help? If all the tips, you know, you’ve talked about today, it’s not making a difference.
Yeah, I think it really is when they’re feeling like it’s not making a difference or they’re having a hard time holding themselves accountable to do those things, right? Sometimes you know what to do, but it’s hard to do it. So going to see someone who can kind of help hold you accountable can be helpful.
And usually, it’s when it’s getting in the way. That’s what we talk– is it getting in the way? Is it getting in the way at work? Is it getting in the way at home? Is it getting in the way of your relationships? And is it really getting in the way of your own sense of how you want to function? That’s usually when you’re looking to get some help because you don’t want it to get in the way of your own sense of productivity and how you want to be in the world. So that’s when we usually look to seeking some support and help.
And sometimes I’ll liken it a little bit to a dietician, right? We all know what we need to eat to be healthy and how much we should be eating to be healthy, right? But we don’t, and we make choices. But then some of us get to a place where it’s like, you know, I really can’t do it on my own. I really need to go to someone, and I need more direction than the broad direction, yes, I should have more fruits and vegetables. But maybe it’s, what particular fruits and vegetables are helpful for me, and how much? And then having someone hold you to account as you meet with them and give you guidance and support and a little cheerleading support along the way.
So I think mental health is similar in that way. You know, we know broadly what helps, but it’s helpful if we sometimes need to go to someone who can fine tune it a little bit more or dig a little deeper into what techniques and strategies are going to be helpful for you.
Thank you. So you know we really appreciate you being with us today. Your knowledge of mental health and how to effectively deal with stress is really important, and we appreciate you passing that knowledge on to our listeners.
We have your website as being Anna, it was Tyrell?
Tyrrell, excuse me. Anna Tyrrell–
AnnaTyrrell.com. That’s A-N-N-A-T-Y-R-R-E-L-L dot com. And we’re going to include that in our show notes that is online.
Are there any other online resources that you’d like to mention that you think people could use to seek some help or learn more about this topic?
Sure. You know, I think a lot of the national government websites do a really good job of having good hands-on resources. So the CDC, SAMHSA– and I can give you those links. And then locally, our ADAMHS Board has some good resources and the agencies that are available, some of the nonprofit agencies.
And then we have locally our 953-TALK line. So 440-953-TALK. That’s a hotline available for folks who might need to talk to someone if they’re feeling like they’re in crisis. So there are a number of resources available. And then certainly, you know, there’s a boatload of YouTube videos and websites and apps that are beneficial. I mean, the resources are plenty these days, which is wonderful.
Yeah, thanks, Anna. I’ll be sure to get all that information from you and we will add those resources into our show notes. And again, thank you so much for joining us today.
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