As a wife, mom, businesswoman, author, and women’s advocate, I am a firm believer that you need to be willing to put your oxygen mask on before supporting others. I wasn’t always good at figuring out how to balance my needs with my responsibilities, so it’s been a work in progress. Certainly, there are times when it’s easier to be there for others, but I if I don’t make intentional time for myself, I end up getting burnt out very quickly.
To deal with stress, I practice a lot of self-care: going for walks with my dogs, getting a massage, spending time by the ocean, turning off my phone and shutting down my computer to read a book or just do something for ME. I’ve also become better at setting boundaries and taking power pauses. I make these priorities, and I encourage my family, friends, and employees to do the same.
How do you reduce stress at work?
Slowing down, taking baby steps, and focusing on one thing at a time is awesome. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for help! I know many people, especially women, who steamroll over their own needs because they’re trying to be everything to everyone. Don’t do that!
Let colleagues and managers know what they can do to help you bring your best self forward at work. And don’t forget to stop and breathe. This sounds so simple, but it’s one of the most profound actions I can think of. Even if it means merely taking ten deep breaths in a stressful moment, this simple act can be so clarifying and create space for new solutions to emerge. It gives us room to get real with what’s going on at the moment so that we can actually ask (and give) ourselves what we need.
Is it possible to prevent stress at work?
I’m not sure we can ever prevent it. And honestly, sometimes those pressure-cooker moments can help me to generate my most creative ideas, so I try to welcome them for what they are. I believe it’s more about learning how to manage my stress. I do this when I create buffers of time between activities and appointments because things always take longer than you might expect and it’s good to give yourself opportunities to recharge instead of always being “on.”
Creating boundaries around my “me” time is also important and has helped me communicate more effectively with everyone in my life. In fact, clear communication is a must. Transparency creates an environment of trust and respect, which makes it way easier to reduce stress!
Do you draw a hard line between work life and home life?
I don’t really compartmentalize all the different parts of my life. I might get a great creative idea for my organization in the middle of a dinner with a friend, or I might have a deep insight into my personal life when I’m meeting with a colleague. I think those boundaries people tend to make between their “9 to 5” and the rest of their lives are somewhat artificial and unattainable.
For me, it’s more about not letting myself get to a point where I feel overwhelmed by any specific area of my life. When things start to feel joyless and draining, I prioritize those moments of recharging and rejuvenating myself, no matter what I’m dealing with.
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How do you keep stress from becoming overwhelming?
First, you have to become aware of the fact that you are stressed. This isn’t always straightforward. For some people, overwork and anxiety become more of a lifestyle than something to avoid or manage. This is why we need to get honest about the ramifications of what we are doing. After all, stress is one of the top contributing factors to disease and illness. We might be literally working ourselves to death!
I know that when I’m completely overwhelmed, I shut down, and this alerts me to the fact that I’ve spread myself too thin or placed too many expectations on myself. If this is the case for you, be compassionate, but also make sure that you step away from the situation. This can give you valuable perspective and the energy you need to get back on track. Usually, simply taking a power pause can help us to access our own inner resources and get really clear on what we need. Also, remember that you are not alone and that there are people who care about you. If you need to, turn to a trusted mentor, a therapist, a good friend who knows how to listen, or even a colleague or manager who might be able to alleviate the stress you’re experiencing.
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What do you do to reduce stress in your free time?
I love alternating between stillness and activity. Sometimes I need to sweat it out and get out my emotions in a cathartic way—this might mean an hour of kickboxing or just venting about my emotions with a close friend. Other times, it might mean turning inward: journaling, meditating, taking a nap, or going for a walk alone. Most of all, it’s about checking in with myself to understand what’s really going on.
Many of us are disconnected from our bodies and emotions, so it’s just a matter of making it a habit to get curious and to ask, “How do I really feel?” instead of jumping into autopilot. When we check in with the most important person in our lives (US), it becomes so much easier to recognize what we need at any given moment and to offer that to ourselves. Also, don’t be afraid to say “no.” I promise you, the world won’t end if you do!
How do you recognize when you are not managing stress as well as you think you are?
There are lots of warning signs. Certainly, getting to the point where I’m just operating on autopilot and can’t feel my body is a huge red flag. This happens a lot by numbing out with things like drinking too much, compulsive online shopping, binge-watching TV, overworking, etc. To me, that’s the nature of addiction: we shut down in the face of what’s really going on, and we use certain substances and activities to avoid our pain. I also know I’m over-stressed when I get cranky and impatient with loved ones. This tends to happen when I’m overloaded with obligations and appointments, and when I don’t have a clear idea of how what I’m doing contributes to my larger vision and joy. If the challenges in our lives feel like all pain and no gain, this is usually a sign that we need to build more sustainable habits that actually serve and inspire us. We can do this by moving toward what rejuvenates us, brings us effortless joy, and helps us feel that integral connection between our body, mind, and spirit.
For decades, women have been unknowingly suffering from PSD and intergenerational trauma, but now Dr. Valerie Rein wants women to reclaim their power through mind, body and healing tools.
As women, no matter how many accomplishments we have or how successful we look on the outside, we all occasionally hear that nagging internal voice telling us to do more. We criticize ourselves more than anyone else and then throw ourselves into the never-ending cycle of self-care, all in effort to save ourselves from crashing into this invisible internal wall. According to psychologist, entrepreneur and author, Dr. Valerie Rein, these feelings are not your fault and there is nothing wrong with you— but chances are you definitely suffering from Patriarchy Stress Disorder.
Patriarchy Stress Disorder (PSD) is defined as the collective inherited trauma of oppression that forms an invisible inner barrier to women's happiness and fulfillment. The term was coined by Rein who discovered a missing link between trauma and the effects that patriarchal power structures have had on certain groups of people all throughout history up until the present day. Her life experience, in addition to research, have led Rein to develop a deeper understanding of the ways in which men and women are experiencing symptoms of trauma and stress that have been genetically passed down from previously oppressed generations.
What makes the discovery of this disorder significant is that it provides women with an answer to the stresses and trauma we feel but cannot explain or overcome. After being admitted to the ER with stroke-like symptoms one afternoon, when Rein noticed the left side of her body and face going numb, she was baffled to learn from her doctors that the results of her tests revealed that her stroke-like symptoms were caused by stress. Rein was then left to figure out what exactly she did for her clients in order for them to be able to step into the fullness of themselves that she was unable to do for herself. "What started seeping through the tears was the realization that I checked all the boxes that society told me I needed to feel happy and fulfilled, but I didn't feel happy or fulfilled and I didn't feel unhappy either. I didn't feel much of anything at all, not even stress," she stated.
Photo Courtesy of Dr. Valerie Rein
This raised the question for Rein as to what sort of hidden traumas women are suppressing without having any awareness of its presence. In her evaluation of her healing methodology, Rein realized that she was using mind, body and trauma healing tools with her clients because, while they had never experienced a traumatic event, they were showing the tell-tale symptoms of trauma which are described as a disconnect from parts of ourselves, body and emotions. In addition to her personal evaluation, research at the time had revealed that traumatic experiences are, in fact, passed down genetically throughout generations. This was Rein's lightbulb moment. The answer to a very real problem that she, and all women, have been experiencing is intergenerational trauma as a result of oppression formed under the patriarchy.
Although Rein's discovery would undoubtably change the way women experience and understand stress, it was crucial that she first broaden the definition of trauma not with the intention of catering to PSD, but to better identify the ways in which trauma presents itself in the current generation. When studying psychology from the books and diagnostic manuals written exclusively by white men, trauma was narrowly defined as a life-threatening experience. By that definition, not many people fit the bill despite showing trauma-like symptoms such as disconnections from parts of their body, emotions and self-expression. However, as the field of psychology has expanded, more voices have been joining the conversations and expanding the definition of trauma based on their lived experience. "I have broadened the definition to say that any experience that makes us feel unsafe psychically or emotionally can be traumatic," stated Rein. By redefining trauma, people across the gender spectrum are able to find validation in their experiences and begin their journey to healing these traumas not just for ourselves, but for future generations.
While PSD is not experienced by one particular gender, as women who have been one of the most historically disadvantaged and oppressed groups, we have inherited survival instructions that express themselves differently for different women. For some women, this means their nervous systems freeze when faced with something that has been historically dangerous for women such as stepping into their power, speaking out, being visible or making a lot of money. Then there are women who go into fight or flight mode. Although they are able to stand in the spotlight, they pay a high price for it when their nervous system begins to work in a constant state of hyper vigilance in order to keep them safe. These women often find themselves having trouble with anxiety, intimacy, sleeping or relaxing without a glass of wine or a pill. Because of this, adrenaline fatigue has become an epidemic among high achieving women that is resulting in heightened levels of stress and anxiety.
"For the first time, it makes sense that we are not broken or making this up, and we have gained this understanding by looking through the lens of a shared trauma. All of these things have been either forbidden or impossible for women. A woman's power has always been a punishable offense throughout history," stated Rein.
Although the idea of having a disorder may be scary to some and even potentially contribute to a victim mentality, Rein wants people to be empowered by PSD and to see it as a diagnosis meant to validate your experience by giving it a name, making it real and giving you a means to heal yourself. "There are still experiences in our lives that are triggering PSD and the more layers we heal, the more power we claim, the more resilience we have and more ability we have in staying plugged into our power and happiness. These triggers affect us less and less the more we heal," emphasized Rein. While the task of breaking intergenerational transmission of trauma seems intimidating, the author has flipped the negative approach to the healing journey from a game of survival to the game of how good can it get.
In her new book, Patriarchy Stress Disorder: The Invisible Barrier to Women's Happiness and Fulfillment, Rein details an easy system for healing that includes the necessary tools she has sourced over 20 years on her healing exploration with the pioneers of mind, body and trauma resolution. Her 5-step system serves to help "Jailbreakers" escape the inner prison of PSD and other hidden trauma through the process of Waking Up in Prison, Meeting the Prison Guards, Turning the Prison Guards into Body Guards, Digging the Tunnel to Freedom and Savoring Freedom. Readers can also find free tools on Rein's website to help aid in their healing journey and exploration.
"I think of the book coming out as the birth of a movement. Healing is not women against men– it's women, men and people across the gender spectrum, coming together in a shared understanding that we all have trauma and we can all heal."