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.
Women of the Middle East have made significant strides in the past decade in a number of sectors, but huge gaps remain within the labor market, especially in leadership roles.
A huge number of institutions have researched and quantified trends of and obstacles to the full utilization of females in the marketplace. Gabriela Ramos, is the Chief-of-Staff to The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an alliance of thirty-six governments seeking to improve economic growth and world trade. The OECD reports that increasing participation in the women's labor force could easily result in a $12 trillion jump in the global GDP by the year 2025.
To realize the possibilities, attention needs to be directed toward the most significantly underutilized resource: the women of MENA—the Middle East and North African countries. Educating the men of MENA on the importance of women working and holding leadership roles will improve the economies of those nations and lead to both national and global rewards, such as dissolving cultural stereotypes.
The OECD reports that increasing participation in the women's labor force could easily result in a $12 trillion jump in the global GDP by the year 2025.
In order to put this issue in perspective, the MENA region has the second highest unemployment rate in the world. According to the World Bank, more women than men go to universities, but for many in this region the journey ends with a degree. After graduating, women tend to stay at home due to social and cultural pressures. In 2017, the OECD estimated that unemployment among women is costing some $575 billion annually.
Forbes and Arabian Business have each published lists of the 100 most powerful Arab businesswomen, yet most female entrepreneurs in the Middle East run family businesses. When it comes to managerial positions, the MENA region ranks last with only 13 percent women among the total number of CEOs according to the Swiss-based International Labor Organization (ILO.org publication "Women Business Management – Gaining Momentum in the Middle East and Africa.")
The lopsided tendency that keeps women in family business—remaining tethered to the home even if they are prepared and capable of moving "into the world"—is noted in a report prepared by OECD. The survey provides factual support for the intuitive concern of cultural and political imbalance impeding the progression of women into the workplace who are otherwise fully capable. The nations of Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Libya, Jordan and Egypt all prohibit gender discrimination and legislate equal pay for men and women, but the progressive-sounding checklist of their rights fails to impact on "hiring, wages or women's labor force participation." In fact, the report continues, "Women in the six countries receive inferior wages for equal work… and in the private sector women rarely hold management positions or sit on the boards of companies."
This is more than a feminist mantra; MENA's males must learn that they, too, will benefit from accelerating the entry of women into the workforce on all levels. Some projections of value lost because women are unable to work; or conversely the amount of potential revenue are significant.
Elissa Freiha, founder of Womena, the leading empowerment platform in the Middle East, emphasizes the financial benefit of having women in high positions when communicating with men's groups. From a business perspective it has been proven through the market Index provider MSCI.com that companies with more women on their boards deliver 36% better equity than those lacking board diversity.
She challenges companies with the knowledge that, "From a business level, you can have a potential of 63% by incorporating the female perspective on the executive team and the boards of companies."
Freiha agrees that educating MENA's men will turn the tide. "It is difficult to argue culturally that a woman can disconnect herself from the household and community." Her own father, a United Arab Emirates native of Lebanese descent, preferred she get a job in the government, but after one month she quit and went on to create Womena. The fact that this win-lose situation was supported by an open-minded father, further propelled Freiha to start her own business.
"From a business level, you can have a potential of 63% by incorporating the female perspective on the executive team and the boards of companies." - Elissa Frei
While not all men share the open-mindedness of Freiha's dad, a striking number of MENA's women have convincingly demonstrated that the talent pool is skilled, capable and all-around impressive. One such woman is the prominent Sheikha Lubna bint Khalid bin Sultan Al-Qasimi, who is currently serving as a cabinet minister in the United Arab Emirates and previously headed a successful IT strategy company.
Al-Qasimi exemplifies the potential for MENA women in leadership, but how can one example become a cultural norm? Marcello Bonatto, who runs Re: Coded, a program that teaches young people in Turkey, Iraq and Yemen to become technology leaders, believes that multigenerational education is the key. He believes in the importance of educating the parent along with their offspring, "particularly when it comes to women." Bonatto notes the number of conflict-affected youth who have succeeded through his program—a boot camp training in technology.
The United Nations Women alongside Promundo—a Brazil-based NGO that promotes gender-equality and non-violence—sponsored a study titled, "International Men and Gender Equality Survey of the Middle East and North Africa in 2017."
This study surveyed ten thousand men and women between the ages of 18 and 59 across both rural and urban areas in Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco and the Palestinian Authority. It reports that, "Men expected to control their wives' personal freedoms from what they wear to when the couple has sex." Additionally, a mere one-tenth to one-third of men reported having recently carried out a more conventionally "female task" in their home.
Although the MENA region is steeped in historical tribal culture, the current conflict of gender roles is at a crucial turning point. Masculine power structures still play a huge role in these countries, and despite this obstacle, women are on the rise. But without the support of their nations' men this will continue to be an uphill battle. And if change won't come from the culture, maybe it can come from money. By educating MENA's men about these issues, the estimated $27 trillion that women could bring to their economies might not be a dream. Women have been empowering themselves for years, but it's time for MENA's men to empower its women.