Mind, Body & Banking
Episode 7 (00:36:54)
Host Sonia Portwood sits down with executive coach and leadership consultant Dr. Susan Bernstein, to discuss managing – and even harnessing – anxiety and stress in order to confidently navigate today’s ever-changing (banking) landscape.
Chief Sales and Marketing Officer
Chief Sales and Marketing Officer
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Dr. Susan Bernstein, MBA, PhD
Executive Coach & Leadership Consultant
Executive Coach & Leadership Consultant
Sonia: [00:00:00] Hello everybody. And welcome to PCBB's podcast Banking Out Loud. I'm Sonia Portwood. I'm going to be your host today. When we sit back and we look at everything that's been going on in the landscape, and all the studies that are out, they'll tell you that probably about... I think I saw something from KPMG, it may have been, where 94% of the workers today are stressed. Now I would venture to say we were stressed before the pandemic. This just gave us new stimulus for stress and anxiety, but we all know that if we're healthier and we're happier, we're more productive, not only in our personal life, but also in our productive life. And this podcast is about your health, about your wellbeing. So let's take a minute before I introduce our guest and check in with ourselves. Maybe take a couple of deep breaths, try and release any stress that you may be experiencing right now. Take the to-do list. Mentally set it aside, maybe for the next 20 minutes or so. It'll be there when you get back. And I'm going to pause for a minute to give you this opportunity. Take a couple of breaths, relax and enjoy the podcast. With me today is a very special guest, Dr. Susan Bernstein. Susan is a leadership consultant and executive coach. Through her strategic mind, body approach, Susan trains business professionals to embody head to toe confidence so they can handle ever changing business challenges while staying balanced, authentic, and positive. Hello, Dr. Bernstein, and thank you so much for joining us today. Sonia: How are you? Susan: [00:02:05] I'm very thanks. It's always a joy to be with you, Sonia. Sonia: Thank you. We're thrilled to have you, so thanks for agreeing to come on our podcast. Susan: Absolutely. Sonia: [00:02:16] So I've had the opportunity to work with you in the past. We engaged you here at PCBB. So we have firsthand knowledge of just what you can and do and how you can help people. But why don't you tell us a little more about you? How did you get started in executive coaching, and what are the reasons that people may reach out for you for help or engage your services? Susan: [00:02:37] Yeah, absolutely. So, if I rewind pretty far back, when I finished my MBA at UC Berkeley Haas School of Business, I went on to join what was then Anderson Consulting, what's now Accenture, and I had an experience where I was absolutely just so driven to get promoted from, at that time, senior consultant to manager, and I refused to stop working after a car accident. I was just like, I'm up for promotion, I am not going to let them see me sweat. And I worked so hard though that promotion, for that promotion, excuse me, that I worked two, 100-hour work weeks back to back right after the car accident. I was just having a pinched nerve and I have headaches and dizziness. What the heck? But two weeks after the accident in the middle of a client presentation, I passed out, and I woke up on the floor with the CEO of the company we were advising and his COO standing next to me and my whole project team. And I realized in that moment, when I regained consciousness, that I was not at all conscious of my body, wasn't conscious of my emotional state. I was just driven all the time. And it took me on a whole expedition into learning about how to calm myself. That expedition has included meditation classes, exercise classes, acupuncture, you name it. I tried so many different things and it also took me to a PhD in Mind-Body Psychology. And what I started understanding... I got really fascinated with anxiety. And so now I help what Harvard business review calls, anxious achievers, people whose achievement is fueled by worry, dread, fear. And, look, I can raise my hand and say, that can be me too. But when you have a toolkit, and my toolkit is enormous and I can customize to the clients that I'm working with... What I'm helping people to do is to optimize their anxiety. Anxiety on its own is not a bad thing. [00:05:04] We actually need a bit of anxiety to get out of bed, especially on a warm winter day, like, oh, I think I'll just stay here under the covers. No, you might not keep your job if you do that. So we need a certain amount of it to have energy to keep going, to do the things we need to do. But too much of it we know can cause incredible stress, can cause tension in the body, can cause depression, can cause high blood pressure. So what I'm always helping people to do is to use their active minds on purpose for themselves. I could have told myself some very different things back then when I was working at Accenture, probably I would've stayed, but I wouldn't have developed the whole body of work that I have around how to come to an optimal level of anxiety so that we can be our most productive, but also be, as you were saying, at the top of the show, healthy and balanced. Sonia: [00:06:01] Yeah. Yeah. And Whether you're working with someone professionally or personally, this is information that they can take and apply to their lives wherever they get? Susan: That's so true. Absolutely. You can use it in all aspects of your life. Sonia: Yeah. So, what have you found since the pandemic and what type of effects has it had on the clients that you're working with? Susan: [00:06:25] Yeah. The pandemic has been really hard. One of the reasons that anxiety perks up or gets exacerbated is two factors that really make us feel anxious, uncertainty and threat. So the pandemic has been massive uncertainty. We're going through that as we're recording. The Omicron variant has popped up. So, there's a lot of uncertainty about, what does that mean? There's been so many things that we don't know what's coming and that makes our brain really anxious, upset, our brain likes certainty. And then if there's threat, you have the threat to wellbeing, for sure, with the pandemic, the threat to my livelihood, [00:07:30] the threat of what could happen. If you have a business where you're reliant on the supply chain... So all of that combination of the uncertainty and the threat is concerning to people. What I have seen is that when people are better trained to deal with the uncertainty and to be able to use their minds on purpose in a way that is productive and healthy, then they're in a good place. So, what I see a lot of is that the pandemic helped people to realize... It made people very aware of the quality of their life. And they're asking for their roles to be changed in ways that make their work more supportive of themselves. And I think that's a very healthy thing in the workforce, but for a while it's destabilizing Sonia: [00:08:16] Yeah. And if our stress level was up during the pandemic, not to say that it's not now, because I think I read one time a study came out and said that American workers are the highest stressed and anxiety workers in the world. I don't know who they are, I just remember reading that. It doesn't surprise me. But regardless, we're not only dealing with our stress, and what we're going through professionally, personally, whatever that may look like, but if the people we work with, if their stress level is also up, then it makes dealing with them more challenging as well, which can increase our levels. Susan: [00:08:56] That's right. So, anxiety, even if we're working remotely, even if we're working on different platforms like zoom or something and seeing each other remotely, we may not need to be in the same room, but that anxiety can be contagious. Sonia: Energy. Yeah. Susan: That's right. That's absolutely right. Sonia: [00:09:14] So I think we would all agree that whether your stress level is going down some as we return to somewhat normalcy, there's still stress in the workplace and in the home. So why don't we talk about some ways of dealing with that? What can we do about it? Susan: [00:09:33] Yeah. I think that's a great thing. There are two things that I've realized that are important, that are simple. One is that when we're anxious, we're up in our heads, we're thinking a lot. So I want to share a way to work with that thinking productively. And I also want to share the idea of what I like to call, taking the elevator down. If you're at the top floor in the head, there's the whole rest of our organism, our body that we can pay attention to. So, let me start with the head, ya, and the thinking. So what tends to happen when we're anxious is, what we're saying to ourselves is, what if? And we're generally in anxiety, what if-ing, in a negative direction, like, what if I lose my job? What if we lose the house? What if the economy goes bananas? Sonia: [00:10:29] Or we're trying to control something. Susan: That's true too. That's true too. So, if we are going to "what if," what I recommend you do is, it's proven in scientific studies that if we write down what's got us anxious, that alone helps clear mental tension. So if you're feeling anxious, write down what's driving you crazy with a pen and paper. So, getting it down, not on your computer with your little fingers, typing on the keys, that's a very different experience, [00:12:00] But your signature, your handwriting has an indirect neural connection to your brain. [00:11:48] So you want to use that. It's how chemical, if you will, to be able to write down what's got you anxious. Then, and I like to write them down as, what ifs, what if this awful thing happens? Because we are worried about the threat. We're worried about the catastrophic thing that we think could happen. And then the counterintuitive thing to do is to write its opposite. So what if I write down, what if the economy goes to, excuse me, hell in a hand basket? Then I can write down, what if the economy does really, really well. I'm not going to get to control the economy, certainly not alone. But what we're doing is we're starting to change the mental possibilities in our head about, what if that is actually possible, so that we open up new opportunities so that we see with new vistas? Because what happens in anxiety, is that it's a narrowing, a tightening, and you can feel that. When you get anxious, we tighten and constrict. We don't loosen up. Susan: [00:12:16] So you're doing a little mental gymnastics to play with the positive scenarios and to make your mind... You get to be in control of your mind. Don't let your mind drive, you sit in the driver's seat. So just writing those things down the negative things that you're worried and dreading, and then writing down their opposites like, oh, what if that's possible? And then noticing how it makes you feel in your body. And that may be some very subtle change. It may not be that you leap off and feel like, oh, I'm so relaxed now, I feel like I had a massage. Please don't expect that. That would be incredible results. If you get that, I want to know about it. But to feel even a little loosening in the tension and to start easing up your mind. The other piece of this is taking the elevator down. We know, as I've said, in anxiety and stress, we tense our muscles. This is why people go to the dentist for having tight jaws. Many people carry that stress in their shoulders, in their upper arms. Some people carry it in their stomachs, right? Wherever you carry it, it's a bodily stress. So things that we can do about that are actually to take the elevator down from our brain and calm our bodies. And the easiest way I know to do that is to take a hand and just put it on your heart and imagine that you're breathing in and out from your heart. just imagine that you're breathing from there, and it can help to close your eyes and feel that heart. [00:14:06] And then you can bring to mind, there's a technique from HeartMath. It's amazing Institute that studies heart resonance, that you can imagine with your hand on your heart, a positive memory that you've had. It might be a memory of getting together with a friend. It might be the memory of something you did successfully at work. It doesn't really matter what it is, but bring that to mind with your hand on your heart and notice that your tension just starts to drop. So, this kind of a heart check in, I recommend people doing it three times a day as preventative medicine, as a way to remind yourself to come into your body. But it's also a way to bring the wellbeing of your mind and your body together. Sonia: [00:14:57] Yeah. Because we're often when we feel the most stress, we're not in a situation where we can actually sit back, close our eyes, take a couple of deep breaths and put our hands on our heart. So, I like the preventative idea where you're doing it a couple of times throughout the day. Just plan it if you can. Susan: [00:15:12] That's right. So let me give you one that you can do anytime, and nobody has to know you're doing it. You can do it in line at the supermarket. You could do it while you're on a zoom, and nobody has to see you raise your hand to your heart. And that is breathing in a deliberate way where you're making your exhales longer than your inhales. And you want to breathe in and out through your nose, but that's one you can do invisibly. I call these invisible shifts that nobody can see you doing, but that you can do to change your mental state and your emotional state, a micro shift. It's tiny. No one has to see you doing it. But this change in breathing. When you make your exhales longer than your inhales, you're sending your nervous system a message to relax. You're activating your parasympathetic nervous system. And that's the calming part of our nervous system. And when your brain gets that signal, it's like, okay, I can relax. I don't have to be so hypervigilant, which is a phenomenon that happens in anxiousness. We get hyper focused on something and we can't see the whole horizon. We just see the one thing. And when we change our breathing, which you can do on purpose. With just some intention, like, okay, I'm going to count. I'm going to count, that I just did, and inhale for three, and I'm going to exhale for six, or anything where the exhale's longer than the inhale, you start to change your physiology. Does it happen in one breath cycle? No. You want to do it for two to three minutes, but as you do that, you can notice that you relax more and more and more, and nobody has to know you're doing it. Sonia: [00:16:58] And it takes your mind off of whatever the stress is in your head. So you're getting out of your head a little bit. Susan: Exactly. Sonia: Yes. Yeah. Yeah. I've certainly seen the benefits in my life through mindful breathing. It's one of the most important things that we do, is our breath. Susan: So true. Sonia: And we focus on it so little and take it for granted so much, but it's very powerful. Susan: [00:17:20] And I love the thought that one of my teachers once that breathing is literally inspiration. You want to be more inspired, breathe on purpose, intentionally with attention to your breathing. There's also a wonderful app called Breathwrk. It's Breath plus w-r-k, it's not all spelled out. So, I know it's available for the iPhone. I'm guessing it's also, that's what I have, I'm guessing it's also available for the Android and has breathing exercises that you can do for all kinds of different situations. Sonia: [00:17:54] I know there's a number of different apps out there you can subscribe to, that help in that arena, but I've not heard of that one. Thank you for sharing. Sonia: I wanted to ask you in using the elevator analogy, can you give us some benefits that you've seen and people that have adopted this and continue to use it? Susan: [00:18:14] Yeah, absolutely. So, I'm thinking about one of my clients in particular. She worked with me two years ago and she messages me regularly. She said, I used to go to meetings all bottled up, stressed out, freaked out that something bad could happen. And now when I go to those meetings, if I notice that I'm getting anxious and getting worried, she said, I'll take a big exhale, which also can start to re-regulate oxygen and CO2 in your system. And your ability to do that can help your brain function better. She's like, nobody knows I'm doing these things, but since I've been working with you, I hold on to this tool. And so I can walk into a meeting where I'm like, oh boy, I don't know what's going to happen. I'm nervous. I'm concerned. And I just breath. and she's said, that's literal inspiration. So, if I get to be her inspiration for that, so be it, but it's her remembering to use the tool to have it in her toolkit and pull it out. you've got to keep your own list and go back and look at it. It's remembering, oh, I've got tool. Right, right, right. And I can put a hand on my heart. Oh, I can breathe differently. Another one is like, if I'm in a low mood, I can bring a smile to my face, a natural one for 30 seconds. Even though there's nothing seems like there's something to smile about, I do that for 30 seconds. It releases, feel good hormones in the body. And well, I just smile, then I feel better. Amazing. So yeah, there's a lot of tools that we can have at our fingertips. If we remember to use them, Sonia: [00:20:02] So our thoughts can cause us a great deal of stress, but so can our emotions. And there are some people that are masters of their emotions and there's some people that are not. And our emotions are very important for us. A lot of them are instinct. They give us a lot of information, but I think the key to not letting them control us and contribute to stress in our life is to being a master of them. And I was wondering if you would mind speaking a little bit to that? Susan: [00:20:40] Yeah. I love that question. So, yes. I'm an external processor and I'm very vocal about my emotions, much to the chagrin, detriment, frustration of, especially my mother who is much more masterful with her emotions or at least much more regulated in her emotions. She wouldn't want to be caught being as expressive as I am. And sure. It's also not always easy in the business world where there can be a modicum of professionalism that's expected and not being over the top with emotions. Sonia: Is that a shifting? Sorry to interrupt you. Susan: [00:21:28] Yes, I do think that's shifting and I'm thrilled about it because being bottled up isn't easy for people. I'm not recommending that people go to the other extreme and just say everything that's going on with them, because when we do that, we have people telling us all about their personal life situations at work and you're like, hey, I need to get back to work. So, here's the thing that I find, is, first, if you know that you're emotionally expressive own it. Say, I'm emotionally expressive and make it something fun and light, so that it's not running you like, oh my gosh, I have to stop being like this. [00:22:09] What I recommend is noticing your emotions as physical sensations in the body. So, anger, for example, tends to be hot, tends to be outwardly expressive. Sadness is heavy, it tends to draw us down. What we can start to do is to notice if it's hard for us to notice our emotion in the moment like, oh, wow, I got too over-excited, is to start to notice our bodies. It is more of that taking the elevator down and then playing with, and I recommend doing this with a coworker you really trust, a manager you really trust or a coach, somebody like that, and saying, would you help me practice dialing it down a little And so, what I have people do when they're very expressive, like I can be, is to play with modulating it. What does that mean? It's like you have a dial in your hand and you're going to dial up more, and more, and more of something, and then dial down less, and less, and less. And it's like playing a range, the way you would play scales on a piano. And notice as you're doing that, your consciousness about yourself, what are you saying to yourself in that moment? What are you feeling emotionally? What are you feeling physically? [00:23:34] It's just start to create self-awareness so that you can turn on the dial. I did this with a client who used to get really angry, really fast. He'd had a hair trigger for anger. And so, we played with a range of getting angry. And what he realized is he's like, there are certain things... As he was doing the amping it up and lowering it down, he's, "You know, it's actually these certain things that trigger me to feel angry. And what I need to start to do is to start to have a gauge, an early warning system." So now when he goes into meetings, he can say, I'm getting really angry about this subject. And if we go any further on it, I'm afraid I'm going to have an outburst. Sonia: [00:24:24] So I guess that's really the first step as awareness. Susan: It's so true. Sonia: And sometimes it takes a situation where maybe your boss has some form of intervention with you before you become aware. Susan: It's true. Sonia: [00:24:38] So for those listening to this podcast today, maybe it's a good idea if we check in with ourselves on how we show our emotions outwardly, what are we doing with those emotions when they come up? Susan: [00:24:49] Yeah. It's so true. And sometimes it does take somebody externally to say, wow, that was a really over the top expression. What's going on? And if you're lucky enough to have somebody say I noticed that when we were talking about the ABC company, your voice got louder, you were banging on the table and you were pointing at the person across from you, what was going on? So, what you're doing is, instead of making it a bunch of judgements about them, or a bunch of ideas about what's happening, you're looking for as best you can, the observable things you saw in them and then a wonder question, I wonder what was happening for you. I wonder how you were feeling in that moment. I wonder what you were thinking that created that reaction. So that you're helping them to turn it inward and have that self-awareness, not expecting anybody to become a psychotherapist, but to be able to use observations and then wonder questions can be a really beneficial skill for a manager. Sonia: Yeah. And oftentimes it takes more than asking one question because… Susan: Correct. Sonia: [00:26:06] …as we know, typically they're going to go back to that moment and point the finger again, and you have to ask the question, why. They eventually get back to really the root of probably what was going on. Susan: [00:26:21] Yeah. But we work around a lot of life being not so self-aware. When we create that self-awareness, we create a whole pattern for new change. So, if someone's willing to, if somebody doesn't get on the defensive and you keep them from the defensive, by being as objective and as positive as you can. It's helpful for the manager who holds a perspective that, you know, this is changeable. Sonia: I think that's important and worth repeating for us managers out here. The perspective that they can make a positive change. Susan: [00:26:04] Yeah. It's hugely important. I've seen it make a massive difference but there's something we also know from the work of research on intention, if we hold the intention that it's going to work, we make it more likely that it will work. Sonia: Absolutely. Intentions can be very powerful. Susan: Yes, absolutely. Sonia: So, Susan, let me ask you, if we were going to set an intention for the podcast today and what you hoped everybody got out of it, what would that be? Susan: [00:27:34] Oh, I love that question, Sonia. My personal intention is always to help people to feel good about themselves and good about their ability to make changes personally, to optimize their emotions so that they can be their best self. Sonia: Thank you. Susan: Thank you. What a great question. Sonia: [00:27:56] So we were moving to stress and anxiety between co-workers and I'm sure you have a number of examples of those. Susan: I do. Sonia: So why don't you give us an example and some advice on how we might operate in that situation? Susan: [00:28:17] Sure. I'm going to just call these two leaders, Amy and Bill. And I won't say where they're at for their own privacy sake, of course, keeping confidentiality. But Their manager came to me and said, they've been working on a reorganization project for the last year. And they've been at each other's throats. They see very differently. Their personalities are really different and they didn't want to have to work together, and they had to. They were the only ones on a project team who could do the work that they were doing. And they would avoid each other anytime they didn't have to be working on this project. And when they called me, the first thing that I had them do was to understand a dynamic that happens with people when we are in an unconscious change. And that is, there are three roles that we play in unconscious drama and unconscious conflict. And those are, we can play the victim. We can play the villain, we can play the hero. And if you put those three on a triangle, that becomes something called the drama triangle. But I asked them to understand that a victim plays, woe is me, feels sorry for themselves, feels like they are powerless. Villain feels like, you're not doing what I want, so I'm going to get vengeful and make you pay with my anger. And then a hero rolls up their sleeves and rescues people. You could call them a martyr. It's another name for that or rescuer. They're the person who feels a lot of anxiety about a situation. Everything needs to be okay. So I'll go take care of things. Which one of those three are you playing and in any conflict? So, I asked these two leaders to understand this and then privately to tell me which one they felt like. [00:30:24] It wasn't a surprise to me that Amy felt like the victim. And she felt like Bill was villainizing her. And interestingly, but not surprising to me, Bill felt he was the victim, and Amy was his villain. What we started to do then, is to give them strategies for working through those situations, for Amy to become more powerful and Bill also to be more powerful, but not power over each other, power with each other. And one of the ways to become powerful in a situation is to offer options, options, not about how each other should show up, but options about how they could productively get through the work. So they're trying to do this reorg and Amy has these ideas, Bill has these other ideas. And what I had them do is each to put on paper elements of different ways to look at how they would reorganize. And I had each of them lay out the options and what started to happen is that each of them saw, it wasn't about you have the right options and I have the wrong options or vice versa. It was, oh, I've been making you a difficult villain or I've been turning into a victim because I'm not proposing options in a way that you can hear me. And they were able to stand back and turn it from being a drama against each other to, oh, what's in front of us is actually this shared thing we need to do, which is to reorganize and to look at the elements of that instead of looking at each other and pointing the finger. What's crazy and wonderful is that now when I go back they're like, do you know how much I like Bill now? Do you know what I like Amy now? They're amazed at that transformation. But what we really did is take the attention off of the interpersonal, but changed it from focusing on the individuals to moving the discussion to be about the issues. Sonia: [00:32:48] Yeah. So I have a couple of questions because what happened there was their manager who recognized the conflict and engaged a coach, engaged you. Susan: Correct. Sonia: If you find yourself in that situation with a co-worker and you realize that this is prohibiting productivity and getting things done, what advice would you give someone in that situation? Susan: [00:33:12] Well, first of all, I do have people contact me and reach out. And I coach people like that. But if that's you and you've got that going on, the really great thing about changing drama triangle dynamics is, it only takes one person to shift. Why? Because if you think about a triangle and you take out any one of the legs, the triangle falls down, the dynamic doesn't work anymore. So, one person can affect change. Sonia: [00:33:46] So if someone wanted to engage in a coach for themselves, personally, of course, they would do their research and engage, but if they thought that their organization could benefit from an impartial coach coming in, how do you find that people are most successful in getting their boss to decide to engage with a coach? Susan: [00:34:19] That's a great question, Sonia, and when people want to work with me I actually have a guide that I send them so that they can have a dialogue with their manager. But the most important thing is to build the business case, is to say, okay, how much is this conflict or this situation that's not working well? How much is this costing us? Is it costing us in lost profits? Is it costing us in slowed down productivity? Is it costing us in delays and getting something to market? Susan: And then I will say, how much would that be worth to us to have this fixed? Coaching usually winds up a fraction of that. So, when they lay that out and they talk to their manager about it, with any coach and giving their manager the credentials of this person, talking to this person if needed, it's well worth the investment. Susan: [00:35:19] That person winds up with more confidence, they wind up being able to be more productive themselves, more creative, more able to get things done with them through other people. That's invaluable. Sonia: Okay. lastly, what are the best two pieces of advice that you would give to our listeners today to reduce stress starting today, as soon as they're off this podcast. Susan: [00:35:48] Beautiful. So the biggest thing that I would say is one, when you're stressed, write down what's stressing you and turn it around, start doing that, so you gain control of your mind. And two, notice when you're stressed, take the elevator down and do something that changes your physiology. The easiest thing I know is that you don't have to go grab a yoga mat or go out, even leave the building for a walk, is to shift your breathing, slow down, shift your breathing, make your exhales longer than your inhales. That's the change you could do you right this second. Sonia: Thank you, Susan Sonia: [00:36:26] It puts a smile on my face just hearing your voice. So, I really want to thank you for myself and everybody here at PCBB for taking the time to stop into our podcast today. And we wish you all the best. Susan: Thank you. You, as well. Sonia: Thank you, Susan.