Managing Stress Through Mindfulness

A month ago, I had the opportunity to attend a PRSA Masters event on managing stress through mindfulness featuring M.J. Clark, a professional speaker and leadership consultant. The content was immediately useful and, as I find myself continuing to put the learnings into practice, I thought it could be a solid addition to our library of blog content designed to help us all communicate better.


The speaker started out by sharing the scientific differences in how men respond to stress vs. women. The typical male response is what we’ve all heard before: fight or flight. The female response to stress, however, may be quite different and can be summed up as “tend or befriend.” According to a study of women’s stress responses in 2000, women typically react to stress by talking to others, organizing and keeping busy. This was a huge “aha” moment for me, to quote Oprah! The cortisol that enters our bodies when stressed can cause women to feel more social, crave physical touch and experience greater empathy. Clark encouraged women to be aware of their needs in stressful situations and to take a lunch break, volunteer or talk with others to allow the natural stress response to flush stress chemicals from the body. When we help or care for other people, it also helps alleviate stress. Interestingly, men’s testosterone tends to blunt cortisol, so they don’t share this response to stress.


While technology has helped business and communications immeasurably in recent years, tech can also be a source of great stress. Clark urged that being a “constant checker” of email or social media at all hours actually creates more stress and is therefore counterproductive. She recommends that people be mindful of their tech use and how it affects them. She suggested periodic digital detoxes, no phones during meals or family times, and also taking a hard look at how constantly checking tech devices may be causing disconnection in relationships at home or at work.


Clark cited a TED talk by health psychologist Kelly McGonigal about how to make stress your friend. According to McGonigal, stress only harms us if we believe it does. Stress is our body’s way of telling us to act, and if we can rethink how we react to typical physical stress signs by considering it our body getting “pumped up” or energized instead of scared or alarmed, it can improve our health. Next time you feel stressed, tell yourself you actually feel excited - this can have a positive impact on your body and heart.


The speaker walked us through various “power poses” which can help people to feel more confident and less stressed. She said that by taking up more physical space and opening your body, you can actually light up the courage center in your brain. It’s been proven that you can influence your body’s stress response by striking a power pose for just two minutes. Do this before a big meeting, presentation or other stressful situation! Clark reminded us that the emotional side of the brain and cognitive side of the brain can’t both function well at the same time. By being aware of this, and by calming the emotional side of our brain during stressful situations, we free up and activate our cognitive abilities. She talked about mindful meditation and Buddhist principles for calming the mind. This involves non-judgmental awareness of what’s going on around us, along with mental attention to events, thoughts and feelings. Mindfulness meditation can calm the body, decrease stress, enhance self-insight, boost immunity and aid self-compassion. Another tip was to attempt mindful, meditative breathing for five minutes a couple times a day. She offered that mindfulness and changing our self-beliefs could help us deal with daily stress at work or while commuting. Instead of becoming angry and frustrated during a traffic-filled drive to work, for example, we could change our mindset to,“I’m lucky to have an hour in the car alone to blast my music, listen to podcasts or simply be alone with my thoughts.” I have been trying to incorporate this thinking into my commute, and I can testify that it helps!Overall, I found these ideas on mindfulness and self-awareness personally useful and worth sharing. If we all practice a bit more mindfulness and self-reflection, it can’t help but go a long way in helping us also communicate better! Do you have tips that you’ve found help you be more mindful or communicate better? Let us know in the comments or over on Facebook!