How do you recognize stress? How do you tame it? How does stress affect your health and mindset? These are questions I asked Julie Leonard, a Certified Life Coach, and Happiness Evangelist.
What you will learn in this episode:
- What is stress and how to recognize it
- The neuroscience behind stress
- How to change negative thoughts
- How stress can affect your health
About Julie Leonard:
Julie Leonard is a Certified Life Coach and Happiness Evangelist with 30+ years of Psychology, Health and Coaching Experience. Along with her Coaching Practice, she is also the founder of Sunndach.com, the creator of The Intentional Happiness Circle and the host of the weekly online International Women’s Happiness Club. She is also the No1 best selling author of Intentional Happiness: The Life-Changing Guide To Being Happy And Staying Happy. She is so passionate about happiness and living life with intention and supporting women to feel happy and fulfilled.
Connect with Julie:
- Intentional Happiness - The Life-Changing Guide To Being Happy And Staying Happy
- 21 Day Self Compassion Journey - This is a paid course. If you come to me and tell me you're listening to this podcast, then I will give you a place on my next course for free.
TP: Hello, today, we are speaking about science and stress. My guest today is Julie Leonard. Welcome to the podcast.
JL: Hello. It's great to be here.
TP: As we speak about science and stress, you have struggled with anxiety. Can you please share your story? What has happened and what changed?
JL: Of course. Happy to share that with you. I'll keep it short and sweet because it's, my story is a long one. But just to give you a brief summary, I grew up in Scotland and a very loving, warm family who taught me so many wonderful and amazing values that I bring into the work that I do now as a life coach. However, my father grew up with depression. So my whole life he has had depression and inadvertently through that, I picked up a lot of limiting beliefs. And so just by the way, he was sometimes happy in his head or he will be listening to me and I internalize that in a little bit of a negative way. So I grew up with limiting beliefs around not being good enough and not feeling something of worth hearing or an opinion worth listening to. And I grew up very anxious. I was very, very anxious, very introverted, very shy, and in Scotland didn't really talk about emotions so much. So I was kinda alone in my own head. And so I really got very anxious. This followed me through school, even into university. It's no surprise I went to study psychology, to work all this out, but it followed me and even in the university, I couldn't even go and meet friends for a coffee or anything. I was self-conscious, nervous. So I really struggled with that for a long time. But I found psychology and I loved it. And I just knew I wanted to work with people, to help people. And instead of pursuing psychology, I ended up in the voluntary sector and I worked for well over 20 years in mental health services. And through that I developed to grow as a person. Of course, I was learning so many tools and techniques to help people that then I could apply to myself. And because of my own experiences, I found that I could very much relate to people's experiences, to stress and anxiety and low moods, etcetera. And so I could really relate to people and I could really help other people. And I worked on myself and I applied a lot of tools to myself. And I also pushed myself, I got to a point in my life where I realised that I had to increase my self-esteem. I had to change how I spoke to myself. And I really started pushing myself out of my comfort zone and really doing the things that made me anxious. And I really started to appreciate there and live my life. And so I guess experiencing life and going out there and doing the things that scare me while supplying a lot of the tools that I now use with other people that really helped change and reduce my anxiety and create the person who is here today. Chatting with you quite comfortably relaxed turned me into a much more content outgoing person that if you meet me now, most people don't believe that I was ever really that anxious or quiet either.
TP: Yeah, I wouldn't believe it too. But before we started this interview, you said that you love to chat. And me living in Finland, where people tend to be quite not very talkative, let's say so. And you love to chat. So it doesn't even remind anybody who would be anxious.
JL: Yeah, I guess part of my culture is, I come from Glasgow and Scotland, so we're very chatty and friendly. But yeah, I really I've changed so much from the person that I was. I mean, it's an ongoing journey. I'm very open about, you know, I am a life coach. I'm a happiness evangelist, but I don't live in a bubble. Life happens to me. I have a hard day's work. We're recording this during very difficult times. You know, life does affect me. I don't live a perfect life. But what I've cultivated are the tools that help me become resilient to what life throws at me. And for me, happiness is feeling calm and balanced. So I'm in a good place. Still a work in progress, but I've come a long, long way from the shy and anxious girl many years ago.
TP: I'm happy to hear that. We are here to speak about stress. Can you tell us what is stress and how can we recognise that we are stressed?
JL: Yeah, of course. I teach this very regularly. I run a lot of courses on negative thinking. So stress, I believe is, it's really an innate response that we're programmed with being human beings and that response that I'm sure you've all heard of flight and flight response, but we are really programmed to react to things that we perceive as stress. And when we think back to when we were cavemen and women, you know, it seems pretty obvious to have a stressful response. If you're faced with the saber toothed tiger, you know, what are you going to do in that situation? So, of course, you respond to that. You get ready to fight or to run away or actually the other third one is to freeze, play dead and hope it will ignore you. And so we can understand it when we're faced with, you know, quite obvious threats that are our lives. But what we're really seeing now is that people are feeling stressed quite consistently, a persistent level of stress. And so our stress response is being triggered pretty constantly. And so people are perceiving a lot of stress. So what I would say is we are in a stressful situation. There are circumstances like just now we have a lot going on in our world right now with the pandemic. People are facing a lot of stuff with work, with home life. There's a lot of things that do cause actual stress. There's also things that because of whatever is in our heads and our minds with our thinking, we perceive things stressfully. And so I say that because two people can experience something very similar but respond in different ways. And so what I see is people perceiving things to be stressful, a lot of that is within to do with their thinking and therefore are in a stress response and there's a lot of signs for stress, but it's important. And that's what I teach people, first and foremost, is to recognize how your body responds to stress because we all respond in a different way. So understanding how your body reacts when you feel stressed is really important you will notice a lot of things happening in your body, because when you are stressed, your body is releasing a lot of cortisol, the stress hormone, our bodies are getting prepared to fight or flight or freeze. And so you'll notice perhaps physical sensations in the body, such as a racing heart or often it's like you have a really upset tummy. You feel knots in your tummy. It is a very, very obvious physically, often a lot of tension and tightness in the shoulders, neck area. But you might notice a lot of emotional symptoms, too, like feeling overwhelmed, feeling very tired was a huge wealth of signs and symptoms that we are feeling stressed.
TP: And what can you do then? If you feel that stress in your body, how can you reduce your stress?
JL: So the good news is that there's so many tools that really help us reduce our stress.
TP: Any tools for busy people?
JL: Oh, absolutely. First and foremost, a lot of the things that work for us don't take up a lot of time. So that's good news. Like I mentioned, first of all, it is recognizing, "Is this something that I can change?" Because sometimes there's a circumstance, it's triggering it. So looking to see if you can change that or it's changing how you respond to that situation. So it's important that we try and reduce our stress response. We cannot go into the other in the response, which is a relaxation response and a stress response. So even if you're doing lots of positive things, you often feel that you're not feeling any better because you're actually still in this heightened state of stress. But there are loads of great tools that you can use that are highly effective and don't take a lot of time. And I would really, if you're really busy and you're working a lot like right now, I think nobody seems to have a lot of time. First and foremost is having regular breaks, I think, of the when we're stressed we push on, push on, push on, and we keep going and keep going and we're exhausted building and regular breaks, regular time for oneself is really, really important in the day. And obviously also setting boundaries. If you're working and you're busy and we're at home, we can work longer and we can just take that extra call. Answer that email. Sometimes you're working weekends or later in the evenings. I really believe in setting boundaries and being quite fixed when you're working and when you have your downtime, because I think people are working really, really hard right now. But another tool, a collection of tools, is what psychologists call flow states, and these are like what we would call getting "in the zone". So what happens when we're stressed is we're in a really busy part of our brain, very overthinking part of the brain. So the part that we're over worrying, over analyzing, over thinking, and that helps perpetuate our levels of stress. If you can do an activity called a "flow state activity", it takes you away from that overthinking part of the brain and it distracts you, shuts off. So I'm sure ever intensifies with a feeling of like just going round and round in your head and not being able to shut your brain off and just feeling really stressed for activities. Really help us take a break. A flow. So examples of those to be, a little bit of meditation or breathing exercises, they are activities that challenge us enough that we have to concentrate, as I say, but take us away from thinking too much. So great examples would be doing yoga or taichi, usually any kind of sports, colouring, jigsaw puzzles, playing chess. You get the idea, you know, anything you do that's like craft wise, if you like, knitting, sewing, creating anything where you're focused on it and you kind of lose yourself in that for a while and then you can come back. Any of those work really, really well. So what are the things that you like doing or you enjoy doing? It could be doing a little bit of breathing meditation. It could be a little bit of yoga or reading for a little while, things like that. And the good news is that research shows us even doing just five minutes of that has a massive effect on our stress levels. So just taking a five minute break to do something takes you away from all that overthinking and just puts you in the zone for a few minutes will have a massive effect on your stress levels.
TP: Thank you. What about this inner voice that says to you, "Oh, you cannot do anything else but work. You have to concentrate on work". How can you silence that one, especially as you are speaking about those breaks and getting into those flow mode?
JL: Well, I recognize that. And I think we all struggle with a lot, don't we? Set off? Yeah, we put a lot of pressure. And yeah, I recognize that a lot. And I hear a lot with the women that I coach that putting a lot of pressure on ourselves to keep going, keep going, keep going and feeling all the things that we should be doing, things we have to work hard and we juggle a lot. What's important is if you look at the impact of stress. It's pretty scary if you leave the unchecked for a long time. I'm talking years, but if you're living with constant persistent stress, it's really bad for the body and long term that's going to have quite detrimental effects on your health. And so also working while you are stressed, you're not going to be at your creative best. And so it's so important to take a break. It's essential to take a break and taking a five minute break so that you can come back refreshed, more creative, more productive and a better place. You're going to be more effective in those 55 minutes or 50 minutes than you are if you just keep going and keep going. We are not designed to be like that. We're not designed to concentrate for hours on end, to continually work, to not sleep enough to constantly be in that persistent level of stress. Our bodies aren't designed for that. We are designed for little peaks of stress that boost us forward. You know, it's different when you've got a deadline to meet or report to get in, something like that. But we're not designed to consistently have this cortisol in your body, in this feeling of stress. What I will say is that when you do take those times to recharge your batteries, to just have some space and just destress, unwind, look after yourself, pour into yourself, because as women, we are giving, giving, giving constantly to our businesses, to our family, to our friends, to everyone around us. And we often push ourselves down that list. And we've really got to take care of ourselves in order to be the best versions of ourselves. If you pour into you and look after you and handle your stress, you will be a much better version of you. You will be a better entrepreneur, a business owner, a mom, a friend, a partner. You will be a much better version of yourself. So. Five minutes, 10 minutes, whatever it is that you need, whether it's an hour or whatever that is. Getting that balance in your life and looking after yourself and your stress will reap huge rewards.
If you pour into you and look after you and handle your stress, you will be a much better version of you. - Julie Leonard, Podcast Step Up & Thrive
TP: So this short break basically makes us more efficient and better version of ourselves.
JL: Absolutely. You know, you've really done that. You've taken yourself out for a walk or something like that, and then you just like clear your head and then you feel like some of these ideas come to you or you suddenly get a breakthrough or you just feel a bit more energized and come back to work. You know, it's important to take those breaks. We've got to take those breaks. We've got to look after ourselves. And absolutely it's not doing nothing. You're not wasting time. It's the opposite. It's a very, very productive and essential use of your time.
TP: Thank you so much. And now it's time for our Quick Tips section, something that we do regularly on our podcast. And my question is, what is your biggest revelation about stress management?
JL: That's a great question, I think, from all my years of working with women and teaching stress management and stress. My biggest revelation is that most of it is all of our thoughts. Some of it is about circumstances and situations we find ourselves in, but really the majority, the root of it is just the thought, is all of our thoughts and thoughts can be changed. Thoughts are not fixed, are not who we are, we can change them, and I love the world of neuroplasticity. I love the fact that we know from science that we can change our brains. If you repeat a habit over and over and over, it becomes more fixed. And it's the same with our brains. If we create a positive thought about something and then be repeated and repeated and repeated, we create these strong neural pathways in our brains that become stronger and more dense and become more fixed. And conversely, the ones that we don't use so much, those negative thoughts, weaken and disappear. And so for me, the biggest revelation is that this is so changeable, it's not fixed. Science tells us that it's not fixed and that most of our stress comes from ourselves and our thoughts. And once you understand the thoughts are behind it, everything can change.
TP: What is the most common thought causing stress?
JL: The most common thought is often "I'm not good enough". I hear that over and over. "I'm not good enough" in some degree. I'm not good enough here or...Yeah, I think that sums up, doesn't it really? I hear you're the same. You hear that as well. It's some form or other. It's "I'm not good enough". But you're not working hard enough, doing enough, trying enough or you just don't feel that you are good enough at what you do. That's the overall overarching theme for most people.
TP: And what is a thought you could turn it into?
JL: Well, I always say, and as a starting point, is just take the "not" out of that. I am enough. It's not the finishing point. There is just a step in the right direction. Remove the "not" and repeat to yourself I am enough, but then I want then I go further when I coach, I want to go away further than that because enough I mean that's just not enough. I mean I really go, I really go for you know, to settle for being enough, you know, strive for being amazing. So start with taking the not out. That will feel difficult to begin with. If you've been telling yourself for years. I'm not enough. I'm not good enough. It takes a while, but just take that night and just change it to I am enough. Just tell yourself I am enough. And then work on it further to eliminate that completely and change it, work towards, you know, I am good at what I do. I am a great entrepreneur. I'm a fabulous mother. Whatever it is, tell yourself "I am". I do believe you should only say "I am" if it's followed by something positive. I always say that to people follow "I am" with only something positive because usually as "I am" and it's something negative. So scrap that and only say "I am" if you're going to say something positive after.
TP: Oh, that's great tip. Thank you so much and thank you Julie for joining us and sharing all those tips.
JL: My pleasure.
TP: If our listeners would like to know more about you and follow you, where can they do so?
JL: Well, I would love to connect with you. So of course I have a website. JulieLeonard.com. You can find out all about the work I do there. And I also have a lovely Facebook group called the Happiness Club, and I would love to welcome all women into the Happiness Club where we share lots of tools and resources, need to be the best version of yourself. And we also meet every single Wednesday evening to share tools and to connect together. But just to follow up on what I was saying there, I would also love to share with you that I run a twenty one day self compassion journey. We're talking about the negative thinking that we have, the thoughts that we tell ourselves to limiting beliefs we have. Well, I created this short twenty one day course where I teach you how to change your inner dialogue and talk to yourself with much more compassion and much more kindness. And it definitely helps. Would you stop overwhelm and that stress and really create those positive neural pathways that I was telling you about? So this is a paid course of mind, but I would love to offer it to you. If you come to me and tell me you're listening to this podcast, then I will give you a place on my next course for free.
TP: Wow. That's something. And you will definitely find the link in the show notes area. So please come and join and use Julie's amazing offer. Thank you so much again Julie for this amazing interview and your great offer and thanks.
JL: My absolute pleasure. Thank you so much for having me here today.
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