The topic of stress and burnout is not foreign to anyone in the agency world, or to anyone who has juggled massive uncertainties of the world combined with personal and family pressures and the need to maintain a busy job with ongoing deadlines and demands (hello, everyone). In a recent chat with The Female Quotient, neuroscientist and author Dr. Wendy Suzuki made a good point that put this collective experience into perspective: anxiety is a normal human emotion, meaning we have the tools to turn it into our own personal superpower (with the notable exception of clinical anxiety, which is managed with the help of a mental health professional).

So if 100% of us feel anxiety, why is talking about it only recently starting to step out of the bounds of a workplace taboo? Hotwire’s US Wellness Committee – a group of us dedicated to sharing valuable resources and encouraging conversations around things like work-life balance, managing stress, and protecting our personal wellbeing – has been exploring this topic more and more. In honor of World Mental Health Day on October 10th, where the theme is Mental Health Care For All, we’re tapping into some key takeaways from Dr. Suzuki on how to continue conversations and encourage change around mental health in the workplace.

Some of our favorite tips from Dr. Suzuki and her new book, Good Anxiety: Harnessing the Power of the Most Misunderstood Emotion: 

  • Anxiety is a normal human emotion - 100% of us feel it, so it’s important we understand and find a way to “befriend” it by listening to what it’s trying to tell us. For example, we can mistake something like an important meeting or unfamiliar task as something scary or threatening because it feels the same in our bodies, causing us to assume it’s bad. Instead, we can question the feeling and where it’s coming from to understand how it’s protecting us.
  • We can activate our parasympathetic nervous system to quiet anxiety with little interruption to the workday - A hidden way to do this in a meeting or on the go is box breathing (a favorite of Navy SEALS and pro athletes): in for 4 - hold for 4 - out for 4 - hold for 4; repeat a few times. When we have more space, like while working from home or taking a midday walk, we can do this in a more active way through some kind of body movement. It can be hard to start these things while anxious, so we can ask ourselves how we can spend even 3-5 minutes boosting our dopamine to shift out of fight-or-flight feelings — the science is behind us!
  • Shift our mindset — what gifts does our anxiety bring us? Dr. Suzuki loves “micro-flow” moments, which she describes as times when she is relieved of anxiety for even a few minutes and feels extra powerful, thoughtful, and inspired due to the “negative contrast effect” in comparison to the more hectic parts of her day. By focusing on these micro-flow moments, she gets breaks throughout the day or week, without the pressure of trying to stop the world to get into an hours-long flow state.
  • Question our coping mechanisms – We all have ways of dealing with stress and anxiety, some of which may be subconscious. Dr. Suzuki encourages an occasional “audit” of our coping skills to question if they still work for where we are in life now and if they benefit us in the short term and the long term (i.e. physical movement vs. alcohol).