Most of us are aware of how important it is to regularly unplug. But, over time, through the rise in popularity of the work martyr, a person who sacrifices a healthy family life for their work life, many of us forget that an always-on, workaholic lifestyle actually makes you less productive.
As a result, learning to decompress needs to be relearned over and over again.
That’s where Jeanette Bronee, self-nourishment counselor, emotional eating expert, and founder of health consultancy Path for Life comes in.
“In high-stress careers, the job is to catch the fire before it happens,” says Bronee.
In a former life, Bronee was a fashion executive enjoying the excitement that comes from being in a fast-paced, high-stress, and always-connected industry. That all changed when both her parents passed away from cancer just a year apart from one another. In the five months before her father, an entrepreneur, died, the two spent a lot of time talking about life and careers.
“As much as it was sad, it was almost one of the most important times in my life, because it created a perspective of why are we doing what we’re doing every day, and what does this mean–career, fame, fortune–as it relates to life in general.”
Consequently, at 40, Bronee went back to school and got a degree in nutrition and counseling and a certification in hypnotherapy to start a new career. Path for Life was formed in 2004 as a wellness center for cancer patients, but that quickly changed when Bronee realized that most of the people who showed up on her doorsteps came for mostly stress-related health issues.
Soon, her nine-step system was designed specifically to teach those in high-stress careers how to change their lives by focusing on key elements, such as emotional eating and the unconscious mind—concepts that may seem foreign to Type-A people, but, according to Bronee, are essential for real change. The nine sessions are spread out to one session every two weeks. For those who aren’t able to work with her one-on-one, Bronee developed an online program that also focuses on learning how the psychological and physical costs from our choices affect us in the long run.
“I teach people to listen to themselves so that they see themselves more, so that they know themselves more,” says Bronee. “I think that’s the confusion we have. There’s so much information out there that we think we’re supposed to do something, be something, create something, whatever it is, when really, it’s about learning about ourselves again and trusting ourselves.”
She adds: “We follow almost blindly, based on what we believe is right. But we don’t ask ourselves, ‘How do I feel about this?’ A lot of what I teach people is to ask themselves, ‘How do I feel about this?’ Because that happens in the body, and the body really knows how to guide us and direct us, more so than our heads. Because our heads seem to get in the way. Our head is more based on fear and desire, but in the body we’re much more in tune with ourselves.”
Below are three key elements integrated into Bronee’s nine-step, anti-stress system:
What we put into our bodies is its fuel. If we understand how food affects us, then this is the secret to our body’s healing process, explains Bronee. This portion is not about “what to eat” or “what not to eat” or “how to diet,” but an understanding of how it feels when you eat something. For instance, Bronee teaches her clients how to use food as a tool to master their energy, hormones, moods, and emotions.
This portion focuses on how to be mindful of your thoughts and emotions, and recognize patterns that keep you stuck with bad habits.
“So much of our unconscious thoughts guide our choices every single day,” says Bronee. “And we have no clue because we’re so disconnected.”
The way the our unconscious mind works, explains Bronee, is if you ask it a question that’s constructive, it will figure it out. On the other hand, if you ask it a question that’s negative and stress-inducing, like, “Why is this not happening?” then you will get negative, stress-inducing answers.
“If we can ask constructive questions and let it hang, let it simmer, there’s a good chance the answer will appear,” she says. “If you ask the unconscious mind, ‘I wonder how I can figure this out?’ the unconscious mind will come up with the answers, because it only can answer what you ask it.”
During this portion, small meditation practices can help shift the mind to get results in the body.
She says: “Because your brain is that powerful, if you imagine something, your body will think it’s actually happening. And that’s one of the reasons why we’re under so much stress, because we’re imagining all these things happening if we don’t perform, if we don’t meet the deadline, if we don’t do this, if we don’t that . . . and that’s how we end up in the situation where our bodies break down.”
When we start to notice the negative thoughts we have and learn about our patterns, then we can start to really change. “Most of these patterns are mindless,” says Bronee.
Now that you know what to eat and you understand how your unconscious mind works, it’s time to start doing things differently. While the nature of habits–both good and bad–are mindless and automatic, repetition and awareness are key to making real changes to your habits that enable even the busiest, always-connected workaholics to turn off, decompress, and chill out.
To counter stress, workaholics often have to learn to detach and relax. Below, Bronee offers four actionable ways workaholics can change their habits to be less stressed.
Create planned pauses in your schedule. Think of it as a meeting with yourself. It can be short five-minute walks or meditations to disconnect and reconnect with your breathing. Or implementing a more rigorous regimen into your schedule that requires total concentration for a prolonged period of time so that you can’t think of anything else but where you are in the present moment with yourself.
Never skip lunch. Schedule lunch because it is one of the most important meals to have to stay productive and engaged without being stressed out. Not eating adds to the body’s perception of being under survival stress.
Shut down at the same time every night. Not getting a full night’s sleep, meaning seven to eight hours for most people, causes a stress response in the brain and body.
Shift your thoughts to the present moment. Aside from incorporating a regimen that requires total concentration in the present moment, workaholics also need to learn to think this way throughout the day.
According to Bronee, most of our fearful thoughts are repeats from the day before. In order to get yourself out of the stories of fear and come into the present, acknowledge when your fear is projected outcome that is causing stress rather than an evaluation of the options. For instance, know the difference between imminent danger right now versus perceived danger centered on “What could happen if?” In short, stop living in fear of “what could happen.”
“We start to get anxious and stressed when we want a certain outcome, rather than staying with an open mind of what possibly can happen based on our actions in the present moment,” explains Bronee. This can be challenging for Type-A, controlling personalities, but is vital for letting go of a stressful mind.
And in a time when Americans are taking less time off than any other point in the last 40 years, it’s urgent to reteach people that being a workaholic doesn’t mean you’re working better in your job.