When Stress Gets In The Way Of Success

Anne Devereux-Mills knows a thing or two about stress. Having once served as a CEO while raising two daughters as a single mother, Devereux-Mills knows first-hand the importance of finding a healthy balance.

Now chief learning strategy officer at Lantern, a San Francisco-based startup focused on mental wellness, Devereux-Mills is working to help women like herself let go of the stress and anxiety holding them back in their careers and personal lives.

Below are edited excerpts from Devereux-Mills’ interview with Diversity Executive.

Why are women more prone to stress than men?

Although I think we’re seeing major changes in gender roles and parenting expectations in America, women still tend to take on more of the responsibilities of family life — leading to a perpetual state of multitasking. For example, women tend to run a lot of errands on the way to or from work, while men tend to travel straight back and forth. This constant sense of juggling is exceptionally stressful — not only because of the quantity of tasks but because, unlike work accomplishments and child-raising, there is no major sense of accomplishment running errands — just the feeling of too much to do in too little time.

Anne Devereux-Mills, Lantern
Anne Devereux-Mills, Lantern

Women also cope with their stress differently than men and often internalize their feelings. Although women tend to reach out to social groups more than men do in order to deal with stress, which is a good thing, women are more at risk for stress because they self-sacrifice in relationships and in the office. Women crave relationships in order to diffuse stress, yet high-performing women often sacrifice their own needs — like friendships with other women — and thereby miss those opportunities to let go of stress.

How can higher stress levels affect a woman’s ability to succeed in the workplace?

No one performs at their best when they are stressed. Stress can cloud clear thinking, create reactionary or defensive behaviors, and reduce confidence. Most professional coaches urge executives to postpone important work conversations until they can get their stress levels under control enough to have calm, effective, and rational conversations. Further, stress in female executives is also misinterpreted, and historically women carrying large levels of corporate responsibility are coined with unflattering terms related to intensity, emotionality and aggression — where their male counterparts aren’t viewed negatively when demonstrating similar management styles or levels of stress.

What can women do to combat stress and anxiety?

Fortunately, there are many opportunities to combat stress and anxiety. Personally, I find a consistent exercise routine to be a great outlet for stress, as well as a time to clear my mind and establish ‘me time.’ I have also created a ritual of taking a bath every night before I go to bed in order to remind both my mind and my body that I’m transitioning into a ‘time off’ period. What’s more, as technology continues to evolve, programs like Lantern are becoming strong solutions for busy people who need a little extra coaching in order to become their best selves. Lantern provides people with tools to help reduce stress and anxiety in 15 minutes a day on a smartphone or computer. Each user is also paired with a licensed professional coach who can support people through their day-to-day challenges and further explain the techniques for stress reduction and anxiety management.

What other advice do you have for women hoping to achieve success in the workplace?

I firmly believe that every woman (and man) should define their own values for balancing the things that are important in their lives. Once you are clear about the hierarchy of things you care about, it becomes easier to make decisions about what you are willing to trade and what you need to hold dear. As a single mom and CEO, I used the clock to make those decisions, and was very open about the time that I would be intensely working and the time that I was at home and focused on my children.

I have also learned to separate the things that I can control and those that I can’t. The things that are outside of my control (bouts of cancer, unreliable friends, demands from management, etc.) are put into mental ‘boxes’ so that I don’t dwell on them. Instead, I focus on the things that I can control, like my own performance; my behavior as a mother, daughter and partner; and how I put myself forward in the world. Letting go of the things outside of my control has been hugely relieving and being decisive about who I am and what I value is empowering.