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pressure cooker stress

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Pressure Cooker Stress

If you’re experiencing pressure cooker stress you’re not alone. No matter what size business you work in, the to do lists, the emails, the meetings, and the demands on your time feel non-stop.  But the good news is that my next guest, Aimee Bernstein, is here to show you how you can achieve more and stress less.

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What You’ll Discover About Pressure Cooker Stress (highlights & transcript):

Stress Less Achieve More* The difference between pressure and stress [02:19]

* How to transform pressure into performance [04:54]

* How to manage the release valve of pressure cooker stress [07:16]

* How managing pressure can improve resilience [08:50]

* The stigma associated with admitting to pressure cooker stress [10:21]

* Creating a safe space to talk about pressure cooker stress [14:39]

* Mind-body exercises that train your body against pressure cooker stress [16:49]

* And MUCH more.

Hanna Hasl-Kelchner: [00:00:00] If you’re experiencing pressure cooker stress, you’re not alone. No matter what size business you work in the to do list, the emails, the meetings, and the demands on your time feel nonstop. But the good news is that my next guest is here to show you how you can achieve more with less stress.


Announcer: [00:00:20] This is Business Confidential Now with Hanna Hasl-Kelchner helping you see business issues hiding in plain view that matters to your bottom line.


Hanna: [00:00:31] Welcome to Business Confidential Now, I’m your host, Hanna Hasl-Kelchner, and today’s guest, Aimee Bernstein, is a thought leader in the area of stress reduction, as well as the author of Stress Less Achieve More Simple Ways to Turn Pressure into a Positive Force in Your Life. She teaches busy leaders and their teams how to use pressure, the energy associated with change to develop well-being, self-mastery, powerful partnerships and high performance while raising states of consciousness.


Hanna: [00:01:05] She’s also the president of Open Mind Adventures, a change accelerator. Aimee has over 40 years of experience with clients such as the Ritz Carlton, the Port of Singapore Authority, MasterCard, Microsoft, Latin America, Dolce and Gabbana, and numerous universities and nonprofit organizations.


Hanna: [00:01:26] Aimee also brings some serious academic credentials to the party, having received her graduate degree in counseling psychology from Boston University and interning at Mass General under the auspices of the Harvard Medical School. So let’s get started on learning how to stress less and achieve more, because who doesn’t want that?


Hanna: [00:01:46] Welcome to Business Confidential Now, Aimee.


Aimee Bernstein: [00:01:49] Oh, thank you so much. Thanks for inviting me.


Hanna: [00:01:52] It is so easy to blame ourselves when we’re feeling overwhelmed that somehow we should be better at balancing everything or should be better to do more with less resources. So I’m looking forward to your advice on how to stress less and get more done and ways to turn pressure cooker stress into a positive force. So with that being said, let’s make sure we all have the same understanding of stress.


The difference between pressure and stress


Hanna: [00:02:19] Is there a difference between pressure and stress? Are they the same or not?


Aimee: [00:02:24] No, they’re not the same. I know a lot of people use them like they’re the same. And some people talk about good stress and bad stress. But think of it this way. I think of pressure as the energy of change. So there’s a universal law which says whenever there’s a job or tasks to do, energy comes into the system in the amount needed for the job to help you do the job.


Aimee: [00:02:50] So if you’ve ever given a speech, you know, all of a sudden you start feeling a little shaky, maybe your stomach feels a little tight or you feel a little nervous. Right? That’s the energy coming into your system to do the job. It’s your helper. Now, if you resist that pressure. You’re going to feel distress, discomfort if you collapse under that pressure. You’re going to be just wiped out by it. You’re going to be victimized by it.


Aimee: [00:03:21] Some people, what they do is they go into their heads to try to figure it out. You know, I have one client who, whenever the pressure comes on her, she just goes shopping. You know, she’s a great shopper, but unfortunately, she has heart problems because she can’t handle the stress.


Aimee: [00:03:38] What you want to do when that pressure comes into your system, the energy pressing on your mind body system is you want to welcome it. You want to say yes to it. You want to open to it and align to it. And when you do that, that’s when you have the high performance.


Hanna: [00:03:56] So no procrastination. How that doesn’t fit in the energy profile?


Aimee: [00:04:01] No. See, the procrastination is a type of resistance, you know. So what you recognize when you’re getting pressured instead of saying, oh, that’s a bad thing, I say, no, that’s the good thing. That’s going to help me do the job.

Why pressure is a good thing


Aimee: [00:04:17] Now, you want pressure in your tire, right? But you don’t want stress. You don’t want your tire to be stressed. If you didn’t have pressure, there would be no motivation. You wouldn’t get anything done. If you want to transform, to become more involved or better in your profession or build your business or whatever you’re trying to do, you need that extra energy to come through you. You need to get as big as the job energetically. And that’s what the pressure is offering you. So it takes time.


How to transform pressure into performance


Aimee: [00:04:54] What I offer my clients and what I’ve offered to leaders and Novartis, Latin America and Chanel and Colgate-Palmolive, in different companies is when that pressure comes on what you want to do is you want to get from your head, you don’t want to think about it, you want to get into your mind body.


Aimee: [00:05:15] And so think about it this way. Everything in the universe is a two beat. The waves come in; waves go out. The sunrises. The sunsets. OK, when you get upset or pressured, the energy comes up, right? You get that adrenaline rush. Then oftentimes you go into your head, you start telling stories or negative worries, whatever. Your understanding is, you haven’t caught the second beat. You haven’t allowed it to beat down.


Aimee: [00:05:50] What comes up must go down. Right? That’s a physics law. You need to allow that energy to settle down, back into your body, down into the ground, so that you’re like a tree that has deep roots. So when the hurricane force winds come, you don’t get blown over. OK, so it’s you know, it’s not about shooting yourself and going into a should-storm. That’s being in your head. It’s about learning how to be in your mind body.


Aimee: [00:06:20] And one of the things is that each one of us already knows that we have some situation in our lives where we do that naturally. So my girlfriend, Phyllis, when she gives a speech, she owns the room. She just gets as big as the job. When my friend Jeff drives down the highway and someone cuts him off instead of, you know, yelling or getting upset, he just relaxes. And he’s the king of the highway. When my mother would be near a crying baby, she would become so centered and grounded. And when she picked the baby up, the baby would feel that and the baby would stop crying. So we all know that.


Aimee: [00:07:04] We’ve just, in our systems, we all have that experience. We’ve just never really noticed what it is that is happening to us so that we can translate our experience into other parts of our life.


How to manage the release valve of pressure cooker stress


Hanna: [00:07:16] Well, that takes a lot of self-awareness. But you lost me on where the stress comes in. We talked a good bit about pressure and how it can be a good thing, how we can manage it, how we can leverage it.


Aimee: [00:07:30] The stress is when you resist it. When you resist it, when you fight it, when you go into your head and start telling stories about it. That’s a type of resistance. When you go into a should-storm, procrastinate, those types of resistances.


Hanna: [00:07:47] Well, you know, some people work better when there’s more pressure, like deadline pressure. They hold off and then right beforehand, boom, they let it rip. What advice do you have for them?


Aimee: [00:08:00] You know, if it’s working and they like it, fine. But if they want to try something else, you know, they might have a different experience of getting the job done. So it may be that as soon as they start feeling the pressure instead of waiting to the deadline is almost there, what they might want to start doing is opening up, saying yes to it, start becoming more spacious, you know, whether it’s through breathing, whether it’s through movement.


Aimee: [00:08:31] I mean, I have a whole way that I do that that comes from the energy principles of Aikido, which is a martial art. But whatever way people know how to do that, try it as soon as the pressure comes on. Get big. Get big.


How managing pressure can improve resilience


Hanna: [00:08:46] So this ties into resilience, maybe.


Aimee: [00:08:50] Yes, it does. You see what resilience is, the scientific physics definition of resilience is the capability of a strained body to recover its size and shape after deformation caused especially by compressive stress. What that means in layman’s language is it’s the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties, right? It’s able to it’s the ability to maintain your balance during difficult or stressful periods. So that’s that that’s a way of getting big with it as opposed to shrinking or fighting the pressure.


Hanna: [00:09:32] Well, I can see how that would be a very valuable skill to master. But isn’t there such a stigma around stress and its ability to have us develop resilience?


Aimee: [00:09:46] Absolutely. I mean, you know, one thing I want to say before I go into the stigma is that we’re all born with resilience. It’s not that we have to really create it. It’s that we have to stop doing what we’re doing that’s getting in the way of it, to stop the worrying, stop the procrastinating, stop the should-storm, stop the . . . those are the things that are getting in the way of it. Stop painting negative pictures, doomsday events, you know, so that’s resilience.


The stigma associated with acknowledging pressure cooker stress


Aimee: [00:10:21] We are all whole at our essence. And resilience is about touching into that wholeness. But in terms of the stigma, I’ll tell you a story. I was coaching an executive from a bank. The bank was going through mergers at the time, so the senior team got together and they’re waiting for the CEO to come to the meeting and they start to talk and they’re telling each other about how they don’t have any work life balance and how stressed they are and how there’s too much on their plate. And they’re all, you know, commiserating and agreeing.


Aimee: [00:10:55] The meeting starts when the CEO comes and the CEO says, “how are you doing with all the extra pressure and all the extra work?” And the one woman that I was coaching shares the truth, that she was stressed. That there was too much on her plate, everything that the group had said. The CEO then says after listening to her, “are the rest of you feeling the same?” Nobody said a word.


Aimee: [00:11:20] Now, that was 20 years ago. I thought that things had changed. Here we are. Mindfulness, you know, awareness. There’s more emphasis these days on taking care of yourself. Yet I’ve recently had an experience with a vice president of human resources who is extremely stressed. I suggested to him that he start a program of self-care and then once he started getting some improvement to share that that program and his experience of being stressed with his team, which would then give them permission to talk about their own stress. He was unwilling to do it. He’s not alone.


Aimee: [00:12:10] I was supposed to do a webinar for a bunch of CEOs of a different industry, and they all said after a while, they said, no, we’re too busy. They don’t want to have to deal with their stress. The reason is that we think it’s kind of like survival of the fittest. You know, we take a look at stress as saying we’re vulnerable and if we’re vulnerable, we’re incompetent or unable to do our job. We’re not promotable. What is our board going to say about us? You know?


Aimee: [00:12:46] So what CEOs and what executives and then everyone under does is not admit to the stress. Or if they do, they kind of laugh it off. It’s not a real issue. It’s getting more air time these days. But still, people are afraid to admit to what they’re really feeling.


Hanna: [00:13:12] Well, I can see in that first example there was a fear of speaking truth to power, but we tend to wear it as a badge of honor.


Aimee: [00:13:19] Yeah, you’re absolutely right.


Hanna: [00:13:21] Do you think that’s a more cultural thing here in the United States or in dealing with some of the companies abroad have you seen the same type of reluctance?


Aimee: [00:13:31] Yes, I have. I have. And particularly when, you know, in the U.S. there’s that individualism. In some countries, there’s more emphasis on the we than on the individual. So to not be that team player, to not have the strength or the power, the competence, it would be very damaging to someone’s reputation. And to add, very shaming for people. That needs to change. We need to talk about it more.


Aimee: [00:14:03] And I know that leaders are checking in with their teams more and asking them how they’re doing and all of that. And that’s wonderful. But I’m not sure that people are really feeling psychologically safe enough to truly tell the truth. They may tell a little bit of it, but not necessarily how much it’s affecting them. So when we take a look at statistics, we’re seeing that more mental health problems, more addiction problems, more domestic violence problems as the stress builds up.


Creating a safe space to talk about pressure cooker stress


Hanna: [00:14:39] Well, none of that is good for an employer. So what advice do you have for people in senior leadership that really can affect the culture and the tone of the organization to encourage them or help them encourage their employees, I should say, to be more open? How do you create that psychological safety that employees need in order to speak truth to power?


Aimee: [00:15:11] You model it, you show your vulnerability. You talk about your own. Statistics say 96% of senior leaders are burnt out to some degree. You talk about it, if the CEO of a major company starts talking about it and telling what he’s doing or she’s doing about it to remedy it and encourages people to do the same, that makes all the difference. Then it’s OK to be vulnerable. It’s OK to be human.


Aimee: [00:15:44] I think also that what we need to do is recognize that it’s more than micro steps, little shallow little tips, you know, OK, just take a deep breath. That helps. But that’s not the whole thing.


Aimee: [00:16:01] You need to be able to encourage people and guide them to really take a deep dive into themselves and build up true skills in dealing with pressure to open and be able to use it for the betterment of the person and the organization. And right now what I hear is things like, you know, just tell Alexa to tell you to breathe every once in a while or just use this little app and that’ll calm you down. That’s great. OK, but how deep is it actually taking you? So I think that that leaders need to encourage people to take deeper dives so they can find their true resilience within them.


Mind-body exercises to train your body against pressure cooker stress


Hanna: [00:16:49] And in doing those deeper dives, what types of things have you found are successful because Alexa only takes you so far or an app only takes you so far. That’s assuming you can remember where you left your phone. So I seriously . . . I mean it . . . those are all nice crutches and they can they can help. But what do you think is really a more successful way of trying to tackle this? Because keeping in mind that when senior management suddenly does a pivot, employers are going to say, “really, why now? Can we believe it? Will it last?”


Aimee: [00:17:29] That’s true. That’s true. So, you know, words are cheap and actions speak louder than words. And you see over time what happens. But I think that what we need to do is encourage people to get out of our heads and into our mind bodies. This is the area of embodied leadership that’s pretty big these days . . . are getting bigger where you actually get people to learn to focus their attention, to maintain a center, a calm and balanced and decisive center when under pressure to actually be able to learn how to ground your energy and to open up and become more spacious so that you have more capability to handle that pressure.


Aimee: [00:18:14] This is not just awareness. It’s not about reading a book about how to deal with pressure. This is about experiencing in your mind body and imprinting on your nervous system a new way of dealing with the pressure. We’re so into awareness, you know, I mean, everybody . . . it’s information glut. You know, read a book about golf. Does that make you a good golfer? No, not necessarily.


Aimee: [00:18:44] You need to actually take time to experience stuff. And once you can experience, oh, this is what it feels like to be centered and to be grounded. And this is my usual reaction.


Aimee: [00:18:58] Oh, I’m one of those resisters. You know, I’m from New York City, right, from the Bronx. I learned that when pressure comes on, you fight. Right. I had to let go of that and to be able to find my center. And when the pressure gets too much for me, that’s my first instinct to fight. I have to remember it and to sense feel what’s going on and then let go of that so that I could come back to a center.


Aimee: [00:19:26] So we’re not talking about perfection. We’re all human beings. We’re all beings in process. But we need to start that practice. And then once we’re fairly good at it, then the way I teach people is, then I put them under pressure. OK, can you handle a little pressure and still be centered? You can. Great. Let me give you a little more pressure.


Aimee: [00:19:50] That’s how I learned it when I learned martial art, when I learned Aikido, they’d keep putting you under pressure. You can handle one man coming at you. OK, now we’re going to throw two guys at you, three guys at you, five guys at you. Can you stand the pressure? The same thing is true in a workplace. You need to be able to keep expanding your capacity in order to do the work because it’s getting more and more and the situation is getting more difficult as we work from home.


Hanna: [00:20:21] These all sound wonderful, but somebody listening is saying, OK, that sounds good, and you’re absolutely right, I can’t learn to play golf from a book. So how do I discover what this feels like, what exercises, where can I go, because not everybody is going to be able to contact you, Aimee, your schedule is going to be like blowing up. You want to talk about pressure. There’s only so many hours in a day. Right.


Hanna: [00:20:52] OK, so what should they be looking for besides a book to help them experience this and start to develop the center? Because, you know, it’s one thing to talk about it in the abstract. It’s even one thing to experience it. But then when you put it in the workplace setting, there’s a whole lot more at stake. You know, it’s your livelihood, it’s your promotability. It’s what’s paying all your bills and keeping your family afloat, the investments that you make, the plans for your retirement and so on and so on. There’s just a lot more financial stake than when you’re, you know, in a martial arts class.


Hanna: [00:21:35] Yeah, they might kick your butt. They may do some physical damage. But, you know, at the end of the day, you know, your bank balance is still intact, and I’m not saying that economics covers everything, but, you know, there are different tradeoffs. And so, yeah, how do you keep that even keel and make it transferable to all these different types of scenarios?


Hanna: [00:22:00] Because sitting in traffic is one thing. You know, martial arts is another. But when you’re in, say, a boardroom or in a meeting with a difficult customer, client, whatever, the year-end numbers or quarterly numbers aren’t up to snuff. There is a lot of pressure to perform, and it’s really hard to take that deep breath and just, you know, “I’m going to stay centered, everything’s going to be wonderful” when you know that there’s consequences.


Hanna: [00:22:32] There’s very serious financial career consequences, or your business if we’re talking about an entrepreneur. It could be about whether or not they can stay afloat for the next few months and make their payroll.


Aimee: [00:22:45] There are all those things you need to do to make sure that you can make your payroll or deal with the board meeting or whatever, but it all begins with your relationship with yourself, because if you were just sitting up nights and not sleeping and worrying about whether you can make your payroll, that’s not going to help you make your payroll.


Aimee: [00:23:09] So I think the first thing is to create that relationship with yourself. So here’s a couple of silly ways that I do it and I’ve learned how to. My teacher, Robert Nadeau, taught in simple fun ways. So this doesn’t become this awful practice. But the first thing is, you know, people talk about take a breath, OK? So you take a breath. You hold it for four. You let it out for four and then instead of stopping, what you do is you notice you sense-feel the breath or the energy of the breath going down your body, going down your legs, going into your sense-feeling it going into the ground.


Aimee: [00:23:57] It’s like a waterfall. You take the breath up; it goes all the way down. Now, that’s a simple practice. You don’t want to start practicing it when you’re in the board meeting. You want to practice it when you’re in your home, when there’s nothing going on, so you get used to that little practice.


Aimee: [00:24:20] I was working with the CEO of a construction company, international construction company. The guy was always running from meeting to meeting and he was stressed, you know, and he’d get into the meeting and he’d be stressed. And sometimes his communication wasn’t so great or he got distracted or whatever because he was just running to too many places.


Aimee: [00:24:42] So I said to him, OK, when you get out of the car, what I want you to do is sense-feel your elephant feet. Just sense-feel as if you had elephant feet, big, wide, thick, heavy elephant feet. Now, the elephant is not going to run. The elephant is going to walk slower. Generally, you know, he would then walk with elephant feet. It’s slowed him down a little bit. But when he got to the meeting, he was more grounded. He was more present.


Aimee: [00:25:20] So it was a silly little exercise of elephant feet that helped him become grounded. It helped him get that beat instead of it going up and staying there. It helped him come down because he was walking with elephant feet.


Aimee: [00:25:36] I had one other situation when I was a younger woman and I was just learning this stuff. I had an article written about me. I had a woman’s mentor company in San Francisco and The San Francisco Chronicle wrote an article about me and my mentor company. A vice president, senior vice president of a major company contacted me and wanted to meet me for lunch.


Aimee: [00:26:00] And I met him for lunch and he wanted to meet at this men’s club, which just a week or two before had opened its doors to women. He brought with him his second in command. These guys were very nice guys, OK, once we started actually talking about work after the initial, you know, hi, how are you kind of stuff, OK? They started firing questions at me and at first I felt very calm and confident.


Aimee: [00:26:30] But after a while, I found myself go into my head and trying to think what my answers might be or what kind of questions they would ask. As I did, that I lost my confidence. So what I did and what I had learned to do was I shifted my attention from my head into my hands, because if you can feel your hands, you begin to move the energy from your thoughts into your mind body, which begins to ground your energy.


Aimee: [00:27:03] So I under the tablecloth, this white tablecloth, I brought my hands together without touching and then separated them. And I just kept doing that. I’m looking at them. I’m nodding, I’m attentive, but I’m sense-feeling my hands. At the end of the meeting, and I felt more confident when I did it, at the end of the meeting the guys are leaving and the senior V.P. says to me, you know, there’s something different about you. He says, you have a lot of confidence, kid. I’m 30 years old at the time, you know, because I was able to stay grounded in my body.


Aimee: [00:27:43] So I think that that’s a huge training that people need in order to deal with the difficulties of the pressure that’s coming on us. You know, individually, collectively, you know, businesses. We need to train, definitely.


Hanna: [00:28:03] And I’m delighted that you at least have given us a head start with your book, Stress Less Achieve More Simple Ways to Turn Pressure into a Positive Force in Your Life. At least it gives us a little head start for when we can then engage in these exercises. I love these tips that you’ve just given us in order to be more present in our bodies.


Hanna: [00:28:27] Thank you so much, Aimee. I really appreciate your time and sharing your experiences as I think this is something many people don’t think about because they’re so busy doing. And in reality, as you’ve just explained, by slowing down, we’ll be able to do more.


Aimee: [00:28:46] Yes, that’s true. And I want to let your readers, your listeners know that if they’re interested in this work, this training, to do get in touch with me, because I do offer classes for companies and for individuals if they’re interested in learning it.


Hanna: [00:29:02] If you’d like to contact Aimee to learn more about how to manage pressure cooker stress or learn about her book, Stress Less, Achieve More, you can find that information in the show notes at


Hanna: [00:29:15] And if you know someone who could benefit from better stress management, be sure to tell them about today’s episode and Aimee’s work and leave a positive review on your podcast app at


Hanna: [00:29:31] You’ve been listening to Business Confidential Now with Hanna Hasl-Kelchner. I hope you have a great day and an even better tomorrow. Thank you.

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Guest: Aimee Bernstein

Aimee BernsteinAimee Bernstein is a thought leaders in the area of stress reduction, as well as the author of Stress Less Achieve More: Simple Ways to Turn Pressure into a Positive Force in Your Life.

Aimee teaches busy leaders and their teams how to use pressure– the energy of change– to develop well-being, self-mastery, powerful partnerships, and high performance while raising states of consciousness.

She is also the President of Open Mind Adventures, is a change accelerator with over 40 years of experience whose clients have included The Ritz Carlton, The Port of Singapore Authority, MasterCard, Microsoft Latin America, Dolce & Gabbana and numerous universities and nonprofit organizations.

Aimee also brings some serious academic credentials to the party too, having received her graduate degree in counseling psychology from Boston University and interning at Massachusetts General Hospital under the auspices of the Harvard Medical School.

Related Resources:

Contact Aimee and connect with her on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter.   Also visit her websites: Open Minded Adventures and Stress Less, Achive More.

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