Aug. 25, 2020

Where Does Stress REALLY Come From?

Where Does Stress REALLY Come From?

Inside this episode of The Systems Made Simple™ Podcast, Courtney Elmer talks with nutrition coach Brooke Simonson about counterintuitive approaches for dealing with stress and anxiety.

One of the questions I’m often asked is, “Courtney, how do you deal with stress and anxiety?” My answer usually surprises people.

So today I thought I’d share my answer on how to destress with you in a way I’ve never done before.

Inside this episode, I explain why “Band-Aid fixes” to deal with stress and anxiety (like journaling, getting a massage, taking a bubble bath etc) aren't effective approaches for dealing with stress and anxiety, so you can put REAL tools in your toolbelt for dealing with stress and anxiety, and finally learn how to destress once and for all and get back in control of your life.


  • How to know when your stress level is in the danger zone

  • Why stress can’t be “eliminated” or “managed” (and how to destress, instead)

  • The root cause of most chronic stress

  • The role your thoughts play in dealing with stress and anxiety

  • Why some people are better at finding ways to deal with stress and anxiety than others

  • How to mitigate stressful situations that “pop up” out of the blue (like when the water heater floods your house, a pandemic hits the globe… etc.)  

When you finish listening, you’ll walk away with more effective ways to deal with stress, so you can learn how to destress, stop overworking, and find a better rhythm in between your work and life. 

If this episode inspires you, leave a review and share your biggest takeaway with me. And while you've got your phone out, make sure to follow me on Instagram @thecourtneyelmer for more quick tips on how to streamline your business systems and spend more time in your zone of genius.





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Courtney Elmer 0:00  

You're listening to the Systems Made Simple™ podcast, Episode 32.

One of the questions I’m often asked is, “Courtney, how do you deal with stress and anxiety? My answer usually surprises people. Here on the Systems Made Simple™ podcast, where we show busy entrepreneurs just like you how to destress and create the bigger impact you deserve without burning out along the way, by finding more effective ways to deal with stress and anxiety in your business. But we don't just show you ways to deal with stress and anxiety and stop there. We go deeper and equip you with the mindset, the tools, and the clear plan of action that you need to create the freedom and impact you want, so you can experience rapid growth without relying solely on hard work and effort. 

I was recently interviewed on The Health Investment Podcast with Brooke Simonson, who asked me to come on the show and share practical ways to deal with stress and anxiety and teach her audience full of entrepreneurs how to destress. 

When you listen into this exclusive interview, you’ll walk away with more effective ways to deal with stress and anxiety, so you can learn how to destress, stop overworking, and find a better rhythm in between your work and life so that you can get back to running your business, instead of your business running you.

Let's drop right into this interview with Brooke. 


Brooke Simonson 5:50  

Hi, Courtney, thanks for being here with me today on The Health Investment Podcast. I'm so excited to have you talk about ways to deal with stress and anxiety and give us your tools to learn how to destress in our lives and businesses.


Courtney Elmer 6:07  

I'm excited to be here, Brooke, thanks for having me. 


Brooke Simonson 6:11  

So as my listeners know, I'm a nutrition coach. I've developed what I call the N+ approach, which means nutrition plus sleep, dealing with stress and anxiety, movement, and mindset all contribute to optimal health. It's paramount to find effective ways to deal with stress and anxiety and learn how to destress, and you obviously know this. I’d love to hear your story and what led you to become a stress expert, helping people learn how to destress and find better ways to deal with stress. 


Courtney Elmer 6:40  

Prior to starting my company, I wasn't looking for ways to deal with stress and anxiety, even though I should have been. I was living the corporate rat race, working as hard as I could, so figuring out how to destress wasn't on my radar. But it seemed like no matter how many hours I put in or late nights I spent at my desk, I still wasn't hitting all the goals that I felt that I should. I didn’t have any methods in place for dealing with stress and anxiety, even though it was something I felt regularly. My wake-up call came when I was 25 years old. Two days after we got home from our honeymoon, I was diagnosed with cancer. 

That diagnosis was my wake-up call. I knew the pace that I was living in order to sustain the lifestyle I'd built wasn't sustainable. That was the moment learning how to destress became top of mind, because something had to change. I wasn't willing to risk my sanity for the sake of success anymore. I wanted to find better ways to deal with stress and anxiety in order to figure out how to destress, recover, heal in a way that would allow me to have the success I wanted without sacrificing my life and the things I loved and myself along the way.


Brooke Simonson 9:51  

So did you automatically leave corporate America after your bout with cancer as part of your approach to learn how to destress? 


Courtney Elmer 9:58  

No, I went right back to work. Work had become such a part of my identity. It was such a comfort zone for me, so I wanted to get back to work. I knew it was important to learn how to destress and find better ways to deal with stress, but it wasn't top of mind. Yet at the same time on the flip side, the seed had been planted in my heart that I needed to find better ways to deal with stress and anxiety and help others do the same. There was this inner voice and an inner knowing that working like this wasn't going to be sustainable. I just didn't know what that next step was going to look like.


Brooke Simonson 12:10  

When did you break away and start your own business?


Courtney Elmer 12:15  

2017 January was when I officially opened the doors of my brand, which is now known as The EffortLESS Life®. I had no idea what I was doing. But I knew the message I had to share was important: helping entrepreneurs learn how to destress and find better ways to deal with stress and anxiety so that burnout didn’t pose a threat to their business. I created a framework to teach entrepreneurs to unlock their full potential and run their business like a real CEO, so they can create a bigger impact without hovering over their laptop 24/7. I wanted to show them that there were more effective approaches out there for dealing with stress and anxiety and learning how to destress. The way I teach people how to destress is totally counterintuitive.  I wanted to teach entrepreneurs how to destress and live from a place where the stress and overwhelm wasn't threatening to take them out of the game anymore in their life or business. It's like I unearthed a treasure when I discovered these real ways to deal with stress and anxiety and avoid entrepreneurial burnout, and I had to share it.


Brooke Simonson 13:27  

That's incredible. One thing that you said struck me is that when you were in the rat race, you didn't even realize how stressed you were so you weren't looking for how to destress or ways to deal with stress and anxiety. I'm wondering, are most people aware that they're suffering from chronic stress? How do you know if you're too stressed out?


Courtney Elmer 13:58  

This is an excellent question. Ambitious entrepreneurs typically have a very high tolerance for stress. They often don't recognize the signs, and worse, even if they do feel stressed on some level, they don’t know how to destress. They don’t know ways to deal with stress effectively. That was one of the challenges in the early days of my business was figuring out how to market and speak to that person who didn't yet realize they’re on a dangerous path. 

We find many entrepreneurs have this high tolerance for stress, and therefore operate their business based on a belief that “stress is normal.” They don’t put any energy into learning how to destress, because they think that building a business means they will feel stressed and overwhelmed… that it’s just the price they have to pay for success. Looking for ways to deal with stress isn't usually on their radar, because they're too busy "putting out fires" in their business and trying to do all the things at once.

What happens when you start to order your life, and your actions, and your behavior around the belief that “stress is normal”? You won’t be looking for how to destress. And you definitely won't find ways to deal with stress and anxiety, because you don't think you need them... until it’s too late. After you’ve already burned out.

If you feel frustrated that you’re working so hard, but aren't hitting your goals and can't figure out why, it's an indicator something deeper is going on under the surface preventing you from growing. But when you’re in this space, learning how to destress or finding better ways to deal with stress and anxiety isn’t top of mind; trying to fix the problems in your business is what you’re focused on. When it comes to dealing with stress and anxiety, you first need to step back and notice: are you spending your time and energy on things you love and enjoy? Or are you spending more energy spinning your wheels? The problem is that most people look for ways to deal with stress and anxiety outside of themselves. They’re looking to fix the problems in their business; they look for quick tips on how to destress to fix the stress they feel in their lives. Yet rarely do they ever take a step back to see where their energy is being spent on any given day and they’re looking for solutions in the wrong places. 


Brooke Simonson 17:32  

That makes total sense. It's almost like if you're not busy or stressed, it means you're not working hard enough. In a way our ego gets involved and prevents us from admitting we need to learn how to destress. Do you see a lot of that with your clients that they feel like they need the stress to prove that they're building a successful company or that they're working hard enough, in a way?


Courtney Elmer 18:05  

Yes. The underlying reason we see this so much is because your self worth can get attached to the results you achieve. Most don’t realize it’s even happening, because they're only focused on the gap between where they are and where they want to be. And that creates tension and stress. Yet because their focus is on achieving more and not on how to destress, finding ways to deal with stress and anxiety isn’t top of mind. When your self worth gets so wrapped up in how much you accomplish in a day, it does become like a badge of honor to wear your busy-ness on your sleeve, because in your mind this is translating to: “look, the busier I am, the more worthy I am” and this happens on an unconscious level. The good news is, when you become aware this is happening, you can discover better ways to deal with stress and anxiety. 

That’s also why a lot of what I teach sounds totally counterintuitive and radical. It's like, “Wait, what do you mean, you can help me maximize my income and impact without me having to work longer hours and later nights?” Yes, and it starts with having to undo these mindsets that we might have unknowingly bought into along the way, especially those our culture has imposed upon us. 


Brooke Simonson 20:01  

Yes because in the United States, we live to work vs. other parts of the globe where people work to live. It's like we want to know how to destress, we want to find better ways to deal with stress, but at the same time it's like we're ok with stress on some level because we think it's normal. In terms of how to destress, what's your perspective on managing stress vs. eliminating it all together?


Courtney Elmer 21:12  

I love that you brought this up. I agree stress can’t be eliminated… and I also believe it can’t be managed, either. This is important to understand when it comes to learning how to destress and ways to deal with stress and anxiety. Stress is an indicator. When you think in terms of our biology and go all the way back to prehistoric times, imagine for a moment there’s a lion standing in your path. What are you going to do? Fight this lion so you can have some dinner? Or run away and flee? It's that fight or flight response, that inborn protection mechanism that's designed to keep you safe. In this day and age you won’t see a lion crossing the street in your neighborhood, but you might get an email from a client that’s terminating their contract, or some other “event” in the course of your day that will activate your fight or flight.

The problem is that we have too many "events" like this happening all day long so most people live their entire day in fight or flight. We’re not meant to be in fight or flight all the time. That’s the chronic side of stress -- and it’s dangerous for your physical health as well as your mental wellbeing. Learning how to destress or finding effective ways to deal with stress when you're in this state all the time becomes way more difficult.

Fight or flight is there to indicate when there's danger. That's why short-term coping mechanisms as ways to deal with stress and anxiety are highly ineffective. Stress isn’t something you ‘fix.’ Stress is a symptom of a deeper issue, a danger lurking under the surface. There's a deeper root cause that's causing those symptoms. But here in America, we like to treat the symptoms as quickly as possible: take two Advil, go to bed, feel better. We want the quick fix. So we tend to approach stress the same way, like, “Stress is bad! You shouldn’t have it. Here, do XYZ to get rid of it and get on with your life.”  

But what happens when you don’t treat the root cause? The symptoms come back. We're not taught about our emotional wellbeing in school. We're not taught how to destress because culturally we live at a break-neck pace and go through life thinking stress is normal. But this is why short-term 'stress management' practices aren't effective ways to deal with stress and anxiety. It's just treating the surface symptom. If your car has engine problems and you take it to the car wash thinking that having a nice shiny exterior while listening to some upbeat music and opening the sunroof to get fresh air is going to fix the engine problem, the day will come when the car will break down. You have to be willing to lift the hood and look at the engine and diagnose and fix what's going on under the surface.


Brooke Simonson 25:25  

I love that analogy. So you're saying one of the more effective ways to deal with stress is to lift the hood and look inside, to go deeper. What are some of the root causes of the stress that people experience and what are some better ways to deal with stress that you'd suggest?


Courtney Elmer 25:43  

Most of it boils down to your limiting beliefs which are caused by the traumas that you experience in our life. I use the word trauma loosely because trauma can be acute, or it can be ongoing trauma over time. The word “trauma” comes from the Greek root and it means "emotional wound." Think about how many events that you’ve experienced throughout your life that have caused you emotional pain (anger, hurt, sadness, fear, guilt, etc.) Unconsciously, your brain goes to work to protect you from feeling that pain ever again, but what happens is that the coping mechanism only works for a time. It reaches a point where it stops working for you and starts working against you. That’s why the clients we work with have such incredible results right out the gate, and they're able to sustain those results, because they're able to shift the beliefs that were causing them all the stress they were feeling in the first place. In other words, they learn how to destress for real. When those things are no longer holding you back, you are free to move to the next level, wherever that may be for you. So short-term ways to deal with stress and anxiety like taking a hot bath aren't needed because you've uprooted the root that was causing the weed -- the stress -- to grow in your garden of life.


Brooke Simonson 33:05  

So the ways to deal with stress and anxiety you're talking about isn't about stress management or stress elimination - it’s about learning how to destress by finding and uprooting the root cause of the stress. Do you find that with most of your clients, the root for many of their stressors is some type of fear?


Courtney Elmer 33:25  

Yes, it often boils down to what I call fear-based thought patterns, which are habits of thought we create that are rooted in fear. This is another reason why short-term ways to deal with stress and anxiety don't work. If you look at the field of psychology, this is called a Vicious Cycle. It starts with a thought or a belief that's rooted in fear, and creates this self-perpetuating cycle. For example, a perfectionist might think, “I have to be perfect in order for people to like me.” What inevitably happens? A perfectionist tries hard to be perfect, but they’re human. They make mistakes. So they get down on themselves and people don’t like to be around someone who is throwing themselves a pity party. The perfectionist notices people don’t want to be around them, they think it’s because those people don’t like them for some reason, the story in their mind gets reinforced, and they try to be all the more perfect to avoid rejection. It creates these cycles and patterns that play out in life. All vicious cycles are rooted in fear.


Brooke Simonson 34:31  

I think a lot of people can relate. So in your corporate career, what was the root cause of your stress at that point, would you say is it just that you weren't ever measuring up?


Courtney Elmer 34:49  

Yes, it went back to my beliefs about how I saw myself. There was a lot of resentment and deep-seated hurt that I needed to let go of in order to truly heal. That was a key piece in terms of me learning how to destress for good. At the time, I felt like I wasn't measuring up, and there was an even deeper belief that "I’ll never be enough." Unknowingly, I felt I needed to work hard to prove I was "enough." Learning how to destress wasn't something I thought about because that goal of proving my worth was more important. Sounds crazy when you say it like that, but that's what many of us do, completely unaware. It created a Vicious Cycle that played out in every area of my life. It was a deeper emptiness that I had inside that I was seeking to fill with external recognition and approval, but what I had to learn was to recognize and approve of myself.


Brooke Simonson 36:56  

So how is it that some people are better at finding ways to deal with stress and anxiety than others? Is it based on your level of emotional intelligence?


Courtney Elmer 37:41  

We're all so different and unique. For me, there's been a lot of emotional healing that’s taken place over time. As a result, I’ve strengthened my mental resilience. I don't need short-term ways to deal with stress and anxiety because my lens has shifted and I see and perceive stress completely differently than I did before. The more mentally resilient you become, the more you cultivate your awareness and tune into what's going on under the surface, the better you’ll get at knowing how to destress -- it's the first step to dealing with stress and anxiety in a healthy way. It's like a muscle, the more you work it, the stronger you get. The things that used to stress me out could happen today and it'd roll off my back like water off a duck. It's based on how well you learn to navigate through stressful times and how well you learn to understand stress as a symptom of something deeper. In my work with our students, those who have learned to shift their beliefs about stress learn to look at it differently, become much more resilient and aware and even begin to learn from the stressful situations in their life.

That's the one takeaway I want people to remember: finding new ways to deal with stress doesn't mean stress will go away completely; that's not the goal. You've been given a fight or flight response for a reason. When you start to see stress not as something you have to live with, but as an indicator to something deeper going on, you'll already be several steps ahead of the average person looking for "quick fix" ways to deal with stress and anxiety. Seek external support. We have a team of coaches who can help you begin to implement these highly counterintuitive, yet highly effective ways to learn how to destress and better deal with stress and anxiety in your life.


Brooke Simonson:

The last question I have for you that I ask every guest who comes on the show is this: What does it mean to you to make the health investment? 


Courtney Elmer:

It means to invest in the you that your life depends on. And to recognize you’re worth the investment.