buffaloEarlier in my career, it was fashionable to pretend that stress was a good thing. The stress (caused by fear) is what makes us run from a charging buffalo, they said. Stress in the workplace can help us be more efficient and effective, we were told, providing an energy boost that improves focus and productivity. Talking about how stressed and overworked you were was like working crazy hours – a way to be noticed by the boss, and advance in your career.

I never bought it. I have never had to run from a charging buffalo.

Stress is your body’s response to a perceived threat. Cortisol increases, adrenaline increases, and all the blood rushes out of your brain. Your reptilian, dumbed down brain responds – fight or flight. Could this possibly improve your work product, allow you to make good decisions, or contribute to positive results?

Perhaps fight or flight was the best we could do thousands of years ago, but I like to think evolution isn’t over. We can control how we react to challenging situations. Remaining calm under all circumstances is the best way to stay focused on a goal, complete a difficult task, or motivate a team.

How can we remain calm? Practice helps.

One practice that helps to maintain calm is mindfulness. According to Mindful Work, the new book by David Gelles, “…mindfulness is about increasing our awareness of what’s happening in our minds, throughout our bodies, and in the world around us. It is about noticing these things, and also accepting them as they are, rather than making ourselves crazy by wishing things were different.”

It’s about focusing on this moment. Not on yesterday. Not on tomorrow. Not on the email that just showed up.

Mindfulness is cropping up not just in ashrams or meditation centers. Companies big and small are investing in mindfulness training, and promoting the practice of mindfulness.     Our CPA firm, Kaufman Rossin, recently completed a study with  Amishi Jha, PhD, associate professor of psychology at the University of Miami. The study focused on the effects of mindfulness on attention, productivity and stress levels. Human Resources Director Joy Batteen tells me, “The mindfulness training gave our professionals the tools to pay better attention and increase awareness.  Participants found they experienced less stress during our real crunch time, and felt the benefits in their focus and productivity.”

You know how to breathe, don’t you?

I use breathing techniques to remain calm, and so can you.

In my yoga practice, I have learned the importance of prana, the breath that is our vital life force. Controlling our breathing, a practice called pranayama, is used during the traditional asana practice, the physical postures of yoga. That breath control helps open tight areas of the body, stretch further into new postures, and focus the mind in the moment. Off the yoga mat, I use pranayama all the time – to help me fall asleep, for example.

Kate Holcombe writes, in Yoga Journal: “One of the primary reasons that pranayama techniques that foster a long, smooth exhale … are so beneficial is because, when practiced correctly, they can support the parasympathetic nervous system and activate what is commonly known as the “relaxation response,” reducing stress and its effects on your body and mind. As a result, your resilience in the face of challenge or adversity increases, and your mind becomes more focused and still.”

This isn’t difficult stuff to do, and it’s amazing how much benefit you’ll feel when you try some of these techniques. Here are three I use all the time.

  1. Use long, deep conscious breathing anytime, to calm the mind and body. Sit tall, either on the floor or in your chair. Close your eyes, keep your mouth closed, and inhale deeply and slowly. Exhale deeply and slowly. Try doing this for one minute, then maybe three or five minutes. There’s a great app timer app called i-Qi Timer that lets you choose a gong sound to end your meditation. You can also use long deep breathing as a pause in a difficult conversation, but I recommend keeping your eyes open.
  2. Quiet the mind with ujjayi (you-ja-yee) breathing. This is a long, deep loud breath that many people use during asana practice. Some call it Darth Vader breath. When I use ujjayi I can breathe louder than my thoughts, so any anxiety, worry, or even anger dissipates. Sit tall. Keeping your mouth closed, constrict the back of your throat and breathe in deeply through your nose, making a snoring sound in your throat. Keep our mouth closed and exhale. Breathe in and out, long deep breaths, making the Darth Vader sound. Make it loud enough to drown out the voices in your head. Keep going for ten rounds.
  3. Try segmented breathing to manage your moods. Keeping your mouth closed, breathe in for four counts. Hold the breath in for four counts. Then exhale for four counts. Continue the sequence ten times or more. This specific pattern – four counts in, four counts out – is said to give clarity and alertness. If you’re looking for energizing and uplifting, try four counts in, one count out.

Stress isn’t useful, unless a buffalo is chasing you. And it doesn’t come from the outside. It’s your reaction to your environment. Choose to react calmly.


Janet Kyle Altman — Summer of Wellbeing


Janet Kyle Altman leads the marketing team at Kaufman Rossin, one of the top CPA firms in the country, and is Vice Chair of The Women’s Fund of Miami-Dade. She practices yoga and leadership daily in Miami. You can reach Janet at jaltman@kaufmanrossin.com.





Change is inevitable – after all, nothing really stays the same.  But in today’s challenging times, it seems like we’re on “uncertainty” overload, never knowing what will happen from one moment to the next. Here today, gone tomorrow – or, at the least, very different tomorrow.

Uncertainty brings stress and confusion, and while most of us would be quick to say that we want less stress and more certainty in our lives, what we really want is less of a stress reaction to what life is throwing our way.

We can’t choose what happens to us – but we can choose our responses to the situations we encounter.  Let’s take a look at five different responses that people have to stressful situations. As you read through these five responses, you may want to think of a recent stressful event or news that you have received, and see what your reaction to that event can teach you about how you habitually respond.  You may have one type of response at work, and another at home, or you may react differently depending on who else is involved.

The first, and unfortunately all too common response to stressful events is to suffer and be a victim to it. People who respond this way don’t take action. Things happen TO them – and though they may complain and be generally miserable about it, they don’t take any steps to do anything. They allow life to control them, instead of the other way around. This way of responding is certainly not recommended, and eventually, it will take its toll on one’s physical and mental health.

The second type of response is to accept it the situation, and to get some perspective on it.  Someone with this response may say “so what,” or perhaps get some perspective on the situation by asking if it will it matter in a year – or a week – or even in a day.

The third way to respond is to actually take steps to change the situation – taking action to bring it to resolution (or at least move toward resolution). This is a very powerful response, and one that many effective leaders employ.

The fourth way to respond is to avoid the situation. People responding this way make a decision not to get involved in a situation that they don’t see as concerning them, or upon which they can’t make an impact. For example, someone may choose not to get involved in a dispute going on within their office if it doesn’t directly involve them.

The fifth and final way that people generally respond to stress is to alter the experience of the situation. When we look at a situation differently, the experience itself changes. Changing perceptions is probably the most challenging of the responses, because we tend to be stuck in our own interpretations and assumptions about what’s happening, but it is also perhaps the most powerful of all.

It’s your life, and you can create it and lead it as you wish. Remember, what one person sees as stressful, another person barely notices, or sees as exciting and full of opportunity.

So, when life throws you lemons, how will you choose? 

Please comment below and keep the conversation going!