Stress is the New Fat: An Interview with meQuilibrium's Jan Bruce
Work + Life Balance

Stress is the New Fat: An Interview with meQuilibrium's Jan Bruce

WOMEN ARE MORE STRESSED THAN EVER—AND IT'S NEGATIVELY AFFECTING US IN MORE WAYS THAN ONE. WE INTERVIEWED JAN BRUCE, FOUNDER AND AUTHOR OF "MEQUILIBRIUM", TO DISCUSS THE SOLUTION.

Is it just me, or are we more stressed out than ever?

“It’s not you,” laughs Jan Bruce, CEO and co-founder of meQuilibrium.com, an online stress management system. She and her team launched meQuilibrium about four years ago. “It’s like an online coaching platform,” Bruce says. “It’s about more than getting rid of stress [it’s also about hitting goals], but stress is something that people are concerned about, so it’s a way in.”

Bruce also writes for Forbes about stress and success and is well known in the publishing world, as she started Body + Soul magazine and WholeLiving.com, which she sold to Martha Stewart Omnimedia. Bruce also recently published her book, meQuilibrium: 14 Days to Cooler, Calmer, and Happier. We sat down with her to find out more about the stress epidemic and how we can all find some meQuilibrium.

Career Contessa: Why are we now hearing so much about stress? Are we in more stressful times, or are we simply more aware of stress?

Jan Bruce: Stress is the new fat. What do I mean by that? Look at the change in our consciousness over the last 20 years about the importance of weight management and eating right; culturally, we’ve gotten much more aware that what we put in our bodies has a big impact on our health, our life, and our appearance. That realization has driven some very healthy progress.

The last 10, 15 years, we’ve become overwhelmed by more and more work. The majority of families are in dual income households, and many people work multiple jobs. We’re also in a 24-hour-day world of not only digital communications, but also omnipresent media and the attendant obligations. You’re always available to check your email; there’s always someone to tweet to. We’re bombarded. And it’s a scarier place. More terrorism. More weather crises. We have more stress and we may have more reason to be stressed. Our awareness that we are overwhelmed has grown.

You’re always available to check your email; there’s always someone to tweet to. We’re bombarded. And it’s a scarier place. More terrorism. More weather crises. We have more stress and we may have more reason to be stressed. Our awareness that we are overwhelmed has grown.

CC: Tell us about your new book, meQuilibrium: 14 Days to Cooler, Calmer, and Happier, which you cowrote with Adam Perlman, M.D., your company’s chief medical officer, and Andrew Shatté, Ph.D., the chief science officer. What was your goal in writing it?

JB: It occurred to us that we should take some of the core concepts of the software and deliver it in an easy to use, 2-week program, like a primer to help people get started. There’s so much out there in the realm of self-help books, but self-help isn’t going to help unless you get your head in the game. This is about how to control your thinking and your habits in assessing what is going on in your world.

I was a publisher when I started meQuilibrium. I felt I was at the height of my career and I was in the field of health and wellness. Why, then, was I and everyone around me so stressed and unhealthy? The seeker in me looked around. I started to work with Andrew Shatté (a psychologist and professor), and he helped me understand that a lot of my stress was coming from not being able to deal with the many priorities I had: as a woman, a mother of two, a fast-track executive, and a loving wife. This is a whole new realm that we are living in. Women didn’t use to live like this.

...a lot of my stress was coming from not being able to deal with the many priorities I had: as a woman, a mother of two, a fast-track executive, and a loving wife. This is a whole new realm that we are living in. Women didn’t use to live like this.

I thought I had to be at every sales meeting and every orthodontist appointment and every soccer game. Andrew made me realize that it was my beliefs about being a wife and mother and publisher that were causing stress—we call them the “icebergs” that are underneath the surface and need to be examined. They are beliefs that are not necessary. It’s not possible to be at every sales team meeting and every orthodontist appointment. I’ve increased my ability to understand my priorities so that my thoughts about my obligations don’t cause me stress.

CC: Should reducing stress be a personal goal or is it the responsibility of our larger society, such as the media, workplaces, and healthcare providers?

JB: Both. We’ve gotten to the point where we’ve realized we need to reexamine our dance with stress. When it helps and when it doesn’t.

In the corporate world, we’re seeing a lot of enthusiasm for helping people deal with being overwhelmed and stressed. More employers are realizing that they depend on optimizing the performance of their people. When you have a workforce that needs to be smart and engaged and focused on the customer’s needs. That is what the U.S. is great at. We’re not the cheapest labor force. Our niche is to be fleet of foot, solve problems, and think critically. So employers who understand that are undeniably taking steps to help people with their stress and with their resilience. You’re only to see more of that in the corporate realm.

As for the healthcare system, 75 percent of the cost of health care is for chronic diseases, many of which are preventable by changing our lifestyle behaviors. When we don’t get enough sleep or exercise or eat right, we create a host of chronic conditions.

CC: If someone were starting her own company, what would you suggest to her to create a less stressful environment for her employees?

JB: With a startup, it’s all about finding that sense of purpose for yourself and helping the people around you find that sense of mission. They’ll be more creative, more capable, and more confident. Help employees connect with the mission of the company, and align their own values and personal “why?” with the why of the company. If someone is working for the pay and the benefits, that’s good; if someone is working for quality of life, that’s also good. But if you can get your team to work for commitment and purpose, then the experience is much more sustainable and more satisfying. If we help our employees feel that their being at the company makes a critical difference, then we can help our employees deal with anything.