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Let’s Hear From an Expert: Paula Davis-Laack, Burnout Prevention and Resilience Expert

Published on 11/12/2015

Paula_Laack_317You work with high-achieving individuals who are experiencing burnout. What symptoms of burnout do you see, particularly among women in midlife?

There are three big dimensions of burnout, which tend to be the same whether you’re a 25 year old or a 50-year-old. The first is chronic exhaustion. The word “chronic” is key—we all have tired days and even weeks! This is over a period of time, just feeling like you’re dragging. The second is cynicism—everyone and everything is just rubbing you the wrong way. And the third is inefficacy—feeling like you’re trying and doing the work, but just aren’t seeing the same results.

In addition to the chronic exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficacy, other warning signs include:  getting sick more frequently (almost everyone I’ve talked to who has experienced burnout noticed an uptick in physical ailments such as more colds, stomach aches, headaches, digestive issues, heart palpitations, etc.), every curveball is a major crisis (so even small hurdles or challenges feel overwhelming), feeling disengaged or checked out from work, and not building in enough recovery or re-charge time into daily routines.


What advice do you have for midlife women who are burned out? How can they turn their situations around?  

Say something! Talk to a friend, call me, talk to your boss (if you have the right type of relationship with him/her). One of the reasons why I do this work is to educate people and companies that there is no reason why we should be suffering in silence. So many millions of people struggle to manage their stress and Gallup research shows that about 70% of people are showing up to work disengaged on some level. That’s a lot of people who are in the same boat. I’m all about giving people quick strategies that have a big impact.

One place to start is to do an energy audit. Write down what drains your energy at work and outside of work and what builds your energy at work and outside of work. Then ask yourself how much time you’re spending in each category. Most people find that they spend way too much time on things that drain their energy. I have a great worksheet that explains this in more detail, and I’d be happy to give folks a copy if they email me (see contact below). A second quick stress relief strategy is to change your passwords to something that is an important goal (e.g., save4paris; grow my business; lose30lbs) or brings to mind a positive emotion (this could be the name of a pet or a place you’ve visited).

Finally, try to incorporate simple mindfulness practices into your day. One technique I love is called 4-7-8 breathing. Because I used to suffer from panic attacks, it’s important for me to regulate my breathing when I feel anxious. All you need to do is inhale for a count of 4, hold your breath for a count of 7, and exhale slowly for a count of 8. Do this for about 5-10 minutes and you will feel so much better.


You also write that stress is not always a negative. How can one look at stress as an opportunity?  

We need to re-write the messages we’ve learned about stress. Chronic stress is absolutely not good for our health and well-being, but here’s the thing. It’s not just the amount of stress you’re under that matters, but also how you perceive the stress—as either helpful or harmful. Researchers asked almost 30,000 Americans to describe two things: the amount of stress they had experienced in the last 12 months and their perception of whether that was impacting their health. They found that the people who experienced the worst health outcomes had a lot of stress AND perceived that the stress was affecting their health.

I’m also a big fan of Dr. Kelly McGonigal’s work in this area. She has a great book out called The Upside of Stress: Why Stress Is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It. In it, she talks at length about how stress and meaning are linked: We don’t often get stressed about things we don’t care about. Stress helps us engage and rise to the challenge, stress connects us with other people, and stress allows us to grow through adversity.


What advice do you have for midlife women to develop “stress resilience”?  

Midlife women should focus on five key areas to build stress resilience:

  1.  Practice safe stress :). This is my way of saying “get better at stress.” It’s a combination of incorporating more positive emotions into your diet, mindfulness, and developing a “stress helps” mindset.
  2.  Stay engaged and energized; a key way to do this is to develop a strengths practice. What are those things that you’re good at and how can you do them on a daily basis?
  3.  Be a FAT thinker. FAT stands for flexible, accurate, and thorough and these skills turn your inner critic into your inner coach.
  4.  Maintain high-quality connections.
  5.  Improve your meaning quotient – what are the sources of meaning in your life and at work? Women, in particular, need a lot of meaning at work and often leave companies in search of it.


Tell us more about your coaching and how your work with clients, particularly women in midlife, who are burned out or stressed out or both?  

I do some 1:1 coaching (usually working with about 6 individual clients at a time), group coaching,  but much more speaking, training, and teaching. I’m developing a number of different e-courses as we speak. I’ll be rolling out a 21-day stress resilience challenge in January 2016, which will help women get better at stress with very simple science-backed strategies.

I’m also creating some instructional videos and e-courses that women will be able to download anytime/anywhere. I have a couple of new e-books in the works, and my colleague and I are developing an in-person resilience training course. It will be based on a train-the-trainer model so that people can not only learn the skills that go into resilience, but also be certified to teach them to others. It’s our CPR course (Certificate in Personal & Professional Resilience).


Besides your own, what resources do you recommend (books, programs, websites, etc.)?  

The Upside of Stress: Why Stress Is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It by Dr. Kelly McGonigal and her TEDx talk from 2013 about the upside of stress

Anything by Dr. Brené Brown, particularly her New York Times bestseller, The Upside of Stress: Why Stress Is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It and her TED talks

Overwhelmed: How to Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time by Brigid Schulte

A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook by Drs. Bob Stahl and Elisha Goldstein

Positivity: Top-Notch Research Reveals the Upward Spiral That Will Change Your Life by Dr. Barbara Fredrickson and her website

Any of the information and assessments at the University of Pennsylvania’s research website

Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success by Dr. Adam Grant

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg.


Contact Paula Davis-Laack at paula@pauladavislaack.com or 414-477-8697


Twitter:  @pauladavislaack



Huff Post Blog

Psychology Today Blog


Paula Davis-Laack, JD, MAPP, is a former practicing lawyer, an internationally-published writer, a media contributor, and a burnout prevention and stress resilience expert who has taught and coached burnout prevention and resiliency skills to thousands of professionals around the world.

Her articles on stress, burnout prevention, resilience, and thriving at work are prominently featured on her blogs in The Huffington Post, U.S. News & World Report, and Psychology Today. She is the author of two e-books, the latest one titled, Addicted to Busy: Your Blueprint for Burnout Prevention.

Paula works with brands such as American Express and NIVEA to help them craft messages around what it means to have success, health, and happiness today. Her expertise has been featured in and on O, The Oprah Magazine, Time.com, Fast Company, Forbes.com, The Steve Harvey TV show, Huffington Post Live, and a variety of radio programs and podcasts. She was also named a Top 10 Online Influencer in the area of Stress by Sharecare, which is a Dr. Oz website.

She is the Founder and CEO of the Davis Laack Stress & Resilience Institute, a practice devoted to helping companies and busy professionals create sustainable success by helping them prevent burnout and build stress resilience. Her website is www.pauladavislaack.com.

HeleneTStelian Musing
I’m Hélène Stelian, the Midlife Mentor with a passion for facilitating personal development in women 40+. Through my THRIVE Courses, I help introspective, curious, action-oriented women 40+ deepen their journeys of self-discovery and growth—and create their next chapter with courage and intention.



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