Emily Stanley: 5 Things Anyone Can Do To Optimize Their Mental Wellness
Add some joy into your day. So often we are preoccupied with our to-do list, stressing ourselves out over getting everything done. The day ends up slipping away without us doing anything we actually enjoy. Take a five minute break between those Zoom meetings, walk away from the computer, and get some sun on your face! Listen to a favorite song. Go for a quick walk. Anything that makes you smile.
As a part of my series about the “5 Things Anyone Can Do To Optimize Their Mental Wellness”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Emily Stanley.
Emily is a former elementary school teacher turned corporate trainer and girls’ empowerment coach. Her superpower is creating a safe space for kids to be themselves and own their value. Emily currently lives in North Carolina with her entrepreneur husband and rescue dog.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
I took a bit of a roundabout way to get to my current business! I decided during my junior year in college that I wanted to teach, which led me to get a Master’s in Education. I taught 4th and 5th grade in both private and public schools, as well as managing a science program.
After four years of teaching, I took what I thought would be summer job at an office- and that became nine years of working in corporate training and process improvement. My heart was still in working with kids though, and when one of my coaches began offering the BOLD certification, I jumped right on it.
I’ve been running BOLD programs since summer 2020 and have big plans to grow it this year. I can’t wait to get the message of confidence and self-worth to as many girls as possible!
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
COVID protocols have been both a blessing and a curse, as it requires the BOLD classes to be done virtually. It can be harder to develop a relationship with the students over Zoom, so I was nervous about being able to make that connection as I ran my first cohort.
Apparently I didn’t need to worry, though! Prior to class starting, one of my student’s mothers reached out to me and let me know that her daughter tended to be shy and might not speak up a lot in class. By week 4, though, her mom reported back that she was already seeing a big change. My student had informed her mother that she didn’t need any help with her new skateboard- she could do it herself, because she was a BOLD girl! By week 7, I literally had to kick her off the Zoom call as she had so much to chat with me about.
I love seeing the change and growth that comes with this course content and the mentorship aspect! Even a few weeks can truly make such a difference.
Can you share a story with us about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? What lesson or take-away did you learn from that?
Part of working with kids is being willing to look silly. Kids need to know that adults aren’t perfect, that we make mistakes, and that there are things we are still learning as well! There were a few examples in our sessions where the girls were teaching me something new- mainly TikTok dances and how to play Among Us!
I’m not sure it counts as a mistake, but I definitely did not execute the TikTok dances flawlessly! I tried to learn a few that the girls recommended, but their skills far surpass mine. I don’t mind it though- it’s good to see them laugh and enjoy the silly moments. Kids have been so restricted with virtual schooling that a lot of the small moments of socialization are missing. I try to look for anywhere those moments can be added back in!
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I am definitely grateful to Susan Hyatt, my coach who created the BOLD program. She actually started out by creating BARE, a book and coaching program for women- but so many of the women said that they wished they had a similar resource when they were younger that she decided to create one! Her program has given me a great foundation for the work I’m doing while still offering the flexibility for me to create a version that truly reflects my own voice.
What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?
The biggest thing that I have learned with coaching on top of working a corporate job is to give myself grace. I write out a schedule of one to three things I will work on in the evening or during my lunch break, and once those things are done I call it a day. Especially when working from home during COVID restrictions, it can be really difficult to step away- the computer is right there all the time! So learning to make reasonable deadlines for myself has been key.
I also have learned to give myself some flexibility in deadlines. So many times as entrepreneurs, we try to meet these self-imposed deadlines that don’t actually matter. If I’m having a day where I could use some down time instead of pushing through, I check my calendar and ask myself what ACTUALLY needs to be done today! That helps me reframe and stop pushing through to the point of burnout.
What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?
I would highly recommend learning your employees’ preferences for recognition and rewards. Whether you call this their “love language” or something else, it’s really important to understand what motivates your team members. For instance, I thrive on words of affirmation, so I would much rather receive a thoughtful email from a boss with positive feedback than a Starbucks gift card. Some employees are more introverted than others, some want public recognition in front of team members, some would rather have one-on-one time at a lunch outing. Learning these preferences makes a huge difference in creating a positive work culture.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. Mental health is often looked at in binary terms; those who are healthy and those who have mental illness. The truth, however, is that mental wellness is a huge spectrum. Even those who are “mentally healthy” can still improve their mental wellness. From your experience or research, what are five steps that each of us can take to improve or optimize our mental wellness. Can you please share a story or example for each.
- The first step is always to tune into your thoughts. We have an average of sixty to eighty thousand thoughts per day, believe it or not! And so many of those thoughts are repeated and often negative. Catching your brain as those thoughts pop up is the first key to mental wellness. In BOLD, I teach the girls to scroll through their minds like they would scroll through social media, so they can identify any patterns. The girls sometimes catch thoughts like “no one wants to be friends with me” or “I’m going to fail that test, I’m just not smart enough.” After you begin recognizing the patterns in your negative thoughts, you can question them. A LOT of the thoughts we have just aren’t based in fact- they are an emotional reaction (or over-reaction)! So the next time that negative thought pops up, stop yourself and ask “is this really true?” So a BOLD girl might catch her thought that no one wants to be her friend, and she would ask herself if it was true.
- Reframe those negative thoughts once you notice them. Most likely you’ll find a counterpoint or example that disproves the negative thought when you stop to examine it. Focus on disproving it with that counterpoint- for example, if the negative thought was that no one wants to be her friend, a BOLD girl might say to herself, “that’s not true, because last week the neighbor came over and we played soccer in the backyard.” Finding a counterpoint helps your brain to let go of that negative thought. After the negative thought has been disproved, find a new thought to replace it. This may be a positive, optimistic thought (like “all the kids in my class want to be my friend!”) but it can also be a more neutral thought (like “I have three close friends who care about me”). Many times it’s too difficult to jump straight from a negative perception of a situation to a positive one, so the neutral thought helps form a bridge. It allows us to leave the cycle of negativity without setting ourselves up for failure with a thought we have trouble believing.
- Add some joy into your day. So often we are preoccupied with our to-do list, stressing ourselves out over getting everything done. The day ends up slipping away without us doing anything we actually enjoy. In BOLD, the girls work on identifying small things that make them happy- reading a favorite book, painting their nails, dancing, walking the dog, texting with a friend. These things help bring us back to the moment, to be in our bodies rather than in our minds. It’s also a great positive way to deal with stress. Take a five minute break between those Zoom meetings, walk away from the computer, and get some sun on your face! Listen to a favorite song. Go for a quick walk. Anything that makes you smile.
- Move your body in a way you enjoy. Exercise is a wonderful way to improve your mental wellbeing and raise your serotonin levels. So often we associate exercise with punishment for something we ate, but in reality we should move our bodies as a celebration of what they can do! There will be types of movement you try that aren’t the best fit- I hate running and am super inflexible, so yoga is hard. But by trying a variety of things, you’ll end up finding something that lights you up. For me, that was lifting weights. Nothing improves my mood like going to the gym, blasting music over my headphones, and lifting.
- Prioritize and care for yourself. This looks different every day- the key is to listen to your body and tune into its signals. Self-care doesn’t always mean bubble baths or massages. Sometimes it means eating a salad, getting up early enough to take a shower before that first Zoom meeting, or finally doing the household task that you’ve been procrastinating. I’ve been working from home almost every day for the past year, and I notice that I stop prioritizing the things that make me feel good just because I’m at home. I’ve learned that even something small such as doing my nails (even though no one else will see them!) can improve my mood.
Much of my expertise focuses on helping people to plan for after retirement. Retirement is a dramatic ‘life course transition’ that can impact one’s health. In addition to the ideas you mentioned earlier, are there things that one should do to optimize mental wellness after retirement? Please share a story or an example for each.
Volunteering is one of the best things that retirees can do to improve their mental health. In our society, identity tends to be tied up with career. After retirement, a sense of purposelessness can set in. A 2017 study by the Mayo Clinic found that volunteering is tied to lower rates of depression, especially in those ages 65 and up. Even during COVID restrictions, there are opportunities to volunteer virtually- ESL tutoring via Zoom, for instance.
How about teens and pre teens. Are there any specific new ideas you would suggest for teens and pre teens to optimize their mental wellness?
Social media has one of the largest impacts on teens and preteens- peer pressure has expanded from classmates to the entire online world. There are a few things that can be done to limit this impact though. First, teens can curate their social media feeds by listening to their bodies’ signals. Anything that causes a feeling of discomfort, unworthiness, or jealousy should be unfollowed, unsubscribed, or blocked. Keeping the feed to just creators and friends who provide laughs, inspiration, and positive messages is a huge step towards mental wellness.
It’s also really important for parents and teachers to talk about the effects of online bullying and sexting. Since many parents grew up in generations where social media didn’t exist until high school or college, this is a brand new world that their children are facing at a younger and younger age.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?
I’m an avid reader, so it’s difficult to narrow it down to one book! I would have to mention “The Big Leap” by Gay Hendricks, though. The idea of moving out of your Zone of Excellence into your Zone of Genius was totally new to me- and I’ve been working on giving myself permission to live in my purpose rather than following the “shoulds.”
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
The girls’ empowerment program BOLD is absolutely my movement. On average, a girl’s self-confidence peaks at age 8, and by age 14 is 30% lower than that of her male classmates. These childhood issues of self-esteem end up carrying over to adulthood- which is part of why there are so few women represented in government, in the C-Suite, and in STEM fields. My ultimate goal is to equip girls with the tools they need to deal with life’s challenges, instill in them a sense of value and self-worth, and facilitate relationships with like-minded peers and mentors. I have a vision of this program being in schools, Girl Scout troops, sports teams, and clubs across the world!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
One of my favorite quotes would actually be a Bible verse- “In all your ways, acknowledge Him, and He will make straight your paths.” (Proverbs 3:6). I believe that God has given each of us a gift, and it’s our responsibility to share that gift with others. As long as I am operating in my gift and using it for the good of others, God will make a way where there seems to be no way!
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
You can find me on Facebook and Instagram @BOLDCoachEmily. I’m also on Pinterest with the same name.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!