May 18

Handling Stress and Indecision

Handling Stress and Indecision

By Deborah Johnson

May 18, 2024

cardiovascular ailments, career transition, change, Deborah Johnson, handling stress, indecision, managing stress, midcareer, podcast, psychological stress

In January of 2024, Brian Chesky was rated the 232nd richest person in the world, according to Forbes and some of his success can be attributed to handling stress. In October 2007 the Industrial Designers Society of America was hosting a conference in San Francisco and all the hotel rooms were booked. Brian and his friend Joe couldn’t afford their rent for the month and decided to rent their apartment for money. After purchasing three air mattresses, they marketed their idea as “Airbed and Breakfast” with three guests staying the first night. 

They knew they had hit upon a giant big idea worth pursuing but investors refused to give them money to develop it. They got two bookings during the SXSW conference (South by Southwest) in March 2008, then in August their Airbed and Breakfast website launched in time for the Democratic National Convention to get 80 bookings. They were on their way.

It is inspiring to read about successful entrepreneurs but many struggle through anxiety and discouragement and have to become adept at handling stress. Toby Thomas, CEO of EnSite Solutions explains his favorite analogy: a man riding a lion. We see this and think, “This man is so brave! He’s got it together!” But the man riding the lion is wondering how he’s going to keep from getting eaten! Stress and even indecision are common issues most entrepreneurs face. We will cover five principles of handling stress and indecision that will help most any listener or reader to apply for success.

Women at Halftime by Deborah Johnson Handling Stress and Indecision with Deborah Johnson 5-21-2024
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One: Stop, Breathe and Listen

For most people, stress builds and expands as more details and events pile up. Visualize building blocks, representing a detail or event that contributes to our stress, piled higher and higher. We can feel ourselves holding our breath as we place each additional block on top, fearful that any additional weight will cause the whole structure to come crashing down.

When we "Stop," we momentarily halt the process of adding more blocks to the stack. This pause allows us to assess the situation and prevent the tower from growing taller. It gives us a chance to catch our breath and evaluate our next move. "Breathe" is like reinforcing the foundation of the stack. With each deep breath, we stabilize the structure, preventing it from toppling over. Breathing serves as a vital tool for releasing tension and restoring balance, ensuring that the tower remains steady even as more blocks are added.

"Listen" involves paying attention to the subtle cues and signals within ourselves and our environment. By tuning in to our thoughts and feelings, we gain valuable insights into how to navigate the challenges ahead. It's similar to listening for warning signs of instability in the tower, allowing us to make adjustments before it collapses. Instead of frantically piling on more blocks, we approach the task with mindfulness and intention, straightening the blocks to ensure that the tower remains stable and manageable.

Two: Break Decisions into Small, Manageable Steps

On a trip to Florence, Italy, I climbed the 463 steps to the top of the Duomo. Upon reaching the pinnacle, I was able to experience the spectacular view. Looking back, I can still visualize the sections of stone staircases we had to climb to get to our destination. Fortunately, there were small spaces to stop and regain one’s breath if needed.

In one of those spaces, I saw a woman who was experiencing a panic attack. Her husband or companion had gone on ahead without her. Shame on him! I couldn’t leave her there. First, I gave her instructions to breathe deeply as she was hyperventilating. Next, I talked her through one section at a time to continue her climb, holding her hand. I knew that if she continued on with the mindset of successfully conquering each stone staircase, she’d eventually make it to the top. (see video)

It didn’t feel like much creativity was involved in my commands, but as I look back, I see that with focusing on each small section, the pressure of the entire climb was lifted. It was now one step and one section at a time. I knew there was no option but to continue the climb as there were no staircases to descend until we reached the top. With each step up, we gained a clearer perspective and a renewed sense of purpose. By embracing this approach in our climb, we harnessed the power of incremental progress to reach our goal. This principle is applicable to navigate even the most daunting of decisions with confidence and grace.

Three: Support and Perspective from Trusted Sources

Seeking support and perspective from trusted sources is similar to building a network of pillars to uphold us during times of uncertainty and doubt. Just as a well-structured building relies on a strong foundation, our decision-making process benefits from the stability and wisdom offered by our trusted relationships.

I speak about the importance of relationship circles in my book Women at Halftime. These circles represent different dimensions of my life, from professional aspirations to personal challenges, and offer a diverse range of perspectives and experiences. At the heart of my network is my "Lifetime Group," a small, tightly-knit circle of trusted confidants who have stood the test of time. Despite meeting only a few times a year, the bond forged over two decades runs deep, providing a safe space for vulnerability and shared experiences. Within this group, we serve as prayer warriors, offering spiritual and emotional support as we navigate the complexities of life's journey.

There are other very valuable groups and friendships in my life that I feel I can call on for different purposes. Talking through concerns with someone trusted can offer clarity and emotional relief. Those relationships also illuminate different possibilities we may not have considered on our own, which can reduce stress and indecision.

Four: Physical Activity

Regular physical activity serves as a powerful antidote to the stress and indecision that often plague our minds. The benefits of physical exercise are well-documented, extending far beyond mere physical fitness. Engaging in activities that get our bodies moving triggers the release of endorphins, commonly known as "feel-good" hormones, which flood our system with a sense of euphoria and well-being.

Whether we take a brisk walk, a leisurely bike ride, or engage in a gentle stretching routine, our bodies come alive, invigorated by the rush of oxygen and blood coursing through our veins. This revitalization extends to our minds, which become clearer and more focused. Like a fog lifting from a misty landscape, the mental cobwebs dissipate, allowing us to see our circumstances with renewed clarity and perspective.

Additionally, regular physical activity has been shown to enhance cognitive function and boost creativity. Ideas just may flow more freely, and there is potential that solutions to problems will materialize. With the mental energy that is created from physical activity, there is greater confidence to face stressful decisions.

Five: Self-Reflection

Self-reflection isn’t just a habit—it’s become my compass for navigating life’s twists and turns with clarity and purpose. Within this time, I find material for writing, speaking and expanding on my goals. All of this is centered with focus on my core values that apply both personally and professionally. (See Stop Circling appendix)

There are wonderful methods of self-reflection that are fairly easy to implement. Journaling, creating lists, and setting specific goals (get free goal setting worksheets) are all a part of the process. Within that process, decisions become clearer and plans more solidified. My list and words on the page that I write become the vehicle to carry any extra stress I may feel.

Numerous studies have documented that as words are written on the page, thoughts become clearer and decisions more solid. Therefore, it's worth the extra effort to allocate time for reflection and document your thoughts.


Spend some time thinking through each of the following principles and how you can apply them to your situation to better handle stress and indecision.

  • One: Stop, Breathe and Listen
  • Two: Break Decisions into Small, Manageable Steps
  • Three: Support and Perspective from Trusted Sources
  • Four: Physical Activity
  • Five: Self-reflection 

Extra Articles and Books

Women at Halftime: Principles for Producing Your Successful Second Half

Stop Circling: Steps to Escape Endless Roundabouts

Bad Code: Overcoming Bad Mental Code that Sabotages Your Life

FREE Goal Setting Worksheets

For most people, stress builds and expands as more details and events pile up. When we "Stop," we momentarily halt the process of adding more blocks to the stack. 

deborah johnson

Thought Leader, Keynote Speaker, Author

If you are interested in growing and learning, check out our online courses here: Online Learning

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Deborah Johnson

About the author

DEBORAH JOHNSON, M.A., creator of Hero Mountain® and former president of Los Angeles National Speakers Association, is an international award-winning music artist, author, speaker and National Media Commentator. She also hosts the popular podcast "Women at Halftime." Deborah provides tools to create your ideal lifestyle and work at mid-career or during the halftime of life, getting unstuck. You can live your second half fulfilled, focused and free! Up for multiple GRAMMY Awards and spending over 20 years in the entertainment industry, she's an expert on how to constantly reinvent yourself in a gig-economy. She is also the recipient of the Women's Economic Forum Exceptional Women of Excellence Award. Deborah is the author of multiple books, over twenty albums and musicals and speaks and performs in both live and virtual events.

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