Humans aren’t designed for prolonged periods of stress. Our bodies have manifest this stress into various ailments and discomforts.
Nicole Mixdorf is the founder and chief wellness office of Balance by Nature, an award-winning corporate health and wellness consulting firm. Previously a high-level executive, Nicole experienced first-hand the challenges of balancing a professional career with personal wellness. She launched Balance By Nature to help companies design wellness programs to support their employees. Balance by Nature has won numerous industry awards and has been recognized as a top 10 employee wellness company in the US for the past two years! Nicole was also named the most influential woman in corporate wellness services in the US in 2020.
Nicole shares quick tips for dealing with stress, finding your body’s weakest link, and a special giveaway offer just for you – get your Blueprint to a Balanced Life and start structuring your day to success!
Nicole Mixdorf (00:00):
It’s really important to pay attention to that and notice that and give ourselves those moments to recognize, you know, my body’s speaking to me right now and I need to listen,
Welcome to Learning Life. And the thing that I’ve realized from the CEO to the NFL football player, to the janitor, we’re our toughest critics. And we’re hardest on ourselves. But you have to be willing to say and point out the things that need to be said. The only way to grab somebody’s attention is with a story.
Jon Tota (00:34):
Welcome to another episode of Learning Life with Jon Tota. My guest today is Nicole Mixdorf. Nicole is the founder and chief wellness officer of Balance by Nature, an award-winning corporate health and wellness consulting firm. Nicole spent the first part of her career as a high-level executive in the travel industry, where she experienced firsthand the challenges of balancing your professional career with your personal wellness. After leading her training and consulting company called Boost Your Yoga Business, where Nicole taught yoga instructors, how to build a successful yoga business, she then launched Balance by Nature to help companies design custom wellness programs to support their employees. Balance by Nature has won numerous industry awards and has been recognized as a top 10 employee wellness company in the U S for the past two years. Nicole was also named the most influential woman in corporate wellness services in the U S in 2020. So there’s a ton we can learn from Nicole today. Let’s get into it, Nicole, welcome to Learning Life.
Nicole Mixdorf (01:28):
Thank you so much, Jon. I’m so happy to be here with you.
Jon Tota (01:31):
So I am so happy to be talking with you because I think this is such an important topic right now, and I’ve been some of the recent, uh, presentations that I’ve given. This is like one of the top concerns for employees- their personal wellness, how to balance work and their personal life. So just go back a little bit. How did you get into this specific area in the first place? What was your journey like a little bit?
Nicole Mixdorf (01:54):
You know, as you mentioned, I spent my career in the corporate world first. So I used to be on the other side where I was one of those stressed out executives burning the candle from both ends, but I loved what I did. I was in the travel industry. So I got to travel all around the world. I was leading a big team, doing international trainings and, you know, we were successful. I was making a lot of money. I was ticking all the boxes. You know, I would have said that I have a great career, right. And there was a lot of stress and intensity that came with that. But in some ways I think I used to wear it as a badge of honor, you know, and really glorified the busy-ness the, you know, jumping from one plane to another. And, um, I think that was kind of glamorous for awhile.
Nicole Mixdorf (02:35):
And that was okay until my dad got sick with cancer. And as soon as that happened, everything changed. All of a sudden, I not only had a lot of stress in my work life, but now I had a lot of stress in my home life as well. And when all of that stress really started hitting me from all sides, it eventually started making me physically sick. And for me, it manifested in my digestion and my immune system. And I will tell you when you don’t feel good, it makes everything in your life so much harder. And I didn’t have time to slow down. You know, I had a lot of responsibilities. There was a lot of different things on my plate. And, you know, I just did what most people do is which is to keep going, you know, pop a few pills and just hope it goes away.
Nicole Mixdorf (03:20):
And unfortunately, that did not happen. And after about a year, it caught up to me and the health condition really degraded to the point that it started affecting my ability to lead a meeting and do my job and really started impacting my quality of life. And at that point I was really left with no other option, but to take some time off of work, to heal my body. And as soon as I removed myself from a big source of stress and started focusing a little bit more on my own self care, the most miraculous thing happened, all my symptoms, just disappeared. And that was a huge light bulb moment for me, where I went, wow, you know, you can exercise, you can eat healthy. You can have the quote unquote healthy lifestyle, but if you have so much stress in your life, none of the rest of it matters.
Nicole Mixdorf (04:10):
And I knew my story wasn’t unique because all my colleagues were suffering too, but in their own way, because stress affects everybody so differently. For some people, it manifests in the digestion; for other people it’s being migraines or insomnia or anxiety or depression, weight gain, auto-immune issues, high blood pressure, you name it. And the truth is, is that most corporate professionals everywhere are already suffering from some of these symptoms. And they don’t even realize that stress is truly the underlying trigger that is causing this in the first place. So that’s kind of what inspired me to leave my corporate career behind. So I could start a wellness business and teach other busy professionals how to create balance in their life so that they can keep doing what they love and keep pushing themselves to perform. But in a way that is going to help them thrive rather than getting burnt out and sick.
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Jon Tota (06:11):
What you said kind of hits the nail on the head is that everyone’s focused on how they eat, what their nutrition is, their workout regimen, and they think that’s going to solve it. But stress is like this underlying component. That’s always there. It doesn’t go away. It’s, it’s kind of like omnipresent. And how do you identify it? You know, if you’re one of these, one of our listeners who is in a stressful position, a high ranking executive or a business owner, and they’re under that constant stress, what are some of the things that help people recognize it? Identify? Cause it sounds like it could manifest itself in different ways, in different people.
Nicole Mixdorf (06:51):
Yes. I mean, to understand the stress response a little bit, I’ll share a, uh, just a basic overview and then I’ll also share a few different ideas of ways that people can recognize what’s happening in their body and shift it. So when we experience stress, you know, our bodies were designed to send off this alarm system, let’s say a dog barks at you. And it’s like, all of a sudden, you know, your hippocampus sends out an alarm system, we’re in danger, we’re in danger. And your adrenal gland starts to creating these stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, which are designed to help us fight or flight right. To, to fight or to run. And that was fine when our problem was being chased by tigers. But now our stress comes from too many emails or deadlines or too much on our plates, um, or any number of things that are going on in the world around us right now.
Nicole Mixdorf (07:43):
And when our bodies are in the stress response and we’re secreting those stress hormones, what they’re doing is that our bodies actually start having a lot more sugar available in the blood. Well, we know where that leads to right diabetes and all kinds of problems. The other thing is that when our stress response is active like that, it also starts increasing our respiration rate. And it also shuts down our non essential body functions, like our digestive system, our immune system, our reproductive system, our growth process, et cetera. So the thing is when we’re feeling stressed, there are physiological things happening in the body where every single one of our body functions are under attack and whatever is the weakest link in your particular body is how it’s going to come out for you. So for some people, like I had said, it might come out in your digestive system because that’s the weakest point for you, right?
Nicole Mixdorf (08:37):
Or you might be somebody that it starts affecting your immune system and you have an auto-immune condition that suddenly comes out. So, especially in today’s, you know, pandemic that we’re dealing with, we want our immune systems working optimally and stress is one of the things that lowers our immune response. Um, so when we’re experiencing these high levels of chronic stress and we are kind of all as a society, as a, as a race, quite honestly, all over the world, everybody is just really feeling the intensity of the moment right now, when we are under that much stress all day long. And that stress response is active. It’s having all kinds of negative impacts on our body and on our health and on our mental wellbeing as well. Uh, because it also starts reducing the amount of serotonin in our brain, which is what makes us happy.
Nicole Mixdorf (09:27):
And that’s what leads to depression when we don’t have enough serotonin. So, um, what can we do about it is a good question. The first thing is to just become aware of how stress affects you personally. So how does it come out to you? You know, you probably already know if you’re dealing with any symptoms in the body, just be aware that stress is exacerbating that, and then just know that your body gives you these signs and signals to let you know that something is out of balance. So if you’re working for example, and you start noticing that your you’re tightening in your chest and you’re holding your breath, and you’re doing a lot of sighing like this, where you’re all of a sudden, you’re like,
Nicole Mixdorf (10:09):
That’s because you were holding your breath. That happens when we tighten up in the chest because we’re stressed. If you start noticing that you’re clenching your jaw, or you have tightening in your neck and your shoulders, or you’re kind of feeling like a nod in your stomach or a pain in your head, or you’re starting to feel a little overwhelmed, maybe you’re starting to notice that you’re losing your temper. You’re starting to get angry. All of those are signs that your body is giving you that you’re active in the stress response in that exact moment, those stress hormones are coursing through your veins, causing all kinds of physiological issues in the body. So that is your moment to stop and take a break from whatever it is that you were doing, whether it came from working, or, you know, let’s say your kids were driving you bananas.
Nicole Mixdorf (10:59):
It’s time to just take a minute to step away, close your eyes and have a few deep breaths. Your breath is probably the best tool that you have to instantly shut off the body’s stress response. And literally, if you can take three full, deep breaths, it instantly shuts off the stress response and activates the calming response in the body because we’re flushing our body with 70% more oxygen, which allows the blood to circulate faster, the heart to start not having to pump as hard. So it starts to slow down and it calms the body. So it’s really remarkable to just use the breath, but have that awareness first to know when you need to take that break.
Jon Tota (11:42):
Yeah. A couple of things you touched on are really interesting to me. So it’s a side note. I have Lyme disease. And so I’m kind of prone to these like inflammations around my body and I’ve identified it in, uh, I’ve only had it for the last couple of years, but at times of really high stress, like a part of my body, my knee, my foot, my elbow will like blow up and inflame. And I’ve now noticed it the last few times. The, and, and you can tell me if this is accurate, like, why did it happen at that moment? There was no reason that I should have had a flare up at that moment, but it sounds like exactly what you’re talking about is that’s my weak link in my body. And stress has kind of manifesting itself in those flare ups. Is that, is that kind of what you’re talking about?
Nicole Mixdorf (12:28):
Yeah, absolutely. Stress creates inflammation in the body, you know, that’s what those stress hormones do too. So it, it, it, it will exacerbate any existing condition that you have a hundred percent, no matter what the condition is that you’re dealing with. If you’re in a high stress state in a chronic situation, you know, where it’s ongoing for a while, it will definitely have a huge effect in flare up conditions. You know, my, I had an autoimmune condition that would flare up every time that I was dealing with, you know, tremendous amounts of stress in my life. So, you know, that’s, that’s really, it’s really important to pay attention to that and notice that and give ourselves, you know, that those moments to recognize, you know, my body’s speaking to me right now and I need to listen, I need to do something. I need to shift something.
Jon Tota (13:17):
Yeah. And do you have, do you feel that you have a challenge with some of your customers that, or your clients, I should say that you work with and you consult with, do they automatically believe that and understand that that stress can be specifically related to physical ailments, whether in themselves or their employees, or is that something that you kind of have to teach people in the process?
Nicole Mixdorf (13:41):
I think honestly, people need to be educated about it because you have always heard stress is a killer. Stress is a killer. Everybody says that, but I don’t think people really understand how it works until, you know, somebody explains to you how this stress response works in your body and what it’s actually doing physiologically. And it makes sense once you get it. And you’re like, Oh, that’s what the cortisol and the adrenaline and the norepinepherine and all of these stress hormones are doing when I’m feeling that stress. And I think one of the issues is that stress has become so normalized when the truth is, is that it’s not normal. You know, we’re not our bodies. Aren’t designed to be under intense amounts of stress all the time. You know, it’s really supposed to be something that happens quickly. And then you get over it.
Nicole Mixdorf (14:32):
Like if you’ve ever seen any footage of like animals in Africa, for example, like, you’ll see there be a big chase, right? Like a cheetah is chasing, you know, some little animal and let’s say the little animal gets away. You always see that little is going to hunker down and it’s just going to be shaking. And it’ll just hunker down until it calms down. And then as soon it calms down, it’ll get up, it’ll shake itself off and it’ll just move on. And it’s like, that moment is over and now it can get back to it’s like peaceful way of being. But we’re a little bit different because we don’t just shake it off. We ruminate over it. So even though something that may have happened to us like yesterday, we’re still thinking about it today. Right. We’re even still thinking about things that happened years ago.
Nicole Mixdorf (15:16):
And even though right now in this moment, like I’m safe, I’m sitting right here in my office. There’s nothing happening to me. Right? Like I’m completely safe in this moment. I could be thinking about in reliving a situation in my mind, you know, and, and thinking about, uh, you know, an argument or any, you know, heavy piece of information, it’s like your body gets into the stress response all over again, just from thinking about it. So it’s just so fascinating when you really dive into it to understand that, you know, when we have any of those kinds of stressful, negative emotions that it’s bringing us back into that situation, even though it’s not happening right now in this moment.
Jon Tota (16:02):
Yeah. I know. And I, and I think that this digital age obviously has made that even more difficult because emails hit you all the time and messages. And, uh, you know, I do it myself too. You can just sense yourself, change, you get one email that sets you off. And it came in at 7:30 at night and it throws off your whole night and you can’t change it or do anything about it until the next day. And yet now, like you said, you kind of, you kind of ruminate on it all night long. And so now with everybody dealing with, I would imagine in, in all the work that you’re doing, you’re seeing with your corporate customers, that they are just dealing with more and more of this work-related stress, or maybe just the balance of work and home and working remotely because of everybody, you know, in their, kind of this new normal we’re living through during a pandemic, what are some of the things that you’re seeing out there, and maybe some of the solutions that you’re offering for people to kind of deal with this new found the anxiety around our, our working conditions,
Nicole Mixdorf (17:06):
How there has been so much shift that has happened because of the pandemic. I mean, we’re dealing with an unprecedented change to the way we live and work, and there’s consequences to those changes right now. And I think everybody’s sealing it, you know, from an employer’s perspective, there are so many challenges in, in understanding what’s happening with their staff, you know, right now with everybody working from home remotely from a company’s perspective, it’s like, how do we maintain a sense of culture and identity amongst a completely remote workforce? But that remote workforce is a stressed out overwhelmed workforce right now because we’ve got, you know, people, employees, everybody, you know, the executives, everyone dealing with this right now, it’s like, we’re in the middle of a pandemic. You know, we’re having to work from home. Some people don’t even have like a proper office space and they’re having to work on their kitchen table.
Nicole Mixdorf (17:59):
And other people have, you know, multiple children that are home at the same time as well. And they’re all on, you know, distance learning and trying to juggle how do I work from home and, you know, take care of my kids with less childcare options, which is so stressful. You’ve got other people who live alone and are acutely feeling that isolation and, you know, are dealing with a lot of, you know, depression and anxiety that’s coming from. All of that. You know, we’ve got people that have been personally touched by COVID and have lost, you know, family members. And haven’t been able to say goodbye to them or attend funerals. I mean, it’s, it’s just, there’s so much intensity with that. And there’s been so much happening in the country. You know, there’s been this, this spotlight on the systemic racism, we’ve got this very heated political climate that has taken everybody on this ridiculous rollercoaster of emotions.
Nicole Mixdorf (18:49):
You know, you open up social media and it’s a bunch of people arguing with each other relationships have been broken up because of it. You know, you turn on the news and it’s just like breaking news every single day. And there’s just so much intensity. So it’s like, we’re just constantly right now in this state of stress and panic, quite honestly. And all of that is on top of the normal stress that we deal with on a regular basis. So I think right now for companies, especially, there’s never been a more important time to invest in the mental and emotional wellbeing of their staff, because people are having a hard time juggling it. And when that happens, it makes it a lot harder to focus on the task at hand, and to really do your best work and deliver your highest level of service when you have all of these other issues that are happening in your own life.
Nicole Mixdorf (19:43):
Um, so, you know, we’re, we’re doing things to help guide our corporate clients to, you know, really provide the right set of tools to their staff, to help them learn how to let go of that stress, because we can’t get rid of the stress. You know, we can’t just wave a magic wand and make all of these situations that are stressful, just disappear. I mean, that would be amazing, but we can’t do that. So what we can do is learn some different tools so that we know how to regulate our own bodies so that we can learn how to let go of some of that intensity and bring ourselves back into a place of balance so that we can feel good because at the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about. So we have a lot of different stress reduction programs that we offer through our corporate wellness.
Nicole Mixdorf (20:33):
You know, we’re teaching about growth mindset. Mindset is so important. You know, it’s really teaching people how to think about things in a new way, how to get out of their own way so that they can be more successful. You know, we’re doing a lot on, you know, professional development topics, like how to break through fear, how to build emotional resiliency, how to embrace, change, how to structure your day for success, you know, really practical things that are going to help you show up as the best version of yourself. You know, in addition to that, we offer a lot of fitness programs too. So we’ve created a virtual gym because people can’t go to the gym right now. So we’re bringing the gym to them and we have a huge wide range of different fitness classes that we can customize for any business to offer to their staff.
Nicole Mixdorf (21:19):
Um, we have nutrition programs to teach people how to, how to cook healthy meal options, especially when they’re home right now. And they’re having to do so much more cooking, you know, it’s giving them those, those options to learn how the food that you eat affects not only your health, but it affects how you’re able to focus throughout your day. It affects your energy. It affects your mood. It affects how you sleep at night, et cetera. So there’s a lot of different avenues and we try to have a holistic approach to wellness where we really cover like that physical, mental, emotional, social, financial, and cultural wellness within the individual and within the business.
Jon Tota (21:58):
Yeah. I think it’s so important what you’re doing and, and I, I love to spotlight some of the programs cause I think what you’re doing. And I think of course, as you’ve told me, there’s some real custom programs that you’re putting together. And I love the idea of the virtual fitness thing. I think that’s so cool, but for any of our listeners, cause we’ve got a lot of listeners here who are in HR, they’re HR leadership, learning and development leadership. So this is right up their alley and they’re dealing with employees working remote from all over and they can’t see the stress in their employees firsthand. So they want to be able to help them. I know you’ve got this really cool program that I want to turn everyone onto the, I think it’s the 21 Days to Less Stress at Your Desk. Tell us a little bit about that and where our listeners can find out a little bit more about that, because I think it’s specific for corporations, right?
Nicole Mixdorf (22:47):
Yeah. And it is specific for corporations. I’m actually going to open it up to the public probably again in the next couple of months as well. But yeah, so it’s a 21 day challenge where every single day you get a new five to 10 minute video that teaches you a new work-life balance skill. So it’s really designed for people who are sitting at a desk all day, you know, which is pretty much every corporate professional out there. It’s designed for you to take a break. So when you take a break, cause we all really theoretically should be taking breaks in our day so that you watch this video. When you take your break that day and you learn something new. So there are some mindset videos in there. There’s some stress reduction, technique videos. There are some meditation videos, there’s some desks stretches and exercises, movement break type things in there as well. There’s some nutrition, presentations and demos as well. So it’s kind of like a little taste test of all the different types of content that we offer delivered in a 21 day challenge.
Jon Tota (23:49):
Yeah, I think that’s so cool. And I want everyone also to know about, I think you had mentioned to me earlier your program for individuals. So if you’re not a corporation or you’re not just thinking about this for yourself, I think your wellness program for individuals to kind of manage their own self care and stress is Finding Balance, right?
Nicole Mixdorf (24:07):
Yes, exactly. So it’s the Finding Balance membership where every single month has a different theme. January’s theme was all about new year, new you. So we did a strategic life planning workshop, you know, then we have different themes throughout the year, which could be about self-care stress reduction, you know, building emotional resiliency, all of the different kinds of personal care topics and personal development topics. And every month there is going to be an inspirational workshop where you learn a lot of really great skills and how to apply them into your life. And then there’s guided meditations and mindful moment videos and movement break videos so that you have just some really great tools at your disposal that you can use to create more balance in your life.
Jon Tota (24:52):
I think it’s awesome. I love what you’re doing. And I think it’s, it’s so important now more than ever with everything going on in the world. And so for all of our listeners who want to know more about what you’re doing, maybe connect with you directly, and also I know you’ve got an offer on your website, the Blueprint for a Balanced Life- tell our listeners, how can they find out more about you? Can they get access to the blueprint through your website? Where should they go?
Nicole Mixdorf (25:17):
Yeah. So actually the Blueprint for Your Balanced Life, that’s not on my website. But I can give you a link that you can share with your listeners because it’s not something I actually just offer to anybody. So I’m happy to give you a link if you can put that somewhere and people can download that. So that’s a special gift just for your listeners. And the Blueprint for Balance Life is basically teaching how to structure your day for success. It’s the blueprint, the framework that I use to create balance in my own life. And it’s basically just teaching you some really simple, small little shifts that you can make in how you approach your day to be more intentional, to give yourself enough of those kind of nourishing me moments. So you can balance out all those inevitable stress moments in your day. On our website though, we have a lot of great things too. You can find out all about our different corporate wellness programs, the different programming that we offer. You can download there, a chair yoga guide, where you can get, I think there’s like 20 different exercises that you can do at your desk. So you can find that on there. And that’s just balance by nature.com. And then you can also connect with me on LinkedIn. LinkedIn is where I’m most active, so you can look me up Nicole Mixdorf on LinkedIn as well. And I love having conversations and connecting with people.
Jon Tota (26:39):
That’s awesome. And so definitely check out balancedbynature.com. And then we will put in the show notes, we’ll put a link and in all of our promotions to the Blueprint for Balance Life. So thank you for that offer for our listeners. I think it’s, uh, it’s great. And it’s something that everybody can use. So Nicole, thank you so much for taking the time to be here. It’s so important what you’re doing and I, I really appreciate your time.
Nicole Mixdorf (27:00):
Oh, thank you so much for having me. It’s really a pleasure
Jon Tota (27:03):
And to all of our listeners, thank you for being here and thank you for joining us every week. As you know, we have a new episode that comes out each Tuesday, so wherever you’re listening, be sure to subscribe, leave us comments as always. We’d love to hear from you guys and until our next episode, happy learning.
Hey everyone, Jon Tota here. I want to thank you for tuning into the show each week. We love our learning life community and are so grateful for your support. We’d appreciate it if you would take a minute to rate us and write a review for Learning Life, wherever you’re listening right now, your ratings and comments, help new people find the show so we can keep growing our community and bring great interviews on the topics you care most about.