Lighten the Weight of Stress & Guilt

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Lighten the Weight of Stress & Guilt

Welcome to our Alpha Mare Academy, a collection of courses to make you the best business owner you can be.

If you want to discover more about who you are, and clarify your plans and dreams, I hope you’ll join me for our webinar series.

In case you prefer to read, here’s the transcript:

Hi I’m Darcie Harris, and I want to personally welcome you to The Alpha Mare Academy

I’ve worked exclusively with female business owners since 1999

I’ve seen how hungry they are for the knowledge and tools they need to be successful and live the lives they want.

I know how much they want to grow themselves and grow their businesses.

That’s why we launched the Alpha Mare Academy.

We call it The Alpha Mare Academy because much of what I learned about myself and being leader came from my experience with horses.

In every herd of horses, there is one horse recognized to be in charge.

That horse is always a mare!

It’s a great responsibility to be The Alpha Mare

It’s her duty to tend to the safety and well-being of the entire herd.

The other horses look to her for leadership, boundaries and wise choices.

The Alpha Mare is self-assured, strong, and confident.

She leads with grounded, authentic power.

That sounds a lot like what it takes so be a business owner, doesn’t it!

It takes courage to be an entrepreneur, so The Alpha Mare Academy is all about strengthening YOU.

Teaching you the skills, providing you the tools, and most important, helping you grow yourself. Since you’re listening to this, I can already tell that you are a woman who wants to learn and grow, so let’s get started.


From working with hundreds of women business owners, it looks to me like stress and guilt are the most constant companions of women business owners (that’s second only to cell phones and e-mail). We accept them as inevitable occupational hazards that come with the territory of owning a business, having responsibility, meeting deadlines and fulfilling our obligation

One woman’s situation really touched my heart. A young woman reached out to me to inquire about joining one of our peer advisory groups. She’d known about EWF for several years and initially said it wasn’t the right time. Now things were different. Now she was pregnant. Her business was really demanding. She ran a doggie day care and was open 12 hours a day, seven days a week. Her typical work week was about 70 hours. She rarely had a day off and the business was very dependent on her. Now she was wondering how in the world she would carve out time to be a good mother, as well as a good business owner. Her stress level was off the chart.

But it’s not just young women with children who endure stress and guilt. Another woman I know struggled daily with the stress of running a family business with her two brothers in a very male dominated industry. As if that weren’t enough, at the same time she was caring for her elderly father-in-law. He suffered from dementia and lived with her and her husband. He couldn’t be left alone, so she juggled her work hours around hired nursing and companion care for him.

Another client has no children, healthy parents. Sounds like a breeze compared to the first two examples. But she was in an industry that was going through tremendous changes, and had a Merger opportunity. That meant decisions stacked up one after another, like a line of dominos. She decided to do it, then faced challenges of integrating two firms, two cultures, two locations.

I could recite story after story. And you have your own as well. Stress and guilt are our constant companions.

I read a survey of female entrepreneurs recently. When asked about their biggest challenges: 70 % of women revealed that their biggest challenge is managing the demands of both home and work.  That percentage was even higher for younger women — 83% — and we can assume that has to do with having younger children at home

The challenge that ranked second highest for the women surveyed — was “being able to convince others that their business would succeed.  42% of respondents ranked this as one of their biggest challenges.

Let’ just acknowledge that stress and guilt are the occupational hazards of women business owners.

Most of the time, when we read about stress, the recommendations include things like:

  • Delegating more
  • Improving time management
  • Taking small breaks
  • Deep breathing

Those are all valid, but I think they deal with the problem on the surface, deal only with the symptoms. I’d like to take you beyond the typical conversations about stress & guilt. My hope is to go deeper, to give you a new perspective.

We can better understand the relationship between stress and guilt by digging into a little psychology here. The facts that we can learn from Psychologists are:

  • It’s easier for us to feel stressed than feel guilty.
  • It’s easier for us to feel guilty than to feel angry.
  • We feel guilty when we have violated our own “rules for living” or our own value system. (A little aside, here… guilt is not entirely bad. – it’s our living, breathing conscience.)  However, for something to change, we either need to re-examine our “rules” or change our behavior.

Here’s how this cycle works:

  • Feeling guilty feels worse than feeling stressed,
  • To avoid feeling guilty, we take on too much. We don’t say no, we don’t set limits, we don’t ask for help, we assume things are our responsibility
  • Now we feel stress
  • But this becomes unsustainable, because we simply can’t do it all, can’t be everywhere or do everything
  • Sooner or later, we drop the ball, don’t follow through or fall behind.
  • Eventually the guilt creeps in.
  • We feel guilty because that feels better than feeling angry at the forces in our professional or personal lives that are making our lives so difficult. (we’re going to come back to the anger, but let’s start with guilt and stress)

To understand this cycle between guilt and stress, we need to understand the relationship between feelings and thought and beliefs.

Generally, women are feeling oriented (though some more than others; we’re not all identical in this regard). And because we believe feelings are important, we tend to think that feelings are where things start.

Something happens, we have a feeling. We hear or see something, we have a feeling. We also tend to believe that we feel what we feel – no matter what — as though we can’t help it. But that’s not accurate.

  • What we feel is a result of what we think and
  • What we think is a result of what we believe

It’s hard enough to identify how we feel at all times. So it’s very easy to skip over these two steps. They happen mostly outside of our conscious awareness

To break out of the cycle of guilt and stress, we have to do two things:

  1. We need to become conscious about what we are thinking about what we believe, because that’s what determines our feelings.
  2. We have to know that we have choices – these thoughts and feelings are not outside of our control.

We have choices about:

  • What we think
  • What we believe
  • What we do and not do
  • And about how we feel

It’s all about going deeper. It’s a bit like peeling the layers off an onion to ask ourselves what we think and what we believe.

I’ll give you an example from my own life. It’s pretty benign, but I think it will give you a road map for how to peel off the layers.

Because of the work I do, a colleague suggested that I join a couple of groups on LinkedIn – so I did.  Okay, it was more than a couple – it was a few. One for writers, one for professional speakers, another related to female entrepreneurs, and so on. The purpose of joining these groups is to interact with others, to make connections, and hopefully to learn something.

Now I receive an email notification when any group member posts to the group. The first few days it was novel to get those emails. After reading a few of them, I didn’t see much value, but thought, well, sooner or later there will be something interesting. I only read them occasionally, but after a couple of weeks, I just stopped reading them altogether. But I still had good intentions, so I would save them in a sub-folder called: “To Read.” After another couple of weeks, I realized I hadn’t read any of them, and my inbox would get overloaded, so I just started deleting them instead of saving them.

Here’s what interesting…

Every day when I see those emails hit my inbox, I feel stressed. I get that feeling that we all know so well – of being overwhelmed – the feeling that I just can’t keep up. I get that sinking feeling that comes with the thought, “when am I going to have time to read this?”

And then, because I respect the colleague that suggested these groups, I began to feel guilty, as if I were ignoring something valuable, as if I weren’t heeding good business advice.

So now, every day I feel BOTH stressed AND guilty because my inner talk is, “I can’t keep up” and “I’m not behaving professionally.”

Let’s tease this apart, let’s peel off the layers.

  • My feelings come from what I think, and my thoughts come from what I believe.
  • I think that subscribing to these groups is necessary because I believe that this is an important part of my profession.
  • It’s already very obvious to YOU that I could eliminate a considerable amount of stress and guilt by simply unsubscribing, right?
  • But to do that, I have to change my thoughts and to change my thoughts I have to change my beliefs.

I have a second option – I can make a different choice.

  • I can choose to believe that in my value system, being an active member of these LinkedIn groups is an important part of my business life.
  • If that’s the case, to eliminate the guilt and stress, I need to deliberately give them a higher priority.
  • I need to change my behavior and read, write and respond to these group postings
  • If I believe that they are valuable, I need to make my behavior congruent with my belief.

That’s a second option. But no matter which choice I make, I have to change my behavior and make it consistent with my beliefs, or I’ll continue to feel stress and guilt. The only way to eliminate the stress & guilt is to change my behavior.

As you can see, there’s no right or wrong here. I might make one choice, another persona might choose the other way.So here is the change I’m going to make:

  • I no longer believe that getting a daily email from five different LinkedIn groups is a valuable part of my professional life.
  • And because that’s what I believe, I now think these subscriptions are unnecessary.
  • So as soon as I finish recording this session, I’m going to change my behavior and unsubscribe.
  • And I’m going to do that without feeling guilty!

So this is a pretty benign example, — not nearly as compelling as some of the choices women have to make about work and family — but I hope you can see this as an example about the choices you have available to you. I hope you can see this as an example of how feelings of stress and guilt can change, only when we change our thoughts and beliefs.

Sometimes, we just have to stop and tease things apart. We have to go deeper.

One of my favorite authors is Harriet Lerner, Ph.D., author of The Dance of Anger and a staff psychologist at the Menninger Clinic. Most important is that she is an internationally acclaimed expert on the psychology of women.

Dr. Lerner takes the cycle of women’s stress and guilt a bit deeper and explores the relationship to anger. Dr. Lerner believes that our society encourages [women] mothers to cultivate guilt because guilt is so effective at blocking the awareness and expression of legitimate anger.

“Guilt keeps women narrowly focused on the question ‘what’s wrong with me’ and prevents us from becoming effective agents of personal and social change. If you are feeling guilty, you are unlikely to challenge the forces in your marriage or work setting that is making your job at home so much more difficult. Women are especially vulnerable to ignoring our own strong inner voice when it conflicts with the voice of authority. And we may take the voice of authority all too seriously to begin with.”

So now, we have another layer to explore. The survey statistics may shed some light on this. Over 60% of the women surveyed spend 6 or more hours a week on housework What % of men do you think spent an equal time on housework? Just 24% of men spending 6 or more hours a week on housework So the issue of domestic inequality still remains. And this inequality means we need to do some close examination of our beliefs, and then take the risk of addressing the situation, maybe having a few difficult conversations.

This underlying layer of anger isn’t just triggered by housework and childcare. Women business owners often tolerate poor performance in employees, for the same reasons: they want to avoid feeling irritated or angry, or simply because they want to be liked.

I’ve seen women nearly held hostage by under-performing employees because they were unable to express their expectations, and unwilling to address unacceptable behavior. The women business owners were more willing to endure the stress, and consequently the guilt, of not being able to keep up, because that was more tolerable than acknowledging they felt something in the “family” of anger – irritation, annoyance, frustration, exasperation,

To acknowledge those feelings would lead them closer to confronting the issue, and that’s what we avoid.

Now we have a fuller picture of the vicious cycle of stress and guilt.

  • We avoid feeling angry by feeling guilty — in essence, our inner talk is “what’s wrong with me?”
  • We avoid feeling guilty by feeling stressed – in essence, our inner talk is “I can do it all”
  • We feel stressed when we avoid being conscious about our thoughts and our beliefs

Now it’s your turn. Now that we have some background, and a foundation for change, what I’d like you to do is take a few moments and think of one or two things that are causing you stress, or causing you guilt.

It doesn’t have to be a major problem. In fact, it’s easier to practice the steps of peeling off the layers if you deal with something that is not too threatening. Think of it like exercising a muscle that will get stronger over time. Take a small step first, and build up some strength. Remember, we have two steps here:

  • Become conscious about what you think and believe
  • Know that you have a choice

Get one example in mind, and let’s break that down. Once you have something in mind that is :causing you stress or guilt, think about your inner talk. Ask yourself:

  • When I have this feeling of stress or guilt, what is the thought behind it?
  • When you can clarify that thought, ask yourself, what is my belief that leads to this thought?

Now you have awareness, consciousness and can make some choices.

  • Do you want to change the thought?
  • If so, what belief needs to change?
  • If you want to keep your belief, what behavior needs to change, so that your behavior can be congruent with your beliefs?

Practice this process with small things that cause you stress first, and take some time to make it second nature before you tackle the big things. The most helpful thing you can do for yourself is Notice what’s causing you stress. Notice what’s causing you to feel guilty. Then bring awareness and consciousness to that information.

You are not a victim of your situation. You are in control. Yes you have demanding busy life. You have many choices to make, and some of them will be difficult choices.

If you’re caught in this cycle of stress and guilt, here are a few things to remember:

  1. Other people can’t make us feel guilty. That’s a decision we make ourselves.
  2. Avoid blaming yourself. That’s just adding insult to injury. Your purpose is to explore, not to beat yourself up.
  3. When we feel stress or guilt, instead of thinking that getting a massage or taking a short vacation will ease those feelings, go deeper. Nothing wrong with a massage or a few days off, but those treat symptoms, not the underlying problem.
  4. Ask yourself, what are my thoughts and what are my beliefs?
  5. Once you question your thoughts and beliefs, you have the option of changing them.
  6. Remember that you do have choices about what you think, what you believe and what you feel.
  7. Guilt is useless emotion. Don’t waste energy on it. If you feel bad, guilty, and you have violated your own beliefs or values, change your behavior or change your beliefs


You can make a commitment to work toward ending this cycle by asking yourself “at this time of my life …”

  • How might I be staying busy [stressed] to avoid feeling guilty?
  • How might I be feeling guilty to avoid anger?
  • What “rules for living” or value system am I living by?
  • Of these, which is causing the most pain?
  • Which of these rules do I want or need to re-examine?
  • Am I tolerating unacceptable or inequitable behavior, either in my business or at home?
  • What conversations do I need to have to move forward?

As Dr. Wayne Dyer said, “Change your thoughts, change your life.”

As we close, know that you can always count on The Alpha Mare Academy for resources to feed your mind and your spirit. We’re here to help you think big and learn. We’re here to help you go deeper, and embrace the grace of your power, so that you can achieve your full potential. So please visit us again at ALPHAMAREACADEMY.COM. And know that I am wishing you the best as you pursue your version of success!

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