High Anxiety

It was a CRJ-550. My seat was 2 rows from the back. It was before take-off and I was hysterically crying, in fact hyperventilating as the flight attendant handed me a tissue with a caring look on his face.  I am certain he was concerned that this was a pretty extreme case of fear of flying.  I sat there in my dress and heals, I come from an era where you dress for flying and never dismissed this particular custom, only now I was trying to manipulate the tissue to find a dry spot free from black mascara and snot. All I kept thinking was:

“I want to get off this plane.”

“I have to get off this plane.”

“I don’t care what happens. I just have to get off this plane.”

No one was sitting in the window seat next to me. I always sit in the aisle because I have to get up to pee so often and also because of my lumbar fusion. Sitting is just not my jam. I kept my sobbing face toward the window in order to avoid eye contact with anyone.  The last time I could remember crying on a plane was when I was talking to a really hot guy when suddenly I felt a searing pain in my ears. It was so unbearable I started to cry. As I put the plastic cups over my ears given to me by the flight attendant, it was game over with hot guy.

“I can still get off this plane.”

“I want to get off this plane.”

“Just walk off the plane and go home.”

From across the aisle came a concerned female voice, “Are you okay?”

Me, sniffling and snorting, “I don’t know. I want to get off the plane.”

Concerned woman, “are you afraid?”

Me, “A little but that’s not why. I just don’t want to go on this trip. I just want to go home!”

With frayed nerves and severe sleep deprivation, I didn’t get off the plane. I made it to NJ, stayed (sleepless) at a dump by the NJ Turnpike, sparkled, dazzled and shined for the Fortune 1000 executives at the next day’s whirlwind meetings, returned back to Chicago and gave my notice less than a week later.

I was working for a company where the work-life balance was practically zero, where I worked 15-hour days and spent the day shaking and feeling like the walls were closing in. Everything was measurable to the point where I felt like a KPI (Key Performance Indicator) and not a human being. The Monday morning greeting was a dashboard comparing my performance to my coworkers.

You: “Wow. Then what happened?”

Me: “Well, I found a different job where things were horrible but different horrible.”

You: “Well, that’s just crazy.”

Me: “You know, it just seems that more and more people are accepting the horrible and I get it, people need jobs and income but people are suffering.”

You: “Tell me about it.”

It’s obvious that anxiety and depression are on the rise.  Take a look at some of the statistics:

Workplace Stress Statistics – Editor’s Choice (The American Institute of Stress)

  • 83% of US workers suffer from work-related stress.
  • US businesses lose up to $300 billion yearly as a result of workplace stress.
  • Stress causes around one million workers to miss work every day.
  • Only 43% of US employees think their employers care about their work-life balance.
  • Depression leads to $51 billion in costs due to absenteeism and $26 billion in treatment costs.
  • Work-related stress causes 120,000 deaths and results in $190 billion in healthcare costs yearly.

We all have a baseline of stress, and depending on where that baseline is, it plays a huge role in how workplace stress will affect someone.

My stress baseline (ability to handle stress) was on the low side after suffering long-term chronic pain from a spinal injury, but it doesn’t take chronic pain to fuel the stress response, especially when combined with workplace stress.

It’s important for workplaces to recognize the signs of stress and anxiety. It’s also a responsibility of the workplace to not shame people for having stress and anxiety, and to provide resources to the human being who is suffering, to meet people where they are, with compassion and humanity.

I wasn’t met with compassion.  I was put on PIP (Performance Improvement Plan) and subsequently fired.

I know it’s a challenge for an employer to hire someone that looks good on paper, has great references, interviews well and then begins to exhibit signs of stress but people should not be treated as disposable. A mindful organization and mindful leaders can play an important role to mitigate stressors and to help nurture and empower people to shine.

Everyone is responsible for their own healing but why can’t work be a place that fosters helps?

Why can’t work be a place that fosters wellbeing?  I don’t mean fitness centers, pool tables, and healthy food.

I was fortunate, I found a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program and essentially “re-set my wires” and now have a joyful, productive and full life.

The practice of mindfulness has been so transformative that I felt compelled to immerse myself into the study of it.

My work is now dedicated to inviting organizations to learn about and explore the practice of mindfulness in the workplace and beyond.

There is still quite a bit of demystification that needs to be done to help people understand that this is not woo-woo, spiritual or mystical in some way and that meditation is only part of the practice.

My mission is to make the invitation to explore mindfulness as approachable and accessible as possible.

We are all humans just trying to navigate through this life the best way we can.  Doesn’t it make sense that we would help each other?


Shelley Brown
Shelley Brown
I’m Shelley Brown, A "Type A" Meditator. I spent 25 years in corporate sales, climbing the ladder and making great money, all while stress slowly consumed me. Then, after a particularly difficult time, I decided it was enough. So I learned how to address my stress. Then, I became better at my job AND my life. Today I teach sales leaders and their teams how to mitigate stress so they can be human beings at work and win more deals. And, BONUS! I help teams cultivate a sales culture that drives continual success. I’m not your typical corporate mindfulness trainer. In fact, I’m probably a lot like you.

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  1. Shelley, this caught my eye as I have been one of those where stress manifested and became debilitating, It’s a silent killer. At some point the body just stops. Your not sure of anything and fall out of order. It takes years to get back. So I thank you for sharing this and helping people identify that it’s not going away. The fact that your stats are included, like this impact. I’m glad there are people like you who have turned the tables and now advocate and teach what really matters. Bravo! Much blessings to you!??Paula

    • Oh Paula, you really get it and I truly appreciate your candor. It really does takes years to get back (I prefer to say get life forward because if we went back…ughhhh) and I am so very grateful to be able to advocate and invite people to explore something that may really help them. Thank you so much. I truly appreciate your sentiments.

    • Only happy to share. It’s not a pretty thing and dignity is your cost. Getting that back though! Liberating! So I’m all for helping when and where I can. Cheers

  2. Wow, Shelley. Thank you for sharing your experience. I wonder how many people were nodding along by relating to some part of your story. (I once cried the whole way on a cross-country flight *because* things went awry with the guy, but I digress…)

    The anxiety/stress experience as it relates to work is VERY real and can be debilitating. There are enough pressures at work around “performing.” There’s hitting performance targets and THEN “performing” by maintaining that mask. Exhausting. I left my corporate job after too many years of lost sleep and other health-related symptoms. Compassion, nurturance, and empowerment are the order of the day and will one day be seen as a competitive advantage.

    “A mindful organization and mindful leaders can play an important role to mitigate stressors and to help nurture and empower people to shine.”

    I am inspired that you now have a “joyful, productive and full life,” and are able to offer the rest of us a powerful message and solutions that indeed foster well-being at work.

    • Yep, totally nodding along to your reply here and really appreciate your kind words and the work you are doing as well. You are one of those people who I refer to as a “Heart with Limbs”

  3. Your article is excellent, Shelley. Stress in the workplace is an issue, and many of us, including myself, have felt the physical and emotional effects of it. I stayed at an employer far too long, but thankfully, I came out okay, although, at the time, I thought the damage was irreparable. But, things like mindfulness, meditation, exercise, and writing all helped me come back to me. Self-care is critical to being able to not only navigate stress but manage it also.

    I do find, however, that I tend to slip back when the stress becomes overwhelming; especially, if I don’t recognize the escalation. Fortunately, it doesn’t happen often, but I am currently fighting to work my way through some stress. I have to remind myself to stop and take that time to do what I need to do. But its a battle some days.
    Thanks for sharing this with us, Shelley. It’s always a pleasure to read about your insights and life experiences.

    • Laura, so happy you saw this and commented. I am somewhat familair with your journey and have loved watching (reading) seeing (photos) you start to take some peaks at the sun and then opening your eyes to take in and share the beauty of what happens when we begin to take care of ourselves and expereince that heart flow out to others that just draws them in. You draw me in! The “slip back” is just human and thankfully we get to begin again. Recognizing the you are fighting may just be the time to recognize you are human and deserve self compassion for the moment (s) of suffering as a human being doing the best you can.

  4. Shelley I hate to say this..but sorry about the “hot guy”. I know its not the focus of post but can’t stop laughing. Ok..back to serious??
    Compassion is needed more in the workplace. I’m not speaking of the superficial surface niceities extended as a ‘seen good company or boss’ . No its time for the corporate games to stop.
    Stress does not start at work many times but it manifests itself through other employees actions. How we react to pressure has a lot to do with the uncertainty around the job and the deliverables.
    Stress starts with building anxiety unchecked. Forget the fancy EAP or PIP plans. Lets start looking at a whole wellness plan because life is not in parts and humans are a whole unit. Mindfullness develops coping mechanisms which can improve productivity and happiness.
    Thanks for being your usual raw and beautiful self Shelley. Thank you for the laughter also ??

  5. Great article, Shelley! Stress in the workplace has a plethora of negative outcomes. Being stuck at a job you hate but because of the need for income you out up with everything that comes with it as you have no place else to go is not only stressful but it can lead to health problems at work. Life in of itself can be stressful for any number of different reasons. Some of us cope with stress better than others but an overabundance of stress as mentioned above can ruin your health.