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Three Real Ways to Manage Work Stress (from Someone Who Almost Died from It)

Seven years ago, Nathalie Molina Niño was living the dream. At least she was to outward appearances. Having sold her first start-up in her 20s, she, now an “intrepreneur,” was on her fourth venture with a corporation, a $100 million business that was building the biggest private “crowd.”

The work took her to every corner of the world. “I was constantly on a plane, flying to 30 plus countries,” recalls Molina Niño, who was based in Seattle at the time. “It was exciting, but also exhausting.”

Her New Normal

She had health issues—jet lag, earaches, urinary tract infections (from waiting for a good time to pee)—but they were par for the course of a globe-trotting businesswoman. She had them in hand.

That is, she had them in hand at first. But over time, as they became more frequent, she only thought she had them under control. When she finally sought medical help, she believed she was allergic to 20 different foods (that were causing her headaches). But it wasn’t the supposed allergies that brought her to the doctor.

“I was oversleeping and missing meetings,” Molina Niño says. “I was used to working across many time zones, waking up insanely early or staying up late to take calls, so this was impacting my sense of self. I’d never been lazy.”

Her Screeching Halt

In fact, her plan was to rush to work right after her doctor’s appointment. But her blood pressure was so low that the doctor wouldn’t let her drive.

“I had massive adrenal failure and my immune system was compromised,” Molina Niño explains. “I was working myself to death, literally.”

Molina Niño told her doctor she would take a vacation, but the doctor said that wasn’t enough. She needed to take a permanent vacation—from everything.

Her Hard-Earned Advice

Shortly after that doctor’s appointment, Molina Niño walked away from it all—the $100 million business, the house she’d built with her favorite architect, the cars and motorcycles. She moved to New York and enrolled at Columbia University to study playwriting.

“I’d wanted to be an artist when I was young, but I’m the daughter of immigrants, and the only acceptable choices were doctor, lawyer or engineer,” Molina Niño says. “I decided that if I was remaking my life, I would really listen to my heart.”

That has led to her founding Entrepreneurs@Athena, a program for entrepreneurs at Barnard College, writing a book, Leapfrog: The New Revolution for Women Entrepreneurs, and starting BRAVA Investments. Her overarching goal: to help women avoid what she went through.

“Often, I was the only woman in the room—if not the only Latina or Latino in the building,” she says. “I’ve realized that that was part of my exhaustion. I want to change that for future entrepreneurs.”

Molina Niño will be speaking at the next Conference for Women. In the meantime, here’s her advice for workaholic women:

#1. Take mini-breaks.
“I used to ‘save’ all my resting and relaxing for when I went on vacation. But now I’m a big believer in taking breaks when you find them. If I have nothing on my calendar, whether for 30 minutes or an entire afternoon, I take that time for myself.”

#2. Form alliances.
“I didn’t have an emotional support system, so I suffered alone. Partly, it was because of the nature of the work—legally, I couldn’t discuss it. Partly, it was because I was traveling so much. And partly it was cultural—I was raised not to rock the boat and to keep my head down. But you need alliances—to run thoughts by, to share news with, to help and be helped. I now have what I call ‘masterminds,’ where I invite seven friends to commit to coming to dinner once a month for eight or nine months. The agenda is simple: commit to three or four tactical goals for the months and give updates from the last month. The support and camaraderie just flows.”

#3. Find your “Dolores.”
“One day at Athena, Gloria Steinem spoke to us about Dolores Huerta, who was an activist alongside Cesar Chavez. Steinem described how Huerta would give Steinem things to do that she had never done before and had no idea how to do, like arrange a national press conference. But Huerta believed Steinem could these things, so she somehow did them. I think everyone needs a Dolores—someone who sees that you can do more than you think you can and pushes you to try.”

Nathalie Molina Niño will be speaking at the sold-out 2018 PA Conference for Women on October 12.

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