How Work Stress Led to a Breakdown…But Also Inspired This Blog

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While I am only just now putting pen to paper, I can trace the inspiration for this blog back to a few years ago during my first year at work when I experienced a burnout that spanned across my entire being – physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual.

 

If you read my first post, you know that I am a certified personal trainer and yoga instructor…so how did this happen?!

 

Well, I came to my current company straight out of undergrad. During college, a close friend and I had started a small but successful personal training business, so health and wellness was my life. I’d wake up, meditate, work out, fuel up, and then spend a good portion of my day at the gym training others or doing research to improve my methods (outside of classwork, of course…) It’s safe to say I was at the top of my game and I felt great all around.

 

When I finished undergrad and started in the workforce, I was entering corporate life for the first time and pretty much had no idea what to expect. I had never had an internship and growing up in my home we never really talked about work, so I knew I’d have a lot to learn. Recognizing this, my initial mentality was “I’m pretty ahead of my health game right now, so I can put some of my well-being routine on the back burner while I focus on ramping up for work.” And that’s exactly what I did, I skipped exercise and meditation to get to work early, I ate the garbage food that my team ordered late night in the office, I stopped reading for pleasure and focused only on business books, I prioritized PowerPoint and Excel over personal relationships and I spent weekends at the office trying to get ahead (or better yet…trying to catch up). Sure enough, around 6 months later, I crashed and crashed hard. I had what I think was a nervous breakdown. I was stressed, unhappy, physically drained, and felt empty – not to mention the physical indicators that came along with it – my hands were peeling, I was breaking out, and I was losing hair (though my dad is as bald as a bowling ball so I may be doomed to that fate anyway – hopefully I take after mom on this one)

 

This really struck me. For 2 reasons:

  1. I was only 23 and I saw a looooooong road ahead of me. One that I knew if I continued in this way, would ultimately destroy me
  2. This was my expertise! Clients paid me to coach them on how to improve their well-being and here I was, needing it more than anyone. I thought to myself “If this is how I am feeling, I have to imagine there are many others who share this same feeling, if not worse.”

 

 

I knew I needed to make a change, but I wasn’t yet sure how. I felt as though there was an inherent conflict between working a high demand corporate job and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. The environment I had known in college (all day at the gym, mobile lifestyle, less intense demands, etc.) was now replaced with a desk, deadlines, a ton of travel, and a lot of social pressure on top of that. I tried a lot of methods – I tried working out harder (which I quickly learned was not the answer), changed my eating habits (intermittent fasting + bringing my own lunch) which helped but was hard to do consistently and didn’t really lead to any greater sense of purpose – nothing I tried brought me back to the place which I knew existed but now felt so foreign to me, it sucked. But over time, through more trial, error, and guidance from a few amazing mentors, I began to discover that my approach was all wrong. We are such holistic beings and when you are burnt out or feeling a lack of purpose in your life, you are not going to solve that with a new training program. To fix a holistic person, you need to take a holistic approach. So, I began to make small tweaks across my entire being (physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual – which BTW…I’ll be referencing these dimensions a lot in future posts, so when I talk about overall well-being, this is what I mean…maybe I will call it PMES) I reintroduced a lot of the things that I loved but had stopped doing – reading for pleasure, cooking, spending unbroken time with good friends and family, committing to get enough sleep, getting back out into nature, and exercising in a way that focused on function and mobility above all. Making these tweaks was not always easy… there was one huge barrier that kept getting in my way… my mind. I had to commit to creating space in my life for these activities in the midst of increasing work demands. High demand jobs will take as much out of you as you let them but, a close friend and mentor, Bec taught me…sometimes you need to slow down in order to speed up if you want to build a sustainable career.

 

So this is why I focus on well-being in the workplace. I love to figure out how to take these concepts and package them up in a simple, accessible way that can be applied in a corporate context – where we don’t always have the luxury of time or consistent routines to lean on.

 

Since I have started on this journey, I’ve had the opportunity to deliver well-being sessions throughout my company and have even designed and delivered these sessions for some of our clients. Through my experience I’ve connected with 100’s of people from different companies ranging from entry level to senior leaders and one thing remains clear: It wasn’t just me, Corporate America…and let’s face it America America is suffering from a health and well-being crisis. We are stressed, overweight, and in chronic pain (I could write 10 blog posts about the issues and impact of each of these with science and data to support it but you could easy find compelling statistics from a quick google search.) These problems are exacerbated by the fact that our culture values hyper-productivity (which is too often confused with hyper-activity) so being vulnerable and talking about your stress, depleted energy levels, or dissatisfaction at work is taboo and we end up stuffing these feelings down to the abyss and accepting that this is the price we pay for a good career. I’ll never forget running a session for senior leaders of a Fortune 500 company where an Executive Vice President broke down and said “I’m so thankful for this session…I never knew that anyone else was feeling this way too.” These were people who have been colleagues for 10-15 years!

 

My goal is to change this. I’ve seen firsthand the impact that some practical information and a supportive community can have on individuals who are looking to make a change in their life but may not know where to start. This is certainly not intended to be a panacea, but instead a place to spark curiosity, deliver inspiration, and provide resources for readers to get on the path to their best life.

 

I am proud to say that now, I am back at the top of my game. I have never felt stronger, I have purpose that is generated internally and does not depend on my external environment, I am well rested, and now when I drink coffee it’s because I want to, not because I have to.

 

When I look back at the work/demands that led to that breakdown, I can’t help but laugh because it seems so trivial now (and this is not to undermine anyone new to the workforce who may be experiencing similar feelings, it’s all relative – so that work at the time certainly felt intense) but what I know now is that my demands have increased dramatically, but so has my ability to meet them effectively without sacrificing any bit of who I am – and I feel like only a sick individual would want to keep this information to themselves.

 

This blog will be a blend of personal reflections and concepts that I’ve learned over the years that relate to PMES well-being – with ideas for how you might be able to apply it to your life. Some posts will be informative with instructions or tips for how to structure a workout program or how to access a meditative state at work, others may be reflections on personal experiences which end with more questions than answers. In some posts I’ll provide statistics or source data for certain points that I am trying to make, in others, my style may be a bit more of a free write. I am sure there will be some readers who will challenge my points and my perspectives and I welcome that with open arms…that healthy debate is how we will learn and grow together. That said, at the end of the day, I’m just here sharing my personal experience.

 

Cheers!

Matt

P.S. Follow my Instagram @thebusinessathlete  – bear with me while I start generating some content 🙂

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Matt Brigante – The Business Athlete

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Hi Fam! Thanks for checking out my blog. My name is Matt Brigante and while I am a Management Consultant at a Big 4 Firm by trade, I am also a Certified Personal Trainer and Registered Yoga Teacher through the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) and Yoga Alliance (200hr RYT), respectively. From early on in my professional career I have been on a mission to uncover health and well-being tips and apply them in the corporate context – and I am excited to finally be recording and sharing with you all via this blog.

 

As a heads up, a lot of my learnings are going to be contextualized through my personal journey, so by reading this you are also taking a step inside my life and my mind. I plan on keeping it 100 in this blog and put it all out there so, for those of you who don’t know me, welcome to my life… and for those of you that do know me, let’s get real…

 

Before I get into what this blog is all about, it’s important that I give a brief overview of who I was and who I am now, as many of my future posts will connect back to my journey. Rather than bore you with the details of my entire life, you can think of it in 2 major chunks The Dark Ages and When I Woke Up

 

The Dark Ages: there is no need to go into all the details of who I was at this time, but I sure was a knucklehead. I thought I had all the answers and there was no one…I repeat…NO ONE who could tell me what to do. I had energy but no direction, I like to think I had some level of intelligence but it didn’t matter because I was just such an angry person and in some completely misguided way to feel significant, I acted out in ways that I am totally embarrassed of. This behavior became a cycle…a lonnggg cycle that got progressively worse. I’d act out and people would step away from me, so I felt shame, and I would push even further back from them to guard myself. I would cut them off before they had the chance to cut me off in order to preserve what little sense of self I had left. So, the cycle went on and I developed such bad habits and a reputation in my life that:

  • I got kicked off every sports team I played on in high school after being arrested (glad I wasn’t 18!)
  • I was ostracized by friends and their parents
  • I lost a job (that was given to me by people that I love) because I got wasted and made a fool out of myself
  • I finished my first semester at Raritan Valley Community College (RVCC) with 3 credits and a 1.65 GPA (mind you I started with 15 credits)

And I can go on and on and tell you more but the fact is you’ll just have to take my word for it. I was broken, callused, and I was lost…

 

The Wake Up: But one day, after that first tough semester at RVCC, I woke up. And when I say woke up, I mean that pretty literally. At the time, it was so strange (now I know why I woke up, but that’s another story for another post). For this post, what matters is the fact that I woke up. I was out the night before and when I woke up in the morning,  I saw so clearly for the first time how I had been living and acting, it was as if I were an outsider looking in on my life and I was shocked.

 

That morning, as I sat there in my thoughts, everything started to feel different. I felt this new sense of confidence that I had never known before and a focus that I was ready to commit to change my life. When I went downstairs to tell my family, they were supportive but they had heard this story before so the response was: “Great Matt, we’ll believe it when we see it.” But sure enough, by the grace of God that day marked the beginning of the biggest transformation of my life:

  • The very next semester I finished with 15 credits and a 4.0 GPA and maintained that for the rest of my college career as I transitioned to Rutgers Business School and graduated from the business school summa cum laude
  • I became certified as a Personal Trainer and Registered Yoga Instructor through the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) and Alliance Yoga, respectively. And turned this into a successful little business through college
  • I received an offer from a large consulting firm where I’ve had the opportunity to lead our social innovation program, which has been one of the most challenging and transformative experiences of my life and has enabled me to lead projects across the globe working with some of the most inspiring organizations in the world and learning from some of the most incredible people as well
  • My relationships with friends and family have gone from empty and toxic to rich and meaningful relationships and now I get to help mentor young kids that are in the same tough that position I was years ago

PLEASE NOTE: I do not list these accomplishments to boast but instead to show the contrast between who I was and who I am now. I am not pretending I am someone who has all of the answers I work to get better every day and I fall short every day. However, there is a lot that I learned through this transformation. My shift did not happen overnight, and it wasn’t an easy one (in fact, 8 years later, it’s still happening and it’s still tough!). There were a lot of bad habits and patterns of thought that were hardwired into my brain and reinforced for years and I knew I had to kill those in order to make room for the person that I wanted to become. I began to pour into books and podcasts and anything I could get my hands on to help me improve the quality of my life – physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. I started to rigorously look inwards to understand my triggers and shortcomings. I sought out mentors, experiences, and challenges that would test me, enlighten me, and push me into new territory. All of these things have drastically improved the quality of my life – some being valuable lessons of what I should do, others on what I shouldn’t do.

 

It’s a constant exploration and I still have so many questions! Which is what brings me to this blog… I’ll explain in detail the inspiration and purpose of this blog in the following post, but in short, this is meant to be a platform to share what I have learned and what I am currently learning with you – with the hope that it will be interesting, informative and useful.

 

So, come along with me on this journey…at the very least, these next 6 months will be epic as I will be living and working at a Surf & Yoga wellness retreat in Nicaragua for a sabbatical program with my company, but more on that later :)…

Thanks for reading!

Matt

Instagram: @thebusinessathlete