This Is the Stress-Relieving Breathing Technique That Kirsten Allegri Williams Swears By

In her Thrive Questionnaire, the Chief Marketing Officer for SAP SuccessFactors shares her go-to trick for calming her nerves and staying centered in tense situations.

At Thrive Global, in honor of International Women’s Day, we’re inviting women business leaders to share how they Thrive. 

Thrive Global: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received about prioritizing your health and well-being?
Kristin Allegri Williams: Returning to work after cancer, I focused on diet, exercise, stress management, and maintaining a positive outlook. I had read the book Anti-Cancer: A New Way of Life, which convinced me that it was possible to evoke my body’s natural responses to help me fight the disease. I still use the advice today.

TG: What’s the best advice that you would give women about preventing burnout?
KAW: A great mentor taught me that I needed to treat my career as a ‘marathon, not a sprint.’ It’s the mindset that gets you through the long haul. In each season of life, you may need a different approach to your work or personal life to reach your fullest potential. You can just find one thing that works and do it forever. Being fully present and engaged is how you know when to change. It gives you the self-awareness to make deliberate choices about how you use your time, what people you connect with, and what actions you take every day.

TG: What’s important in your life outside of work? What helps you thrive? With a demanding schedule, how do you make time for these important things?
KAW: Quality time with my husband and children is number one. No question. Together we try to spend time outdoors, which is another source of inspiration for me outside of work. Reading the book How to Raise a Wild Child informed our decision to move out of the city to have more access to nature, for the kids and us. We were inspired by the clear scientific proof that our kids need to connect with nature to develop fully. The same is true for us as adults. Go play outside! Even if you don’t have kids, you won’t regret it.

TG: What obstacles have you overcome in your career, particularly obstacles that had to do with your gender? What did you learn from those experiences that you wish you’d known before?
KAW: I have a broad range of mentor relationships — both male and female — to help me navigate my career and overcome challenges. Their advice has helped me stay close to the (always developing) vision I have for my future.  One thing overcoming challenges has taught me: Know your numbers. Using facts is the best way to back up your position and recommend creative solutions to work through tough obstacles.

TG: When you notice you’re getting too stressed, what do you do to course correct?
KAW: I pay close attention to my breathing. Often, I notice I may be holding my breath, without even knowing it! The great opera singer Pavorotti would take five long breaths to calm nerves, center himself before going onstage. Focusing on simple breathing techniques can help in moments of high stress, and even just noticing when you are stressed out to begin with. 

TG: Are there any small actions (or life “hacks”) that you swear by to help you prioritize, focus, connect with others, get solid sleep, or incorporate movement and nutrition into your life? Share any and all!
KAW: My life hack is not going to work for all. As a trained opera singer, I find singing for 15 minutes is a huge stress reliever! Air flow and accessing my creative headspace frees up my mind and releases tension. The key is to do something that requires a lot of focus, so you have no choice but to take your attention away from negative thinking. It can be sports, meditation, listening to emotionally powerful music, cooking, going for a run — anything that commandeers your attention, in a good way. 

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