Sara Kooperman:
Fit for Business
By Justin Cates
Courtesy of Club Insider

A good idea is a good idea. But, it doesn’t mean it will work, at least not right away. The Lightbulb. That’s a pretty good idea, right? Well, it took Thomas Edison over 1,000 tries to get it right, and its iterations have endlessly improved over time. A car instead of a horse… A plane instead of a car! Henry Ford and the Wright Brothers (Orville and Wilbur) might have a lot to say about that… They did not get it right the first few times, either.

Many times, the idea itself is not what is flawed when it first fails. It is the method… or, the timing… or, a combination of factors so minute that it takes a while to untangle each and reiterate. And, that is if there is still time, motivation or funding…

Our cover story this month is a good idea about a good idea. Now, post-pandemic, as we move on from the 2024 IHRSA Convention and Tradeshow (now The Health & Fitness Association), and we are full swing into our daily lives and routines, it is important to keep education at the forefront.

The easiest way to witness a piece of bread go stale/moldy is to leave it on the kitchen counter. No movement; unshielded from the elements (i.e. moisture from the sink); and sadly, no protein or condiments. Give it two or three days, and you won’t want to eat it. Like bread and like our physical bodies, the human mind is the same. It requires movement, shelter/rest and the right diet.

Sara Kooperman, JDCEO of SCW Fitness Education is the culmination of this fun little excursion of the written word I have taken. Like any great expert/leader, she comes from initial failure. That failure concurrently created two things: (1) Motivation to succeed next time, and (2) At least one way not to do it. When combined with relentless motivation, it creates the recipe to bring that good idea to fruition.

I invite you to read on about how Sara brought her good idea to fruition, how it is impacting our great industry, as well as how it can impact you…

An Interview With Sara Kooperman, JD, CEO of SCW Fitness Education

Club Insider (C.I.) – Where were you born, and where did you grow up?
Sara Kooperman, JD (SK) – I was born in Highland Park, Illinois, and this is also where I grew up. I lived in the same house until I turned 17, and then, I ran like hell to college… Away, never to return! (laughing) Honestly, it wasn’t that it was really so bad there, but I was eager for new adventures in different places.

C.I. – Where did you go to school, and what did you study?
SK – I went to college at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, where I majored in political science and philosophy. My parents said that I could, ‘go eight hours away by car,’ so I did! St. Paul is exactly eight hours away from Chicago. I spent my senior year and summers abroad at the University of Cambridge in England, King’s College (where King Charles went), and I studied political philosophy, focusing on Karl Marx and French Utopian Socialism. Whew! My minor was impressionism with a focus on van Gogh.

Realizing along the way that I thought socialism would never, ever work, I had to come up with a more practical career option. So, why not try law school? I went to Washington University School of Law in St. Louis, Missouri. And, I still am an art-freak!

But, I wasn’t all about left-brain, dry subjects like politics and law. I actually had quite an artistic side as well! While I was in college, I danced both with a professional dance troupe and in some student shows. At Cambridge, I was perceived as a crazy American jazz dancer. That unique designation gave me the opportunity to choreograph the student show.

In law school, as you might imagine, I spent a lot of time sitting and studying. If you know me, I don’t do well with being sedentary. So, I decided to apply my dance background to teach group fitness in the basement of the English building, which was conveniently next door to the law school. One student, a professor in English Literature, got me a beautiful space in a gracious hall at Wash U., and I was off.

Those classes helped both my body and mind. Not only did I stay in shape, but somehow, I stayed sane throughout law school. Plus, I had 45 – 50 ‘paying’ students three nights a week. I was making real bank. That led to a bit of a light-bulb moment. Not only did I believe that ‘aerobics’ would catch on, but I also realized that group exercise could make a terrific career.

C.I. – When and how did you enter the health and fitness club industry?
SK – When I was teaching exercise classes in law school, nothing in fitness had really bloomed yet. Not to date myself, but it was 40 years ago! Yet, I had an inkling that fitness was going to catch on. My sense is that it would grow, and I saw an opportunity.

Fortunately, my boyfriend at the time (whom I met in law school and later became my husband) was very supportive. Never one to shy away from risk, I took out four credit cards, said a whole bunch of deep and meaningful prayers and started a business!

C.I. – Please take us through some of the key roles/experiences that have shaped you into the industry leader you are today.
SK – Honestly, I think failure has been the best training I ever received. When I opened my first studio, which was aptly named ‘Sara’s City Workout,’ I was desperate to drive traffic and make some money. So, I quickly lowered the price of the monthly fee, even though a friend of mine warned me not to, and off I went. Sadly, decreasing my accounts receivable resulted in me losing my entire investment in less than a year. Ouch!

What did I learn from that? A fitness business offers great value. DO NOT undervalue your services and listen to the counsel of others. Both lessons have served me well over the years.

But, the failures didn’t end there (Lucky me!). Once, I tried to host an event in a community that wasn’t receptive. Have you heard of ‘L.A. MANIA®?’ Probably not! I plowed ahead and scheduled a convention. I contracted a hotel and booked more than 50 presenters. And, I wrote, designed, printed and mailed a very expensive brochure.

After all of that, nobody registered. I held a party that nobody RSVP’d to! Hence, despite my perseverance, I was forced to cancel the event. That meant I personally had to contact every presenter and activate the ‘cancellation clause’ in the agreement, beg my printer to give me a better rate and ask the bank for a loan to help me survive. It was painful but another teaching moment.

The lessons this time? Listen to others (as you can see, it took me awhile to get this one!); always have a good contract (shouldn’t I have known this from law school?); and humility beats pride every time. In this business, you’re only as good as your last venture, so I learned never to get too comfortable.

There are other stories of my failures throughout my career, which may make you wonder how I actually got to where I am today. But, I firmly believe that these were all valuable teaching and learning experiences that built on each other and helped shape me and my business ventures.

Ultimately, I got a lot of practice at evaluating both the upside and the downside of a business opportunity. That has definitely served me well over the years.

C.I. – When and how did SCW Fitness Education come to be?
SK – When my studio failed, I wasn’t going to simply give up. So, I started running workshops, training group exercise instructors how to teach. Actually, I ran one workshop in my studio that made more money in one day than I had made in the entire month. This is when another light bulb went off, and I thought training others would be a great idea.

While I realized that I had ‘some’ skill, I knew that there were others out there like me who desperately wanted to share their talents and train others. Finding these individuals and providing them with a venue to share these abilities and present workshops to other teachers gave me a strong sense of purpose and fulfillment. I love nurturing talent, and at some level, I enjoy being behind the stage rather than in front of it.

After successfully running one-day events with four presenters, I decided to take a big leap. Forget about proceeding gradually and cautiously. I jumped to an entire convention with 50 presenters. SCW Fitness Education grew out of four credit cards, some prayers and a ton of ambition and optimism!

C.I. – Please tell us about its Mission and Objectives.
SK – The Mission of SCW Fitness Education is to provide high-quality, affordable fitness education in cities, health clubs and homes throughout the United States. The Objective of SCW Fitness Education is to reach as many fitness pros, club owners and managers as possible to push our industry forward. By doing so, we will help more people become active and healthier.

Our annual conventions are called MANIA®, and we run them in seven cities with in-person sessions and livestreamed options. We also run summits for active aging, aquatic exercise, health and fitness business, nutrition coaching and more. Plus, we provide multiple certifications, special programs like WATERinMOTION®, S.E.A.T. Programming® (Supported Exercise for Ageless Training) and a wealth of continuing education courses.

I personally love seeing young or simply ‘new’ educators (whatever their age) entering the field and sharing their enthusiasm with others. At the same time, our veteran instructors have a wealth of knowledge and expertise that have really shaped the fitness industry, and they continue sharing this with their peers. That’s really what SCW Fitness Education is all about. And, of course, ‘SCW’ stands for ‘Sara’s City Workout…’ I didn’t lose by humble beginnings.

Someday, I hope to see the fitness industry integrated into healthcare as a valuable preventative component. While I’m not certain what role SCW would play here, this is a personal mission of mine.

C.I. – MANIA®… What a fun name! Please tell us about that and what one can expect if they attend.
SK – MANIA® is a great name. I was walking down Halsted Street in Chicago during “Midnight Mania,” which was when every bar stayed open all night and you went drinking from establishment to establishment. Having just graduated from law school, with friends in town, I decided to enjoy the evening.

Truth be told, during a bit of a drunken stupor that night, it occurred to me that ‘Mania’ was also a fabulous name for a fitness show. Midwest MANIA®… I liked it! While it may not be the most glamorous or inspiring story, it certainly has served me well!

When people attend a MANIA® convention, they participate in all sorts of sessions, from a cycle class to an aqua program to a social media lecture to a business panel presentation on member acquisition and retention. The goal of MANIA® is to get everything under one roof in your hometown. In fact, we aim to make the convention very convenient, and 90% of our attendees drive to one of our seven conferences.

Not only that, but we bring the highest quality presenters to our attendees. Each convention is a jam-packed, ultra-energized three days of almost 200 sessions. One of the most exciting things that happens at the conference is health club and studio owners and managers get to see what their frontline workers are doing. They witness what group exercise programs and personal training strategies are new, effective, successful, and most importantly, will bring in members!

Plus, these owners and managers use the conventions to bond with their teams and learn financial strategies, social media techniques, AI updates and product and programming trends. They really are comprehensive and all-encompassing experiences. And, yes, they’re a lot of fun!

C.I. – What is the best way to sign up for a MANIA® Convention?
SK – Visit and select a preferred city. We are in Washington D.C., San Francisco, Orlando, Atlanta, Dallas, Chicago and Boston.

C.I. – While we are on the subject of industry education, please tell us about Talks & Takes.
SK – I have absolutely loved my time on Talks & Takes with Brent Darden, Bill McBride and Blair McHaney. These gentlemen have become not only my business partners but also my friends. It has been such a wonderful experience! We are a strong, unique team. And, anyone who has listened in can see that it’s a lively discussion where we aren’t afraid to disagree with each other.

Brent Darden is Mr. Organized. I thought he was going to be the most difficult one to work with, and it’s so funny, because we are so much alike! Crossing every ‘T’ and dotting every ‘i’! He has been our gentle but firm, fearless leader!

Bill McBride is absolutely a joy and a little bit nuts! He shows up last-minute but with these flashes of brilliance, keeping everyone on their toes. It never ceases to amaze me where he finds his facts and figures and personalizes everything. What a pro!

And, Blair McHaney is funny and the most well-read person I have ever met in the fitness industry! Always an opinion, always a comment, always great support!

Not only have I benefitted personally from Talks & Takes, but it has helped the industry overall come together. This show was started during COVID and was a lifeline for many club operators and fitness professionals. Today, it serves as a helpful forum for the industry to highlight broader issues that affect our day-to-day experiences in gyms, manufacturers, suppliers or professional organizations.

Although I think the talk show is just about at its end, my hope is that we are going to turn it into a monthly 45-minute webinar (and podcast) loaded with fitness business advice! Look for ‘It’s none of YOUR BUSINESS!’ And as we say, ‘It should be YOUR BUSINESS!’ As Club Insider always says, Stay Tuned on this one!

C.I. – Looking in the crystal ball, what do you see for the fitness industry in the next 3 to 5 years?
SK – That’s a tough one. For group exercise, I see a lot of pre-choreographed programs, making it quicker and easier for group fitness instructors and small group trainers to get certified and upskilled.

In fitness education, I’m predicting a lot of automation and more certifications and education delivered online. This is a bit scary because we are such a hands-on community, and nothing can replicate the in-person experience of conventions. The good news is that live events aren’t going away, and thank goodness, they are coming back! This year, our Florida MANIA® event is as big as 2019. Wow! and Whew, this was a relief.

Although a lot of boutique studios closed during the pandemic, they’re coming back strong and continuing to grow. People like the sense of community and belonging that smaller facilities offer.

And, as fitness becomes more of an accepted –and encouraged– lifestyle, I expect hotels, apartment buildings and condos will also continue to provide –or even upgrade and expand– their fitness facilities. This will not keep people from joining clubs, however, as they will continue to be members at multiple facilities. It will just serve to grow and encourage the number of exercisers and increase the value our medical community places on ‘wellness’ and movement in general.

C.I. – What lessons and advice do you have for industry participants, whether they are just getting started or are seasoned veterans?
SK – Stay on top of industry trends, and of course, artificial intelligence (AI). Technology is exploding quickly, and unless as a business you maintain and expand your understanding of AI, you will die. We need to constantly upskill ourselves and evolve our businesses.

Employ diverse staff that will keep you on your toes, offer different perspectives and push you ahead. Solicit input from and listen to your frontline workers, your front desk staff, group instructors and personal trainers. They know the trends, whether those trends come from Instagram or an educational convention.

And, collaborate with your competitors. Ask them for their best practices and share your own. Be generous with your knowledge. The only way to generate a thriving business is to be generous! When we share, the industry and its professionals (everyone) ultimately wins. We have come a long way, but we will go much further together!

• • •

Fit for Business is an inspiring memoir by fitness entrepreneur Sara Kooperman that chronicles her journey to founding a successful fitness education company. Kooperman overcame a difficult childhood to discover her passion for dance and teaching. After graduating from law school, she took a leap of faith and invested her small inheritance into opening a fitness studio. Eventually, Kooperman pivoted her focus to fitness workshops and went on to grow her business into a thriving national fitness education company.

Throughout the memoir, Kooperman shares the hard-won lessons and strategies that helped her succeed, from learning to trust her instincts and find her niche to the importance of embracing change and pushing beyond your comfort zone. With honesty and humor, she recounts both her failures and successes, including nearly losing everything and rebuilding after a disastrous first fitness studio venture.

Fit for Business is a motivating story of an entrepreneur who wasn’t afraid to take risks, make sacrifices and do the hard work necessary to turn her dream into a reality. Kooperman’s memoir will resonate with any aspiring entrepreneur and offers an inside look at the fitness industry from a pioneering female CEO. While sharing plenty of tough love, she empowers readers to believe in themselves, face their fears and follow their passion to build the business and life they want.

To read Fit for Business today, go to:

• • •

Thank you to Sara Kooperman, JD for this great cover story interview. Additionally, thank you to Sean Seningen for assistance with photos and graphics. Folks, never let your mind go stale like a piece of bread! Move, rest and keep a good diet. It’s what we want members to do for their bodies, right?

About the Author: Justin Cates

Justin Cates is the Publisher of Club Insider. Having been born into a club business family in 1985, Justin grew up in the health and fitness club industry. He has lived and breathed this industry for 35 years, since his own day one, and he loves it dearly. Graduating from the Terry College of Business at The University of Georgia in 2007, Justin has run day-to-day operations of Club Insider for 12 years. Justin was elevated to Publisher of Club Insider on April 5, 2020. Justin’s Dad, Norm Cates, continues to serve as Founder and Tribal Leader Since 1993.

The 2 Steps to
Online Marketing
By Pat Rigsby
Courtesy of Personal Fitness Professional

When it comes to online marketing, the default way of thinking for most fitness business owners is that they’re one magic funnel, ad, or campaign away from creating a flood of new business. It’s no surprise that they believe this, considering the fact that just a few years ago you could run a single ad for 2-3 days and fill up a challenge. Add in the constant array of experts promising to fill your gym with 50-100 clients in a couple of weeks and the fact that most business owners struggle with online marketing is more easily understood.

If that’s not the right way to succeed with online marketing, then what is? It really comes down to just two steps:
  1. Connect.
  2. Convert.
The first step, connect, is simply making a great first impression while casting a wide enough net to attract all the people who might be interested in what you have to offer.
While most businesses are trying to get people to make a buying decision as they scroll, the research says that the vast majority of people who are eventually going to buy don’t make their decision immediately upon learning about an offer. So we make the initial connection and get permission to follow up by giving those prospects something valuable in exchange for their attention. This could be as simple as giving them a book, a workout, a guide or some other gift.
Then, once we’ve connected, we move to the covert step, where we continue building a relationship with the prospect. Your objective here is to help the prospect get to know, like and trust you while keeping your offers in front of them until they’re ready to move forward with a program.
Conversion can happen in a variety of ways like email, text and Facebook Groups. All of these blend repetition, education & persuasion to move prospects from ‘interested to ready.’ This approach allows you to get the best possible ROI on your marketing efforts and to also employ the most effective approach to attracting & qualifying the people you want to work with.
When you combine these two steps, you both get a much higher percentage of your leads to become clients and you pre-sell those leads so that when they are ready, they choose you because you’re the best fit for them and their goals.

About the Author: Pat Rigsby

Pat Rigsby is one of the fitness industry’s leading business coaches and the owner of He has built over a dozen businesses in the fitness industry as a CEO and co-owner, ranging from two-award winning franchises to certification organizations and equipment companies. Now he focuses exclusively on helping fitness entrepreneurs build their ideal businesses.

The Power of Networking Groups in Marketing Your Fitness Business

By Deborah Rothschild

Effective marketing often distinguishes between success and obscurity in the fiercely competitive fitness world. While traditional advertising and online strategies certainly have their place, one often overlooked avenue for promoting your business is through networking groups. These groups provide invaluable opportunities for small business owners to connect with potential clients, partners, and mentors and can significantly impact the growth and success of their businesses.

Networking groups come in various forms, including industry-specific associations, local business alliances, and online communities. Regardless of their structure, these groups offer several distinct advantages for small business marketing.

First and foremost, networking groups provide a platform for building relationships. In today’s digital age, where face-to-face interactions are becoming increasingly rare, the value of personal connections cannot be overstated. Small business owners can establish and nurture meaningful relationships with other members by attending regular meetings, participating in events, and engaging in group activities. These relationships often lead to business referrals, partnerships, and collaborations, which can significantly boost a fitness professional’s visibility and reach.

Moreover, networking groups offer a wealth of knowledge and expertise. Small business owners can benefit from their fellow members’ diverse experiences and insights, gaining valuable advice on marketing strategies, customer acquisition, and industry trends. Additionally, many networking groups invite guest speakers and industry experts to share their expertise, providing members with access to valuable educational resources that can help them refine their marketing approaches and stay ahead of the curve.

Participation in networking groups also enhances a fitness business’s credibility and visibility within the local community. By actively engaging with other business owners and professionals, entrepreneurs can develop a positive reputation and establish themselves as trusted authorities in their respective fields. This enhanced visibility can lead to increased brand recognition and customer trust, ultimately contributing to the success of their marketing efforts.

In addition to these benefits, networking groups provide a fertile ground for generating new business leads. By regularly interacting with a diverse group of professionals, fitness business owners can identify potential clients, partners, and suppliers who can contribute to their company’s growth. These connections often lead to new business opportunities as members refer each other to their networks and extend their reach beyond what would be possible through traditional marketing channels.

Networking groups offer a platform for honing crucial marketing skills like communication, negotiation, and presentation. Through regular interactions and public speaking opportunities, fitness business owners can refine their ability to pitch their services, effectively communicate their value proposition, and build compelling business relationships – all essential components of successful marketing.

It’s important to note that networking groups benefit fitness businesses in their early stages and established fitness enterprises seeking to expand their reach and explore new opportunities. By staying connected with a diverse network of professionals, fitness businesses can adapt to changing market conditions, discover new trends, and access valuable resources to fuel their continued growth.

Now that we understand the value of networking groups let’s explore how you can find the right one for your specific niche.

  1. Research and Identify Relevant Groups: Start by researching networking groups that cater to your niche. Look for professional organizations, industry-specific meetups, online communities, and social media groups that align with your expertise or interests.
  2. Assess the Group’s Focus and Relevance: Once you’ve identified potential networking groups, assess their focus and relevance to your niche. Consider factors such as the group’s activities, events, membership demographics, and the quality of interactions taking place within the community.
  3. Attend Events and Engage Online: Participate in events, seminars, or meetups organized by the networking groups you’re interested in. This will give you a firsthand experience of the group’s dynamics, the quality of connections, and the value it can offer you and your professional development.
  4. Seek Recommendations: Reach out to colleagues, mentors, or individuals within your niche to seek recommendations for networking groups. Personal referrals can often lead to hidden gems and save you time in your search.
  5. Evaluate the Long-Term Benefits: Consider the long-term benefits of being part of a networking group. Assess whether the group provides ongoing value, opportunities for growth, and meaningful connections that align with your professional goals.

In conclusion, networking groups play a pivotal role in the marketing efforts of fitness businesses. Through relationship-building, knowledge-sharing, credibility enhancement, lead generation, and skill development, these groups offer myriad benefits that can significantly impact a fitness company’s marketing success. By actively participating in networking groups, fitness business owners can tap into a powerful resource that can propel their businesses to new heights, fostering growth, visibility, and long-term success. Networking within a niche-specific community offers a range of benefits that generic networking groups may not provide. Therefore, finding the right one for you is worth the investment of time.

About the Author: Deborah Rothschild, MS

Deborah is a Senior Fitness Specialist and a member of the Platinum Senior Network Group whose mission is: “…to enrich the lives of seniors by promoting independence, peace of mind, and security. We provide specialized and collaborative local resources and services that contribute to the well-being of seniors through consultation, education, and community outreach. Platinum Senior Network serves as a resource hub for seniors and their families looking for trusted and experienced service providers. Our providers operate with integrity, professionalism, and knowledge, and maintain the utmost care and respect for the seniors in their community.” Deborah Rothschild, MS, began her fitness career 2003 as a Certified Personal Trainer. She has worked as a Group Fitness Instructor, Pilates Instructor, Lead Trainer, Group Fitness and Pilates Manager, Fitness Director, and Sports & Wellness Director. Her specializations include ACE Senior Fitness Specialist & Brain Health Trainer, NFPT-Cancer Recovery Specialist, BHOF-Bone Fit Instructor, and Parkinson Wellness Recovery PWR! Moves Instructor. She owns Tough Agers, LLC, a virtual and on-location fitness company specializing in working with older adults of all fitness levels and capabilities. Learn how to teach and train active older adults with the ToughAgers® Active Older Adult Fitness Course. For more information, go to

Talks and Takes’
Game-Changing Announcement!

Join SCW and the Talks and Takes team on May 29th @ 2 pm EST for a groundbreaking announcement that will shake up the fitness world and change the show forever! The industry’s premier online fitness talk show and podcast will reveal its exciting new transformation, promising to redefine the fitness discussion landscape and captivate you like never before!

Attend for FREE and:

  • Get the exclusive inside scoop on the future of Talks and Takes
  • Hear firsthand about future trends from our esteemed hosts – Sara Kooperman, Brent Darden, Blair McHaney, and Bill McBride
  • Discover exciting collaboration and growth opportunities

Don’t miss this chance to be a part of fitness history. Save the date for May 29th @ 2pm EST and watch for further details on how to join this groundbreaking event. 

Transformative Experience at SCW Business Summit

Whether you are thinking about starting your own business or are a decade-long owner, attending the SCW Business Summit provides a transformative opportunity to expand and elevate the professional tools and insights needed for success.  The 3-day immersive experience provided by world-recognized fitness business leaders through 17 business sessions is aimed to empower and diversify all industry leaders.

5 Characteristics of Stress-Resilient People

By Kandi Wiens
Courtesy of Harvard Business Review

Devon was hired into a director-level position at a global financial services firm immediately upon earning her MBA. A star former student, she completed her leadership training before her first day and was confident in her ability to hit the ground running. Six months later, however, she worried she had made a big mistake. The stress of the job was weighing her down. She found it difficult to focus most days and lay awake during the nights, second-guessing her decisions.

“I was so thrilled with the offer,” she told me. “This was the company I wanted to work at and I was familiar with the culture. But being a director is a completely different ballgame. I’ve been overwhelmed from day one. I know I have a lot to learn, but I’m not sure I’m cut out for this.”

It’s not unusual for our stress levels to spike during career transitions like moving from school into the workforce, taking on a new role, or switching fields. Even when, like Devon, we know high stress is a part of the job and understand it will be temporary, our stress can become debilitating if we lack the tools to manage it.

My studies on emotional intelligence and burnout include extensive research on leaders who are flourishing despite working in high-stress roles. Many of them have developed a quality referred to as stress resilience, or the ability to return to baseline after a stressful event and adapt in the face of adversity. While it comes easier to some people than others, it is something anyone can cultivate.

If you find yourself in a situation that mirrors what Devon is experiencing, stress resilience can help you get through it. Here are the top five characteristics and behaviors stress-resilient leaders practice, along with tips for how to learn and develop each one.

1) They have a positive, optimistic outlook.

Maintaining, or at least returning to, a positive outlook in the face of adversity is the foundation of stress resilience. When people with an optimistic outlook experience setbacks and challenges, they believe it’s a temporary state and that things will eventually get better. They’re also less likely to blame themselves for their own adversities, which prevents negative feelings that exacerbate stress, like shame and guilt.

Those with a more pessimistic outlook, by contrast, are more likely to get caught in the trap of blaming themselves or others, and imagining the worst-case-scenario.

What you can do:

In your own situation, the idea is not to be overly positive, but rather to maintain a level of emotional equilibrium when reacting to high-stress events at work. Shifting from a pessimistic-leaning to an optimistic-leaning mindset can help you recover from stress at a faster pace and see the situation through a clearer lens.

If you’re feeling short on optimism, there are a few practices that can help:

  • Train yourself to think constructively about adverse events. There’s usually a silver lining in every situation, so look for that and focus on it, rather than on its negative aspects. Reflect on the last challenge you faced: Maybe you learned something about yourself, gained a new skill, or can now find something about the experience for which you’re grateful.
  • Surround yourself with people who choose to see “a glass half full.” We tend to pick up the moods and attitudes of those around us. Align yourself with people at work who approach challenges with a positive attitude. Try to absorb and learn from their example. You may even seek out their advice when you’re feeling low. (How do they get through a tough day?)
  • Start each day with a positive experience. First impressions can set the tone for the entire day, so make a habit of giving yourself a morning dose of positivity. Examples from my study participants include enjoying a fun Peloton ride, reading uplifting content, listening to a mood-boosting song or a podcast, or watching funny reels.
  • Actively plan for a more positive future. Think about what you want your workday to look like. Write it down and then try to take at least one step to make that vision come true. People who are proactive about planning for a brighter future are more likely to make that future a reality, and having something to look forward to increases optimism.
2) They take a problem-solving approach to stress.

Stress-resilient people view stressors as surmountable challenges and solvable problems. They’re also more likely to have what’s known as a stress-is-enhancing mindset, or the belief that facing and overcoming challenging experiences provides the best opportunities for growth. They may not necessarily look forward to stressful events, but they don’t regard them as a threat, and they make the most of them when they arrive.

What you can do:

When faced with a stressful event on the job, your natural instinct (fight, flight, freeze mode) may push you towards anger, frustration, avoidance, or denial. If you have perfectionist tendencies and are facing a new challenge, you may even react by trying to overwork.

The key to developing a problem-solving approach to stress involves regulating your instinctual emotions (not just your thoughts). Unregulated emotions often get in the way of problem solving, so any practice that helps restore a state of calm after a stressful event — such as mindfulness meditation, exercise, journaling, being in nature, or getting support from a loved one — will bring you closer to a place of emotional regulation.

If you’re caught up in strong emotion and need to quickly calm down, deep, diaphragmatic breathing can help. It triggers your parasympathetic nervous system (also known as the rest-and-digest system), which deactivates your stress response and promotes relaxation. The sooner you can calm yourself, the sooner you can think logically about how to solve the problem as opposed to pouring your energy into managing your emotions.

3) They focus on what they can control.

Dwelling on the things you cannot change creates a sense of helplessness and heightens stress. Stress-resilient people overcome this by teaching themselves to hone in on the things they can change and improve — and they act on them. When they encounter situations that are truly beyond their control and that inspire a strong emotional response (e.g. a layoff, an unwanted change with no room for negotiation, the loss of key stakeholders), they are able to quickly regulate those feelings and shift to problem solving.

What you can do:

This ability is something that can be developed with intention and practice. In addition to the emotional regulation skills mentioned in the previous point, look for what you can control in stressful moments. Then pause and give it your full attention, which will lead you towards a thoughtful response rather than an immediate reaction.

One of my clients, for example, panicked when his star team member quit abruptly. It hurt to lose her, and the project she led was suddenly in jeopardy. But after he took a beat to remind himself of what was in his control, he realized that her departure was not negotiable. That pushed him to act — he could reassign her work to other team members, creating growth and development opportunities while working to backfill the position.

4) They are adaptable and flexible.

Stress-resilient people have learned how to embrace change rather than brace for change. Instead of trying to resist, put off, or avoid potentially stressful changes, they accept that change is inevitable and approach it with curiosity and adaptability.

What you can do:

You can train yourself to be more adaptable and flexible by consciously practicing the positive emotions stress-resilient people tend to feel. According to Dr. Barbara Fredrickson’s Broaden-and-Build Theory, negative emotions (such as anger, anxiety, and depression) immediately narrow our thoughts and behaviors because they focus our attention on neutralizing or avoiding whatever has caused our negative emotion — as opposed to expansive, flexible thinking that inspires many possible actions. In other words, we become singularly focused on doing whatever it takes to end the negative emotional state.

Positive emotions, on the other hand, such as joy, interest, contentment, and love, broaden our thoughts and behaviors, allowing access to a wider array of observations and insights, as well as the ability to respond in a more expansive and flexible manner. Feeling curious and interested, for example, “creates the urge to explore, take in new information and experiences, and expand the self in the process,” Fredrickson notes. Over time, a broadened mindset, fueled by positive emotions, allows us to build new physical, psychological, social, and intellectual capabilities — and enjoy all their benefits such as greater creativity, knowledge, social connection, and resilience.

When you’re faced with a big change, instead of defaulting to narrow, self-limiting thinking that focuses on what you’ll lose or assuming your new situation will be worse than your previous one, look for the positives in the situation. What new opportunities will this change present? How can this change benefit you and others?

Looking for opportunities rather than losses cultivates positive emotions, and reflects the open-minded attitude of stress-resilient people. Their thinking looks more like: “I’m open to multiple possibilities,” “Here’s a chance to learn something new,” or “I’m excited to see where this will lead.”

5) They have strong relationships and social connections.

Researchers speculate that people who are lonely and socially isolated remain in chronic fight-or-flight mode, where they have higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol, and higher levels of systemic inflammation. Over time, being in a chronic state of stress undermines health and increases our vulnerability to burnout.

Contrastingly, people who have high levels of social support are more resilient to stress and rely on their relationships to help them manage and recover from stress. Those who have stronger social connections also gain a calming effect from the oxytocin released during social interactions and feel a greater sense of belonging, both of which protect against stress. These people tend to be comfortable asking for support when their stress becomes unmanageable or they need help solving a problem, and are more likely to have a network composed of problem solvers.

What you can do:

No matter how high stress your work situation has become, a support system will only benefit you. An extensive network isn’t necessary. Even if you have one person you can turn to when stress hits, that’s enough to help you return to a regulated state. Studies have also shown that practicing empathy, when we try to understand the perspectives of others, and offering compassion, when we extend a helping hand to others, can counteract the physiological effects of stress.

To strengthen the quality of your relationships and develop greater stress resilience, listen to others with your full attention, provide positive feedback, express appreciation to others, or participate in social groups such as professional organizations, recreational groups, or clubs.

The next time a stressful situation hits you at work, you may just find you have more tools — and people — to help you manage your feelings and reactions to it.

. . .

Despite her misgivings, Devon really wanted to remain in her role. In the end, she built a relationship with a mentor at work who provided guidance and encouragement throughout her onboarding period, and who shared stories of the challenges she’d overcome as a new director. With her mentor supporting her and providing a model of resilience, Devon could now see a path forward — and a way to remain on it without succumbing to the ill effects of unrelenting stress.

Cultivating stress resilience doesn’t mean you won’t experience stress at work. It does mean you will have the ability to recover from stressful experiences and remain effective, even when your job becomes demanding. Taking time to practice the five competencies above will help you regulate your negative feelings, gain agency over the things you can control, and approach stressful situations with greater intentionality and clarity.

About the Author: Kandi Wiends, EdD

Kandi Wiens, is a senior fellow at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education and the author of the book Burnout Immunity: How Emotional Intelligence Can Help You Build Resilience and Heal Your Relationship with Work (HarperCollins, 2024). A nationally known researcher and speaker on burnout, emotional intelligence, and resilience, she developed the Burnout Quiz to help people understand if they’re at risk of burning out.

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