086. Moving from a State of Stress to Play Through Creativity with Carlee Myers

The Do a Day Podcast from Bryan Falchuk

Carlee Myers is an expert at helping professionals who feel overworked, overwhelmed or on the verge of burnout relieve stress so they can find more joy at work, home and beyond. As the founder of The Stress Less Company, Carlee has helped hundreds of professionals across the country take action to reduce stress through coaching. She believes there is no-one-size-fits-all when it comes to stress management. Her work has most recently been featured through media outlets such as Good Day Philadelphia, FOX 29, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philly Mag and Whoolly Magazine.

Key Points from the Episode with Carlee Myers:

  • Carlee founded a company called The Stress Less Company, which helps people find ways to reduce stress in their lives and find more joy across the spectrum of their life – family, friends, career, etc.
  • 85% of people have experienced high levels of stress in the past month according to Gallop, which means stress and burnout are at epidemic levels right now.
  • We wear it with pride – busy is the new status symbol, as Carlee says.
  • She started her story that lead to her work today.
  • Carlee’s parents got divorced when she was a kid.
  • When she was 11 or 12, her mother was dating a new guy who her father looked into (he was a corrections officer), and found that he had a violent background.
  • Her mother broke up with him as a result of what she learned, and he proceeded to break into Carlee’s home, shoot her mother’s new boyfriend, and shoot her mother in the head while Carlee and her sisters were in the house.
  • Her mother survived after being in a coma, while her new boyfriend died.
  • Carlee and her sister had a plan for emergencies like this that their father helped them develop so they could get help.
  • Her ex-boyfriend tried to kill himself later when he learned that he didn’t succeed in killing her mother, but failed, and ended up with life in prison.
  • As a result of all of this, Carlee struggled with PTSD throughout her teen years, including constant night terrors.
  • For a variety of reasons, Carlee and her sister did not get therapy for what happened or for her parents’ divorce.
  • The approach instead was about picking yourself up by the bootstraps, getting straight A’s in school, and not showing that anything is wrong so as not to impact anyone else in the family.
  • Carlee developed a trauma response of seeing what she needs to do to get through it and move forward.
  • As an example, in the last year, Carlee’s dog died. Her response was to jump into all the actions to deal with that logistically (finding a cremation place, etc), while her boyfriend’s response was to grieve and then call family and ask for support.
  • What she’s learned is that it’s ok to have the “Pick Yourself Up by The Bootstraps” approach, but not in perpetuity.
  • It’s important to stop, process and feel, and it’s ok to breakdown if you need to or get help.
  • During the decade of just going on with what needed to be done, whenever Carlee would reach out for help, she got typical mainstream approaches like exercise, yoga, therapy, etc., and none of them worked for her.
  • She was wasting years trying to force tactics and tools that wouldn’t work for her.
  • What she found was that creativity was the unlock for her, and she calls it Creative Stress Reduction.
  • It’s about stepping out of a state fight or flight into a state of play.
  • When you step into a state of play, you can process your emotions and move forward.
  • For Carlee, creativity started with a sketch book and pencil, and evolved into painting, which then evolved into gardening, and so on.
  • It morphs and changes as you morph and change. Allowing for that allows for the expression to continue to as it needs to.
  • We talked about why yoga didn’t work for Carlee, and one reason is the breathing used in it.
  • Part of her night terrors includes drowning, so holding your breath inherently is triggering for Carlee, keeping her body from relaxing and releasing when practicing yoga.
  • We talked about how do you know if you can trust your gut and your intuition, especially in the wake of trauma?
  • Trauma puts a magnifying glass on your gut feeling, and makes it harder to ignore.
  • She suggests an exercise of going in front of a mirror and saying something real to yourself while looking yourself in your eyes.
  • Where do you feel that in your body? That’s where trauma sits, which is different than where you feel a gut feeling or intuition.
  • Then say something positive and supportive, and see where you feel that.
  • Knowing how emotions show up in your body is powerful and valuable.
  • Carlee talked about “Stressmares” (Stress + Nightmare). I asked what this is.
  • We had to talk about the difference between Night Terrors and Nightmares first.
  • A nightmare is about something scary like drowning, while a night terror is an amplified type of scary, like someone chasing you to murder you.
  • A “stressmare” is a type of nightmare where it’s about stress that overwhelms you, but it’s as extreme as a nightmare. She gave an example stressmare about a job she had where things go terrible wrong and create a lot of stress that you feel in the dream.
  • A tip Carlee shared to remember your dreams so you can deal with them is to stay in the same position when you wake, which helps your brain recall them better than if you move, get up, etc.
  • As Carlee discovered creativity as a solution for stress, she was at first angered and annoyed that no one was talking about this as another modality.
  • There is no one-size-fits-all approach to stress management because everyone and every cause of stress is different.
  • Rather than staying angry at people for not talking about it, Carlee took matters into her own hands to be the one talking about it.
  • Carlee has noticed a shift lately around the ability to talk about stress and mental health in a way that was more taboo before.
  • We may not be able to stop our stress triggers, but we can stop our emotional response to it.
  • There’s also eustress, or stress that our body perceives as good, with an opening, responsive behavior in our body (e.g. opening blood flow pathways), so not all stress must be bad. We can choose how we interpret and respond to it, and allow it to be good.
  • One hack she shared was power posing, which changes our physiology in the face of adversity, stress or threat, and helps us respond.
  • Carlee came back to the important message that it isn’t about choosing not to stress by pushing past it or ignoring the pain. Have compassion for how you’re feeling, and choose to do what’s best for you.
  • “Best” being helpful and positive, even if it feels harder in the moment since it can be easy to give into the negativity and let it consume us.


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