Arianna Huffington speaking at HR Tech World
Arianna Huffington speaking at HR Tech World. Image: HR Tech World

Lessons in reducing stress from Arianna Huffington

30 Nov 2017

Want to retrain your brain to say no to stress? Take some lessons from a woman who didn’t stop working until she collapsed from exhaustion.

Most people will be familiar with Arianna Huffington as the founder of The Huffington Post (HuffPost).

During the media company’s infancy, Huffington was a self-professed workaholic and was often listed as one of those massively successful individuals surviving on very little sleep.

She worked 18-hour days and was constantly looking at devices and replying to so-called ‘urgent’ emails. Then, in 2007, she collapsed at her desk from exhaustion.

Now an advocate for reducing stress, creating a strong work-life balance and switching off from our devices, Huffington spoke about how to achieve this at HR Tech World (now known as Unleash) in Amsterdam in October.

It comes from the top down

As an Uber board member, Huffington spoke about the recent problems the company has faced. In an on-stage conversation with Deloitte’s Josh Bersin, Huffington said that one of the problems at Uber was that 60pc of managers had never been managers before.

“Training your managers is absolutely key, not just in the upper echelons of the work.” She said it’s important for managers to acknowledge this and ensure that their teams recharge after working harder.

“The cost of burnout affects business metrics,” she said. Indeed, from a manager’s perspective, exhausted employees are less productive, less engaged with work, more likely to get sick and more likely to leave the company.

Huffington also cited one of Uber’s values of working harder, smarter and longer. “Smarter and longer don’t go together, so we took out longer,” she said.

Looking inward

While managers and company cultures have to change to ensure that people are taking the time out to look after themselves, Huffington said that for a lot of people to realise they need to take a step back, they often need to reach a breaking point.

“The culture has fallen into a delusion that we are more successful and more effective if we burn out,” she said. “It’s really important to recognise that this is our one and precious life.”

‘My own journey was a hard one because I collapsed from exhaustion, burnout and sleep deprivation’

Huffington also said she is not oblivious to the fact that sometimes, deadlines have to be met and people occasionally have to work harder or longer to get things over the line. However, while there will always be exceptions, it’s important to ensure that those exceptions are not chronic.

“The point is not working from nine to five every day, the point is to make sure you have enough time to recharge,” she said.

“My own journey was a hard one because I collapsed from exhaustion, burnout and sleep deprivation 10 years ago, so I had my painful wake-up call.”

Know when to switch off

After Huffington collapsed, she realised it was time to completely change her way of life.

Now, instead of boasting about how much work she gets done on little sleep, she boasts a solid eight hours of slumber on an average night. She also switches off all her devices 30 minutes before bed.

‘There’s no such thing as multitasking, it’s called task-switching’

“The fact that we sleep with the lights off doesn’t mean we’re anti-electricity, it’s just an acknowledgement that we need time with the lights off.” The same goes for devices.

Huffington is launching a new app called Thrive, which will be available to Samsung users on 15 December. She said the app will help users protect sacred time. It will also show how much time users spend on social media, and set limits accordingly.

She said in New York, she hardly sees anyone walking without being on the phone. “I used to do that all the time and when I stopped doing it, I started noticing things that I had completely missed.

“One of the most stressful things we can do during the day is the illusion of multitasking,” she said. “You think you can do both but you’re only increasing the level of stress in life because there’s no such thing as multitasking, it’s called task-switching.”

She said one of the most important things everyone needs to start doing is switching off from devices for periods of time and taking care to recharge after a long day’s work.

If you’re feeling stressed, Huffington advises to take 30 seconds to sit back and consciously breathe in order to interrupt the cycle of chaos.

“Let’s not just [say] upward and onward, let’s say upward, onward and inward because there is a lot of wisdom in us if we just take a breather and connect with it.”

Jenny Darmody
By Jenny Darmody

Jenny Darmody became the editor of Silicon Republic in 2023, having worked as the deputy editor since February 2020. When she’s not writing about the science and tech industry, she’s writing short stories and attempting novels. She continuously buys more books than she can read in a lifetime and pretty stationery is her kryptonite. She also believes seagulls to be the root of all evil and her baking is the stuff of legends.

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