By Janelle Nanos
This post originally appeared in The Boston Globe
Jan Bruce wants to end stress as we know it. The former publishing exec, who ran Watertown-based New Age Publishing in the early aughts before selling it to Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, has branched out into what she believes is next frontier of corporate wellness. Her startup, meQuilibrium, applies science-based techniques to help companies help their employees identify and mitigate sources of stress, and she currently counts Wellesley College, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, and Iron Mountain as clients. She spoke about the challenges of running a company that seeks to alleviate stress while simultaneously living a mindful life.
1. Bruce, 59, has come to trust that her consumers will help lead her to the next wellness trends. The key, she says, is finding ways to give them what they want in ways they can actually incorporate into their daily lives.
“About 10 or 15 years ago, consumers started getting very interested in herbals and acupuncture and the mind/body connection. So when I took over the New Age Publishing 12 years ago, and helped rebrand it to Body + Soul and then Whole Living, we made it more practical not preachy, more accessible, not ideological. Instead of 3,000 words on why you should be meditating, it was Meditation 101.”
2. After spending years promoting techniques to handle stress as a publisher, Bruce noticed that the people are now more focused on tracking their physical activity rather than mental acuity.
“I kind of started to see personally and with everyone around me about five or six years ago, that stress was the new normal. I started to notice that I would say to people, ‘How are you?’ and they’d say, ‘I’m stressed,’ instead of ‘I’m OK’ or ‘I’m fine.’ It was like a badge of honor, the new normal. It was the era of quantified self, and there was a lot going on with active and passive tracking of physical fitness, diet, and sleep, but stress was kind of this white space. Stress and mental and emotional health was still very analog, and offline. Stress isn’t a new thing, and there’s lots in the world that we have done for years — breathing, relaxation, yoga, meditation, and biofeedback, but my thought was, it’s not getting better, it’s actually getting worse, these therapies aren’t solving the problem.”
3. But before she could create a business out of the idea, she needed to better understand her own stress — and how to manage it.
“One of my founding partners was a psychologist, and he helped me find that my source of stress was time management. As a busy working woman, wife, and mother, I know how to keep a calendar — you can’t get through kindergarten with your children without understanding how. But he helped me understand how my thoughts around how to be a great mother, how to be a great leader, how to be a great executive were in conflict with each other. The stress comes from not being able to know where to draw the line and prioritize. Once I started to understand that, I was able to manage my life better, and a lot of my stress went away.”
4. Her company, meQuilibrium, now harnesses those same techniques. It is a software-as-a-service program that uses research-driven techniques to helps people identify the stress factors in their lives and reframe their thinking. Companies offer it to employees as a wellness benefit, and Bruce says it has had a hand in helping productivity, staff retention, and team-building among her clients.
“What we did as we started, I found a psychologist who is a world-renown expert in resilience, which is the science of reframing your thinking to have the capacity to cope and rebound and optimize. We licensed some science about what are the skills that make people more resilient and what are the training protocols that can make them have better habits and reframe their thinking? And we have digitized it and written algorithms, so that meQuilibrium today is a digital platform that can help people in a very personalized way in a digital coaching format. We help companies develop their sense of purpose. Our philosophy is, the stress isn’t going to go away, but we can make you stronger so that you can deal with it.”
5. Perhaps it’s no surprise that Bruce now puts managing her own stress high on the list of priorities.
“I used to say to my kids, ‘Solve this riddle: When the going gets tough . . . ?’ And they would answer me: ‘The tough work out.’ For me that’s always been true. I love to run, I love to do yoga, and I love to play tennis. I think that I have a real mission in this company and a sense of purpose. I’ve been blessed to work in health and wellness and see that there was going to be a need for a product like this even when people didn’t get this at all. I have a sense of purpose, and it’s one of the biggest inoculators.”