These 3 local leaders know something about stress management – here are their top 13 tips – Natural Self Esteem


Matthew Kohler and colleagues at Protective. (Jacob Blankenship / Bham Now)

April is Stress Awareness Month and who couldn’t use some good tips on how to stay calm and move on. We reached out to three senior executives at Birmingham-based Protective Life Corporation for their top stress management tips. Here’s what they told us.

Meet 3 senior executives at Protective

Wendy Evesque: Executive Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer

Woman working at Protective Life
Wendy Eveske

Wendy leads Protective’s human resources team with a focus on people and culture. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her family, reading and being outdoors.

Pooja Rahman: Senior Vice President and Chief Risk Officer

Woman who works at Protective
Pooja Rahman (Pooja Rahman)

Pooja leads the risk management for Protective and is involved in a variety of issues and business decisions. Family time and daily walks outside fill her day off work.

Matthew Kohler: Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Officer

Man working at Protective Life
Matthew KohlerJacob Blankenship / Bham Now

At work, Matthew is responsible for all of Protective’s IT operations, from cybersecurity to business systems. Hobbies are the secret to relieving stress. When he’s not at work, you can find him building, repairing, designing, or fishing on the Cahaba River.

With all three serving in demanding leadership roles at a company focused on protecting people’s well-being, we knew they would teach the rest of us about stress management.

Wendy’s top tips for dealing with stressful situations

Matthew Kohler and a woman at Protective
Working at Protective. (Jacob Blankenship / Bham Now)

1. Concentrate on the few critical points.

She learned from Protective CEO Rich Bielen to focus on what matters and makes the greatest impact.

Wendy has learned that she can “really only successfully hold three to five important objects in the air at a time.”

2. It’s not personal + it’s probably not about you.

“Early on in my career, a mentor coached me to always step back and look at the big picture. Sometimes people get emotional, but mostly they have good intentions. When you focus on understanding the underlying situation and helping others, you come to a good place.”

3. Breathe.

“I had the benefit of having completed the Momentum Executive Leadership Program years ago. Barbara Royal always told us to breathe. It literally means breathing, but also making time and space to slow down, take care of yourself and think… even if it’s just for a moment or two.”

4. Have a strong network.

You need people you trust, talk to, and learn from.

5. Experiment + find out what works for you.

This will shift and change as your career and personal life evolve.

6. Work + Life are a mixture.

“The lines are blurred and it’s hard to separate the two. I don’t even try anymore. I wish I had learned that sooner.”

Pooja’s favorite coping strategies for stress management

People who work at Protective Life, stress management
Protective staff. (Jacob Blankenship / Bham Now)

Here’s what Pooja has learned over the years:

1. Manage what needs to be managed now.

Solve the problem right in front of you.

2. Circle again to see if more extensive changes are needed.

Once things settle down, go back to see if broader solutions could help you get better results over time.

3. Remember that you have the power to prioritize.

This helps individuals and teams refocus and feel in control. Not everything can or must change today.

4. Communication is key.

“Direct, honest and respectful communication can make even the most stressful of situations that little bit better.”

Matthew’s tips for staying cool when things heat up

1. Really good and trusting working relationships make the difference.

When you need to roll up your sleeves and solve problems in a crisis, it helps if you and your colleagues know that you have each other’s backs.

2. Have a common goal to solve the problem and do the right thing.

Putting the needs of the business first can help everyone focus on solving the problem at hand.

3. Don’t give up on what makes you feel fulfilled.

“Hobbies help you get away from work when you’re not at work. And depending on your role and interests, to feel happier in your personal life, you need to make sure you satisfy those additional interests outside of your core job. Ultimately, it helps you deal with stress on a personal and professional level.”

Employee benefits can do a lot to reduce stress and promote employee well-being

People who work at Protective Life
Protective staff. (Jacob Blankenship / Bham Now)

Finally, we asked Wendy about the benefits Protective offers her employees to make their lives less stressful.

She said they recognize that people are in different places personally and professionally, so they aim to provide a wide range of wellbeing resources to meet them where they are and provide the support they need you need.

Here are just a few:

  • time + place
    • flexibility in the workplace
    • Paid time off – for whatever reason you need it
    • Term of Service – giving back to the community
  • Mental well-being support
    • Online resource center and mobile app with quick tools and videos
    • 1:1 advice from BetterHelp for short-term or acute assignments
    • 1:1 counseling from a mental health provider for chronic or ongoing problems, including anxiety, depression and addiction
  • physical well-being support
    • Online wellbeing platform that offers educational modules, virtual exercise classes, access to health coaches, points to log healthy behaviors and the opportunity to participate in running competitions.
    • 1:1 coaching by an employed nutritionist
    • There is also a health clinic, gym and massage therapy at the Birmingham location.
  • Parental Support
    • Paid parental leave: 12 weeks paid leave for expectant mothers + 6 weeks paid leave for fathers
    • Maven – Maternity and Paternity Assistance: Healthcare professionals can provide assistance with birth planning, confinement, adoption, return planning, breastfeeding, and more.
    • Breast milk shipping service: for breastfeeding mothers who travel for work.

Does that sound like a place you would like to work in? Protective attitude. Check out their vacancies today.

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