Leading Northwest Florida business leaders talk about how they deal with stress

Keep Calm & Live On

Stress at work is almost a given. Whether it’s a managerial crisis or a deadline approaching too quickly, these worries can get under our skin and fill our home life with feelings of impotence, irritation and general angst.

The good news is that, with the right technique, anyone can effectively manage stress and keep the bad feelings at bay. Every person is different, and we all manage stress a little differently. Below you will find techniques from successful professionals across the 850 region — and advice on how to beat your own stress. 



Fred Levin

Levin, Papantonio, Thomas, Mitchell, Rafferty & Proctor P.A., Attorney

Although his job does not cause him much stress now after 52 years of practicing law, Fred Levin recalls a time when stress was constant, and balancing work with family was tough. The key to resolving stress, in any situation, is to make a decision, said Levin.

“Most people want to get away from it, and I guess I’m one of those who wants to tackle it … I don’t leave it up to somebody else; I don’t delegate solutions to stressful problems … I usually come up with a good solution, or one that satisfies me.”

When faced with a tough situation or decision, Levin advised that any decision — even a potentially wrong one — is better than procrastinating.

“Take out a piece of paper and write down the different possibilities, and then the pros and cons to each, and then make a decision. Whatever you do, make a decision. Indecision is the most stressful situation you could probably face … You haven’t solved anything.”

Looking back, Levin realized that any stressful problem he faced, in work or in life, he solved through a decision. And sometimes, retrospectively, those decisions were mistakes. But, he maintained that he regretted nothing.

“Looking back, I’m glad I did not fail to do something,” he said. “So my advice — in career, life — has always been decision making. Not indecision. Even when the decisions were, looking back, a mistake.”


Stan Connally

Gulf Power Company, President/CEO

In Stan Connally’s experience, stressful situations always come in waves — and as the leader of a team of 1,400 people, he notes that the buck often stops with him.

For Connally, beating stress takes a two-pronged approach — in and out of the work environment. Upon first encountering a stressful issue or decision, Connally stresses the importance of taking a step back and making sense of the situation at hand.

“The first thing to do is take a deep breath and don’t react,” he said, noting that panicked decisions are often bad ones. “Certainly there’s going to be times when you need to make snap decisions, and then you need to follow your gut. But if you have time, take a deep breath. Get a few folks around you who like to debate. Take some time to think it through with some trusted advisors … It’s a relief to me to be able to talk out loud with a team.”

Outside of work, Connally emphasized the importance of finding a release. For him, that is usually spending time outdoors, being active — particularly hunting, fishing or playing baseball with his children.

“We as a society work really hard … to a point where we probably take too much stress home with us. Find whatever outlet you can outside of work that lets you re-energize,” he advised. “Figure out a way to let that be what energizes you. And by becoming energized, you’ll make better decisions when you re-enter the stressful environment.”



Brian Ballard

Ballard Partners, President

As a lobbyist, Brian Ballard is accustomed to a three-month period of absolute stress during the annual legislative session. This could be overwhelming, if improperly managed. But for Ballard, maturing in his career has also meant learning a couple of lessons.

“It’s okay to take time off,” he said, explaining that many professionals — particularly those who are younger — are reluctant to take a break, which can sometimes lead to unbearable stress. Lobbyist culture used to involve endless gatherings and entertaining politicians at home, effectively creating endless workdays. Now, with some legislative changes in the industry, the practices have changed, and lobbyists’ workdays can actually end when they go home. 

In his spare time, Ballard exercises regularly to keep the stress at bay. He used to run, but now uses an elliptical machine, which is easier on the knees.

“I’ve always tried to work out … It sort of lets your mind release,” he said, adding that spending time with his family is another activity that re-energizes him. “I come home and get a total immersion in everything but work,” he said with a laugh.

Although it is sometimes difficult, Ballard emphasized how important it can be to spend time away from your smartphone. While these devices can improve our lives and our productivity by giving us constant access to friends and coworkers, sometimes this exact virtue can become a source of stress, as the office can follow us home or even on vacation.

When facing a mountain of stress or a crisis, Ballard advised, “Leave work. Leave your cell phone at home and take an hour-long walk. See how it looks when you get back.”


Robert Davis 

SEASIDE® Community Development Corp., Founder  

Robert Davis is the clairvoyant architect and developer behind Seaside — the rustically inspired coastal community bursting with charm and world-class views, located just off 30A in Walton County. According to Davis, stress is only truly neutralized when combined with just the right amount of leisure. In his own words, “work hard; play hard.”

Reading, exercise, meditation and talking through a hectic day with his wife is what keeps Davis on track. For him, taking a moment of reflection, a breather, helps in discerning what’s truly important in life. 

“Meditation is a great way to let go of the busy-ness that surrounds us, especially in this era of constant connectivity,” said Davis. “Disconnecting, how-ever you do it, is essential for sanity.”

To help him disconnect, Davis has taken up racing and rallying vintage cars, reading Hemingway history and, most recently, cooking. 

“I love to cook, and I’m pretty good at it,” admitted Davis. “Especially since I started spending time in Italy learning how simple good food can be if you start with great ingredients.” 

When the diagnosis is stress, Davis’ prescription is relaxation every time — but that doesn’t necessarily have to mean an extravagant getaway. It’s about taking a moment to decompress by letting go of work-related anxieties and indulging in an activity that’s truly your own. “The more demanding your work,” urged Davis, “the more essential play becomes.” 



Cecilia Homison

First Commerce Credit Union, President/CEO

The key to stress management, according to Cecilia Homison, is not to fight tough situations, but to take them in stride.

Although she undoubtedly encounters stressful decisions and issues at work, Homison says that on average her stress level stays between 3 and 4 on a scale of 1–10 (10 being the most stressed). The key element to being prepared to manage stress, she says, is to have good habits consistently. To keep her own stress at bay, Homison runs daily (she tries to hit 5K each day), eats healthy (avoiding caffeine, excessive alcohol or stress eating) and tries to maintain a consistent schedule at work, without overbooking herself.

“You have to learn where you are in life, and what you control, and what you have accountability for. And I think sometimes what happens is we over-respond, because we’re trying to take control of things we can’t. And I think those are the places people feel the greatest degree of stress,” she explained.

When an unanticipated problem arises at work, Homison maintains that it is important to get some perspective. “These things come and go, and they’re going to be fine,” she said, adding that people encountering stress should look forward, envision the worst possible outcome — and realize that, in the end, it probably won’t be the end of the world.

“If you had the absolute worst outcome from where you are, where are you now? And is it going to be okay?” she advises people ask themselves.

Additionally, for Homison, practicing faith with her family provides a sense of structure and perspective that greatly help in beating stress.

“We’re consistent about going to church; more importantly to me we’re pretty intentional as a family … to spend some time reading through the Bible and just praying as a family together,” she said, adding, “Everything kind of comes back to that core, and it’s my faith … It anchors me.” 

Categories: Profiles