Due Quach's traumatic youth, panic attacks led her to explore meditation and "mind hacks." Now, she teaches her stress-reduction techniques to others.

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Calm Clarity is a Philadelphia-based startup that aims to help everyone from corporate executives to students learn mindfulness, reduce toxic stress and boost productivity.

Not surprisingly, its founder was born in a war zone.

Due Quach (pronounced “Zway Kwok”) was just a baby when her parents fled Vietnam as boat people in 1979. As refugees, they entered the United States through San Francisco in 1980 and ultimately settled in Philadelphia.

Then the next battle began. Quach and her parents opened a restaurant in a rough part of town, and “we traded one war zone for another,” she recalls.

Traumatic youth

Her father was beaten in the neighborhood, gangs shot at each other in their restaurant, and Quach was so traumatized she didn’t speak until kindergarten.

Luckily, she says, “school became an escape, and before graduating from (high school), my parents said if I got into the best college, I could leave home.”

Tough going at school

She won a place at Harvard, and immediately noticed that her classmates “had come from boarding schools, and had their own privileged hang-ups. I had parents who couldn’t understand what ‘spam’ email was, and I started feeling guilty for not being at home helping them.”

Her senior year, Quach fought panic attacks, couldn’t sleep, and almost didn’t finish Harvard.

“I finally broke down and sought out a psychologist, who explained that trauma and stress impact the brain.”

She stabilized with medication and therapy, then began researching what she calls “mind hacking” techniques. She stopped pulling all-nighters, ate better, quit isolating herself and graduated. After working in consulting, she earned a Wharton School MBA in 2006, then spent four years working in finance in Asia, even visiting Vietnam.

“I wanted to come back to the U.S. and do something that makes a difference,” she says.

Finding her focus

Quach studied Tibetan Buddhist meditation specifically for Western audiences and became a certified yoga instructor. But “I don’t believe in the New Agey dogma; instead I believe in the clear scientific evidence of the benefits of meditation.”

In 2014, she founded Calm Clarity, which integrates neuroscience into mindful leadership training to enhance concentration, creativity, decision-making and teamwork.

“We show professionals how to optimize their state of mind and address counterproductive habits that contribute to stress, tension and health issues,” she says.

“I call it trauma-informed resilience training,” using the science of “learned optimism” from psychologists such as Daniel Kahneman and Martin Seligman at the University of Pennsylvania, who is known as the “father of positive psychology.”

Useful tools

Calm Clarity has worked with a college, high schools, the Wharton Alumni Club and other educational institutions to address toxic stress and prevent burnout, which Quach remembers well.

“People report reduced stress, public speaking without panicking, and they love it,” she says.

Gina Scarpello, director of Cabrini Mission Corps, a Catholic volunteer network, calls the workshops “very practical. People change with these tools.”