Are You As Important As Your Work?

Businessman Stretching at WorkThere is no denying that work is a vital part of our lives.  We work to support ourselves and our families, establish a desired lifestyle, and plan for a future.  We spend forty hours a week (at least) on the job, and in today’s economy some of us need more than one job just to make ends meet.  For most of us, work is our main priority and our main focus.  Not only do our occupations support us, many of us use them to define a sense of self.  We strive to do our best at work for the rewards that are important to us.  Some are monetary, some involve status and prestige,  some come from the joy of following our passion.  We give a lot to our jobs, and hopefully they give a lot to us in return.

Unfortunately, there is a growing number of people who put their work above themselves.  It is usually a slow process, starting first with email after work.  Then it is staying an hour or so after closing, or coming in an hour before everyone else.  Lunch hours become a time to catch up on voicemail while scarfing a sandwich, or worse, a burger from that joint on the corner.   There just isn’t time for a healthy meal with all the management deadlines coupled with staff reductions.  Sometimes it is just a desire to move ahead that narrows our focus to occupational tunnel vision.  After all, there will be time to relax after that promotion, or product launch, or once the ad campaign is up and running.

Of course, there is a problem with that whole scenario.  As work starts to take over every waking second we tend to lose ourselves.  As the job takes more and more time and energy, there is less and less to devote to our personal health and well-being.  We  don’t get enough sleep,  we don’t eat properly, and exercise goes out the window.  There is little time to pursue leisure or spiritual activities. Self improvement or personal development goals fall by the wayside.  Stress levels can’t help but skyrocket, and we eventually compromise our own ability to perform well on the job.

More and more employers today are beginning to realize the overall health of their company  is tied to the overall health and well-being of their employees.  There are even provisions in the new health care laws in the United States for wellness programs in the workplace.  However, sometimes I think the hardest thing to do is convince the Type-A overachiever of the importance of  personal health and well-being as it relates to job performance.   After all, when you have been putting your job first for years, it is no easy feat to start focusing on yourself as the primary concern.

What are a few ways to treat yourself with the same respect you show to your work?  One of the most basic but most important things you can do is to reframe the way you view the relationship between your health and your job. You cannot separate the two; they are intertwined.  If you are in poor health, there is no way you can perform to desired standards.  Realize that focusing on your own health is not selfish–it is vital to success in life, both personally and professionally.

Make time to exercise.   Take a walk at lunch, or take the stairs.  Park in the farthest stall from the building, or get off one subway stop before you usually do.  There are lots of ways to incorporate movement into your day.  It doesn’t have to involve changing clothes or going to a gym.  Even taking a couple of minutes a few times a day to stretch is a great way to tone your body and reduce stress.

Take a lunch–literally.  Bringing your own lunch gives you control of what you eat, and helps reduce the chances of hitting the vending machines or eating nothing at all.  I know people who fall into both categories,  and both camps have trouble functioning in the afternoon.   And when you take a lunch–take it away from your desk.  Eating at the desk does nothing to promote a sense of downtime.  By leaving your work area and removing distractions such as phone and email, you will be able to recharge more easily for the rest of the day.

Establish boundaries.  Just as you do not bring your personal life to work, do not bring your work life to your home.  Leave email at work.  Since that may not be possible in today’s economy, set a time that you will stop reading and responding to it.  Let coworkers know what that cutoff time is, and not to expect a response until the next day  if they haven’t heard by the cutoff.

Make time for  family and friends.  Maintaining a support network takes effort, but it is one the best tools for dealing with stress.

For mental conditioning, spend ten minutes a day in silence.  Use the time for meditation, prayer, or reflection–but be quiet.  Turn down the noise in your head and around you, turn inward for a few minutes, and be still.  You’ll be amazed at how much more energy and concentration comes out the other side.

Work is important, no question.  But if doing your best at work is really important to you, than it is crucial that you give your own health equal time.  Even if you love your work and can’t imagine a life without it,  you won’t receive the full benefit if you are not contributing at full capacity.   Take your health as seriously as you take your job.  Both are important, but if you neglect the former, at some point you may lose the latter.   And that, in a nutshell, is why you as a person are more important than your work.

So how about you?  I would love to hear how you focus on your health and keep the demands of your work in perspective.  





Optimistic By Nature

sunriseI would love to say that I am an optimistic person by nature.  I would love to say that–but I would be lying.   Unlike some of my friends who always seem to see the bright side,  I would usually plan for the worst case scenarios.  Optimism is not something that comes easy to me, but over the years I have discovered that optimism is a key factor in achieving happiness.

Optimism  plays an important role in determining how resilient we are when facing stressful situations.  Without an optimistic perspective, it can be very difficult and at times almost impossible to navigate some of life’s challenges and bounce back quickly .  The good news is that while we may not all be born optimists, we can train ourselves to be more optimistic.

There are good reasons to cultivate optimism if it isn’t one of your premier strengths.  The first one is simple–no one likes to be around a pessimistic person.  If someone is constantly expecting the worst, their attitude will begin to affect those around them. No one likes to be around a Gloomy Gus, so pessimism has an adverse affect on support networks, both personally and professionally.  Also, when someone is optimistic they tend to be more flexible and creative in their thinking.

This flexibility comes in very handy when coping with stress.  Mental flexibility helps people look at stressful situations from various perspectives.   It helps them reframe a situation in a positive manner.  Flexible people can explore multiple solutions to a problem, and they can also find a positive meaning in difficult events.  These techniques sound relatively simple, but they can be very difficult, especially during stressful times.

So how can you develop an optimistic outlook?  Just like getting to Carnegie Hall, it takes practice.  Here are some steps you can take when something bad happens.

  • Remember that difficulties won’t last forever.  The only thing that is constant is change.  Sometimes it is almost impossible to believe that problems won’t last forever, but they won’t.  Eventually the good times will come back.
  • Keep a problem in perspective–don’t let it spread into other aspects of your life.
  • Explore ways and resources available to solve the problem.  Take responsibility for your actions and don’t expect a problem to solve itself.
  • Be grateful for your support network and those around you who appreciate your struggle.

On the other hand, these are some things to do when something good happens (because good things do happen).

  • Accept responsibility for whatever part you played in the event.  As the old adage says–take credit where credit is due.
  • Feel gratitude  for what happened, whether it came by design or just good luck.
  • Think of ways to expand on the positive event.

These are a few ways to increase optimism, but are certainly not the only ones.  There are a lot of factors that determine how optimistic a person is.  Some are genetic and some are developmental, but it is possible to increase a positive outlook.  A few years ago, I decided to explore ways to increase my happiness and overall satisfaction with my life.  Stress seemed to be taking over, and I had trouble finding enjoyment in even the simple things.  It certainly wasn’t the way I wanted to live. In a nutshell, I just wanted to be happier.

After practicing these steps during both good and bad times I can now proudly say I am a realistic optimist (and much happier).  Building optimism and a positive outlook helped me to neutralize stress and find enjoyment in daily life.  I am not saying that optimism eliminates stress–that would be foolish.  But keeping an optimistic outlook helps to deal with bad times and minimize their consequences while enhancing the good times.  Maintaining an optimistic attitude may not always be easy, especially if it doesn’t come naturally, but it is certainly worth the effort.

Suggested Reading:  Resilience, The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges, Steven M. Southwick, M.D. and Dennis S.Charney, M.D., 2012


Five Ways to Manage Stress

It is  no surprise that when asked to name the one thing they would most like to change in their workplace, employees almost always put stress levels at the top of the list.  What with downsizing, rightsizing, and endless budget cuts,  the mantra for so many companies these days is “do more with less”.   One of the phrases I often heard in management meetings during my corporate time was “suck it up and get over it.”   Unfortunately, this places an added burden on employees that remain after  layoffs which only increases individual stress levels.  With so much economic uncertainty, not only in the workplace but at home as well, it is no small wonder that most employees are looking for ways to minimize the effects of stress from their jobs.

The interesting thing is that everyone has a different idea of what stress is.  What bothers one person may not affect another at all.  Staff members at the Mayo Clinic define stress as a situation”when the demands placed upon a person exceed his or her capabilities.”   It is actually a good definition of stress since it place the responsibility on both the situation and the individual, not just the individual as do so many other definitions.   Reactions to stress are connected to a myriad of factors.  What bothers someone one day may not be an issue the next.   Lack of sleep, hunger,  the amount of exercise in a day–these are just a few things that  can play a part in a person’s reaction to stress.

The effects of stress are a problem not only for the employee, but the organization as well.   It is estimated that 75 to 90 percent of  all doctor visits are for stress-related conditions.  If stress levels are not addressed, chronic health conditions can develop such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity.  Frequent colds are not uncommon for people suffering from chronic stress.  This all plays into a person’s productivity at work, increasing absenteeism and decreasing productivity.   These chronic health conditions have a direct impact on the healthcare costs of an organization and thus the overall profitability of that organization is reduced.  Therefore it seems like it would be in everyone’s best interest to address the stress levels in the workplace and explore ways to minimize the harmful effects of those conditions.

One of the most important things we can do is to set healthy personal boundaries.   With all the technology  flooding the market, we can no longer leave the office at the office.   People are now expected to be available  24/7, especially when the boss seems to live and breathe for their blackberry or iPhone.   Instead of making life easier,  the information age has actually had the opposite effect.  We expect results more quickly and judge ourselves and others if there is a lag time in response to an email or voice mail, even during the weekend.  The new term for this is  cerebral burnout, and is a very real condition.

Personal boundaries are one way to combat the possibility of cerebral burnout.   In today’s world it may not be realistic to think that not responding to emails or texts after the traditional end of the workday is acceptable.  But you can set a boundary as to when you will stop responding.  Let colleagues know that you put your phone away at 8:00 pm and don’t look at again until you start work the next day.  Starting work may be at the breakfast table and not when you hit the office, but  at least your coworkers or bosses will have a clear idea of when they will hear from you.   Not only does this allow you to have downtime without guilt, but  you can also begin to ween yourself off electronic devices in the evenings which will have a positive impact on the quality of sleep. Better sleep patterns contributes to a stronger ability to combat stress, so this is really a two-for-one  win.

Another great way to combat stress is to begin a program of mental training.  Used by athletes to focus on performance, mental training is a type of meditation.  Before you start each day, give yourself five or ten minutes and turn your attention to your breathing.  Think only of your breath as you inhale and exhale.   This will calm the mind, and slow down all that information zinging back and forth in your brain.  When your brain is quieter, it becomes easier to focus during the day, and the result is greater productivity.  Greater productivity naturally means less stress.

My favorite stress release is exercise.  Thirty minutes of cardio on a daily basis will have an unbelievable impact on the ability to cope in stressful situations. Other types of exercise such as yoga or tai chi show equally impressive results.   The benefits of exercise include improved brain function, neuron growth, the release of beta-endorphins, and  lower muscle tension.  It can also increase weight loss, a fact that most people would look at as the number one health benefit.

Speaking of lowering muscle tension–regularly scheduled massages can play a huge role in stress management.  Although many people still consider massage to be a luxury, muscle tension is perhaps the number one symptom of stress.  In addition to being painful, it can even compromise organ function over time.  Regular massage counteracts the effects of stress by decreasing muscle tension and increasing lymphatic drainage.  This helps to remove toxins from the body and allows better functionality.  Aside from that, a massage just feels good.  One note of caution–do not order a deep tissue massage if you are going for your first experience.   Although it may sound great, your muscles may not appreciate that much manipulation.  Try a swedish massage or a Hawaiian Lomi Lomi massage for your first few treatments.

Make time to socialize–in person.   Social support is crucial in stressful situations, but not if the only support you receive is virtual. Face time ( and not on an iPhone) can help to put things in perspective and give the support you need to get through rough times.  It is so easy to let social connections slide when you are feeling overwhelmed, but that is precisely when real friendship matters the most.  So make it a point to get together with friends on a regular basis.  Schedule lunches, potlucks, or just a coffee date.  Better yet, make it a celebration and visit a spa with friends for an afternoon of bonding and massage.  Stress levels won’t stand a chance!

These are just five ways to combat stress.  When we think of stress, most of us focus on the workplace, but it is important to remember that stress can occur anywhere.  I know retirees with no financial worries who are more stressed-out than my executive friends.  It really is a matter of how you perceive situations and how your body reacts to them.  Of course, you can’t reduce stress levels without trying to increase levels of overall well being, but focusing on stress reduction is a good step in the right direction.

So what do you do to fight stress in the workplace or home front? I would love to hear the unique ways people have found to help them cope with our increasingly demanding world.

Are you ready to discover how the power of one-on-one coaching can help you focus on your health and reduce your own stress levels?  Click  here to schedule a complimentary strategic coaching session and see if wellness coaching is right for you.

This job is killin’ me

In today’s economy, a lot of us have had to learn to do more with less.  We’ve had to make a dollar stretch farther when someone loses a job.  We’ve had to learn to make the hours mean more at work when we are the ones remaining after the job loss.  No way around it, it is not an easy time.

A lot of people don’t like their jobs, but stay because they are afraid to make a change.  But there are a lot of people who love their jobs.  They enjoy them, and savor the challenges they present.  You could even say they live to work.  Only one small problem.  Their jobs are killing them.

There is a myth out there about something called work/life balance.  That at some point we are supposed to give equal time to both personal and professional aspects of our lives as well as everything in between. As a wellness coach, I am all for that—if that is something that you strive for.   Sometimes that is just not a realistic goal.

Over the years the workday has shifted from 9:00 to 5:00, to 8:00 to 5:00.  Then the start of the day blurred a bit to 7:00 as the end started to push out toward 6:00.  Now it is not unusual for a workday to run twelve hours or longer. Depending on your career, keeping these types of hours can be a choice or an expectation.  Either way, it leaves people little time to devote to anything other than the job.

There are by-products that come with keeping this type of schedule.  One is a higher burnout rate.  It’s very difficult to maintain a sprinter’s pace if you are in it for the marathon. Stress levels skyrocket, and health can’t help but suffer.  So literally, your work can be killing you.  There are certain professions  where the average life span extends only six years past retirement.  It’s not a lot of time  to enjoy the golden years.

Relief is possible, however.  When I was hunting in the corporate jungle, I would walk at lunch.  It’s a simple thing, and doesn’t really fit into the corporate expectation, but I did it anyway.  I walked almost everyday, usually for about 30 minutes.  I used it as a time to decompress.  My colleagues thought it odd that I took this time rather than just grabbing a bite at my desk and working through lunch. I even earned the title of exercise freak—just for walking for thirty minutes.

But I had a secret.  This time was vital in preparation  for the rest of the day.  I could clear my mind of the morning’s events and move on to the afternoon’s agenda feeling much more refreshed.  An added benefit was the fact that although I didn’t set out to find solutions to problems during my walks, I often returned to the office with new ideas on ways to tackle the thorny issues of the day.  In a sense, for me it served almost as a walking meditation.

A man on my staff used his breaks in a similar way.  He would meditate during his morning and afternoon fifteen minutes breaks.  Now, at the time, meditation was not as widely practiced so he did have a bit of a reputation as an odd duck, but it worked for him.  He remained calm during the daily tsunamis when everyone else was running for higher ground.  His co-worker’s opinions of his meditation practices didn’t bother him at all.  He was practicing self-care.

Unfortunately, as we rise in the food chain, it often feels like we have less control of our time, not more.  I know several people who don’t even take the time to eat during the day because they don’t have time to take a break.  They grab something on the run, or snack on nuts during meetings.  By the time they do get home, they are starving   They raid the pantry for anything they can find before dinner. Obviously, they can make great professional decisions, but they don’t give themselves the same consideration as their latest projects at work.

This lack of self-care is a catalyst for a myriad of other health problems.  Friends of mine complain that they can’t lose weight, no matter what diet they try.  When we review their daily routines, they realize they spend hours at a time sitting before the computer screen, forgetting to get up and even stretch.  They end up eating dinner an hour before bed.  Not a real good prescription for weight loss.  Interestingly, when they make conscious decisions to change this behavior, not only do they lose the weight, they gain energy and focus.  This additional energy capital can be shared at work as well at home, so it becomes a win-win situation for all involved.

Corporations and businesses of all types are beginning to understand the benefits to  be had when individuals take a proactive role in their own well-being.  It can lower healthcare costs and increase productivity due to reduced absenteeism, to name just a couple.  Many corporations are introducing wellness programs that encourage employees to take an active role in their own preventative healthcare.

Like any change, this will take time.  But again, as with any change, it starts with the smallest steps.  It’s a great thing to have a job you love.  It gives you a great sense of satisfaction and accomplishment.  But if you really love it, or even just like it a lot, don’t forget yourself.  The examples above are just a couple of ideas.  There isThan endless number of ways you can take care of yourself during the day. It’s up to you.

Engage in a little self-care during the day–without any guilt.  You’ll be surprised at how much better you feel, and how much more you can contribute, both personally and professionally.  It’s truly a win-win situation for all, and hopefully the wave of the future.


Wellness–It’s Not Just For Doctors Anymore

When you think of wellness, what comes to mind?

Many people immediately think of physical health.  I am well if I am in good physical shape and suffer no debilitating illnesses.   That is true, but that  would make you physically fit, not necessarily well.

Webster’s dictionary defines wellness as ” The quality or state of being in good health, especially as an actively sought goal.”  That definition is a bit ambiguous.  It reflects the influence of Western medicine on the current widely held belief that wellness is only about physical health.  After all, that is what our health care system has been telling us for years, so it has to be true, right?

The truth is that wellness is a surprisingly simple state of being.  It is one that combines the most important aspects of human existence–the physical, the mental, and the spiritual.   When each of these aspects is given adequate consideration,  a  state of wellness can be achieved and maintained.   It sounds very simple,  but as we all know, maintaining any kind of balance in life for any extended period of time can be a very daunting task.

This concept of wellness as a blend of human elements is nothing new.  It dates back to Greek and Roman times not to mention most other ancient civilizations as well.   The Roman spa was not just a place to bathe.  It was also a center for social interaction,  physical exercise,  and relaxation of both body and mind.   The ancient concept of the spa addressed all aspects of human well-being.  In  essence,  you could say that these spas were actually some of the first wellness centers.

With our population living longer, we are seeing a shift in the concept of personal healthcare.  People no longer accept reactive health management as the only option.  More and more, individuals are looking to have a hand in their own health choices.   Boomers are no longer content to pop a pill at the first sign of an ache or pain.  They are more interested in how to prevent those aches and pains so they can participate fully in an active and  meaningful existence without downtime.

The interest in overall wellness is supported by the growing number of people exploring activities such as yoga and tai chi—activities that benefit both the body and the mind.   Boot camps now include yoga postures that help members achieve a more robust sense of health and well-being.   Articles on meditation practices are finding their way in to mainstream media.  These are just a few examples of how people are finding ways to take responsibility for their own well-being.

With the mind and the body are working in harmony,  wellness becomes a  much more achievable goal.   Acting mindfully with compassion and gratitude increases the body’s ability to function at an optimal level.   This can trigger a cascade of beneficial side effects such as reduced stress levels and increased energy levels, to name just a few.

When people hear I am a wellness coach, one of the first  reactions I get is, “Oh, so you are a fitness trainer!”    That seems to be a much more familiar and comfortable concept for people to grasp.  It is always easier to associate wellness with physical fitness and not muddy the waters with more esoteric notions such as emotional and spiritual well-being.   However,  when you pay attention to these three aspects and nurture each one as needed, you will find a much deeper sense of vitality and satisfaction.  Overall wellness becomes much more than just how long your cardio sessions are or how much you can press.

Wellness is really about how vibrant your life is.  About how much you enjoy it.  It’s about nurturing all the elements that make us who we are.  We all have issues to work through—that is a given in this world.  But we also have the benefit of living longer than any other generation in history.   It’s up to each of us to  take advantage of that longevity and create a life that is the most joyful and satisfying existence that we can envision.   To me, that is  the ultimate meaning of wellness.

So how do you define wellness?   Do you take an active role in your physical and mental well-being?   I would love to hear what idea of being well means to you.