There 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.
This may seem like an odd thing for wellness coach to say, but stress is not necessarily a bad thing. When described in the very simplest terms, stress is a psychological or physical reaction to pressure applied to a person from external or internal sources. While pressure is generally characterized as a bad thing, that isn’t quite the truth here. That pressure is a good thing, because it shows that you are actually interacting and involved with your life and the world around you. It is similar to the old saying we hear about having a birthday (usually starting somewhere after 40) that it is better than the alternative. The best part of experiencing stress comes when you realize that how you react to it is up to you. It is your responsibility to determine the role stress will play in your life and whether it is to be a positive or a negative partner.
One of the first steps of stress management is to explore the types of stress that we normally experience. Generally, stress comes at us from two directions. It is either internal or external. External is pretty simple. Job pressure, family, friends, pets, finances, aging parents–these are all examples of external stressors. When you are concerned about the world around you and how it affects you and the people you care about, you will experience some level of stress. Again, it is not necessarily a bad thing. This shows that you are alive and connected with a community.
Internal stress can seem a little less clear. After all, why would we intentionally stress ourselves out? This is a question of reality matching ideals. We all have a vision of how we would like our lives to be. A certain level of comfort, perhaps, or financial security. A deep, loving relationship with the perfect soulmate. A home that is the ideal nest for a new family. All of these are examples of ideas of how we might want our lives to look. They are things we strive for, consciously or unconsciously. When the reality of what we experience on a daily basis doesn’t match up to what we would like to have or be, stress enters the picture.
The next piece of the puzzle is to figure out how often and for how long something stresses you out.
Acute stress is triggered by a major life change. Job loss, divorce, death of a loved one will knock the wind out of us. Even something like an argument with a spouse or a fender bender can play havoc with our equilibrium. Obviously, these are examples across a broad spectrum, but how we deal with them will affect us until we can accept, understand, and integrate them into our lives.
Sometimes it isn’t just one thing that sets our world on edge. Sometimes it is a cascade of small events, each one in itself not seeming like that big a deal. It isn’t until they keep coming at you, and at you, that you feel you can’t catch a break. This is known as episodic stress, and is generally seen as a series of events that weaken your ability to cope successfully and live an optimal life. One of the worst things about this type of stress is that it usually starts small, sometimes before we even notice. While we can’t miss being laid off as a stressor, not making it home for dinner with your partner might not rank on the same scale. But when you miss the bus the next day, or it rains when you weren’t expecting it, or you somehow get overage charges on your unlimited minute plan, you might be starting down a road that becomes harder and harder to navigate.
The third type of stress can be deadly. Chronic stress is triggered by an event or situation that does not improve for a long period of time. Having an overwhelming boss, or caring for ill and aging parents are not things that you can easily change. These are situations where, for the most part, we are in it for the long haul. It may not be easy to get a new job in this economy. We certainly wouldn’t turn our parents out into the street simply because it is inconvenient to care for them.
Chronic stress can be the most difficult type to deal with, and is often the type that requires a village. I know many people who are care-givers to parents or spouses who feel they can deal with the situation on their own and get through it. Yet they don’t see the awful changes taking place in their own health as they attempt to cope with the daily demands of care-giving. The truth is, once you realize you don’t have to face an overwhelming situation alone, that it doesn’t make you less capable, then you are one step closer to managing a stressful condition successfully.
Finally, there is actually a good type of stress. Eustress is a term for stress that motivates people to strive for their potential. Eustress causes people to create art or inventions, to improve and enhance the world around them. Learning how to channel this type of stress can help someone create a life of fulfillment by turning this pressure into a creative tool.
So with all the different kinds of stress bombarding us on a daily basis, how can we possibly begin to even think about managing it? Awareness is the key. Stop to think what is stressing you out. How is affecting you? How long has it been lasting? Is there something you can change about the situation? Or possibly with the way you react to the situation if the situation itself is out of your control?
Believing we can eliminate stress is naive and actually harmful in the long run. But when you become aware of what is stressing you and how you are reacting to it, you can begin to mitigate the effects it can have on your physical, mental, and spiritual well being. You have the ability to create the personal environment you need to thrive. Some people actually love the pressure of packed schedule, others not so much.
At its core stress management is a personal choice. But in order for that choice to work in your life, it has to be a thoughtful and informed one. Once you have that awareness, you have the first tool necessary to manage stress and create the energized and satisfying life that you deserve.
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.
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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.
Lately I’ve been hearing some misconceptions about what working with a wellness or life coach can do for you. There seem to be some people who are looking for the ultimate fix. The silver bullet that will eliminate all the issues standing between them and happiness. I would love to say that as coaches, we have all the answers. We can fix your life, remove all barriers, and hand you an issue-free life on a platter. I would love to say that. And I would be lying.
The truth is that a happy existence is not one free of strife or difficulties. We all have good days and bad days. Sometimes they are even great days or horrible days. Or weeks or months. The difference, however, between having a happy existence or a miserable one lies in how we view and deal with life’s challenges as well as its rewards. Learning how to eliminate setbacks or problems is not the key to a happy life. The key to a happy life can be determined by our attitude and behavior when managing those setbacks or problems.
One of the most important tools for crafting a satisfying existence is very simple one.
Optimism is crucial to understanding that bad situations are temporary and will change at some point. That understanding is an incredibly powerful tool. The people who hold this attitude are more likely to navigate through bad times more quickly and with less adverse effects than those who cannot see an end to a problem.
Sounds great. But what if you are not someone who always sees the glass as half full? Is there anything you can do to change that?
The short answer is–yes, you can.
One way to do this is to start with something called the Three Good Things Exercise. Every evening for at least a week, write down three good things that happened to you during the day. They don’t have to big things. Could be getting a parking space close to the store. Or they could be big things. Getting a new job or promotion would count on that list. For every item, ask yourself these questions. 1) Why did this happen? 2) How does it effect you? 3) Can you manifest more of this in the future? 4) Are you grateful for it?
This is a variation on the gratitude exercise in which you list three things you are grateful for. The purpose is to shift attention away from the negative and focus more on the positive aspects of daily life. Guess what? It works. Research shows that more people maintained a positive attitude for a longer period after completing the exercise than those who did not. And not to go all Pollyanna, but I can vouch for it from personal experience.
Another exercise is a bit longer but worth the time. For one month, keep a record as to whether it was a good or bad day, and what happened that made you feel that way. This doesn’t have a to be a long journal entry. Just a few words to note the condition of the day. When you review the entries at the end of the month, chances are you will notice a pattern between good and bad entries. The results will most likely support the phrase “This, too shall pass”. If you see a pattern emerge as to how you regard and react to difficult situations, it can be easier to recognize them as a temporary period when they arise in the future. This exercise can also act as a springboard for a mindfulness practice, but more on that later.
It is impossible to eliminate difficulties in this life. To strive for that is simply unrealistic. But how we deal with adversity has a great deal to do with the quality of our lives. As Sylvia Boorstein points out in her classic book It’s Easier Than You Think, managing life’s difficulties gracefully is a something worth striving for.
So if you want to bring a little more positivity into your outlook, why not give these two exercises a go. It can’t hurt. It doesn’t cost anything, doesn’t take a lot of time, no equipment needed, and just may change the way you look at life for the better.
And especially in today’s world, a little extra positive energy in our attitude is something we could all benefit from.
Are you ready to discover how the power of one-on-one coaching can help you break down self-imposed barriers and reach your Personal Best? Click here to schedule a complimentary strategic coaching session and see if wellness coaching is right for you.
Ref: Flourish, Martin Seligman, 2011
Ref: It’s Easier Than You Think, Sylvia Boorstein, 1997
I don’t think anyone would disagree that we are in the midst of some very difficult times. I know every generation has said that, and I’m sure that every time it was true. But with our technological advances, and the flattening of the global playing field, it is more difficult for us to escape, even for a moment, than past generations. In this information age, we know immediately when a crisis across the globe erupts, and more importantly, we are told how it could adversely affect our daily lives. These days it is even tough to take a break and browse Facebook without the latest political headlines jumping off our home pages.
Mix that all up with our own personal dramas, and I think you have the setting for the perfect storm.
We are all trying to work through issues. Maybe it’s a job loss, or the fear of a job loss. Possibly it’s a divorce, or the stress of kids starting school. Maybe it’s teenagers spiraling out of control and turning your life into a Movie of the Week you never wanted to see. Perhaps you have even gotten to where you wanted to be–only to find out it isn’t what you expected. Whatever it may be, one thing is certain. If you keep plugging away 24/7 without a break, you are going to cave in at some point.
I like to think we all want to live the best life possible. That definition is different for each person, but certainly underlying concepts remain constant. One of those is self-care. As a wellness coach, I find it to be one of the most important tools in the toolbox. Without it, there is no way we can stay at the top of our game for any extended period of time.
Here is a coaching tip, along with a bit of common sense. If you want to be able to give to those around you, you have to be able to give to yourself. That goes for work life as well as personal life. Many of us have been raised to be persistent, keep up the fight. We can rest when everything is over. I know a lot of people who say they will reward themselves after they have reached a goal. Here’s the deal–it’s a lot easier to reach that goal when you reward yourself along the way.
A lot of people are afraid to take time for themselves for the very simple reason they feel they don’t deserve it. It goes back to the ingrained concept of not getting a reward until the task is completed. But we all deserve to take care of ourselves. And there are lots of ways to do it. My mother used to say she loved ironing. It gave her the time to stay in one place (no easy feat with four kids), and think without being disturbed. It was a win/win situation for her. She got something off her list, and didn’t have to feel guilty about snatching a half an hour or so to allow her mind to wander. Ironing wasn’t really a chore for her, it was her time to reflect on her day and renew herself for the rest of the day ahead.
There are lots of ways to practice self-care. The important thing is to use it as a time to relax and renew. Sometimes it can be indulgent, like massages and spa treatments. That sounds hedonistic, but there is a wealth of information on the benefits of massage. One of the best things you can do to increase overall well-being is to schedule regular massages.
Some people find gardening to be therapeutic. For some it isn’t time in a garden, but a hike in nature that is the perfect self-care prescription. Maybe it’s a good run, or a daily cardio workout. The key is that whatever method you chose, it needs to work for you, and it needs to take you outside of yourself for a while. I find that my morning stint on the elliptical trainer is a great time to reflect and set intentions for the day ahead. Plus I burn calories and lower cholesterol, so it’s a winning situation all around.
The important thing is to take the time for yourself. It doesn’t have to be anything expensive–sometimes that would cause more harm than good. But it does need to be something that you do for you–not anyone else. When was the last time you read a book on a Sunday afternoon, even if the laundry still needed to be done or the car needed to be washed? Sometimes there is a bigger task at hand–giving yourself permission to take a break.
When the world around us becomes more challenging, the commitment to care for ourselves becomes even more important. Give yourself the time to relax and renew both mentally and physically. Treat yourself tenderly, and you will be surprised at how much more you can put into– and get out of– your daily life.
Are you ready to feel how the power of one-to-one coaching can help you create the life of your dreams? Click here to schedule a complimentary strategic coaching session and see if wellness coaching is right for you.
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.