“I’m so stressed!” How often do you find yourself saying this in your mind or to family and friends?
Stress, as a modern term, arose from physiological studies in the 1930s, becoming the commonplace term as we know it today during the 1950s. Not that our ancestors didn’t have stress – they most certainly did (think disease, invasions, wars, natural disasters) – and who’s to say if theirs felt more or less intense to them than ours does to us today. We don’t want to be too quick to label our stress as the exclusive domain of the “modern” world. Maybe it’s more about the choices we make around the activities, events, and people we find stressful rather than the century that we occupy in history.
What if, while we are suffering our stress and becoming intimate with its ramifications in terms of health, peace of mind, and quality of life, we were to consider that there just might be another side to the tapestry that is our life? And what if that other side is actually the “front” where the threads are smooth and the colors bright, and we’ve been living on the “back” where the picture is vague and the threads full of knots? What if it were possible to reduce the stress in our lives so that we began experiencing life as taking place on that smoother, brighter side? On the more stress-less side?
We’re all familiar with the notion that it isn’t a particular situation that’s stressful, but our response to it, especially our thoughts about it. Granted, sometimes stress is an autonomic response – a sudden shock or fright, but sometimes it's about the choices we make. But the habitual thoughts we think in response to stress can sometimes exacerbate the accompanying stress we feel in our minds and bodies.
There’s a deadline for a project, or a set time for an appointment and the calendar or clock says we’re cutting it close. We can:
a) Tighten our jaw and say, “It’s all so-and-so’s fault!”, or
b) Yell, hit something, and say, “I always wait to the last minute – what’s wrong with me?” or
c) Pause, consciously relax our muscles, take a deep breath, close our eyes for a few minutes (if not driving!) and reframe the moment by stating, “I have all the time I need to (fill in the blank).”
For each stressful situation, there are responses that soothe us or make things worse. When we are stressed or fearful, we don’t make good decisions. This often creates a spiral of negativity, worry and stress that, worse case, can literally be fatal.
When we can lessen our stress, sometimes just a notch or two, things begin to swing the other direction and the stress begins to ebb. That pivot point is where stress management kicks in. And having the tools and techniques in place to make that shift can make all the difference in our lives.
Next time, some tools for you to apply during your stress response that can bring you into control.
Until then, Choose to lead,
“Stress is basically a disconnection from the earth, a forgetting of the breath. Stress is an ignorant state. It believes that everything is an emergency. Nothing is that important. Just lie down.”
- Natalie Goldberg
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Remember the news stories about people suing fast-food companies because they had made them fat? Or the friend who hasn’t taken a vacation from work in years? Or how you keep saying, “I just don’t get enough sleep?” Choices, my friend, it’s all about choices.
Each day we make choices that influence our pace and quality of life, and many of these are unconscious. While it’s a good thing we don’t have to think about every little choice we make, when it comes to creating a balance between our work-related activities and the rest-of-our-life activities, it’s a good idea to wake up and smell the proverbial coffee. Otherwise, we can find ourselves living with the negative effects of our choices such as feeling overwhelmed, out of control, or unhealthy.
Research on work-life balance shows us a picture that’s probably not too surprising: We work while we’re on vacation. We call in with a fake sick day just to get a breather, reflect, or catch up on sleep. This kind of a lifestyle can lead to physical and emotional illness. That’s not what employers want or what any of us want individually. It’s a lifestyle that becomes a sort of trance state and one that’s hard to wake up from, if we’re lucky enough to realize or believe that we can.
William James, pioneering American psychologist and philosopher, opined in a letter to H.G. Wells in 1906 that our “exclusive worship” of success and money was “our national [American] disease.” Over a hundred years later, we seem to be suffering from the same illness.
Better work-life balance though, is high on the priority list for many workers, especially the generations following the Baby Boomers who see quality of life as a top priority, not monetary compensation. Companies are starting to realize the benefit of providing actual work-life balance training for their employees making this an increasingly hot topic in boardrooms. But the sovereign architect of the quality of our work-life balance is, and will always remain, you and me. It comes down to the choices we make. Every hour of every day. To slow down … or to speed up. To take time for ourselves … or not. It’s not that one or the other is good or bad. It’s about making conscious choices with an awareness of what’s needed or wanted at the time. To live in a way that allows us to be present to ourselves, to our lives, and to others.
There was a photo once in a magazine ad that showed a father and little son in ski outfits on the slopes, with big smiles on both their faces. The caption read, “No one ever looked back and wished they’d spent more time at work.” As you contemplate your own work-life balance or imbalance, know that it is possible to build a balanced relationship between the two if you are willing to take the time to examine your current priorities with honesty, give consideration to your values when decision making, craft a plan for changes and implement it. Remember that small changes often yield big results. It’s your choice.
Until next time, Choose to Lead,
“I believe you are your work. Don't trade the stuff of your life, time, for nothing more than dollars. That's a rotten bargain.”
- Rita Mae Brown
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People arenʼt just born with confidence. Like most behaviors, confidence is learned and practiced. There are many simple tips you can implement to help develop your confidence. As with any list of tips, the intent is not to try and do all of them at once; rather, choose the one or two that feel like they would work best for you and your circumstances. As with most tips, practice will be required, so give them an honest effort and be patient for the results to appear. Remember also to look for evidence that you are more confident than you think and can accomplish more than you realize.
Tip#1 – Whatʼs the worst things that could happen?
By not managing our minds, we often let our fears overtake our thoughts. We start imagining things not in realistic terms, but in improbable terms of what might happen. When you really ask yourself, “Whatʼs the worst thing that could happen?” you can get a realistic picture of potential consequences, which turn out to be less dire than what we first thought.
Tip #2 – Use your imagination.
Imagine a more positive outcome through the use of visualization. See yourself behaving in more confident ways in the challenges you face. See an excellent outcome of your efforts in your mind.
Tip #3 – Think of positive memories.
Donʼt let previous failures and difficult experiences fill up your thoughts. Instead, dwell on positive accomplishments and experiences you have had. Itʼs easy to forget all the positive things that have happened to us. Let your mind remember the good rather than the bad. Instead of dismissing the good in favor of the bad, reverse this tendency.
Tip #4 – Look back from the future.
Imagine yourself a few years in the future of your life. From this vantage point ask yourself: Will this be a big deal or even something Iʼll remember? The answer will almost always be no. By asking yourself this question it puts your day-to- day troubles into proper perspective.
Tip #5 - The past is not the present.
What happened in the past doesnʼt necessarily mean it will happen in the future. We create our futures in the present. If we keep this in mind, we can realize that we donʼt have to let our past sabotage our future. We can realize that the future can be different.
Tip #6 – Look at ʻfailureʼ differently.
The most successful people respond differently to failure. They donʼt take failure personally. With failure, they look at what they can learn from the experience. They see failure as just feedback on what you need to work on so that they will do better the next time. Be open to the learning that failure affords you
Until next time...Choose to Lead,