I often wonder how Claire Huxtable did it. Loving wife and mother, successful partner in a prestigious law firm, thoroughly involved in her family's lives, generally content and fashionable to boot! She was our superwoman and everywoman all at the same time. Well my dears, I think she was able to do it all because she actually doesn't exist! She was a character precisely executing a well written, idealized script. Wouldn't it be fantastic if real life came with a script or better yet an "easy" button that helped us work it all out every day?
Well we are not blessed with manuscripts, we are however blessed with the amazing gift of free will! We can, with some thought, carefully crafted conversations, prioritizing and true commitment to our own well being find our personal zen state. We can even make it happen without abandoning our families, careers or grown up responsibilities.
Jack Welch, the former CEO of General Electric made the very blunt statement that for women climbing the corporate ladder there is “no such thing as work-life balance”. He further stated that “there are work-life choices, you make them and they have consequences” according to a July 2009 article in the Wall Street Journal. Well, I along with many of the women to whom he was presenting at the Society for Human Resource Management’s annual conference beg to differ! What old Jack fails to realize is that it is not only possible, but necessary to find effective ways to not only manage, but minimize stress. It is crucial that we ensure that our connection to our inner selves and loved ones remains stronger than the ties that bind us to our desks.
Workplace stress can lead to a multitude of psychological, emotional and behavioral signals that can impact your health and well being. The International Stress Management Association identifies some of these symptoms as:
- inability to concentrate or make simple decisions
- aches, pains, muscle tension
- memory lapses
- becoming defensive or angry
- being distracted easily
- lack of confidence or self esteem
- negative thinking
- frequent colds or infections
- feelings of depression and anxiety
- unintentional weight loss or gain
- being irritable
- physical tiredness
- having mood swings
- menstrual changes/ loss of libido
- heart problems/ high blood pressure
- poor time management
- no time for relaxation or pleasurable activities
- self neglect/ change in appearance
- social withdrawal
- relationship problems
- aggressive/ angry outbursts
Sound familiar? If so, you may be experiencing a case of workplace stress and it is time to make some changes in your approach to your work and its impact on your life! As I often tell my friends and family members if you drop dead at your job, your employer will just step over your lifeless body and hire a replacement. Your loved ones can’t do the same. Prioritize!
Here are some steps you can take to get your shifts moving in a healthier, happier direction:
Learn to checkout. Determine the percentage of your life that you are willing to dedicate to earning your income and allocate your time accordingly. There's no sense or value in making money that you don't have the time or energy to enjoy. Focus your energy on planning vacations more than presentations.
Put down your cape! Conquer the superwo/man myth. You are blessed with many talents, but you are in fact human. Your loved ones need you to be healthy and focused. Ladies, that fabulous cape you caught on sale at Macy's does not equip you with mythical powers. Gentlemen, wearing your favorite superman t-shirt under your button up does not in fact make you the man of steel.
Stop trying to be all things to all people and focus on being the best YOU that you can be. Allow yourself the luxury of enjoying the fruits of your own labor.
Make to do lists so you can:
2. check tasks off as you complete them
3. experience small pockets of success throughout the day
4. determine whether it's all feasible
5. delegate tasks to others or drop some from the list altogether.
Take a walk As much as it may seem more efficient to scarf down your sierra turkey sandwich or grilled chicken salad while staring at your computer screen, replying to emails, checking voicemails or tweaking a presentation, it's actually counterproductive. You're robbing yourself of a much needed opportunity to disconnect and return with fresh eyes and real perspective. Step outside even if it's just for 15 or 20 minutes. Let the sun and the fresh air do their job and regenerate you. It will almost feel like you took a power nap (which I keep fighting for at my job). You will return to those doldrum tasks refreshed and renewed.
Personalize your workspace Working in an environment with limited privacy can lead to emotional exhaustion and burnout. Research reported in Business Lexington and Pacific Standard explains that personalizing your desk or office space with things like photos of loved ones or your favorite vacations creates a calming effect in employees and an overall improvement in morale (which coincidently improves productivity and the company bottom line)! Having personal items in your workspace also helps to express your individuality, preventing that feeling of being just another cog in the machine. I have always kept a picture of my son on or near every desk in every place I’ve ever worked. It serves the dual purpose of reminding me that I can’t act out that “take this job & shove it” fantasy and flip my desk over when I get overwhelmed as well as reminding me that I have a higher, more important purpose. Kids are good for that!
Visualize Take a meditation class, learn to see your desired state of being in your mind. Carefully begin to plot the intermediate steps you need to take to achieve that desired state.
Something's gotta give: Learn to say No! Unfortunately when you are really good at your job, people tend to interpret your competence to mean that you would be good at everything and therefore they should continue to add projects to your already overflowing to do list. To protect your sanity, you need to find professional yet firm ways to say no.
Check your perfectionism Having high standards for yourself and a strong work ethic are both admirable qualities. They can, however also lead you to set unrealistic goals for yourself or lead you to hold on to tasks that you could otherwise delegate. (Refer to the "put down your cape" section as needed.)
Don't take it personally It’s your job, not your life! Relying on your supervisor, co-workers or students as a source of self confidence is a set up for failure. As human beings, we are by nature somewhat social creatures. We vary greatly however, in the level of external validation we require to remain motivated. In most cases, the less approval we require from outside influences, the higher our level of personal satisfaction. Remember the saying “you can’t please all the people all the time”? It has stood the test of time because it’s true. If you know that you are coming from a positive place and putting forth your best effort every day, let the critics wallow in their own misery!
Keeping in mind your ultimate goals of being self sufficient, sane and both physically and emotionally healthy, take the necessary steps to improve your work-life balance. Focus on achieving your personal state of zen. Namaste….
©2014 Shavon C. Evelyn
- “Avoid Burnout: Make Your Cubicle Your Own” by Tom Jacobs. Pacific Standard, Aug 2013
- “Workspace Personalization: Clutter of Meaningful Personal Displays” by Meredith Wells-Lepley, PhD. Business Lexington, July 2012
- “Welch: ‘No Such Thing as Work-Life Balance’” by Cari Tuna & Joann S. Lublin. Wall St Journal, July 14, 2009
- “How to Identify Stress”. International Stress Management Association
- “Facts About Stress”. International Stress Management Association