Are there women in your life who are constantly giving to others and putting themselves at the bottom of the list? Women who are so busy serving others in their families, communities, workplaces … seemingly with boundless energy?
Women who seem to be strong and have it all together, and rarely if ever reach out for support from others; until they can’t.
Perhaps you are one of these women.
COVID has placed increased stress on women worldwide. They are burning out faster than before the pandemic. With the increased demands of working at home, home-schooling children, supporting others in their families, communities and workplaces, they are losing their passion, feeling physically and emotionally exhausted, and experiencing feelings of cynicism and detachment.
International cross-cultural studiesshow that those in the helping professions (e.g. social workers, nurses, physicians, development professionals), and high achievers, are at higher risk for burnout than the general population. The curious thing about high or over-achievers is that we tend to work harder when we get closer and closer to burnout. It’s almost like we believe we are invincible!
I recall when I burnt out in late 2012; how I kept pushing through fatigue and NOT listening to my body. I had pushed through fatigue to finish that one last thing for many years, and was healthy (or so I thought), with no noticeable side effects. Until all that changed.
I’d been working on contract for an NGO that promotes women’s and children’s rights around the world for almost a year. Initially I was passionate about the opportunity and felt so aligned with their mission, vision and values. It was exciting to head off to a number of African countries for project start up and to meet the teams in the 7 countries I was working with! In the coming months, the project scope increased, and I was being asked to do more and more. Then, about 6 months in, I started to lose my passion. I felt like there was so much to do and so little time. Yet I kept pushing through.
Near the end of the year, I was invited to renew my contract in a reduced role. I was this close to signing and asked to sleep on the decision. When I awoke, I felt like a lemon that had been squeezed dry; and realized in that moment, that I had to finally listen to my body, I had to take a break. I got in touch with the Director and VP I’d been working with, thanked them, and turned down the opportunity. They said “Why?” and I said I wanted to create more balance in my life. At that time, I had no idea what that meant or how much time I would take off, but I started the new year with no work on my plate. A scary place for someone who has their own business! I took the time to reconnect with family and friends as I’d been travelling so much the past couple of years. I studied mindfulness with Jack Kornfield; and spent a lot of time in nature.
After sleeping 10, 12, 13 hours a night for about 4 months and still awakening feeling fatigued, I went to see a naturopath who put me on some homeopathic meds; and within about a month I started to feel more like myself; my energy started to come back.
What I learned from that experience, and from doing in-depth interviews with high-achieving women from three continents is captured in the book “Learning to Dance with Life: A Guide for High Achieving Women”. In this book, I introduce the concept of “Creative Living, “the conscious cultivation of increased health, happiness, fulfillment and inner peace in your life.” There are 7 keys to what I call Creative Living, and powerful strategies and practices to prevent and heal from burnout. I’ve distilled some of these in the strategies below.
Strategies You can Use to Prevent and Heal from Burnout
- Integrate mindfulness practices into your life daily (e.g. body scanning & mindfulness walking meditation); these help you focus on the present moment, and get you out of the chatter in your head
- Start listening to your body. When you feel tired take a short nap (e.g. 15 to 30 minutes if you can) or go for a short walk (15 to 30 minutes)
- When you’re feeling stressed take 3 deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth exhaling on each out breath. Notice how that makes you feel. This releases the hormone oxytocin which makes you feel more relaxed, grounded and at peace
- Focus on one thing at a time
- Sleep at least 8 hours a night and go to sleep before 11 pm
- Set firm boundaries; learn to say “no”; being clear on your top 5 core values helps with this
- Spend regular time in nature – The Japanese have done longitudinal studies to show that when we walk in nature, particularly among trees, it reduces our heartrate, reduces our blood pressure and increases the number of natural killer cells our body produces (i.e. strengthens our immune system)
- Nurture yourself daily (e.g. have a bubble bath, listen to relaxing music, do something you love)
- Try yoga. Experiment with different styles. Find one that works for you and do it 3 times a week or more for 30 to 60 minutes each time
- Celebrate your achievements – both big and small
- Unplug from technology 60 to 90 minutes before going to bed; and Unplug one day a week (if possible) e.g. on the weekend.
- Schedule blocks of time in your calendar for you (e.g. work out at the gym, yoga, lunch with a friend, date night with your partner) and commit to doing them
- If symptoms persist and if you are continually fatigued even though you sleep 8 or more hours a night, and have lost your zest for life, go to a recommended naturopath or a physician who is open to complementary therapies.
What strategies have you found helpful to reduce stress in your life and to prevent and/or heal from burnout? I welcome your thoughts and comments below.
Gift yourself and those high-achieving women in your life; those who “do” more than “be” and “give” more than “receive” “Learning to Dance with Life: A Guide for High Achieving Women” .
 Sherrie Berg Carter, High Octane Women: How Superachievers Can Avoid Burnout. Amherst: Prometheus Books, 2010.
 Scan your body from the top of your head to the tips of your toes noticing where there is any tension or discomfort. Breathe into those places and set the intention to release the pain and discomfort. This is helpful to do first thing in the morning before getting out of bed. It helps you become more aware of your body and the messages it sends you.
 When doing mindfulness walking meditation, it is most beneficial to do it outside. When you begin to walk, instead of thinking about the argument you had with your partner that morning or worrying about the performance review you’re going to give to a team member who is underperforming; instead focus on all of your senses. Feel the breeze on your cheeks, smell the salt sea air, hear the birds chirping, see the beautiful vistas that surround you … . When thoughts come to mind as they will, imagine putting them in a cloud and watching them float away and then return to focusing on your senses. Do this 3 times a week to start for 20 to 30 minutes a time and notice how you feel during, immediately after and after a week or so of doing this.
We are almost 9 months into the pandemic. How has it been for you? It is useful to reflect on what you’ve learned from a life change/period of uncertainty/transition.
According to William Bridges, author of “Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes”, in order to move successfully from one life transition to another, it is important to let go of any negative emotions associated with it, to celebrate the positive aspects and lessons learned from it … and to get clear on your vision for a new life, relationship, career, business.
Bridges differentiates between a life change and a transition. He states that a life change is situational and external to us, whereas a transition is internal and psychological. It is the internal work we do to adapt and reorient ourselves to our new external reality.
Research and life experience show that if we don’t do the internal transition work, then we often recreate the same patterns in our lives. An example is someone after 3 marriages realizes that s/he has married 3 men/women who are similar having dealt with the same issues in each marriage, never resolving them but instead recreating them and remaining unhappy and unfulfilled or moving on to the next.
In my personal life, work with clients, and interviews with leaders, I’ve discovered that people have reacted in many different ways during the pandemic. Some were initially knocked off balance and found it really challenging to deal with all the changes in their work-life, family life, and personal life. They had difficulty focusing and were unproductive. Many have been “up and down” in terms of their emotions and focus during the pandemic. In contrast, others after the initial shock, found their creative juices flowing and dove into new projects. They continue to feel energized and optimistic.
No longer having to commute to work, many have taken time to reflect and realized the work they were doing was not fulfilling. They have been preoccupied thinking of how they can transition out of a “real” job and start that business they’ve been dreaming about.
Others are reeling from the loss of a loved one or loved ones who were sadly taken from them due to COVID-19. Still others have recovered from COVID-19 with negative impacts on their health that have forced them to change their lifestyles and adapt to their “new normal”.
The pandemic, in the context of change and uncertainty, has caused much upheaval in many of our lives. It has also put us in touch with how we typically respond to change and why. Do you typically embrace or resist change and uncertainty?
Here are a few questions to ask yourself to reflect on and provide you with insight into how you respond to change and uncertainty. I encourage you to take some time and journal your responses to the following questions: What have you learned from COVID-19 about …
your workplace/who you work for/your team?
how you work best?
Inequities happening around the world?
Learn from and embrace life transitions is one of the 7 keys in my book “Learning to Dance with Life: A Guide for High Achieving Women”. Several years after writing it and coaching a number of business and professional women, I realized that out of the 7 keys, it is the master key that “unlocks the door” to a life of increased health, happiness, fulfillment and inner peace.
Working further with leaders and changemakers, I created the Art of Change Framework: A Guide to Personal and Organizational Change. If you’d like to learn more about how to embrace change, I invite you to access “The Art of Change Framework” on my homepage at: https://pamela-thompson.com/
What have you learned about yourself and others since COVID-19 began? I welcome your thoughts and comments below.
Due to the uncertain and stressful times we are currently living in, and also because of research I’ve recently read on the importance of a “playful frame of mind” as we evolve as authentic leaders, I decided to resurrect and share an article I wrote three years ago. …
Many of us learn that after a certain age, it is not appropriate to play. We get messages that we need to become serious and act like an adult. More and more research has shown how important play and laughter are for health and wellness throughout our lives.
You may have heard that laughter is the best medicine. When we laugh, we release endorphins and encourage energy to move throughout our body. In the words of Candace Pert, a neuroscientist and pharmacologist who has spent much of her scientific life studying the mind-body link:
Play and laughter are vital to feeling good. Recreation isn’t merely a frivolous addition to life or a hard-earned reward for work…I believe that in a society driven by a strong work ethic, with so many individuals burdened with workaholism, people aren’t getting enough endorphinergic surges through the bodymind on a regular basis. For you to not be laughing and playing during some part of every day is unnatural and goes against your fundamental biochemistry.
Everything You Need to Feel Go(o)d), 2006
Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute for Play, has conducted research that shows play is not only energizing and fun, but also important for human physical, emotional and cognitive development, and intelligence. Addictions, depression, stress-related illnesses and interpersonal violence have been linked to the prolonged deprivation of play –http://www.nifplay.org . Brown’s TED talk outlines different types of play and provides evidence of the importance of play throughout our lives –http://www.ted.com/talks/stuart_brown_says_play_is_more_than_fun_it_s_vital.html
Based on research by Brown, Pert and others, it is recommended for the health of our minds and bodies that we engage in play and laughter every day.
Types of Play
Research on animals and humans has identified a number of different types of play including:
- Body Play – when we move our bodies in different ways; for example, jumping, running, skipping or moving our bodies to real or imagined music.
- Object Play – when we make an object (e.g. a snowball) and play with it, or play with an object such as a soccer ball.
- Imaginative Play – creating an imaginary friend you interact with (you may have had an imaginary friend when you were a child); creating and sharing a fantasy story with a child; playing “dress up”.
- Social Play – playing tag or playing house with others
- Transformative Play – through digital and other types of “structured” play we learn creative problem-solving.
Strategies for Incorporating more play and laughter
- Travel back in time and identify and write down types of play activities you enjoyed and engaged in as a child.
- Reflect on how many of these activities you currently engage in as an adult and how often you engage in them.
- Rate on a scale of 1 to 10 how energized each of the above activities makes you feel – 1 being “not at all” and 10 being “full of energy”.
- Identify several play activities you would like to begin integrating into your life. Experiment and notice how they make you feel.
- Commit to engaging in some form of play and/or laughter on a daily basis. Ask friends and family for support (perhaps make it a family project to laugh and play at least once a day), and encourage play and laughter in their lives as well.
Your Inner Child
Another way to incorporate more play and laughter into your life is to connect with your inner child. According to Wikipedia “our inner child is our childlike aspect. It includes all that we learned and experienced as children, before puberty.” Others say that your inner child is your “true self” … the small child within you that never grew up. Your inner child is naturally fun, playful, and creative. It is also fragile and vulnerable.
Many of us have buried or rejected our inner child, and it takes some time to reconnect with and nurture it. The process may be challenging and scary for some, especially if you’ve experienced trauma. Connecting with our inner child helps us love, accept and nurture ourselves.
Strategies for Connecting with Your Inner Child 
- Write a letter to your inner child saying that you want to reconnect. It can be a letter of apology or one expressing that you want to strengthen the relationship with her.
- Notice and acknowledge the feelings that come up when you connect with your inner child. Rather than “pushing them down” or rejecting them, allow any fears, sadness or insecurities to surface. Notice what you notice.
- Express those feelings by writing them down in a personal journal or through painting, finger painting or drawing.
- Picture yourself as a 3, 4 or 5 year old and reassure your younger self that they are safe, secure and loved.
- Reorganize your living space. Make it more fun. Bring out joyful childhood pictures, stuffed animals and trinkets and put them on your mantle. Paint one or several of your rooms with guidance from your inner child.
- Buy a coloring book and color several times a week.
- Spend time with children playing children’s games. These could be “hide and seek”, or imaginary games, and creating and telling your own stories.
- On awakening everyday ask your inner child what fun activity they would like to engage in today.
Research shows that bringing our inner child out to play and incorporating laughter and play into our days is essential to be healthy and happy throughout our lives. I encourage you to try some of the strategies and to notice what you notice.
I’d love to hear how you connect with your inner child and what you’ve noticed from that experience. Please share your experiences below so we can all learn and grow from each other.
 Originally published in the February 2017 issue of Eydis Authentic Living Magazine
Many people are talking about the “new normal” and what our lives will look like after COVID-19. Rather than returning to old beliefs, systems and ways of working, I view this time as an opportunity to internalize new beliefs, create new systems and ways of working, building on the lessons learned so far and based on the vision of a world that works for everyone.
One area that I feel strongly about is Work-Life Balance. Having almost burnt out several times in my life I know what it is like to feel SOoo tired and to push through fatigue to finish that one last “thing”, instead of listening to my body and taking a break. I’ve also witnessed younger and younger women clients losing their passion and burning out. Perhaps you relate.
Did you know that burnout is reaching epidemic proportions worldwide?
In May of 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) revised its classification of burnout from a medical condition to an occupational phenomenon. Their definition:
“Burn-out is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions:
- feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
- increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and
- reduced professional efficacy.” 
The importance of this change in the WHO classification is that it acknowledges that organizations and their leaders have a role to play in reducing workplace stress; rather than burnout being perceived as a personal medical issue, a sign of weakness and something to be hidden and ashamed of.
To learn more about how to know if you’re burning out and what to do about it see: https://pamela-thompson.com/how-to-know-if-youre-burning-out-what-to-do-about-it/
When you think about work-life balance what thoughts or feelings come up for you? You may have negative feelings about the term and believe it isn’t possible OR you may dream of living a life where you no longer are feeling there is so much to do and so little time but instead are feeling healthy, happy and fulfilled.
For me, work-life balance is both personal and elusive. Personal, because what work-life balance looks and feels like for me is different from what work-life balance looks and feels like for you. Elusive because many people speak about work-life balance and yet few are able to achieve or maintain it.
How can you as a leader integrate work-life balance into your own life and model it for others in the workplace? Here are some “tried and true” strategies:
- Count up the number of hours you typically work in a week. Is it more than 50? (Obviously sometimes)
- Make a commitment to reduce the number of hours you typically work weekly (choose a realistic number to begin with)
- Experiment with a work week when you reduce your hours. Then notice how you feel. You may wish to journal about it
- Make a clear differentiation between work and home time. For example, before leaving work say to yourself, I am now leaving work behind, or pick a point on your drive or walk home where you make a conscious choice to release work and step into “your” time
- Begin incorporating mindfulness practices into your personal life; e.g.
- on awakening while lying in bed do a body scan from the top of your head to the bottom of your feet noticing any tension, discomfort, heaviness. Breathe into those areas of tension, discomfort or heaviness and set the intention to release and let go of them.
- Start doing mindfulness walking meditations 3 times/week for 30 minutes each time. Some of my clients do this at lunch hour. Others after work. Notice how you feel before, during and after. Is there a cumulative effect?
- Schedule blocks of time in your calendar for you (e.g. work out at the gym, yoga class, lunch with a friend, concert with your partner)
- Unplug at least 90 minutes before retiring and encourage your colleagues to do the same.
- At work, encourage people to take breaks
- Set clear expectations with your direct reports and colleagues related to NOT checking emails and answering texts on evenings and weekends. Share with them the importance of them taking time for themselves and their families
- Have short meetings (up to 60 minutes max) with clearly defined agendas, and expectations so people know why they’re there, how to prepare and the expected results
- Encourage people to take lunch breaks
- Support people to take regular vacations and to NOT check their emails while on vacation (set up a buddy system so staff and managers can feel that the key aspects of their positions are being covered while they are away)
- Have yoga classes and/or a gym on site and participate in the classes/use the facilities yourself.
What strategies have you found helpful to create more balance in your life on a personal level and if you have a team, on an organizational level? I welcome your comments and suggestions below. Feel free to share this post with others.
*updated from May 2, 2016 blog post
 A tool from Easter psychology that I have found extremely useful for getting “out of my head” and into my body is Mindfulness Walking Meditation. Mindfulness practices focus on the senses and feeling sensations and emotions in our bodies. When we do a mindfulness walking meditation, we feel the ground beneath our feet, we feel the breeze against our face, we feel the cool air going from our nostrils down into our lungs. We smell the scent of salt or the aroma of lavender in the air and observe the scenery in front of us. We try to stay out of our minds and experience our senses. Rather than spend a walk in nature constantly thinking and processing all the things we have to do, instead we stay present and experience nature and all of its beautiful sights, smells, sounds and sensations.
Do you feel like there
are never enough hours in the day? Do you crave guilt-free time with family and
friends without that “to-do” list nagging you in the back of your brain? Do you
long for some time for you, to just “be”?
I understand. I’ve been where you are. In December 2012, I
almost burnt out. I had been working on a one-year contract with a non-profit
that promotes women’s and children’s rights around the world. When the
opportunity came my way, I was excited as I felt so aligned with their mission
As I flew to several African countries for project start-up,
I felt energized and passionate; excited to meet the teams on the ground and
learn about their needs and how I might be of support. 6 months in, I started
to feel SOoo tired and that there was so much to do and so little time. Do you relate?
I was initially hired to be a Senior Health Advisor on 5
projects in Asia and Africa to reduce infant and maternal mortality. That
morphed to 7 projects in 7 countries. I was initially to be a member of a
multi-stakeholder working group of four non-profits that had received a large
amount of donor funding to hire a research institute to evaluate the combined
impact of all of our projects in Asia and Africa. Within a month of starting
the position, I was informed that I was the Chair of that working group. The
Chairperson position became almost a full-time job on its own.
I was working night and day feeling so committed to what I
was doing and wanting to do the best job I could. Near the end of the contract
the non-profit invited me to stay on for another 6 months in a reduced role, 2
days a week chairing the multi-stakeholder working group. I was close to
signing the new contract and asked to sleep on the decision. I awoke the next
morning feeling like a lemon that had been squeezed dry. In that moment I knew
that I finally had to listen to my body and take a break. So I turned down the
opportunity. The VP and Director I’d been working with were shocked and asked
me why. I said “because I want to create more balance in my life”. At the time
I had no idea what that meant or what my life would look like but, but I
started 2013 with no work on my plate, committed to reconnecting with family
and friends and spending a lot of time in nature. I studied mindfulness,
started to meditate daily and continued with regular yoga practice. I slept 10,
12, 13 hours a night and after 4 months was still tired. So I went to a naturopath
who put me on some homeopathic meds and within a month or so I started to get
my energy back and feel more like myself.
About 5 months in, the 7 keys to what I call Creative Living; 7 keys to consciously
cultivating improved health, happiness, fulfillment and inner peace in your
life, came to me. I then began writing my first book “Learning
to Dance with Life: A Guide for High Achieving Women” which made #1 on
Amazon on launch day. It is a guide for women, as well as men, who constantly
“give” and “do” out of balance with “receiving” and “being”.
Burnout and adrenal fatigue are reaching epidemic
proportions. In May of 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) revised its
classification of burnout from a medical
condition to an occupational
phenomenon. Their definition:
“Burn-out is a syndrome
conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been
successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions:
- feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
- increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and
- reduced professional efficacy. ” 
The importance of this change in the WHO classification is
that it acknowledges that organizations and their leaders have a role to play
in reducing workplace stress; rather than burnout being perceived as a personal
medical issue, a sign of weakness and something to be hidden and ashamed of.
To learn more about burnout, its symptoms and causes see: https://pamela-thompson.com/how-to-know-if-youre-burning-out-what-to-do-about-it/
Proven Strategies and Powerful Practices
How can we as leaders
and changemakers turn this epidemic around? It starts with us, and our own lives. Here are
a few strategies I’ve personally found effective and have shared with coaching
and consulting clients around the world.
- Integrate mindfulness practices into your life daily. Mindfulness practices help us get out of our heads and into our bodies. They originate from Buddhism. Body scanning is a good place to start. Each morning on awakening scan your body from the top of your head to the tips of your toes. Notice any areas of tension or discomfort. Breathe into those areas and release them. Imagine them flowing out of your body. Mindfulness walking meditations are another practice. I recommend initially doing these 3 times a week for 15 to 20 minutes a day; for example, at a lunch break or immediately after work. Ideally do this outdoors in a park or in nature if possible. Focus on all of your senses. Hear the crunch of leaves underfoot, smell the salty sea air, view the beautiful vistas surrounding you, feel the wind on her cheeks. When thoughts come in to your head, imagine they are clouds. Let them drift by and resume focusing on all of your senses. Notice what you notice during the walking meditations and after.
- Listen to
and Trust in Your Body’s Wisdom. This is one of the 7 keys in my book. What
I know to be true is that our bodies always know the truth. Many of us were
raised in cultures that value and focus on our rational, logical left brain and
staying in our heads. Mindfulness practices help us get back into our bodies,
and learn to listen to and trust them. Try something as simple as when you feel
tired, go to sleep rather than pushing through that last task before heading to
bed. When a decision doesn’t feel right, try going with your gut rather than
rationalizing a decision. For more tools that assist you to learn to make
decisions using your body’s wisdom check out chapter 4 in Learning to Dance with Life.
- Tap into
and Express Your Creative Side. Is
there something you enjoy doing that when you do it you become immersed in it
and lose track of time? Could be film editing, painting, writing,
gardening, cooking … . Chances are when you have this experience, it is one of
your passions, and when you tune into it you are tapping into your creative
right brain. Usually you feel energized and positive while engaging in a
passion. When you are filled with childlike wonder you also get out of your
head and into your body. Regularly taking time to do something you enjoy that
is creative helps reduce the stress in your body and takes your mind off work.
- When you feel stressed Deep breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth consciously
making a noise on the out breath. Do this about three times and notice what
you notice. This practice stimulates the release of the hormone oxytocin that
relaxes us and makes us feel good.
- Set firm
boundaries; i.e. learn to say “no”. In order to do this it is helpful to
clarify your core values (For more info
on values see https://pamela-thompson.com/do-you-live-in-alignment-with-your-core-values/)
– and ask yourself: Is this activity or
this organization in alignment with my top 5 core values? Another
question to ask is: Will this activity
bring me joy? Do I have time to add this activity to my plate?
successes – big and small. Rather than checking a completed project or key
activity off your list and quickly moving onto the next, take time to celebrate
it with yourself and with other special people in your life. This can be as
simple as taking a moment to go inside yourself and acknowledging the work
you’ve done and feeling good about what you’ve accomplished. It could be
treating yourself to a massage, bubble bath or pedicure or going out for a
special dinner with a friend or partner.
I invite you to commit to integrating two or three of the above strategies into your life starting tomorrow. If you would like to learn more about how to stay happy, healthy and grounded while being successful in life and business check out my book Learning to Dance with Life – www.amazon.com/dp/B0145ZGDO2 – which is backed up by evidence from neuroscience, eastern psychology and the health-promoting and healing benefits of the arts.
I welcome your
experiences and comments below. What strategies have you found successful in
reducing work-related stress?
Our world today is characterized by uncertainty. Our economies, our relationships, our jobs, our futures … . Uncertainty is ever present in our lives. Learning how to change your relationship with and to “befriend” uncertainty reduces stress and has a number of other benefits.
The Cambridge English dictionary defines uncertainty as: “a situation in which something is not known, or something that is not known for certain” and “the feeling of not being sure what will happen in the future” (https://dictionary.cambridge.org).
Recently, I came to a point in my business where I was extremely tired and feeling little passion around what I was doing. I knew I needed to make a change but I wasn’t sure what that change was. I had launched a new website and had rebranded less that one year ago. What was I thinking wanting to change things up yet again? Perhaps I just needed to take a break; to relax and “recharge my batteries”?
It was an unusual situation for me to be in, as in the past when I’ve no longer felt “juiced” by what I was doing or felt that an organizational environment was toxic, either I would leave a position, or change my direction in business, and I nearly always knew what I wanted to do next. This recent experience was different. I did NOT know what to do next and felt uncertain.
What happens when we feel uncertain?
We often experience fear and go into fight, flight or freeze – the stress response – as we feel unsafe and our body wants to protect us. When stress hormones are coursing through our bodies we often don’t make rational decisions.
We may “jump” at the first solution that presents itself so we feel more comfortable. This can be a position that we aren’t suited for because we need the money, or a relationship with someone who comes into our life so we won’t be alone.
We may be influenced by a well-meaning friend or person whose opinion we value, and choose a career or position we have the aptitude for; however one that we are not passionate about, instead of taking the time to figure what really “makes our soul sing” and following that path.
I’ve coached a number of clients who were extremely successful accountants, lawyers, engineers … in their late thirties and early forties, who were dragging themselves out of bed every morning, feeling no passion at all for their work. When asked to reflect on when was the last time they felt passion about their work, many admitted that they never really had any passion for their careers; a well-meaning adult had influenced them in their late teens to; for example, “be an accountant because you’re good at Math.”
There was a time in my life when I became a workaholic because I didn’t want to face the uncertainty of what my life might look like if I left my husband. If I kept busy all the time, I didn’t have to think or feel and I numbed out. Possibly you relate.
Uncertainty means different things to different people. I invite you to take a few minutes to think about your responses to the following questions. You may wish to journal about them.
What does uncertainty look and feel like for you?
Do you typically feel fearful when you experience uncertainty? If so, is your typical response fight, flight or freeze?
Do you react differently if the uncertainty is in your personal life than in your professional life?
From experience I know that we often don’t make the best decisions when we feel uncertain. I also know that for those of us who are used to always “doing”, being busy, and having lots of structure in our lives, it can be challenging to NOT DO, but instead to slow down and BE STILL. Many of us believe that to be valued and loved we need to be “doing” and accomplishing important things. Being what I call “in the void” or “in the space between” is quite foreign to us. That said, it can be an interesting journey and valuable experience to learn to feel comfortable with uncertainty.
So how can you change your relationship with “Uncertainty” and perhaps even make it your friend?
Here are some lessons I’ve learned (often the hard way) to “befriend” uncertainty.
- Acknowledge and Accept that you don’t know what to do and that is okay
- Trust that everything will work out for you and the greater good
- Believe that in time things will become clear
- Know that you can’t force clarity
- Remember that creative processes require time and space
- Learn to listen to and trust in your body’s wisdom; it always knows what is best for you.
Below are some strategies to assist in integrating these lessons into your life.
- Learn to listen to and trust in your body’s wisdom. A good place to start is to begin to integrate some mindfulness practices into your life. These practices help take you “out of your head” and “into your body”. They also focus on “being” rather than “doing”. One example is body scanning. On awakening scan your body from the top of your head to the tips of your toes. Notice if there is any tension, discomfort or pain in any part. If you sense any of these breathe into each part and visualize the tension or discomfort releasing or melting away. Another practice is mindfulness walking meditation that I recommend you do three times a week for 15 to 30 minutes each time.
- Spend regular time in nature. This can be going for a walk in a nearby park at lunchtime, hiking, running by the ocean. Finding your special nature place and going there when you feel stressed or would like some guidance.
- Do yoga regularly. Find a style that works for you. I recommend you do it at least three times a week.
- Communicate with others who are close to you. They will then understand how you are feeling and often “cut you some slack”.
- Reach out for support from family, friends, a coach or a health professional.
- Get lots of sleep. If you’re feeling really tired experiment with going to bed earlier.
- Pamper yourself; have a bubble bath, massage, pedicure, make time to read a favourite author
- Move your body. Put on some of your favorite music and dance around your kitchen or living room.
- Connect with your inner child. Do something you used to do as a child that “filled you up” (e.g. painting, drawing journaling) OR try something you’ve always wanted to do but never took the time for (e.g. dancing, learning to play a musical instrument, singing)
- Don’t worry about what anyone else thinks. Remember that when you follow your heart and acknowledge how you feel, you give others permission to do the same.
I’d love to hear from you about your experience with Uncertainty and what strategies and lessons you have found useful to help you deal with it and perhaps even make friends with it. I welcome your comments below.
 A mindfulness walking meditation enables you to get out of your head and into your body. When you walk outside in nature, slowly press one heal and the toes of one foot on the ground followed by the next, being totally present with your movements rather than thinking about all you have to do or reviewing a recent argument with your child or significant other. Focus on all of your senses. Notice the wind on your cheek, the sound of birds chirping, the smell of the salt sea air, see the beautiful vistas that surround you. Notice how you feel while doing the mindfulness walking meditations and after. Over time doing these walking meditations on a regular basis, notice what you notice.