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?
In many organizations regularly working overtime is still a badge of honor.
I have a number of close friends who have been high achievers in academia, brought millions of dollars into their institutions, and who have been harshly mistreated by certain “higher ups”.
I have also experienced colleagues who have been undervalued and made to feel they are in jeopardy of losing their positions because they have proposed a creative solution in an organizational culture where maintaining the status quo is the norm.
Increasing numbers of high performing younger and younger women (e.g. in their late twenties and early thirties) are coming into my life having been diagnosed with breast cancer, mono, and/or on stress leave and antidepressants. Burnout and adrenal fatigue continue to be rampant and yet are often “kept under the covers”.
Since I launched my coaching business in 2009, I’ve coached a number of high achieving women and provided them with tools and support to change their lives from constantly driving and striving to healthier, happier, more balanced lives. I’ve recently realized that this is not enough. It is one thing to provide a person with tools and support, but if they return to a work environment that does not enable them to put those tools and strategies into action, it is rather like sending someone on a training and having them return to a workplace that doesn’t enable them to apply the new skills they’ve learned. It is frustrating, unsatisfying and doesn’t address all of the issues.
I realize that it is only part of the solution to provide high performing women and men with tools and the vision of a healthier, happier life. The other part of the equation is to change our organizations so they are healthier.
I would like to start a conversation on this. What is a healthy organization? Is it possible to create healthy, successful organizations?
To start “the ball rolling”, here are a few characteristics of what I believe constitute a healthy organization. A healthy organization:
- Treats their staff and management with respect
- Is clear on their values and “walks their talk”
- Values creativity and innovation and creates space to enable this to happen
- Values and fosters collaboration within the organization and with outside partners
- Is lead by balanced and mindful leaders ( See –https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/balanced-mindful-leadership-time-new-type-leader-pamela-thompson/ )
- Recognizes that many of today’s issues are complex and require multiple disciplines and ways of thinking to address them
- Embraces change and supports its staff and management to better understand and embrace the change process
- Provides a physical environment that supports well-being; for example, a meditation room or garden, indoor plants, on-site gym, yoga and childcare
- Makes a healthy profit
- Gives back to the community
These are a few of my thoughts. I welcome yours in the comment box below.
How do you feel when you return home from a day or weekend of hiking, kayaking, camping, skiing, and being in nature? I feel relaxed, rejuvenated, an inner warmth; grateful for my body to have supported me to hike that challenging trail or to ski those moguls.
While in nature I am in awe of its beauty and at times the amazing stillness. I feel so relaxed and connected with what is around me.
There is more and more research about the benefits of being in nature and the negative impacts of not.
Richard Louv in his book “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder” (2005) coined the term Nature-Deficit Disorder. He has documented research on the negative impacts of children not spending time in nature including: attention difficulties, diminished use of the senses, obesity, and higher rates of emotional and physical illnesses. Research also suggests that the nature-deficit weakens children’s appreciation of and stewardship of the natural world.
“More recent research shows that the steady stress of urban living changes the brain in ways that can increase our odds of schizophrenia, anxiety and mood disorders .”
The positive impacts on health and well-being of spending time in nature have been well documented. Examples include the Japanese practice of “forest bathing” or “forest therapy”. Having set up forest bathing centers in a number of areas throughout Japan and conducting longitudinal studies for several decades, the Japanese have discovered that spending time among trees reduces your heart rate, reduces your blood pressure and increases the number of natural killer cells our bodies produce (i.e. strengthens our immune systems).
South Korea has implemented a National Forest Plan whose goal is “to realize a green welfare state, where the entire nation enjoys well-being”. They speak about “social forestry” and have initiated a number of programs and studies including: walking in hinoki forests, doing guided meditations, and special programs for everyone from cancer patients to prenatal groups, to children with allergies, to a forest healing program for fire fighters with PTSD.
I’m currently reading The Nature Fix by Florence Williams, a journalist who moved with her family from a quiet home in Colorado surrounded by nature to a noisy downtown Washington, DC home on a major flight path. She was so shaken by the negative impact of the move she decided to learn more about nature and its benefits. The book is a fun and interesting read as Florence flies to different countries, takes part in research, speaks to researchers and experiences first-hand a variety of “therapies”.
Given these powerful findings, how can you in your busy and sometimes stressful life incorporate more time in nature? Here are a few suggestions:
- Go for a walk in nature at least three times a week for 15 to 30 minutes ideally in a park where there are trees. You can do this at lunch time if you are close to a park.
- Join a hiking group and go hiking several times a month.
- Go camping with family, friends or a group.
- Find a special place close to where you live (if possible) where you can go that makes you feel relaxed. For me that is on some rocks by the ocean about 15 minutes walk from where I live.
- Take your kids to the park at the end of each work day. Spend 20 to 30 minutes “decompressing” and focusing on having fun and connecting with your children.
- Do mindfulness walking meditations outdoors for 15 to 30 minutes three times a week.
- Do meditations that incorporate nature sounds once a day. I find Deepak and Oprah’s 21-day meditations (available from https://chopracentermeditation.com/) really helpful and do these every morning on awakening.
I’d love to hear how you feel when in nature and what strategies you’ve found helpful to increase your time in nature. Feel free to share this article with others.
 Williams, Florence, The Nature Fix – Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative. New York: W.W. Norton, 2017.
 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.
Have you ever thought about the power and influence you have? I’m not talking about being the CEO of a company of 1000 employees, or a highly paid and sought after speaker, or best-selling author, although you may be. I’m talking about you as a mother, partner, sister, daughter, friend, colleague … . In your day-to-day life you interact with a number of people, and you have the power to influence them in positive ways.
Can you recall being in the presence of someone who really makes you feel like you’re important, that you’re being listened to and truly heard? What qualities make this person memorable? Do they look into your eyes, appear grounded and have their attention truly focused on you? Do they act genuinely concerned about your well-being? Are they truly responsive to what you have to say? Do they speak from their heart?
When we interact with others from a place of being grounded and from a place of compassion and inner peace, rather than thinking about the next thing on our “to do list” or reacting to something someone says, it affects the quality of our relationships and how people “feel” around us. It also affects how open they are to our ideas.
How You Can Increase Your Power and Influence
Here are some “tried and true” strategies:
- Strengthen your relationship with yourself – A good place to start is to identify your unique strengths, talents and passions.
- Draw a chart with two columns. In the first column, write down all the things that you are good at, or things that come easily and naturally to you. They could be things such as, athletics, mathematics, writing, whatever you feel fits.
- In the second column, write down the things you enjoy doing. They could include being in nature, teaching others, using your body, playing piano…. If you feel challenged by this, think back to what you enjoyed doing as a child.
- Now look at both lists and circle the items that are similar or identical. Then review the circled items. Go inside and get in touch with the feeling each one evokes inside you. Does it excite you? Does it have little or no effect on you? Rate each item on a scale from 1 to 10 according to the level of passion you have around it (1 being “no interest at all” and 10 being “red hot”). I encourage you to do this from your body rather than your head.
When you take the time to “unearth” your unique strengths, talents and what you’re passionate about, you better understand why working and being with certain types of people and organizations light you up and others don’t. Then you can take steps to change your life so that you are working or involved with people, causes and organizations that “light you up”. You also inspire others with your passion.
- “Do less” and “Be more” – When we are constantly “on the move”, with packed schedules and little if any “down time”, our minds are always active and thinking of the next thing on our “to do” list instead of truly being present and focusing on the person we are speaking with. Even if someone isn’t consciously aware that we aren’t focusing on them, their subconscious knows. It’s important that we create space in our days to “be”. Suggestions to help you to slow down and become more present include: spending time in nature, doing yoga, taking time to stretch and/or meditate on awakening instead of hitting the ground running, journaling regularly, listening to music you love and moving your body to it.
- Give and Receive in a more balanced way – Many of us are socialized from a young age that it is important to give to others and to put ourselves at the bottom of the list. We are often made to feel guilty or selfish if we “give” to ourselves. Self-care is a “must”. We all need time to nurture our bodies, to relax and let go of the stresses in our lives. When we constantly give to others without giving to ourselves, we may become resentful and SOoo tired. When we are constantly “giving” and “doing”, our body is always in fight, flight or freeze mode and the stress hormones it pumps out eventually lead to burnout, adrenal fatigue, cancer or other chronic illnesses. If we want to positively influence those around us, it is important for us to look after ourselves and regularly take time for that bubble bath, walk in nature, lunch with a friend … .
- Improve your relationships with others – When you take time for yourself, and are aware of how you interact with others, you can be present in your conversations, come to them with an open mind, and from a place of understanding rather than judgment.
Making a difference
I believe that we all want to make a positive difference in the world. It may be on a smaller or larger scale.
What are you truly passionate about? What problem do you want to solve and for whom? Perhaps it’s the communication challenges you’re having with your teenage daughter, or the frustration with a work colleague. It may be an issue you feel passionate about such as water conservation or climate change. Mine is building peace in the world.
Many of us have some fear around creating and effecting change, particularly when it comes to the bigger issues. By joining with like-minded souls, we become energized and are able to create movements that on our own are not possible. I love Margaret Mead’s often cited quote: “Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. For, indeed, that’s all who ever have.”
Here’s a poem I wrote that I hope will inspire and support you to be a positive influence in the world.
We are all women
Connected through the ages.
From hunters and gatherers
To queens and ladies-in-waiting.
Despite our different origins and surroundings,
We all endure similar pain, anxiety, and joy.
Nurturing is what we’re known for.
Caring for the sick, the wounded, the children,
Tireless in our cause, to improve the lot of humankind.
Sitting in a circle with others, hands clasped,
I feel the energy of powerful women throughout the ages.
I feel their warm blood pulsing through my veins.
The time has come to right the wrongs.
The time has come for women to unite
And be catalysts for peace.
No longer can our voices be hushed.
The time for action has come.
Our feminine qualities of intuition, warmth and sensitivity
Enable us to intervene in areas of conflict,
To lead the way towards our vision of a nurturing and caring world,
A world with love, land and opportunity
Women in sacred circles have for centuries felt the energy and
Interconnection among themselves.
Now, more than ever, we need the courage to rise up,
To take action towards making the world a better place
For our families, friends, neighbors,
And future generations.
Will you accept the challenge?
Pamela Thompson, October 27, 2000
Here’s to YOU and to making a positive difference in the world!
I’d love to hear from you. What strategies have you found helpful to increase your power and influence? I welcome your comments and insights below.
*This article was previously published in the March 2017 issue of Eydis Authentic Living Magazine.
Oh, how I love spring! Here on the west coast, the daffodils and crocus have been out for several weeks, and the cherry blossoms and rhododendrons are starting to show their beauty. Many of us in spring get “spring fever” or a burst of energy; particularly if we’ve endured a long, cold winter. This time of year, I have to remind myself that I’m not 25 anymore and avoid taking on too many new obligations and activities even though I feel so alive! Perhaps you relate. Do you often take on alot of activities and obligations, and say “yes” because you’ve been asked and you think you should? I’ve been there and know what it feels like to lose your energy and not feel like doing much of anything. So how can you prevent yourself from taking on too much and then crashing?
Here are a few tips:
- Spend time in nature several times a week or more. Go for a walk, a hike, visit a garden, use all of your senses to take in the natural beauty. Bathe in forests. The Japanese have done longitudinal research to show that when we walk in forests, it reduces our heartrate, reduces our blood pressure and increases the number of natural killer cells our body produces (strengthens our immune system).
- Be aware of your energy and the people who “give” and “take” energy from you. Get clear on the people in your life who energize you and those who tend to sap your energy. Spend most of your time with those who energize you.
- Set healthy boundaries. Write a list of the things you enjoy doing. When people ask you to chair a committee or serve on the Executive of a group, be clear that this is what you enjoy doing rather than what you feel you SHOULD do. Living life following the “shoulds” is energy-draining and doesn’t bring out our “best sides”. For more strategies visit http://creativelivingcommunity.com/are-you-giving-too-much-2/
- Practice saying “no”. You may have been raised in a family where children and women were expected to do what they were asked and experienced the repercussions of NOT following the rules. … Start small. It’s like a muscle; the more you say “no”, the easier it becomes.
- Listen to and Trust in Your Body’s Wisdom. Our bodies always know the truth. There are a number of decision-making tools that enable us to get “out of our heads” and our logical left-brains, and tap into our bodies. Muscle testing is one way to determine whether we should say “yes” or “no”. One way to do this is to stand up straight, feel like you have a plumb line going from the top of your head to the tips of your toes. Then ask yourself the following: Is my name …? And state your real name. Your body should sway forward meaning “yes”. Then say to yourself Is my name John Doe? If that is not your name, your body should sway backwards. Now you have a baseline. Now ask yourself other questions such as Should I accept the position as President of this Club/organization?. When your body moves backwards it indicates “no”, forwards “yes”, and if it doesn’t move ask again. It may be that this decision won’t have strong impact on you either way. For additional examples see http://creativelivingcommunity.com/how-do-you-make-decisions/ .
I’d love to hear from you and invite you to try any or all of the strategies above and notice how they work for you.
Please share below strategies that you’ve found helpful in preventing you from taking on too much and then crashing.
Here’s to your health, happiness, fulfillment and inner peace!
As women, many of us have been socialized to always give to others first, and to put ourselves at the bottom of the list. We may have come to believe that we are selfish if and when we do something for ourselves, such as having a massage, going for a walk on our own, or taking time to journal each morning. Guilt and negative feelings often result from this. We may find it challenging to accept compliments and often deflect or make light of them.
If you are the one others typically come to for support, you may view asking for support as a weakness. You may worry that this will change how people see and value you. After all you are a strong, capable women who has all the answers. Don’t you?
When you constantly give and do for others without taking time for yourself what are the costs? Giving, in and of itself, is a good thing. We feel positive to be helping and supporting others; however if we are out of balance in our giving, over time we may become resentful and SOoo tired because we are giving to everyone else, and not taking time for and nourishing ourselves.
What if we as women recognized the importance of reaching out for and accepting support? What if every time someone gave us a compliment we were able to stay in our bodies, acknowledge and mindfully receive the positive message we were being given? What would that look and feel like?
What if we integrated regular self-care and nurturing into our lives such as regular walks in nature, yoga, journaling, regularly connecting with girl friends, and felt like we deserved this, and that it was essential to our overall health and well being. The reality is, doing so makes us much more responsive, less reactive, more fun to be around, and more present with those we care about.
Did you know that to change a health behavior, we not only need knowledge, skills and motivation; we also need social support. That is, support from others to change a behavior and integrate it into our lives so it becomes a healthy habit. There is a lot of research to show that the more social support people have, the more preventive health actions they take.
When people give support we feel good inside. And when we receive support our bodies produce oxytocin, the bonding hormone. Research shows that oxytocin has a number of positive physical and psychological benefits from enhancing trust, self-esteem, optimism and feelings of mastery to reducing blood pressure, gut inflammation and stress.
I recently facilitated a workshop where I shared a model and positive actions women can take to embrace and learn from life transitions, and reduce the stress associated with major life changes. The need to share was huge, and just knowing that others were facing or had faced similar issues and challenges created openness, understanding and support within the group.
So how can you feel more comfortable asking for and accepting support from others? From my own journey and work with others, I find it easiest to take baby steps. Initially reach out and ask for support for something small. It could be asking a friend or colleague for a drive to an event during a particularly busy week, or asking your partner to do the dishes when you’ve prepared the dinner.
So the next time you’re feeling tired and would like some help, think of who you may reach out to and ask them for support. Notice how it feels. Often when we ask others for support, they feel honored that we did (as long as we don’t do this on a frequent and ongoing basis J).
I invite you to try reaching out and asking for support and notice how you feel and how others respond. I welcome your comments and shares below. Feel free to share this with others who you think might benefit.
“Social support means having friends and other people, including family, to turn to in times of need or crisis to give you a broader focus and positive self-image. Social support enhances quality of life and provides a buffer against adverse life events.” –https://www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu/social-support