Burnout and extreme stress are on the rise globally. The Japanese even have a word for what can result from extreme stress “karoshi” or death from overwork. International cross-cultural studies show 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 was close to burnout a few years ago, how I kept pushing and pushing 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 late 2012, when all that changed. After 13 months in Afghanistan followed by 12 months working with an NGO on projects in 7 countries in Asia and Africa, I finally realized I was exhausted and made a decision to STOP and take a much-needed break.
In general, people are expected to work longer and harder to get ahead. I recall a client sharing when she was articling to be a lawyer that she stayed at her desk for several hours after she had completed all of her work by 4:30 pm because the organizational culture expected articling students to always stay late. I’ve consulted with organizations where people apologized for not checking email while on vacation. One VP shared that this was the first vacation she had taken in 10 years!
Many organizations provide their managers and supervisors with smart phones and do not set clear boundaries related to emails and texts. People feel “chained” to technology 24/7. They feel like they have little or no time for themselves or to spend with family and friends. This causes stress in relationships, and in particular in women, leading to feelings of guilt about not being a good mother, partner or friend.
Organizations tend to reward individuals rather than teams, which encourages competition rather than collaboration among their managers and staff and further aggravates the stress. In a world where information and the logical left brain is valued more highly than intuition and our creative right brain, we have learned NOT to listen to our bodies and to focus on “doing” rather than “being”. Working in an organization or position/profession that is not aligned with your core values can also lead to burnout or adrenal fatigue.
Burnout and Adrenal Fatigue
Dr. Sherrie Bourg Carter in her book High Octane Women states that: “burnout occurs when chronic stress and frustration lead to:
Physical and emotional exhaustion
Feelings of cynicism and detachment
A sense of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment.” (p. 16)
Dr. James Wilson in his book Adrenal Fatigue The 21st Century Stress Syndrome notes that :
“adrenal fatigue occurs when the amount of stress [physical, psychological, emotional, infectious, environmental or a combination of these] overextends the capacity of the body (mediated by the adrenal [glands]) to compensate and recover from that stress or the combined stresses. Once this capacity to cope and recover is exceeded, some form of adrenal fatigue occurs. “ (p. 11)
In general, traditional medicine does not recognize adrenal fatigue. Naturopaths and alternative medicine practitioners do. When you look at the research related to adrenal fatigue and burnout the symptoms overlap.
Do you feel exhausted? Have you lost your passion? Do you feel like your life is all about work and there’s no time for fun? If so, you may be suffering from burnout or adrenal fatigue
Other symptoms include:
Insomnia (difficulty sleeping, mind often racing)
Feeling tired on awakening; even after sleeping 10 plus hours
Afternoon energy crash followed by a burst of energy later in the evening
Unplug from technology at least 90 minutes before you go to bed
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)
Sleep at least 8 hours a night and go to sleep before 11 pm
Schedule blocks of time in your calendar for you (e.g. work out at the gym, lunch with a friend, concert with your partner)
Do some type of physical activity daily
Eat a healthy diet with a variety of unprocessed foods including fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains (plant-based foods are best); poultry and fish
Limit your alcohol and caffeine intake
Begin yoga and if you enjoy it try to do it 3 times a week
Meditate daily for 10 minutes or more
Nurture yourself daily (e.g. have a bubble math, massage, listen to relaxing music, do something you love)
Spend time in nature (aim for 3 times a week for 30 minutes each time)
Make a list of key activities you need/want to accomplish each day. At the end of the day go through the list and check off those you’re completed at the same time celebrating yourself and feeling it in your body (for examples of celebration see http://creativelivingcommunity.com/the-power-of-celebration-2/ )
Focus on one thing at a time
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.
If you are no longer excited about your work, do a values-clarification exercise, and get clear on your core values and what “lights you up”. Perhaps hire a life coach to work with you to assist with this and support you to integrate new behaviors into your life
If symptoms persist and if you are continually fatigued even though you sleep 8 plus hours a night, and have lost your zest for life, go to a recommended naturopath or physician who is open to complementary therapies.
What strategies have you found helpful to reduce stress in your life? What new strategy do you plan to integrate into your life starting tomorrow? I’d love to hear your comments below. Feel free to share this post with a friend, colleague or family member.
You may be thinking “creativity – I don’t have a creative bone in my body.” For many years I had the same belief, until some time ago I decided it would be fun to make pottery gifts for friends and family, so I signed up for classes at a local studio. I remember being in awe when the instructor did the demonstration and transformed a ball of clay into a beautiful object within a few moments. When I got my own ball of clay and started to create something on the potter’s wheel, I noticed the chatter leave my head. I got lost in the moment, felt like a child at play and was able to totally focus on what I was creating (otherwise there would have been a blob of clay on my wheel or on the floor!). And, the pottery bowls I made turned out surprisingly well.
Danny Gregory, in his book The Creative License (2006), states “the ability and need to be creative are hard-wired into all of us.” Often we don’t believe we’re creative, as we don’t see ourselves as musicians, painters or sculptors. Yet, if we examine our lives, we may find we’re creative at designing workshops, creating research projects, writing prose, cooking, dancing, gardening, coming up with “out of the box” strategies … .
So why is it important to connect with your creative side? When we connect with our right brains, we feel relaxed, it takes our mind off work, often we feel like a child at play. Research shows the value of the arts in promoting health and enhancing healing. Laura Cerwinske in her book Writing as Healing Art (1999) states that “the power of the written word stimulates the flow of emotions and readily opens the door to the subconscious.” She provides a number of processes and “assignments” for using writing as a way to heal ourselves and to tap into our creativity. Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity (1992) describes the importance of learning to “recognize, nurture and protect your inner artist (and in so doing)…you will learn ways to recognize and resolve fear, remove emotional scar tissue, and strengthen your confidence.”
Dr. Eugene Cohen’s research demonstrates that creative expression is important for older people of all cultures and ethnic backgrounds, regardless of economic status, age, or level of physical, emotional, or cognitive functioning. His work and the programs of NCCA demonstrate how the arts can serve as a powerful way to engage elders in a creative and healing process of self-expression, enabling them to create works that honor their life experience.
What are the dangers of only using your left-brain, logical side and not taking the time to tap into your creative right brain? Gregory cautions that when we stifle our creativity “our minds grow narrower…we grow remote from others, categorizing and stereotyping the people we meet…we speed through life, wanting to get on to the next thing, unable to take pleasure in the moment.”
How do you tap into and express your creative side?
Sit down in a quiet place, free from distractions. Take a few deep breaths to relax yourself and close your eyes for a couple of minutes if you feel comfortable doing so. Ask yourself the following questions and write down your responses to them. Write down the first thing that comes to mind without judging or editing it.
Are there any creative pursuits you did as a child but haven’t done for years? If so, what are they?
Are there some creative or artistic pursuits you would be interested in exploring/trying out?
Commit to either starting to integrate a childhood “passion” into your life or choose a new one such as “learning to play the piano” that perhaps you always wanted to do, but never took the time for or had the opportunity to do. Identify the next steps for taking action to integrate a new or “old” creative or artistic pursuit into your life. This could include: i) Do online research to identify people who teach piano locally and online by January 25, 2016. ii) Interview my top 3 piano teachers by February 10. ii) Sign up and commit to 3 months of bi-weekly piano classes by February 17.
Support is important to many of us when starting something new and continuing with it. Enlist the support of a friend, colleague or family member to encourage and support you in your new endeavor, or invite them to join you in doing it.
To learn more about tapping into and expressing your creative side, I invite you to join me and 20 other experts at a fun, free online event “Juicy Life, Juicy You”. Check it out at: http://juicylifejuicyyou.com/PamThompson
What tools do you use to tap into and express your creative side? What benefits have you experienced from doing so? I welcome your comments below. Feel free to share this post with others.
December is a great month to reflect on your achievements from the current year and to set intentions for the coming year. According to William Bridges (based on 30 years of research), 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 relationship, career, business … . The end of a year may be considered the ending of a transition and the start of a new year, a new beginning.
A process that I’ve found to be extremely useful for myself, and my clients is to answer the following questions and journal about them at the end of a year and before starting a new one.
What are the achievements I am most proud of in 2015?
What am I most grateful for this year?
What lessons have I learned regarding relationships, work experience, my own blind spots … over the past year?
What are my intentions for 2016 (in five areas)?
Personal life – i.e. What my personal life looks and feels like. Note that it is important to write your intentions in the present tense as if you have already accomplished them. For example; “I am strongly connected to myself, my gifts, my fears, my strengths. I courageously uncover any and all fears, doubts and limiting beliefs that are holding me back from standing in my true power and fulfilling my larger vision and mission … .”
Related to my Health –e. What my health looks and feels like. “I feel great! My body is toned, strong and flexible. I radiate health and vitality – physically, emotionally, socially and spiritually. I do yoga and meditate regularly and live a life of balance.”
Financial – e. What my financial life looks and feels like. “ I average $_______ thousand a month in terms of income generation through Creative Life Coaching. I feel financially free and serene. I pay off my credit cards every month and my line of credit is paid off. … “
Spiritual – i.e. What my spiritual life looks and feels like. “I continue to meditate daily and deepen my ability to go within and connect with the Universal wisdom. I continue to strengthen and listen to my body’s wisdom. … “
Intellectual – i.e. What my intellectual life looks and feels like. “I am flexible, flowing and open to new ideas. I connect with my creativity easily and effortlessly. … I write and publish my first book on Creative Living this year, have a successful book launch and sell out my first printing very quickly… .”
I encourage you to experiment with the process above. Feel free to change the titles of the 5 areas suggested to ones that resonate for you. Reviewing your intentions quarterly and noting how you’re doing in relation to them, helps keep them top of mind and provides encouragement to move forward. Using your intentions as a “touch stone” at the end of each year to review your achievements is helpful.
Celebrating your accomplishments feels so good and is important to provide you with the energy and commitment to move forward and fulfill your intentions.
Best of luck reflecting on 2015 and setting bold intentions for 2016. To your health, happiness, fulfillment and inner peace!
I welcome your comments below and appreciate you sharing this post.
 Bridges, William. Transitions – Making Sense of Life’s Changes. Cambridge: De Capo Press, 2004.
“Celebrate” means to “publicly acknowledge (a significant or happy day or event) with a social gathering or enjoyable activity”; and “to honour or praise”. (www.oxforddictionaries.com). When we examine cultures around the world, we find that all cultures, religions and spiritual traditions have special holidays in which people gather to celebrate. Whether they be Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, Eid, they all provide opportunities for us to connect with people we care about, share certain rituals, and to reflect and take time out from the busy lives many of us lead. It’s interesting that thousands of years ago, people in positions of power realized the importance of taking time out, connecting, and publicly acknowledging a remarkable person or event.
Many cultures also celebrate the birth of a child and subsequent anniversaries of their birth. Isn’t it curious in the busy lives we lead, that many of us don’t take time to celebrate ourselves, and our accomplishments?
When we get together with people we care about, we often laugh and engage in playful activity. 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)
I’d like to share a couple of strategies to support you to celebrate yourself. At the end of everyday, I encourage you to reflect on your day and identify at least one thing (big or small) that you’d like to celebrate. Also, instead of going through your ‘to-do’ list and only checking off what you’ve done, or finishing a project and quickly moving on to the next, I recommend that you feel into your body and acknowledge your accomplishments.
In the video below, I share a technique I’ve found helpful to encourage those endorphinergic surges Candace Pert recommends. Try it and let me know what you experience.
I invite you to share below how you celebrate yourself and any “ahas” you’ve noticed.
Since today is the UN International Day of Peace, I thought it timely to share some thoughts on how you can find peace amongst the chaos of daily life and work.
Many High Achieving Women are restless from a young age. We are on a constant quest for knowledge, meaning and experience. We set a goal, achieve it and swiftly move on to the next project (often more than one at a time 🙂 ). We are always in motion and focused on achievement. Do you relate?
Some High Achieving Women may believe that inner peace cannot coexist with their drive to succeed. They worry that if they slow down, take some time to explore and find some inner peace, they will lose their passion and no longer be successful. From experience, I can tell you that finding inner peace allows you to be more successful, happy, content and fulfilled in all aspects of your life.
When you think about finding inner peace you may visualize yourself on a mountaintop in lotus position, far away from your current reality. Realistically though, as appealing as that image might be, most of us don’t have the time or the money to spend our lives meditating on mountaintops. I’d like to share a poem that for me describes inner peace (source unknown).
It does not mean to be in a place
where there is no noise, trouble
or hard work.
It means to be in the midst of
these things and still be calm
in your heart.”
What do you do to find inner peace?
Here are a few proven strategies and powerful practices that help me stay calm, focused and grounded.
Meditating daily; I find the 21-day meditation challenges (CDs and MP3s) available through www.chopra.com helpful in practicing meditation, and learning to focus on one concept or idea.
Spending time regularly in nature.
Being grateful for what I have.
Doing yoga three to four times a week.
What about you? What strategies have you found helpful to stay calm, focused and grounded in spite of the chaos around you? I’d love to read your comments below.
What do I mean by reclaiming your life? Many High Achieving Women give to other people, causes, and their work BEFORE they give to themselves. They put themselves at the “bottom of the list”. If they do take some time out for themselves, they often feel guilty that they are not working, or selfish that they are not giving to others. Sound familiar?
Reclaiming your life means consciously examining your activities (giving to others and to yourself), making a decision as to what changes you want to make, committing to them and then making those changes. Here’s a short exercise.
In what areas of my life am I giving to others, how often and how does it make me feel? Here are a couple of examples. I invite you to create your own table and fill it in.
Environment or Individual/Community
# of hours/wk/month
1) Volunteer Board member
2) Driving my 2 kids to their sports activities
Local hockey arena(s) & soccer fields
3) Always being a sounding board for my girlfriend
Add up the number of hours per week and per month you are giving to yourself and note which activities really “juice” and/or support you and any that don’t.
Compare the difference between the two tables. Do have any insights?
I invite you to make a conscious decision to let go of one or several GIVING behaviours that are draining you. Decide on the best strategy for letting go of, or delegating those activities, and set a date to do so.
Now review your second chart. Note the activities that are really energizing and/or supporting you. Do you want to increase the number of hours per week you do those OR are there some other things you’d love to try (e.g. taking piano lessons). Add those to the list and set a date to begin them.
Notice how you feel when you “let go” of some of the GIVING activities that have been draining you and when you add more activities where you give to yourself. I invite you to journal about your experience.
Sometimes we go through life and think that we don’t have choices. In fact, we always DO.
When you reclaim your life, you serve as a role model for other women in your family, community, workplace…; so while doing something for yourself, you are also making a positive difference in the lives of other women.
Did you have any new insights from the exercise? Have you committed to making any changes? I’d love to hear from you. Feel free to share the post with others.