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.
Did you end 2019
feeling exhausted and burnt out? Did you set the intention that this year would
be different, that you would take more time for you and to spend with friends
and family? Are you finding that already you are slipping back into old
patterns of taking work home in the evenings and working on weekends?
I understand. I’ve been there. Early in my childhood I
internalized the belief that in order to be loved and valued I needed to
perform and achieve. And so I kept doing that. Setting one goal, reaching it;
then raising the bar and striving for the next one. Taking very little, if any
time, between my accomplishments to celebrate; until I became exhausted and
What happens when we
are driving and striving?
- Our agendas are packed
- We have little or no time for ourselves
- When we are speaking with someone, often half of
our brain is focused on them and the other half is focused on the next thing on
our to-do list
- We feel like there is so much to do and so
- We focus on our goals and become so fixated on
achieving them that we may miss out on other opportunities that come our way
- We often feel tired on awakening
- We may start to feel resentful, as we seem to be
giving to everyone else, yet no one seems to be there to support us when we
Do you relate? Living this way, constantly driving and striving, leads to adrenal fatigue, burnout, various types of cancer, and auto-immune disorders such as fibromyalgia and multiple sclerosis (for more details on burnout and what to do about it – https://pamela-thompson.com/how-to-know-if-youre-burning-out-what-to-do-about-it/). When we work night and day, our bodies don’t have time to return to homeostasis where we relax and rejuvenate ourselves. As stress hormones constantly surge through us, our organs eventually burn out.
What does thriving
look and feel like?
- We feel happy, healthy and grounded with a balance
between “giving” and “receiving” and “doing” and “being”
- We feel open to possibilities
- We awaken feeling energized and excited about
the day ahead
- We spend time with people we care about
- We feel connected to something greater than
- We spend regular time in nature
- We exercise regularly
- We are grateful for the life we have
- We are clear on our core values and live life in
alignment with them.
Feel free to add your own descriptions to the lists above.
How do we move from
driving and striving to thriving?
- We learn to Listen
to and trust in our body’s wisdom – The first step in getting out of our
heads and into our bodies is a mindfulness technique called body scanning. On awakening, you begin
scanning your body from the top of your head to the tips of your toes and
noticing where there is any tension or discomfort. Then you breathe into these
areas and set the intention to release any discomfort. Another mindfulness
practice is mindfulness walking meditations.
I encourage my clients to begin doing this 15 to 20 minutes a day, 3 times
a week. It can be done at noon or during a break. Instead of taking a walk and
thinking about the next thing on your plate or reflecting on a stressful
conversation you had with a partner or team member, you focus on your senses.
You feel the wind on your cheeks, you smell the salt sea air, you hear the
birds singing, you see the beautiful vistas surrounding you. When thoughts come
into your mind you view them as clouds floating by and let them pass, returning
to focusing on one of your senses. When you do this, notice what you notice
during the exercise, after and the cumulative effects.
- When you are feeling stressed, Take deep breaths in through your nose and
out through your mouth; making a sound as you breathe out. When you do this
3 or 4 times you release oxytocin, a hormone that relaxes you.
- Each week
block off in your calendar all of the things you commit to doing for yourself
(that you enjoy). For me one of these is yoga 3 times a week at noon. It
may be going to the gym 3 of 4 times a week after work. It may be meeting a
friend or partner for lunch once a week.
- Set firm
boundaries. Learn to say no. This is important at work, and with family and
your energy levels and schedule your activities to capitalize on these. For
example, if possible, do your creative work when you are naturally more
creative. Schedule meetings after 10 am.
- Spend regular time in nature; walking, hiking, cycling, kayaking … . Nature is therapeutic. Based on several decades of research, the Japanese have evidence to show that forest bathing/walking among trees reduces your heart rate, reduces your blood pressure and increases the number of natural killer cells your body produces. For more on the benefits of being in nature check out: https://pamela-thompson.com/how-you-can-benefit-from-nature-why-its-important/
from technology for at least 24 hours one day a week (e.g. on weekends) if
your achievements, big and small.
It’s important to reach out for support to friends, family
or a coach, as moving from driving and striving to thriving, IS a journey and
it requires support from others.
For more practical tools and techniques to support you to be healthy, happy and grounded, I invite you to check out my book Learning to Dance with Life: A Guide for High Achieving Women – www.amazon.com/dp/B0145ZGDO2 that is backed up by evidence from neuroscience, eastern psychology and the health promoting and healing benefits of the arts. There is also a series of coaching questions woven throughout the book to support you to move from driving and striving to thriving.
I welcome strategies that you’ve found helpful in the comments below.
A habit is defined as: “a settled tendency or usual manner of behavior … ; an acquired mode of behavior that has become nearly or completely involuntary …: a behavior pattern acquired by frequent repetition” (Merriam-Webster dictionary – https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/habit)
When we choose to make
something a habit, we integrate it into our lives and regularly repeat it, so
over time we don’t have to make a decision about whether or not to do it. Becoming
consciously aware of the benefits a positive habit brings to you, such as a feeling of calmness and being grounded that
comes from meditating daily, is beneficial. Such positive results support you
to continue those behaviors.
What habits have served you well in 2019 that you wish
to bring into 2020?
I encourage you to spend some
time reflecting on those habits that have supported your physical, emotional,
social and spiritual health and to writing them down. A personal example is – The habits I commit to continuing in 2020 are:
- Daily meditation
- Daily stretch routine
- Regular yoga classes (3 times/week)
- Regular walks in nature (3 or more times/week)
- Listening to my body and trusting in its wisdom.
What new habits do you wish to embrace in the New
The new habits I commit to embracing are:
- Unplugging from technology for 24 hours or more every
- Writing on a regular basis (i.e. 4 or more times/week
for 20 minutes or more each time)
- Ending my days reflecting on what I am grateful for
and any lessons learned
- Having regular massages and/or energy work (every 6
weeks to 8 weeks)
- Becoming more conscious of living in the present
moment and practicing mindfulness
- Meeting with friends one or more times/week
- Increasing the percentage of plants and legumes in my
diet to 50 percent
What habits do I commit to letting go of/releasing in
- Judging myself and others
- The belief that in order to be loved and valued I need
to perform and achieve each day
- Spending so much time on the computer daily.
Writing down what you commit
to, strengthens the possibility of you actually creating new habits and
releasing old ones that no longer serve you.
I’d love to hear what habits you are bringing into
2020, what new ones you are creating and which ones you are choosing to let go
of. I invite you to share your thoughts below.
The holidays are a time of joy, laughter, connecting with family and friends, and celebration. They also may be stressful on our bodies, minds and “pocket books”. With our already busy lives, extra baking, shopping, gift-wrapping, and entertaining can make us feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day.
Here are a few tips to help you to stay healthy, happy and mindful during the holidays and beyond.
- Take time for you – Holidays are a time to give to others, and they are also a time to give to yourself. Schedule time in your day for that yoga class, to go to the gym, for that bubble bath. Rather than jumping out of bed each morning and “hitting the ground running”, do a full body stretch; close your eyes and scan your body from head to toe noticing any areas of tightness or discomfort. Breathe into those areas and release that tension or discomfort.
- Spend time in nature at least 3 times a week (for 15 to 30 minutes or more). Being in nature is SOoo therapeutic. Focusing on the beauty that surrounds you takes your busy mind off that never-ending “to-do” list. Did you know that the Japanese have done longitudinal studies that show when we spend time in forests (they call it forest bathing or forest therapy) it reduces our heart rate, reduces our blood pressure and increases the number of natural killer cells our body produces; which means it strengthens our immune system. During stressful times it is particularly important to keep our immune systems strong so we don’t end up with that flu or cold after our guests leave!
- Celebrate YOU! At the end of each day identify at least one thing you want to celebrate about yourself for that day. It could be something you accomplished or how you responded in a stressful situation. When you constantly give to others without nourishing and celebrating yourself, you will become depleted and may also become resentful and/ or ill.
I’d love to hear your strategies for staying happy, healthy and mindful during the holidays. Please share them below. Feel free to pass this on to others you care about.
 Here is a useful resource on mindful eating: http://thecenterformindfuleating.org/
Introduction to the Experiment
If you’ve been following previous posts you’ll know that I “pressed the pause button” on my business in late June of this year. What I mean by this is I consciously decided to take some time off even though I was healthy, but was feeling a bit tired and uninspired. You may check out this post – https://pamela-thompson.com/creating-space-the-how-and-why/ – to learn more about how I consciously created more space in my life.
I’m excited to share that within the past 2 weeks, I’ve become inspired, feel re-energized and a new direction for my business has surfaced. I’ve realized that I want to integrate elements of my consulting business with my coaching business and to serve heart-centered leaders and changemakers. Stay tuned for more details to come!
The intention of this post is to share the lessons learned from my creating space “experiment”. This past few months have been one of only a couple of times in my life when I have consciously decided to stop working, to spend more time “being” and to focus on “getting out of my head” and “into my body”. Perhaps you relate?
One of my friends recently referred to the past 4.5 months as a “fallow” period in my life. A time similar to winter (in the northern hemisphere) when crops and perennial plants go underground and it looks like they are dead and nothing is happening. What really is occurring is that they are in hibernation and things are happening but they aren’t evident. I recently heard that grizzly bears give birth while in hibernation. How cool is that! I feel like even though I wasn’t actively reflecting and wondering what to do next during this period, that things were indeed happening. Similar to a new green shoot pushing itself out of the ground, I feel like the new ideas for my work organically emerged.
So what were the key lessons I learned from this conscious “fallow” period?
- Spending time in nature (almost daily) was an incredible gift. Now if I don’t go for a walk every day to a nearby park or the ocean for at least 20 to 30 minutes, I feel like I need and haven’t gotten my nature “hit”. I don’t feel as energized, joyful and as calm as when I immerse myself in nature daily.
- I now feel more in touch with my body. I’ve changed my diet and have a lot less indigestion than before my “sabbatical”.
- I feel more relaxed and that is a state I can access more easily than before.
- I am more joyful and playful and feel more connected to my “inner child”.
- I feel more present in my conversations with others.
- I feel more sensitive to those around me and have to be careful not to take on their stress or negative energy
- I feel like I’m letting go of some old patterns that no longer serve me; e.g. trying to change someone I care about when they demonstrate unhealthy practices.
- I feel much gratitude for having been able to give myself this gift.
I realize that we can’t all take 4.5 months off every time we’re feeling tired and uninspired. However, I do believe that consciously creating space in our lives is therapeutic, reduces stress and stimulates our creativity, not to mention the positive benefits it has on our relationships.
I’d love to hear from you about strategies you’ve found helpful to create space and if you’ve done something similar to my recent experiment, what you discovered. Feel free to comment below and to share this with others.
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.