Lessons from a Changemaker: How to Prevent Burnout while Living Your Passion

Lessons from a Changemaker: How to Prevent Burnout while Living Your Passion

As a changemaker, you are passionate about making a positive difference in the world. You may have chosen a career as a helping professional, work for a non-profit or an international development agency. You may be an academic doing research focusing on improving the health of women and children or you may be CEO of a socially-responsible company. Whatever line of work you’re in, you feel “called” to it.

One of the challenges of being a changemaker is that we experience much joy from giving and sometimes may overextend ourselves by sitting on a number of volunteer boards, or by continually pushing through fatigue to finish that one last thing, rather than taking a break and listening to our bodies. Do you relate?

I understand. I’ve almost burnt out several times in my life. When we continually push ourselves without listening to our bodies, we run the risk of experiencing adrenal fatigue or burnout. 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)

While working in Afghanistan with the Ministry of Public Health, supporting them to develop their first strategic plan and building the capacity of internal teams to do planning, I got pneumonia twice within the first 6 months of living there. I recall being at the front of the room facilitating a national multi-stakeholder workshop with my team and feeling an incredible burning in my chest as I wrote on the flipchart. It wasn’t until I arrived home for a short break a week or so later and I felt really low in energy and on my husband’s suggestion I went to the doctor and was diagnosed with pneumonia the first time.

So how can you as a changemaker stay healthy, happy and grounded while making a positive difference in the world?

  • Connect with and learn to listen to and trust in your body’s wisdom. Our bodies are amazing receivers and transmitters of information. They always let us know if something is wrong. Body scanning is an excellent tool when we wish to increase awareness of our body and the messages it sends us. Tara Brach in her book Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life with the Heart of Buddha, walks you through a detailed body scan and explains its power.
  • Spend regular time in nature. Go for a short walk at lunch or walk in the park after work. Go for a hike with a partner, friend or family member. The Japanese have done longitudinal research to show that when we walk among trees it reduces our heart rate, reduces our blood pressure and increases the number of natural killer cells our bodies produce (e.g. strengthens our immune system).
  • Set strong boundaries. If someone asks you to participate in a new community activity (e.g. fundraise for a local charity) or add an extra project to your already “full plate” at work, learn to say “no”. As givers we often say “yes” without thinking about what we already have on our “to-do” lists. I encourage you when asked to do something new, to take several deep breaths, go inside your body and ask yourself the question: Will this bring me joy? Do I really want to do this? Do I have time for this? And if the answer is “no” practice saying “no” without feeling guilty.
  • Get 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night. Sleep heals and replenishes our bodies.
  • Unplug from digital devices for 60 to 90 minutes before going to sleep. Artificial light from screens increases alertness and suppresses the hormone melatonin by up to 22% negatively affecting sleep, performance and mood. [1]

If you’d like to learn more proven strategies for preventing burnout and staying healthy, happy and grounded while living your passion I invite you to check out my #1 best selling book on Amazon Learning to Dance with Life: A Guide for High Achieving Women. FYI, men find it useful as well J.  In the book I share 7 keys to what I call Creative Living. 7 keys to “consciously cultivating improved health, happiness, fulfillment and inner peace in your life.” Each key has powerful strategies and proven practices backed up by research from neuroscience, Eastern psychology and the health-promoting and healing benefits of the arts.

I’d love to hear from you what strategies you’ve found useful to prevent burnout and reduce the stress in your life. I welcome your comments and suggestions below.


[1] http://digitaldetox.org/manifesto/

The Art of “Letting Go”

The Art of “Letting Go”

Have you ever been at a place in your life when you needed to “let go” in order to move forward? It’s interesting how we cling to jobs, relationships, possessions, memories, and the way our lives used to be. Certainty and sameness are indeed safe, yet they can lead to staleness and disengagement in our work, relationships, and with life in general. What if when a change or new opportunity presented itself, you could approach it with passion and excitement instead of focusing on your fears, doubts and the way things used to be!

Right now I’m in a place where “letting go” is huge in my life. I’m soon moving from a beautiful home and location that my partner and I chose to move to for lifestyle 8 years ago; from special friends, colleagues, and a home we thought we would live in forever. Now due to an employment opportunity for my partner, we’re putting our house on the market and moving to a new place and home that we hadn’t planned on. We’re also downsizing from a 5-bedroom house to a 2-bedroom apartment, which has its challenges.

How can you approach life changes with an open heart, excited about a new future, and let go of negative emotions and “stuff” that no longer serves you?

William Bridges in his book Transitions – Making Sense of Life’s Changes differentiates between “change” and “transition”. He views change as situational and external, such as moving to a new city or becoming a grandparent. Transition, he emphasizes, is psychological and internal. Transition is the internal “work” we do to help redefine and reorient ourselves and incorporate external changes into our lives.

Based on over 30 years of research and work with a variety of individuals and organizations, Bridges identified 3 phases that are common to all life transitions. The 3 phases are: 1) Ending; 2) Neutral Zone; and 3) New Beginning. In each phase there are opportunities to learn and grow, and work to be done in order to move forward. This post will focus on endings and the “work” associated with the first phase. See http://creativelivingcommunity.com/life-transitions-turning-challenges-into-opportunities-2/ for details on the other phases.

According to Bridges, the “work” associated with the initial transition phase/the ending is “letting go”. Here are some strategies I, and others have found useful in “letting go” and embracing an ending.

Strategies for “Letting Go”

  1. Write a letter to the person (partner, employer) or location you are leaving, outlining a number of positive things that you have learned from that particular job, relationship, place. Then burn the letter ceremoniously. At the same time, feel the positive things about the experience and release any resistance you may have to moving forward.
  1. Go back over your life and think about your experiences with endings (the death of a pet, the loss of a loved one, a move or a friend moving away). Reflect on these experiences and notice if there is a pattern in how you deal with endings: Do you avoid saying goodbye? Do you quickly move on and try not to think about the experience or the feelings associated with it? Ask yourself if you are comfortable with the pattern. Has it been serving you well or would you like to change it?
  1. Take a moment to think about one particular ending or loss you have experienced in your life. Feel it. What did it feel like for you? How has it affected how you have dealt with other endings or losses in your life? Write down your thoughts and feelings.
  1. If you’re downsizing, moving or decluttering, a helpful strategy is to pull out all of your clothes (for example), hold each one, and notice if it brings you joy.[1] If it no longer does, thank it and then let it go and give it to someone you think may enjoy it or to someone you don’t know (e.g. women’s shelter). If it is particularly challenging to let go of something that has been gifted to you by someone special in your life, imagine someone else wearing the piece and feeling so good and special in it.

Letting go is truly an art; the more we practice it in our lives, the easier it becomes.

What strategies have you found helpful to “let go” of possessions, relationships, jobs … . I welcome your experiences and comments below. Feel free to share this post with others.

[1] Condo, Marie. Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying up. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press, 2016.

Life Transitions – Turning Challenges into Opportunities

Life Transitions – Turning Challenges into Opportunities

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For many of us changes, particularly those we can’t control, are stressful and challenging to deal with, whether they be the loss of a job, the end of a relationship, or a health crisis.  Yet all of these life changes are challenges that may be turned into opportunities.

William Bridges in his book “ Transitions – Making Sense of Life’s Changes (2004), views  “change” as situational and external; such as moving to a new city or losing a job. In contrast, he views “transition” as psychological or internal. Transitions, he emphasizes, are the internal work that helps us to reorient and redefine ourselves and incorporate external changes into our lives.

Research and life experience shows that if we don’t do the internal “transition” work, then we often recreate the same patterns in our lives. An example is someone who after 3 marriages, on reflection, realizes that she has married 3 different men who are similar (they may even resemble one another) and has dealt with the same issues in each marriage, never resolving them but rather recreating them and remaining unhappy.

So in order to move forward and be happy and fulfilled, we need to take time in each transition to do the work that will enable us to grow, and change past patterns that are no longer serving us.

How can you embrace a life transition (such as the end of a significant relationship) and learn and grow from the experience?

  • Slow down; for example– rather than getting back on the internet and going out dating right away at the end of a relationship, why not take some time for yourself.
  • Reconnect with yourself and what you enjoy – Take some time alone to think about times in your life when you felt really happy and alive. Think about things you used to do and haven’t done for some time or things you’ve dreamed of doing but never taken the time for. Begin doing them – start with one activity and notice how it makes you feel.
  • Get in touch with and acknowledge your feelings rather than pushing them down and not experiencing them; this is important to begin the process of healing from the inside out.
  • Express those feelings through journaling, painting, drawing, dancing, etc.
  • Nurture/Pamper yourself – go for a massage; have a bubble bath; do something special for yourself and remember that YOU are special and deserve the best.
  • Spend time in nature – go for a walk by yourself in a nearby park or plan a hike with a friend; being in nature is grounding, helps us clear negative energy, relax and clear our minds.
  • Exercise – do something physical be it yoga, a swim, a walk or a hike; this helps the energy to flow and also assists in releasing tension, anger and stress.
  • Reach out for support – to a friend, counselor or life coach.

If you change your perspective around a major transition and view it as an opportunity for self-learning and positive growth, wonderful things will begin to happen in your life.

How do you react to change? Does it “scare you to death” or do you “thrive on it”? Reflecting on previous life transitions, how have you tended to deal with them?

We welcome your comments and lessons learned. Feel free to share this post with others who you think might find it of value.

 

 

The Power of Story

The Power of Story

2014-06-19 15.11.30 I recently had a positive experience that reinforced for me the power of story to connect us with others and more deeply with ourselves. The editor of F.I.N.E. Success Magazine emailed me after reading my story on this website. She contacted me about sharing the story with her readers, as she believed it would inspire them. Not long after, one of Vikki’s journalists interviewed me and asked questions about key learnings and achievements in my life. Here’s the link to the article on “Well-Balanced Living”. See pages 32 and 33 and click on a page to increase the font size:

http://issuu.com/finesuccess/docs/fine_success_magazine_-_june_2014/1?e=5615554/8148763

Reflecting on this experience, I realize that when we share our challenges and achievements they inspire others. Reviewing our lives and identifying key learnings and achievements helps us to learn more about who we are and what we are here to do in the world. It also enables us to identify and savour our accomplishments.

So next time your inner critic says “Don’t share that it’s boasting” or “What will people think?” ,  know that when you share your truths (e.g. challenges, learnings and achievements), people will connect with you and be inspired.

Have you shared your story with others? Do you recall how you felt when you first shared a “secret” aspect of your life and/or an accomplishment you were proud of? Did your inner critic “rear its head”? How did the person or group react when you shared your story?

I invite you to share your comments and insights below.

Are You Giving Too Much?

Are You Giving Too Much?

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The act of giving in and of itself is a positive experience. It makes us feel good when we share our gifts, talents, time … with others. That said, often as High Achieving Women we give too much. What are some signs that you are giving too much?

Are you feeling SOOO tired? Do you volunteer on a number of boards and/or committees and have little or no time for yourself? Are you always giving to others yet almost never reach out or ask for support? Do you crave some time to relax, reflect and just be?

I remember a time in my life when I would leave home at 7:30 am and return at about 11:30 pm most week-nights. My schedule was always full with a number of volunteer activities in addition to my full-time job. I would “hit the ground running” every day.

What happens when we give too much over time?

  • We have less patience with and tolerance of others
  • We become more reactive and less responsive in our interactions (e.g. we react to what people say rather than taking the time to thoughtfully respond)
  • We have low energy and feel tired on awakening
  • We become resentful and may feel like a victim; e.g. “I’m always helping Sue but she’s never there for me?
  • Over time we may “burn out” or suffer from an auto-immune disorder such as fibromyalgia

How can you start “receiving” and bring yourself more into balance? Here are some proven suggestions:

  • Treat yourself to a massage or bubble bath
  • Eat healthy foods
  • Treat yourself to a yoga class and be truly present during it
  • Reach out for support when you need it; e.g. “Honey do you mind driving the kids to school today? I have an important meeting and I’d like to get to work early to get ready for it.”
  • Meditate for at least 10 minutes everyday
  • Make a list of the volunteer activities you are involved in. Get clear on which one or ones are MOST important to you and why. Withdraw from the others to create more time and space for YOU
  • Sit down and make a list of at least 5 things you could do to nurture yourself. Begin integrating these into your life and notice how you feel.

Are you giving too much? What impact is your giving having on your body, mind and relationships at home and at work? I invite you to share your thoughts below.

The Importance of Play in Our Lives

The Importance of Play in Our Lives

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Spring is a season that reconnects me with my inner child. I see the world with new eyes; with child-like wonder. I get “spring fever” and find it hard to focus on work. This is partly because I live in a climate that has long, cold winters; and bursting of buds, appearance of robins and the sun’s warmth beckons me to play.

Many of us were raised to believe that childhood is the time for play and as adults work “should” be our focus. There is an increasing body of evidence supporting the importance of play and laughter throughout our lives.

When we laugh, we release endorphins and also encourage energy to move throughout our body.  In the words of Candace Pert, a neuroscientist and pharmacologist who 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 their 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” (excerpt from book by Pert – Everything You Need to Feel Go(o)d), 2006)

Stuart Brown, Founder of the National Institute for Play – http://www.nifplay.org in this You-tube video: http://www.ted.com/talks/stuart_brown_says_play_is_more_than_fun_it_s_vital.html outlines different types of play and provides evidence of the importance of play throughout our lives. His research shows that play is not only energizing and fun; it is important for human physical, emotional and cognitive development and intelligence.

Based on research by Brown, Pert and others, it is recommended for the health of our minds and our bodies that we engage in play and laughter every day of our life.

Play includes jumping, skipping, tickling or being tickled, being curious, creating and sharing a fantasy story with a child … .

How about you? Does spring connect you with your inner child? What types of play do you engage in? What strategies do you use to connect you with your inner child? What do you notice when you engage in such activities?

I welcome your comments and insights below.

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