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.
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.
I recently returned from an amazing 7-day yoga retreat in Spain. What made it so amazing? The nurturing and intimate environment that Soulla and her friendly team at https://www.soulshineretreats.com/ created where everything was planned and done for us. From creative vegan meals prepared with love and served by an amazing chef, to the beautiful venue – a huge house overlooking the ocean with an infinity pool; to the candles by our bedsides that were lit each night; to the gifted alternative healers and the thoughtful team who anticipated and cared for our every need.
Soulshine Retreats, run by the experienced yogi Soulla, has about a 60 percent return rate. Out of the 14 people who participated in my retreat, 11 had been to at least one or more of Soulla’s previous retreats. Why do you think that is? Part of it is due to the beautiful spaces Soulla selects, the warm and caring team she has put together, her warm and soothing voice, the creative and thoughtful way she skilfully designs and delivers her daily program of yoga, meditation and workshops. The other reason I believe is that few of us in our busy lives take time out to nurture ourselves. We spend much of our time giving to others; to our families, friends, staff … . We also have packed schedules and spend much more time doing than being. These are several of the key attributes of High Achieving Women that I share in my book – https://pamela-thompson.com/books/.
There is strong evidence to show that if we don’t take the time to create space in our lives to receive and give to ourselves and take time to be, we are often unable over time to cope with the stress of everyday life and either burn out, go on stress leave or get diagnosed with cancer or an autoimmune disorder such as fibromyalgia or multiple sclerosis.
I’m not suggesting that you head off to one of Soulla’s retreats every time you wish to treat yourself; although that would be awesome! I’m suggesting that you create a list of ways that make you feel special and nurtured and consciously incorporate these into your life on a regular basis. Some of mine are:
- Walking in nature in a nearby park or by the ocean close to where I live
- Having a bubble bath with a candle and dim lighting
- Listening to my favorite music
- Having a massage; ideally with the masseuse coming to my home
- Having a pedicure
- Going to live theatre
When I do the above, I feel more relaxed, rejuvenated, creative and in alignment with the mantra I am worthy. I deserve the best and accept the best now.
I’d love to hear from you what things you do to treat yourself and how you feel when you do them. I welcome your comments below.
Do you habitually check the news feeds on your smartphone before falling asleep?
On awakening do you check Facebook on your phone?
Are you finding it challenging to fall asleep, and do you often awaken feeling unrested?
Do you feel stressed, and have difficulty focusing?
If you answered “yes” to any or all of the above questions, you are not alone, AND you may benefit from a digital detox.
What exactly is a digital detox? According to Wikipedia, a digital detox “refers to a period of time during which a person refrains from using electronic connecting devices such as smartphones and computers.” It is recommended that you do a digital detox for 24 hours or more.
Did you know that:
- 67% of cellphone owners find themselves checking their device even when it’s not ringing or vibrating
- One out of ten Americans report depression; heavy internet users are 2.5 times more likely to be depressed
- 95% of people use some type of electronics in the hour leading up to bed, and
artificial light from screens increases alertness and suppresses the hormone melatonin by up to 22% negatively affecting sleep, performance and mood
- Unplugging for just one day can give some users mental and physical withdrawal symptoms.
The Benefits of a Digital Detox
Scientific studies and social experiments have noted the following results from digital detoxing:
- Reduced anxiety
- Improved sleep/reduced fatigue
- Increased productivity
- Increased connection with self and others leading to improved relationships
- Improved focus
- Increased creativity
- Increased energy
- Improved memory
- Increased clarity
- Enhanced health
Getting Started/How to do a Digital Detox
Frances Booth shares some valuable suggestions on how to do a digital detox. She and others recommend the following.
Create a Positive Mindset
Identify for yourself why you want to do the detox and the benefits it will provide. While thinking about each benefit, imagine how you will feel in your body when you have achieved it. For example, how will it feel to be more productive, more creative, more connected to family and friends, more relaxed. … .
Identify a 24-hour period when you want to try a digital detox. Ideally make it a weekend or a time when you aren’t working. Tell your family and friends your plans, and why you’re doing it.
Plan some time in nature, as being among trees reduces blood pressure, reduces your heart rate and increases the number of natural killer cells your body produces.
Plan some one-on-one time with your partner, a friend or your family to truly connect with them.
Ask for Support
Tell your family and friends of your plans, and why you’re doing it.
You may wish to invite a partner or friend to do the detox with you. Support is important when changing any behavior.
Notice How You feel and Express Yourself
When you start the detox, notice how your feel. It’s not unusual to be fidgety and have some withdrawal symptoms. You may find it helpful to write down your feelings. If you feel the urge to connect, take some deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth. Experience the feelings rather than “pushing them down”.
During the detox and after, notice what you notice and write down those feelings.
Make Digital Detoxing a Habit
The more digital detoxing you do, the easier it becomes. Try unplugging for at least 90 minutes before you go to bed each night. Go offline for 24 hours each weekend.
I love the tagline of http://digitaldetox.org/ “Disconnect to Reconnect”. Unplugging is relatively easy, yet the results are profound.
I invite you to try a digital detox. If you’ve already tried one, please share your experiences and comments below. Share this post with people you care about who could benefit.