by Bernadette Healy
At this time of year in particular, as people start to receive festive season invites, many come face to face with the reality of their working life in terms of its tremendous demands on their time. I hear many describing such invitations as if they are demands upon them rather than – as one imagines the sender intended (well hopefully most senders are so intended) – opportunities to share enjoyable moments. For many people the last work day of the year looms as a date by which seemingly endless to do list items must be ticked. At a time when you may be asked to join others for a cheer-intended gathering at an office or venue, many will be furtively checking the time and wondering how they will make up for the dent in their checking-off-tasks time. In addition you may find yourself being inundated by the emails of those for whom ticking off the task list means sending off emails with requests for you to complete another task. More annoying still are those who feel compelled to copy you in to endless numbers of emails, the content of which is at best tangentially related to your work, but for whom the drive to either be seen to be doing x, y or z or are possibly driven by fear and the urge to cover their tracks, far outweighs any concern for the annoyance and stress they will cause all of those trying to tidy up the in-box before the break.
So how to handle the extra demands on your time? It is more important than ever to build in moments of relaxation in the midst of the busyness (see exercises at the end).
Ask yourself what does a balanced life mean for you? Do you want one right now? Perhaps you are happy concentrating on one area of your life to the exclusion of most else. Being aware that you are making choices all the time, including a choice to forego balance, is of itself, protective. That is, if you are aware of the fact that you are living in an unbalanced way (current societal definition) but have chosen to do so, stress impacts are likely to be less than for those who find themselves caught up in an unbalanced lifestyle without having ever consciously thought about the situation.
Actively reflecting on one’s life – which begins with asking oneself questions about what it feels like, right now, to be living the life you are living – is a critical tool for personal wellbeing. Now might not feel like the optimum time to ask yourself such questions. However you may find that spending a few minutes doing so will provide a stress-release function, even if none of the questions can be answered. Just the action of allowing yourself to move to a different frame of mind via the structure of specific questions, can create the pause in your day which moves the pressure valve down out of the red zone. If you are inclined to ask yourself some questions at this time, a few suggestions are:
- What feels balanced for me?
- Am I in the habit of tolerating unreasonable behaviour/ behaving unreasonably?
- Do I regularly catch up with trusted others?
- Am I actively avoiding anything right now?
- What am I fearful of?
- When did I last feel as if I was being my truly authentic self?
Asking yourself these sorts of questions and allowing time to reflect on the answers opens up the communication process within yourself, about yourself and fosters the development of personal insight. Personal insight, while beneficial in terms of increasing your engagement with your own life and with others is also associated with emotional intelligence which is a hallmark of superior performance and of leadership.
And remember you can choose to be unbalanced if that makes sense for you right now – but set a review period and re-visit this decision.
As you review:
- Consider your values and whether your current decisions fit with these values – living in way which is a poor fit with your values is in and of itself, highly stressful.
- Think about the relative personal energy usage of competing decisions together with the goodness-of-fit with the real you.
- Take responsibility for your choices and be aware of any tendency to explain your decisions as being for the sake of others when in reality it is because it is what you want to do
- Watch for feelings of stagnation and lack of laughter as these suggest that your experience is becoming too confined and that some expansiveness is required – that is, that the lack of balance has run its course.
2 stress management exercises
(takes as little as a minute and can be done at your desk).
Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR)
For each of following body parts start by breathing in and clenching tightly until muscle tension can clearly be felt and hold until you need to breathe out, and release the muscle as you breathe out – try and be aware of the difference in body sensation between holding the tension and the feeling of release – how does it feel to release tension?
- Biceps (via bending at elbows and raising clenched fists towards shoulders)
- Brow (Frowning brow)
- Eyes (squeezing shut)
- Mouth (opening mouth as widely as possible)
- Lips (pursing lips into ‘o’ shape)
- Shoulders (hunching shoulders up towards ears)
- Stomach (pulling stomach in at navel towards spine)
- Buttocks (clenching buttocks)
- Legs (outstretched and toes pointing outwards away from body)
- Legs (outstretched and toes pointing back towards body)
Awareness of breath
It is helpful, if possible to do PMR before the breath awareness exercise but if not that is ok too.
- Close eyes gently.
- Sit with back and neck straight.
- Become aware of your breathing.
- Don’t try and modify the pace of your breath, just observe it as you breathe in and out.
- Try and let go of any thoughts as they arise – remind yourself that they are just thoughts, choose to let them go as if the thoughts are like traffic which is whizzing past you as you stand by the side of a busy road. As thoughts arise, (as of course they will) do not berate yourself for becoming distracted by them but instead, as soon as you are able, bring your attention back to your breath without any judgement or criticism.
- Observe your breath coming and going.
- Don’t count the breaths or think about the process of breathing, but just experience the sensations of breathing in and out.
- Try to observe the breath in the moment of breathing.
- Notice whatever there is to be noticed, for example, the temperature of the breath as it enters and leaves the nostrils, the feeling of air on the skin just under the nose, a feeling of movement within the chest or abdomen as you breathe in and out etc. Practice this full awareness of the breath moment by moment for a few minutes (even a minute will be helpful in terms of increasing clarity and lowering the experience of feeling stressed).