“But I can’t get sick,” I told my husband, somewhere between my dry, hacking cough and102-degree fever. “I have writing deadlines, I’m launching a new website, and I have my next business trip to plan for,” I continued. “Well,” he said, “You’re just going to have to slow down until you feel better.” As a busy professional who is running her own company, the words “slow down” are not in my vocabulary. As I lay stuck on my couch, unable to move, I realized that I wasn’t interested in slowing down until I was forced to, and that was negatively impacting my health and productivity.
If getting sick is the only thing that forces you to actually slow down, here are five questions to help you dig deeper into your own habits:
Do you tie your worth as a person to your work? I consider myself to be a high-achiever, and as a result, I’m not content unless I’m working toward achieving something – usually a goal that I find challenging and meaningful. It’s part of who I am, but it’s not the only part. Feeling connected to your work is important, but don’t get stuck thinking it’s the only thing you bring to the table. Think about the other things that add value to your life and spend time each day nurturing those things too.
What deep patterns and faulty assumptions drive your habits? You carry with you a set of rules or beliefs about the way you feel the world should operate. Your experiences, the way you were raised, your values, your friends, and popular culture shape these beliefs. Dr. Harriet Braiker identified a number of these deep patterns that tend to appear frequently with high-achievers:
** I have to be perfect and do things perfectly.
** I should be able to manage it all without feeling stressed or tired.
** I can’t relax until I finish what I have to do.
** I can handle it all on my own.
Sound familiar? These beliefs aren’t necessarily bad, but they may need to be re-shaped if they undercut your ability to slow down, ask for help, and rejuvenate.
How is your body telling you to slow down? When your body is too stressed, it sends you signals – frequent colds, digestive issues, nervousness, high blood pressure, shakiness, muscle tension, allergies, and so much more. The key is to pay attention to these signals AND discuss them with your health care provider. According to the new Stress in America survey conducted by the American Psychological Association, fifty-three percent (53%) of Americans say they receive little or no support for stress management from their health care providers. In addition, while thirty-two percent (32%) of Americans say it is very or extremely important to talk to their health care providers about stress management, only seventeen percent (17%) report that these conversations are happening often enough.
How does your work environment undercut your ability to slow down? Our bodies and our brains aren’t designed to work without breaks. Performance psychologist Jim Loehr explains that sustained high performance requires short breaks every 90-120 minutes. Many busy professionals feel out of control when it comes to their schedules, and businesses would be well served to make wellness a priority and give their employees opportunities for more control over their work.
What changes can you realistically make? You may want to quit your job and move to a remote island, but how realistic is that? You might not have much control over how your boss manages or the policies that are in place at work, but you can focus on your response to the situation. Don’t be afraid to have the difficult conversations, be they with yourself, your boss, or your health care provider.
I have battled chronic stress most of my adult life, and I know that my habits are a work in progress. I also know that I value my health as much as I value being a high-achiever, and I need to use something other than getting sick as a warning sign that I need to slow down.
As I continue to work on managing my stress in a way that works for me, I’d love to hear your strategies.
Paula Davis-Laack, JD, MAPP, is an internationally published writer and travels the globe as a stress and resilience expert. She has trained nearly a thousand professionals how to manage their stress by building a set of specific skills designed to increase personal resilience. Paula will soon launch a new online magazine to provide busy professionals with the latest tools, tips and information about how to build resilience to stress and lead stronger, happier, and healthier lives.
American Psychological Association (2013, February 7). Health care system falls short on stress management. Retrieved on, February 18, 2013 at www.apa.org.
Braiker, H. (2006). The type E* woman: How to overcome the stress of being *everything to everybody. Lincoln, NE: iUniverse, Inc.
Loehr, J., & Schwartz, T. (2003). The power of full engagement. New York: Free Press.