"But I can't get sick," I told my husband, somewhere between my dry, hacking cough and 102-degree fever. "I have writing deadlines, coaching appointments, and my next workshop to plan," I continued.
"Well, guess what?" he asked, "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 sat in my living room, confined to my couch and too weak 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, which means that 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 the trick is to not get stuck thinking work is the only part of your life. 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. I've identified several deep patterns or beliefs that tend to appear often in high-achievers. They are:
- 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 manage your stress and rejuvenate. To read more about these mindsets and others, check out my blog "10 Mindsets that Undercut Your Happiness."
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, muscle tension, allergies and much more. Pay attention to these signals AND discuss them with your health care provider. According to this year's Stress in America survey conducted by the American Psychological Association, 53 percent of Americans say they receive little or no support for stress management from their health care providers. While 32 percent of Americans say it's very or extremely important to talk to their health care providers about stress management, only 17 percent report that these conversations are happening enough.
Does your work environment undercut your ability to slow down? We aren't machines, and we simply can't work at a sustainable pace 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. In fact, one study measuring job demands and lack of control found that the one combination that was most detrimental to health and morale was high job demands in combination with low control. Individuals in this category experienced much higher rates of coronary disease and depression than those in other categories.
What changes can you realistically make? You may want to quit your job and move to a tropical island, but is that realistic? Even if you don't have much control over how your boss manages or the policies that are in place at work, you can focus on your response to the situation -- the thinking and behaviors you bring to the table. 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 for 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.
Paula Davis-Laack, JD, MAPP, is an internationally-published writer and travels the globe as a stress and resilience expert. She has trained and coached over one thousand professionals on how to manage their stress and increase their happiness by building a specific set of skills designed to develop personal resilience and prevent burnout. Paula is available for speaking engagements, training workshops, media commentary, and private life coaching -- contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her website at www.pauladavislaack.com.
1. I compiled the list of deep patterns and faulty assumptions based on my own observations of, and discussions with, co-workers, coaching clients, folks who I have trained and taught, classmates, and my own self-awareness. To learn more about mindsets, faulty assumptions, and crooked thinking patterns, please check out these great resources:
Beck, J.S. (2011). Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (2nd Ed.). New York: The Guilford Press.
Braiker, H.B. (2006). The Type E* Woman. Lincoln, NE: iUniverse, Inc.
Brown, B. (2010). The gifts of imperfection. Center City, MN: Hazelden.
Dweck, C.S. (2006). Mindset. New York: Random House.
2. American Psychological Association (2013, February 7). Health care system falls short on stress management. Retrieved on, February 18, 2013 at www.apa.org.
3. Karasek, R., et. al (1981). Job decision latitude, job demand, and cardiovascular disease: A prospective study of Swedish men. American Journal of Public Health, 71, 694-705.
4. Loehr, J., & Schwartz, T. (2003). The power of full engagement. New York: Free Press.
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