by Kathy Zering
In today’s fast-paced world, burnout is becoming more and more common. And the connection between burnout and your physical health and wellbeing is undeniable.
Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, mental and spiritual exhaustion caused by prolonged stress. It’s a condition where you’re completely depleted and feeling hopeless, frustrated and fatigued. Chronic stress that’s tied to burnout has a significant impact on your body and mind, and it’s essential to understand the effects of this type of stress to prevent burnout and maintain good health.
Chronic Stress Causes Burnout
Chronic stress is the most common cause of burnout. It’s the result of prolonged exposure to stressors, like work-related stress, financial stress, relationship stress, or health-related stress.
In your body, chronic stress activates the sympathetic nervous system, triggering the body’s “fight or flight” response. When this happens, your body releases stress hormones, like cortisol and adrenaline, to help you respond to the stressor. These hormones increase heart rate, blood pressure and blood sugar levels, preparing your body for action.
While the fight or flight response is needed for you to respond to acute stress that lasts from a few hours or days to a few weeks, it can be harmful when it’s chronic (lasts for months or years).
Burnout’s Detrimental Effects on Your Body
Chronic stress can lead to the overproduction of stress hormones, which has detrimental effects on your body. These effects include:
Chronic stress is known to increase the risk of heart disease by causing the heart to work harder than necessary. It can also lead to high blood pressure, which can damage the arteries and increase the risk of a future heart attack or stroke.
Immune system dysfunction
Stress hormones can weaken your immune system, making you more vulnerable to getting sick by picking up contagious infections and illnesses from others.
Chronic stress can also increase inflammation, which has been linked to a range of chronic health conditions, including chronic joint pain, autoimmune diseases, heart disease and cancer.
Stress can also lead to digestive problems like heartburn, indigestion, acid reflux and excess stomach acid. Chronic stress is linked to conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), stomach ulcers and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
Mental health issues
Chronic stress can have a significant impact on your mental health, leading to brain fog, the inability to concentrate, mood swings, anxiety, depression, and mood disorders. It can also worsen symptoms of existing mental health challenges and conditions.
Stress can disrupt your sleep patterns, leading to insomnia and other sleep issues. Lack of sleep can, in turn, worsen stress and lead to a vicious cycle.
Muscle tension and pain
Chronic stress can cause muscle tension and pain, especially in the neck, shoulders and back. It can also worsen existing chronic pain conditions, such as fibromyalgia and arthritis.
Managing Burnout and Chronic Stress
It’s important to understand that the effects of chronic stress are cumulative. The longer stress is present and not addressed, the more damage it can do to your body. So don’t ignore the signs of burnout and chronic stress. It’s crucial to take steps to prevent burnout and manage stress levels quickly.
Here are some ways to manage stress and prevent burnout:
Self-care is essential for maintaining physical, mental, emotional and spiritual wellbeing. Taking care of yourself can help reduce stress levels and prevent burnout. Some examples of self-care include exercise/regular movement, getting good quality sleep, eating a healthy diet and practicing relaxation techniques like meditation or intentional breathwork.
Practice time management
Effective time management can help reduce stress levels by allowing you to prioritize tasks and manage your workload effectively. This includes setting realistic goals, breaking tasks into manageable steps, delegating tasks to others, and scheduling time for breaks and relaxation.
Crucial for preventing burnout is the setting of boundaries. It’s important to learn to say “no” to requests that are not essential or that will put too much strain on your resources. It’s also important to establish clear boundaries between work and personal life, and allow and plan your time to include rest and relaxation. Hint: add it to your calendar.
Seek social support
Talking to friends, family or a professional can help reduce stress levels and prevent burnout. Having a support system can provide a sense of belonging and reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness that often accompany burnout..
Practice being present (mindfulness)
Being present, or mindfulness, is a practice that involves being fully conscious of what you’re experiencing in the now – your present moment experience. And being fully engaged with it without distraction. If you’re lost in thought, reliving the past, worrying about the future, or going through the motions, it interferes with how you act in the present.
The famous philosopher Lao Tzu said “If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future. If you are at peace you are living in the present.” Being present by focusing and listening to others during conversations, or with practices like meditation and deep breathing can help you feel more connected, reduce stress levels and promote relaxation. Fully enjoying the little things in life, like savoring a hot cup of tea or coffee, or joyfully appreciating the blooms and wildlife in a garden during spring or summer, are other examples of being present.
Taking regular breaks throughout the day can help reduce stress levels and prevent burnout. It may not always be feasible, but a 5 to 10 minute break every hour is ideal. Taking a short walk, practicing deep breathing while stretching your body, or taking a brief nap helps recharge your batteries and keep stress levels in check. Listen to your body’s cues and don’t push through what it’s telling you it needs. Take that 10 minute nap if you’re exhausted. You’ll feel better afterwards.
Seek professional help
If stress levels are severe or chronic, it may be necessary to seek professional help. As an intuitive healing coach who specializes in burnout and stress relief, as well as a Corp HR burnout survivor, I believe everyone suffering with burnout deserves help to recover more quickly and effectively than suffering alone. I know first hand how important getting the right professional is to help you develop coping skills, manage stress and prevent burnout.
The connection between burnout and your physical health and wellbeing is clear. Chronic stress has a significant negative impact on your body, and can lead to a range of health problems like cardiovascular disease, immune system dysfunction, increased inflammation, digestive problems, mental health issues, sleep problems, and muscle tension and pain.
Because of this direct link, it’s crucial to take steps to prevent burnout and manage stress levels before it’s too late. Prioritizing self-care, practicing time management, setting boundaries, seeking social support, practicing being present, taking breaks and seeking professional help are all effective ways to manage stress and prevent burnout. By taking care of yourself and managing your stress levels, you can maintain good physical and mental health and wellbeing and avoid the detrimental effects of chronic stress.
Additionally, it is important to recognize the signs and symptoms of burnout. These can include physical symptoms like exhaustion, headaches, and muscle tension, as well as emotional symptoms like irritability, cynicism, and a lack of motivation. Burnout can also lead to a decrease in productivity, quality of work, and job satisfaction.
If you’re experiencing symptoms of burnout, it’s important to take action sooner than later. Get professional help, adjust your workload or take time off to rest and recharge. Ignoring burnout can lead to long-term and serious health issues and a decreased quality of life.
Photo by Alexander Grey, Unsplash
by Kathy Zering
Burnout is a common experience that many people face, especially if you work in a high-stress profession or environment. Burnout can have a significant impact on your mental health. And it’s important to recognize the signs and take action to prevent it from spiraling out of control.
What is Burnout?
Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, mental and spiritual exhaustion caused by excessive or chronic stress. It’s often characterized by feelings of cynicism and detachment from work, reduced effectiveness and productivity, and a sense of being overwhelmed, emotionally drained or physically exhausted.
Burnout can affect anyone, but it’s most common in professions that involve long hours, high-pressure situations, and a sense of constant demand. Healthcare workers, Human Resources professionals, business leaders, lawyers, and entrepreneurs are just a few examples of professions where burnout is prevalent.
The Relationship Between Burnout and Mental Health
Burnout and mental health are closely intertwined. In fact, burnout is now recognized as an occupational phenomenon by the World Health Organization (WHO), which describes it as a “syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”
If you don’t address it, burnout can lead to serious mental health issues, including anxiety, depression, and even substance abuse. Burnout can also exacerbate existing mental or physical health conditions, making it more difficult for you to manage your symptoms.
Recognizing the Signs of Burnout
The first step in addressing burnout is recognizing the signs. Here are some common indicators that you may be experiencing burnout:
- Chronic fatigue and exhaustion
- Feeling cynical or detached from work, coworkers, or loved ones
- Reduced effectiveness and productivity at work or in daily life
- Dreading Sundays or holidays as you think about returning to work
- Difficulty concentrating or making decisions; brain fog
- Feelings of hopelessness or despair
- Lack of joy in life activities that gave you joy before
- Increased irritability or anger; lashing out at others
- Physical symptoms, like headaches, muscle tension or digestive issues
- Poor quality sleep including inability to fall asleep, waking during the night and can’t fall back asleep, or feeling exhausted after a full night of sleep
If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s important to take action to prevent your burnout from getting worse.
Preventing Burnout and Promoting Mental Health
Preventing burnout and prioritizing your mental health requires a multi-faceted approach. Here are some strategies that can help:
Don’t be afraid to get professional help. This may mean working with a healing coach like me who specializes in burnout prevention and recovery by revealing and healing the root cause. When I had burnout during my previous HR career, I wish I found the right support sooner rather than suffering for as long as I did.
Taking care of yourself first is essential for preventing burnout. Selfish is not a bad word! This means getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet, staying active, and consistently practicing relaxation techniques like meditation.
In my experience, hard-working, ambitious and giving people who value their work find this difficult. It may be the people pleasing values or work ethic they were taught that causes these work and personal life imbalances. Sometimes you don’t even realize how off balance until it becomes a major problem. It’s important to set boundaries around your work and personal life to prevent burnout. This may mean limiting your work hours, saying no to additional assignments or “growth opportunities”, or taking breaks throughout the day when you need it.
Prioritize Meaningful Activities:
It’s important to prioritize activities that bring you joy and meaning outside of work. This may mean spending time with loved ones and friends, pursuing a hobby, or volunteering for a cause that you care about.
Create a Supportive Work Environment:
If you’re in a position of leadership, it’s important to create a supportive work environment that promotes mental health and prevents burnout for your employees. This may mean offering flexible work arrangements, providing realistic work expectations, creating a culture of open communication and support or paying attention to any signs of burnout and addressing it before it escalates.
Burnout can have a significant impact on your mental health, but it’s a preventable and treatable condition. By recognizing the signs of burnout early and taking action to prevent it from getting worse, you can protect your mental health and overall well-being.
Photo by Elisa Ventur, Unsplash
by Kathy Zering
A helpful strategy for uncertain and uncomfortable times is to focus on growth. Just like how it’s best to focus on the solution to a problem rather than the problem itself, I’m suggesting you focus on how you’re growing and developing instead of how uncertain things are. Growth brings a sense of confidence, stability and security.
The next time you’re beginning to stress over a particular situation or challenge, ask yourself these questions, “How is this challenging time or situation causing me to grow?” and “What am I learning from this?”
Uncertainty is all around us
It’s a fact of life. Uncertainty always exists. We’re always dealing with the unknown, in positive or negative ways.
For instance, you’re about to start a new assignment at work. You have certain expectations but it’s with colleagues you’ve never worked directly with before. It could be the best work experience ever, or the most challenging that tests your ability and forces you to learn and grow.
Or even something as simple as a trip to the grocery store could be full of uncertainty. There could be traffic, road closures, or a traffic accident that prolongs the whole trip, or the store could be out of stock of the staples you need.
Finding and losing balance is necessary for growth
When we’re in the middle of uncertainty, we feel out of balance. Something feels off.
Some people feel excited, like the uncertainty of a vacation to a place you’ve never been. Other people may feel anxious or stressed in that same scenario.
Our journey here in life is about finding and losing balance, and that is necessary for you to grow and develop. This fact alone helps put things into perspective and provides a more productive way of dealing with life’s challenges.
Think about when you were a child unable to walk yet. You had no balance or coordination.
One day, you gained enough balance to stand. Next, you threw yourself off balance to take that first step. You got balance again, then with your next step, threw yourself off balance again. Eventually you mastered walking and moved on to the next thing you could learn.
Growth nurtures confidence, and propels us toward the next opportunity for continued development.
How the Covid-19 pandemic is causing growth
I tend to look for the positivity in things. I’m not making light of the illness, deaths, physical and financial loss, and breakdown of systems (healthcare, political, social, financial) that we’ve been experiencing for most of 2020. I acknowledge this Covid-19 global pandemic has been one of the most trying times in recent history.
In a recent conversation I could hear my friend’s jaw drop when I stated how this Covid-19 pandemic has brought about a lot of positive things.
In disbelief, she said, “Oh really? Like what?”
I see families spending more time together going on hikes and bike rides; non tech-savvy people “going” to church or other meetings via webmeeting and some even holding their own Zoom meetings who never even heard of Zoom 6 months earlier; people are reevaluating their careers and current roles and organizations given the response to this pandemic and what their own core values are.
I see a slower pace that allows for more reflection and meditation/prayer; more enjoyment of reflective hobbies like gardening, reading, walks, music, dance, yoga; less traffic and stress over hectic schedules and routines (like commuting business professionals who now have 1 to 3 extra hours in their day as they work from home). There’s also less pollution, less driving, less air traffic, less noise and less unnecessary shopping.
There’s an intentional slowing down to enjoy sunsets, full moons, comets, beautiful clouds, beautiful trees and gardens.
Most importantly is this sense of global community – we’re all in this together no matter where on this earth you reside.
This pandemic is certainly allowing us all to expand and grow. And an intentional focus on growth is helpful during this time.
The loss, death, illness, and breakdown of systems is putting you off balance. And the focus on growth can be that step toward creating balance again.
Act with Intention: focus on growth
If you struggle in tough times, when things seem to not go your way, here are some things to do.
1. Determine what you’re focused on. Take a few deep breaths and ask yourself “what has my attention right now?” This helps you become more present with what it is so you can begin to address it.
2. Pay attention to your thoughts and language. I’ve heard people say things like “Things never work out for me” or “Why do I have so many problems”. These are limiting and unhelpful thoughts and language that once you’re aware of, you can change them in the moment. Read more about harnessing the power of your thoughts here.
3. Change limiting and unhelpful thoughts and language to statements of intention. Some people call them affirmations or incantations, but they are basically statements of intention to get your egoic and monkey mind to focus and learn a new way. It’s a way to set a new intention of how you want things to be.
You can state them aloud when one of your limiting unhelpful thoughts or statements come up. And you can build them into a daily practice where you review them each morning or 3 times a day. Keep a list in your phone for easy reference.
Some examples are: “I release everything that’s not serving my highest good”, “I know that this struggle is a normal part of life’s ups and downs, and it’s only temporary” and “This challenge is allowing me to grow and expand.” One of my favorites is “All I need is within me now.”
4. Lastly, ask helpful questions to focus on growth. The next time you’re beginning to stress over a particular situation or challenge, ask yourself these questions, “How is this challenging time or situation causing me to grow?” or “What am I learning from this?”
Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash
by Kathy Zering
Responsibility is part of your personal power and that’s why taking responsibility feels so good. When you’re feeling powerless, stress and anxiety increase, and it’s a small step to blaming and complaining about others or the situation. Responsibility is about responding to your circumstances from a higher place, a place aligned with your goals, your dreams, your values, and your contribution to others and society. The empowering nature of responsibility amplifies feelings of satisfaction and fulfillment.
Response – ability. What responsibility really means
The word responsibility broken down is response – ability. It’s simply the ability to respond. It’s when you intentionally and consciously make choices and take actions for the benefit of others or for yourself. You choose behaviors and make decisions to bring about change, change for the better. For instance, say you’re leading a team at work and one of the team members seems disengaged in meetings and is missing deadlines and deliverables. Do you immediately blame the individual or ignore the situation, hoping it’ll improve on its own? Or, as a responsible team lead, do you have a private conversation with him to share your observations and find out if there are legitimate reasons for the lack of engagement and poor follow-through?
Most importantly, when you’re taking responsibility you take action and you own the outcome of that action (your choice or decision). Refusing to take responsibility by blaming others or the circumstances for your situation gives away your power. You ultimately are denying your ability to respond – to take action to change the circumstance for the better. It’s the law of cause and effect. You take action, create the cause, watch the effect and take responsibility for the outcome – good or not so good. In the earlier example, the responsible team lead took the action to have a private conversation to find out if there are legitimate reasons for the lack of engagement and poor follow-through. The outcome could be a turnaround in behavior and results just from that simple conversation. Or it could be continued problems with this person. Either way, a leader takes responsibility for both actions and outcomes, owns that outcome and may have to take additional actions if the situation does not improve.
Leadership, not victim-hood
Imagine if this leader never addressed the issue, and this situation jeopardized the entire project getting done on time and on budget, not to mention the poor morale from the other team members. These types of choices happen in our personal lives too. The choice to be proactive and empowered and take responsibility or do the opposite: be the recipient of things “happening to you”. Victims avoid taking responsibility; they feel powerless to effect change and so they don’t take any action. They may complain about the pain and suffering it’s causing them, and you might hear them say “why is this happening to me?” or “it’s just not fair”. Ultimately, they wait for someone else to fix the problem. This victim-hood has some benefits, like getting sympathy or attention from others, but long-term it can have a negative impact on your physical and mental wellbeing, your peace of mind, and your overall fulfillment in your career and life.
Why you feel good when you take responsibility
The empowering nature of responsibility amplifies feelings of satisfaction and fulfillment. The feel-good chemicals and reactions in our body go off when we stand in our power, for our own benefit and especially for the benefit of others. By taking responsibility, we build trust and confidence in what we can do. And helping others just feels good, plus it strengthens the trust and relationships we have with them. Even if you don’t get the result you wanted, you still feel good knowing you tried your best in the action you took. As the saying goes, “it’s better to try and fail than to never try at all”.
Act with intention: Take responsibility
Here’s a great exercise to help you nurture more responsibility in your career and in your life. Step 1: Pay specific attention to your language and behavior during challenging situations. Become aware of any blaming or complaining language or behaviors you exhibit throughout the day. Do you say things like “someone should fix this”, or “why is this happening to me?” Are you reactive or defensive a lot? Do you find fault in others or whenever something goes wrong do you immediately shout “it’s not my fault” or ask “whose fault is this”? Jot it down when you hear it or make a mental note. Step 2: Next, begin to change the language or behavior as it’s happening or immediately afterwards. When you hear yourself saying “why is this happening to me?”, change it to “What can I learn from this?” or “How is this challenge causing me to grow and expand?”. Come from a place and attitude of growth, learning, expansion and responsiveness. Other healthy responses are “what do I want as on outcome out of this?” or “what can I do to positively change this?” These statements and new behaviors will build your personal empowerment and responsibility. It’s best to use your energy productively and responsibly. Remember the law of cause and effect and take action, observe the effect, take responsibility (own the outcome) and adjust your actions going forward to bring about your desired results in your career and in your life. Photo by Amy Hirschi on Unsplash
by Kathy Zering
A fear mindset could be the main cause of your stress
Your mindset is how you think and what you believe about yourself and your environment. It plays a critical role in how you cope with life’s challenges.
What you think determines what you believe, and what you believe influences what you experience in life. Thoughts shape your reality.
The ancient Chinese philosopher and writer Lao Tzu wrote: “Watch your thoughts, they become your words; watch your words, they become your actions; watch your actions, they become your habits; watch your habits, they become your character; watch your character, it becomes your destiny.”
If a majority of your thoughts are fear-based, you’ve got a fear mindset. It could be thoughts and even statements (your words) about fear of rejection, fear of failure, or fear that you’re not enough.
This fear mindset saps your energy. It keeps you in the predictable and comfortable, preventing you from challenging yourself to achieve your full potential.
Fear is a normal emotion and has its function. It serves as your natural response to possible threats to your physical or emotional safety.
Unfortunately, in our modern world this response can be misused, overused or chronic. (See my previous blog called Letting Go of Fear.)
Too much fear causes stress. A fear mindset is contracting, and exemplified in chronic tension, struggle and hardship. This unhelpful energy is energy you could be investing in growth, in achieving your dreams and desires.
People often give up on what they want because they believe that reaching their goal is beyond their abilities. They continue living in fear and settle into their lives, thinking they shouldn’t try at all.
Fear is part of the fixed mindset
Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D., in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, writes about the power of mindset. She states that success is influenced by how we think about our talents and abilities.
People with a fixed mindset – those who believe that abilities are fixed – are less likely to flourish than those with a growth mindset – those who believe that abilities can be learned and developed. Fear is part of this fixed mindset.
The most successful people have a growth mindset. They don’t freeze up or flee when fear shows up, they embrace it and leverage that fear into taking action. When faced with a setback, they try harder.
They keeping looking for solutions and trying new strategies. They adapt and grow.
What mindset do you have?
What are your predominant thoughts and actions? If they seem fear-based or fixed, there’s no need to worry. The best part about your mindset is that you can change it.
You can move from a fixed, fear mindset to a love-based, trust-based, growth mindset where you’re more likely to flourish. Trust and love drives out fear. They can’t exist at the same time.
Intentionally Expand and Grow – Take Action
Use one or more of these techniques to move from a fear mindset that’s causing your stress to a new mindset of trust and growth.
1. Watch your thoughts.
First off, pay attention to your thoughts and the words you use. Are you frequently telling yourself fearful or limiting things? Things like: “I’ll never be able to get that promotion, I’m not experienced enough.”; “I’m not smart enough to lead this project”; “What if I fail – will they fire me?”
2. Choose to adopt a new mindset. Change your limiting thoughts and beliefs.
Start by challenging your thoughts the next time you don’t do well on a task. For example, if your presentation at work didn’t go well, and you hear yourself thinking “I never do anything right”, “I’m not good at my job”, or “I’m such a failure”, stop and ask some prodding questions.
What is the evidence for and against your conclusion? You can create a list of all the times your presentations were successful and when you were great at your job in the past.
You could think of reasons why it didn’t go so well this time, rather than concluding you’re a failure. Did you get enough quality sleep?; did you plan and prepare enough?; are there other things going on in your life right now causing you to be off your game?
Answering these questions leads to the new mindset. Figure out what new beliefs are more supportive and adopt those beliefs. Your internal dialogue of “I’m such a failure” can change to “If I’m prepared and feeling well physically and emotionally, I’ll always succeed.”
Keep in mind, these new beliefs take their place alongside the old ones, and as they become stronger, they give you a different way to think, feel, and act.
3. See everything as an opportunity to grow and develop.
Another way to change your mindset is to see every situation and person you encounter as an opportunity for expansion and development. When challenging events happen, ask yourself: “How is this calling me to expand and grow?”, “What am I learning?”, or “How can I improve?”
This strategy works well if you have a demanding or controlling leader at work. You can switch the focus of being judged or criticized to how this is calling you to develop.
It could be as simple as witnessing their behavior and realizing you never want to treat others that way, or maybe it’s a challenge about developing a relationship with a difficult personality.
If you stay in a fear mindset, the stress of living every day in fear of disapproval or of doing something wrong can become toxic. You may become paralyzed from moving forward in attempt to protect yourself.
Changing your mindset to embrace the challenge and grow allows you to take back control in what feels like a powerless situation and live up to your potential.
4. Use the word yet
Adding yet to your inner dialogue may be enough to change your beliefs about yourself and what you’re able to do. It helps with motivation too.
You can change:
- “I can’t do this” to “I can’t do this yet”;
- “I’m not good at this” to “I’m not good at this yet”;
- “This doesn’t work” to “This doesn’t work yet”.
One last thing. Make sure after you change your thoughts you step into those new beliefs. Take an action step in that direction to support the new thought.
Changing the fear mindset that’s causing your stress will change your outcome and results. With a new mindset, you can transform your life and the lives of others.
Photo by Bram on Unsplash
by Kathy Zering
Everyone needs meditation, and this recent example is why.
Something felt off. I overslept the past two days due to poor quality sleep (seasonal allergies + a muscle pull in my neck) and I missed my morning meditation. I figured I’d have to time to get it in later in the day, but that didn’t happen.
Now that I reflect back on it, I felt less clear headed and energetic throughout these days. Was it the poor sleep, or missing my meditation practice? Most likely a combination of the two.
So this morning, I was determined to get back into my daily routine. I know from experience that meditation is a game changer for people.
I recommend it to all my clients and I’ve seen the phenomenal results that come from meditating regularly.
Personally, after two days of missing my meditation, it felt like coming home this morning. No racing thoughts, but instead peace of mind, tranquility, stillness, clarity – all the things that put a smile on my face during and after my practice.
I was floating afterwards and in a high energy, happy mood. So much so that my 14 year old dog picked up on it. This dog who now sleeps about 90% of the time, grabbed his toy and started chasing me around the house, poking me with his toy to get me to chase him back.
Our pets know energy better than we do, and he certainly was picking up on my high energy and was loving it.
Benefits of Meditation
Meditation has been around for thousands of years and has numerous benefits. It triggers your body’s relaxation response to reduce stress and anxiety, lengthens your attention span, and is highly beneficial to your emotional wellbeing and for people struggling with addictive behaviors.
Meditation also increases self-awareness and emotional intelligence, two very important traits for professionals and leaders to help with relationships in the workplace and at home.
I was encouraged to start a meditation practice by numerous experts during a health crisis years ago. The root cause of my illness was eventually determined to be work-related stress.
I only wish I took that advice to meditate regularly sooner, I may not have suffered as long. If you experience a lot of stress or have unresolved health related issues, read more about the impact of stress and why you should care here.
A simple practice of a few minutes of meditating per day or in particular situation (before or after) can bring you a sense of calm during stress or help center and ground you when you’re feeling overwhelmed.
I know meditation on a regular basis works, I personally don’t need scientific proof to experience something and realize the benefits directly.
However, if scientific confirmation helps others become more open to the concept of meditation and gets them to start practicing it, then by all means, keep the research going.
There are plenty of scientific studies reporting that meditation helps relieve anxiety and depression, improve focus and attention, increase concentration, and improve overall psychological well-being.
Meditation has also been shown to produce favorable changes in the brain. In this Forbes article, 7 Ways Meditation Can Actually Change the Brain, several studies are cited showing how meditation preserves the aging brain, reduces activity in the “Me Center” or “monkey mind”, changes key areas of the brain that support learning and memory, improves concentration and attention, and reduces anxiety.
Are you convinced yet that everyone needs to meditate?
Take Purposeful Action: Start a Daily Practice
If you’re not mediating now, start a daily practice. If you don’t think you have time for it, start off with a 1 – 5 minute practice first thing in the morning.
Keep it simple. Find a space where you won’t be disturbed and sit comfortably.
Set a timer: I like the Insight Timer app available for iOS and Android.
Close your eyes and focus your attention on your breathing. It may help to count your breaths (inhale: 1, 2, 3, 4, exhale: 1, 2, 3, 4).
As thoughts arise, observe them without judging, and let them go.
Try smiling to support a feeling of inner calm and joy. It gets easier with continued practice and when you start seeing the benefits.
After some regular practice and when you feel ready, slowly increase the time you meditate. If you start with 5 minutes per day, increase it to 6 or 7 minutes after a couple of weeks. You’ll know when you’re ready.
Some additional tips: play soft music to help you get in a relaxed mood, write down how you feel before and after, and if you keep a journal write directly after meditation. You may be pleasantly surprised by the content.
Lastly, if you feel fidgety or tense while meditating remind yourself that it’s a normal part of the process and a great reason to continue. Over time you’ll find that getting into a relaxed state comes easily and quickly.
Next thing you know, you’ll be buying a “heavily meditated” t-shirt to wear proudly in public.
Take Purposeful Action (For Current Meditators): Try Something New
If you already have a daily meditation practice, I’m sure you see its value and don’t need me to tell you to continue it.
I do want to encourage you to change it up or enhance your daily practice by adding different types of meditation every so often, like once a month or once every few weeks.
You can try a guided meditation on YouTube or one of the meditation apps, a mindfulness meditation, a group meditation experience, or a walking meditation.
Here’s one to try this weekend. Take a walk in a wooded area or other peaceful place out in nature for a walking meditation.
While walking, get centered and grounded by paying attention to your feet as they move, the strength in your legs, and the air easily flowing into and out of your lungs.
Then, bring your focus to all the beautiful things that surround you. Notice the birds, butterflies, and other wild life. Pay attention to the trees, the wind moving the leaves, and the warmth of the sun on your skin.
Be present with the whole experience. Needless to say but I’ll say it anyway, no listening to music, books or podcasts during this walking meditation, and put your phone on do not disturb mode if it’s with you.
In the comments below, share the one benefit you want most from your daily meditation practice? Or, if you already meditate regularly, what’s the best benefit you’ve gotten from it? Please share to encourage others.
Photo by Raul Varzar on Unsplash
by Kathy Zering
If ever there was a time to have some effective go tos for keeping anxiety and stress down, it’s now.
We are living in unprecedented times right now. The world has a lot of uncertainty and fear due to the COVID-19 Pandemic and all of its resulting consequences including job and income loss, lifestyle changes like social distancing, business closures, potential illness and death.
Add to this any planned activities you had scheduled for this time, and it can feel like it’s too much to handle. Life’s big celebrations like weddings, graduations and holidays are cancelled. People have been furloughed as many service industries are severely impacted. You’re putting your life at risk just to go buy groceries.
Moving During COVID-19
I moved into a new home last week. It was planned since January, not knowing all the complications that would be happening in March.
Moving is a big life change and full of stress, but add the pressure of not knowing if the transaction was going to get cancelled, if the deed could be recorded or if the movers would be forced to stop working (would they be considered an essential service during ‘stay at home” order).
Thankfully, I made it through the rollercoaster of emotions the week before closing on the purchase, but then came the next hurdle, physically moving to the new home.
Friends came to help move my breakable items and living plants, it was an exhausting day but went smoothly. I’m so grateful for their kindness and support in these social distancing times. The next day the moving company would come and move the rest.
That’s when the anxiety and pressure seemed to notch up again. Over the next 5 days, a new issue would arise almost daily, and each time I would get that tight feeling in my solar plexus area, directly under my ribcage and above my belly button. That’s my body’s signal telling me to brace for the uncertainty to follow. For example:
- When the moving company called the morning of my move to let me know a couple crew members had head colds, and they weren’t chancing it. That they would send 2 others instead of the 3 planned, and another 2 would join later on;
- When my desk for my home office wouldn’t fit through my new home office door;
- When my washing machine was broken during the move, and I had to risk COVID-19 exposure to go buy another at Lowes. I’ve never been so excited to do laundry;
- When the smoke detector in this brand new home kept going off making my 2 pups, already frazzled from the move, hide in the furthest bathroom and closet. The smoke detector was defective and was replaced;
- When the toilets all backed up filling the tub and shower with sewer water because the pipes were filled with all sorts of new construction debris. The plumber came by and cleared out the main drainage pipe.
As I look back now, 2 weeks later, I realize what helped get me through that daily barrage of unexpected problems. It was the tools and techniques I’ve used over the years to become a more centered, present, and peaceful person.
Do I get angry, frustrated, and lose it sometimes? Of course, I’m only human. However, now I find it easier to recover from those feelings and realize, from experience, that all these issues do work out in the end, as all the ones above did. It may not be the result I was expecting, but it gets resolved.
My Top 3 Go Tos for Anxiety and Stress Relief
Here are my top 3 go tos to keep the anxiety and stress at a manageable level. I used them extensively over the past few weeks, and will continue to practice them as we all get through this new world with COVID-19.
1. A Morning Routine that Includes Meditation
My all-time favorite recommendation to coaching clients, and anyone really, is a morning routine that includes meditation. The benefits of meditation are well documented and include reducing anxiety, increasing wellbeing, better sleep, better attention and focus, decreased pain, better immune function, and more happiness overall.
My daily practice takes 30 – 60 minutes. If this is new to you, start off small and work up to longer periods of time.
You’ll find, as I did, that it increases very easily and you’re going to want to spend more time setting up your day for success with a daily practice that feeds your mind, body and soul.
For more information on how to create a morning routine, click here to read my blog Connect to Success Every Day for Best Results and sign up to get access to my free Connect to Success Morning Routine Guide and Checklist.
2. Positive Self-Talk
Positive self-talk is a habit we can all cultivate in order to proactively compensate for our brains’ automatic processes. Our brains naturally assess our environment and come up with thoughts to “help” us survive.
It’s the function of our brain. Unfortunately, we’re wired to seek out problems (in order to solve them and survive) and some of our thoughts could be unhelpful and even hurtful.
For example, I kept hearing myself say “this is a nightmare” quite a few times on my moving days, when all that could go wrong seemed to be going wrong. Was it really a nightmare? No. But it sure did feel that way, in that moment.
I caught myself thinking and sometimes saying it out loud. When I did, I would then take a deep breath, question that thought, and then change it to a more helpful, positive thought. Many times, just acknowledging different and helpful thoughts can make all the difference.
For me, acknowledging that moving to a new home is always challenging. It’s not fun, and it’s typical for things to take longer than expected, for walls to get dinged, for my body to get tired and sore after many long days and nights packing, moving, and cleaning.
That helped and completely changed how I was feeling and subsequently how I was reacting to everyone and everything coming at me.
Breathwork is another tool to help calm your body and change your state of mind. My favorites currently are box breathing and relaxing breath (4-7-8 breathing).
Box breathing is a deep breathing technique that increases calm and focus and reduces stress. You breathe in through your nose for a count of 4 seconds, hold your breath for 4 seconds, breathe out for 4 seconds, and then hold for 4 seconds. You can repeat this pattern for a few rounds, or keep going for 5 minutes or longer until you start to feel deeply relaxed. For those of you who are visual, think of each of these 4 steps as drawing an outline of a box when doing them – up, across, down, over.
Relaxing breath, or 4-7-8 breathing, helps reduce anxiety and is great to do to help you get to sleep more easily. You breath in through your nose for a count of 4 seconds, hold your breath for a count of 7 seconds, and then exhale forcefully through the mouth, pursing the lips and making a “whoosh” sound, for 8 seconds. Then repeat. When starting out, you can repeat this cycle up to 4 times, and build up with more practice and time.
I’d like you to try one or all three of these techniques the next time you begin to feel the pressure building. Bonus points if you create a daily practice like #1 above to help keep you in a balanced state on a regular basis, so you’re already in a better space to handle the anxiety and stress that is very prevalent in our new normal world.
Photo by Thomas Rey on Unsplash
by Kathy Zering
Are you like me? Do you purposely plan a few new things you’re going to do, or learn, or experience each year, so that the year doesn’t fly by without it happening?
I had a developmental goal: take a Karuna Reiki training class. As a Reiki Master, this was an additional training that I heard so many good things about. Not only would I personally benefit tremendously from the experience, as I have with my previous Reiki trainings, I would gain more insight and techniques and tools to use with clients in my coaching practice.
I’m not sure why I didn’t plan it sooner. There was definitely some kind of an internal struggle going on for me. Was it the fear of traveling all the way to Maui, Hawaii? The money it would cost? The feelings of not being worthy of such an experience due to limitations I still carry from my childhood?
Time was flying by, the class was in 6 weeks – should I delay it until next year?
No! Something deep inside was telling me this is the class for you and now’s the time. Do it now. This experience, this trip is for you.
So I paid my class deposit, booked my flight and began frantically planning where I would stay and what else I could do while there…and so began the rollercoaster of emotions too…from excited to fearful to doubtful and everything else in between…with, and picture it, that slow climb of the rollercoaster all the way to the highest point, then that part where you are hanging forward in your seat about to drop, that was the feeling I got when thinking about the part of this trip called the “road to Hana”. Not just once, but many other times before and during this entire trip.
You see, after I booked my non-refundable flight and rental car, I then learned more about Hana, the town in Maui where the class was being held. And specifically the road to Hana, the one and only road to get there, and how it was one of the most dangerous roads on earth.
Flashbacks of my nerve wracking experience driving in the mountains when I moved to North Carolina came back to me in an instant. The sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach felt as heavy as a brick.
The road is called ‘The Heavenly Road to Hana” because, and I agree, the views are gorgeous, including waterfalls, scenic ocean views, and botanical gardens. As with life, and with the road to Hana, it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey.
Hana is quiet, remote and reminiscent of Hawaii 30+ years ago, think 1 gas station, 1 restaurant, 1 hotel, gangs of roosters walking around the streets, limited to no cell phone service. It’s a great destination if you are looking for a peaceful Hawaiian experience away from it all.
What had my stomach turning was that despite the “heavenly” description, they also sell “I survived the road to Hana” t-shirts. This road to Hana is about 60 miles long, but takes 2 ½ to 3 hours to drive, without stopping.
It’s very narrow, full of twists, over 600 hairpin turns, cliffs, falling rocks and over 50 one lane bridges, and since it’s at higher elevations and snakes through a tropical rainforest, it rains quite frequently making the driving conditions even worse. And then add plenty of tourists not familiar with the road plus locals and mini tour buses who appear to be overly comfortable driving it. Yikes!
This road trip was the main challenge I needed to get through (or so I thought) and it cast a shadow over much of my 10 day trip. I was worrying about it, and not knowing what to really expect I was talking to others to hopefully get some tips or at a minimum, get some comforting advice like ‘it’s not that bad”.
The feedback online and from those I spoke to was mixed: some of it made me feel better, some of it made me question my choices. But I was committed, there was no turning back now. I reminded myself of what Friedrich Nietzsche said, “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.”
As a results-driven coach, I get it. You need to get out of your comfort zone if you want to grow, and I was definitely going out of my comfort zone, but maybe too much so. At times, it felt like too much.
There were lots of changes leading up to this decision to go on this trip to Hana, Maui. Business changes, physical changes, and personal changes. I finished my new website, a project I was working on for months.
I’d also been eating differently, following a mostly ketogenic menu paired with Intermittent Fasting, and a few extended fasts, and the results have been impressive (down 35 lbs in 4 months!-more on this topic in a future post). Change is good, this next challenge would be good too – um – right?
This was going to be the challenge of a lifetime: a lesson in having faith, trusting myself and others, noticing and managing the contrasts in life, and being open to accepting help in all its unexpected ways.
I was off to Maui – and my road to Hana!