Is your workplace culture highly demanding, budgets tight, and you are continually being asked to do more, with fewer resources? Going through a major reorganization and fearful of losing your job? Working a ton of hours trying to keep up with the demands of your job while, at the same time, caring for your aging parents or perhaps dealing with a defiant teenager who continues to push your buttons? God forbid, maybe you are dealing with all of the above! You are stressed to the max. One more thing and you will break! Let’s be realistic. It’s unlikely your workplace culture will change anytime soon, and life happens. Nobody is exempt from experiencing the stressors of life. How can we possibly survive when stress gets the best of us? A well intentioned friend or family member may offer you some advice: take vitamins, they will give you more energy to cope. Go shopping and buy yourself something nice. Eat chocolate, it’s wonderfully comforting. Or, the best one – go out for a drink and just forget about it. None of these suggestions are necessarily bad or wrong, but they only provide short-term relief, a bandaid, a fix. You feel better in the moment but when the glow wears off, you are exactly in the same place you started, stressed out and defeated. It doesn’t have to be this way. There is a better, more effective way.
There was a time in my life when I was balancing a very challenging, healthcare career, going to school full-time, raising three children, one who was a very defiant teenager, and volunteering at school and church. A crazy woman, don’t you think? All these roles were important to me at the time, but successfully fulfilling them produced a lot of stress. It is only after years of trial and error did I come to realize how we can actually thrive rather than merely survive when faced with the stressors of life and career.
It all starts with building a strong personal foundation. Just as a house must be built on a solid foundation to avoid collapsing under stress, so must your life. We must build a strong personal foundation to effectively deal with stressful careers and with whatever life brings our way. A strong personal foundation produces resilience. Resilience strengthens our very core and is impacted by our attitudes, behaviors and social supports. It is not a quick fix, not a feel good in the moment strategy. Let’s look at each building block individually.
- Attitude: Our attitudes clearly shape how we view and experience life. I believe there is a purpose, a reason for everything we are faced with in life. We may not understand it at the time, but there is a higher purpose for our experiences. Rather than look at your situation with a defeatist attitude, consider taking a different perspective knowing there is a purpose to your current challenge. For example, if you have a leadership role in an organization going through tremendous change, there is a culture of blame and distrust, and many employees are fearful of losing their jobs, think about what you can do to make a difference for your staff. What is in your direct control? How can you make a positive impact during the tumultuous times? Knowing your plans include advancing your career to an executive level position, consider that the challenges you face are preparing you for the next step. Your attitude can make all the difference in the world knowing there is purpose and meaning in the challenges you face. Not only will this positively impact on your mental health but others will take notice of your positive attitude and your ability to thrive in the face of tremendous organizational change.
- Behaviors: What behaviors and habits have you developed? Are they working for or against you? As you know, repeated behaviors over time become habits, and our habits have a dramatic impact on our lives. If our goal is to become strong to effectively deal with stressful careers and to thrive in the face of life’s challenges, then it is important to build healthy behaviors that include body, mind and soul.
- Body: Regular exercise is a great stress reliever and vital to your overall health. Start small and build up over time. Don’t be the perfectionist with an all or nothing attitude: if I can’t spend an hour at the gym, it is not worth it so I won’t exercise at all. If 15 minutes is all you have, consider taking a walk outside. You will feel better about yourself, enjoy some fresh air, and perhaps gain a new perspective at the same time. Soon you will want to invest more time in exercising because of the positive impact it is having on your life.
- Mind: Feed your mind with healthy things. Read inspirational books. Take a walk in nature. Reflect on all the things you are grateful for and record these in your journal. Engage in some non-business activities, i.e., crossword puzzles, funny movies, to give your mind a rest.
- Soul: Nourish your soul with prayer and/or meditation. Quiet your mind by practicing mindfulness. Mindfulness infuses calm into your life. Listen to soothing music. Enjoy a nice warm bath, add lavender and top it off with beautifully scented candles.
- Social Supports: Cultivating and maintaining healthy relationships is vital to building a strong personal foundation. Many studies show that the primary factor in resilience is having caring and supportive relationships within and outside the family. Relationships that are built on love and trust and offer encouragement and reassurance build resilience and strengthen our foundation.
Building a strong personal foundation is vital to living a healthy and joyful life. Consider there is purpose and meaning to what life brings us. Be aware of the impact of attitudes, behaviors and social supports. You won’t need to run or resort to a quick fix when faced with life’s challenges. You will be strong, resilient and well equipped to thrive.