Research shows that 75-90% of all doctor’s office visits are for stress-related ailments and complaints. Additionally, 43% of all adults suffer adverse health effects from stress and…(as if that is not enough) the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has declared stress a workplace hazard. Stress costs American industry more than $300 billion annually! What is wrong with this picture???
We all know that a little stress is OK. It keeps our fight-or-flight juices working, and often helps us get the job done. And, we all know someone who lives by the motto: “I do my best work under pressure.”
However, too much stress can contribute to a laundry list of health issues, including headaches, nausea, high blood pressure, chest pain, and insomnia. Not to mention how being over-stressed (and no doubt cranky!) can impair relationships, decrease productivity, and increase the risk of accidents.
Having too much stress, or as we call it at Lumina Learning, being “overextended,” can even turn your positive qualities into negative ones. For example, someone who is detail-focused and analytical may exhibit “analysis paralysis” when overextended. Someone who is typically creative and social, may become impulsive and over-emotional under extreme stress. And the “people person” who brings harmony to every meeting may suddenly become stubborn and resistant. When Mr. Nice Guy turns into Attila the Hun, it’s time to get a handle on stress.
So…how do you do it? Start by taking some time to sit down and review your day, your week, your life. Where and when do you notice your body crying “uncle” via a headache, mood swing, or other physical signal? Can you identify particular responsibilities, activities, people that are stress triggers for you? Is it the unexpected that gets to you, the volume of work, the work itself, or the fact that you never seem to get a break?
Write your personal/professional stressors down and then select and prioritize three that you will work on to reduce. Do you need to have a “difficult conversation” with someone to resolve a lingering issue? Do you need to request more resources to meet a looming deadline you are worried about? Ask for what you need.
And, to get started on reducing your stress level in general, here are some stress busters for you.
Set boundaries. Establish a time after which you do not take work phone calls or respond to work emails, texts, smoke signals, whatever. Manage expectations about your “work hours.”
Be willing to say “no.” When asked to do something with a clearly unreasonable deadline, or without appropriate resources, explain the impact it will have on your current work. Offer alternative dates or suggest alternative resources.
Stop and pause. Do a personal check-in. Adjust priorities, if necessary. Take a break.
Breathe. Deeply and often. Consider meditation. Take a walk in the park or along the beach.
Laugh. I can’t recommend this enough. Find something to laugh about every day. It’s good medicine!
“Laugh when you can, apologize when you should, and let go of what you can’t change…Life’s too short to be anything but happy.” – Unknown
Till next time,
I just got back from my annual two-week vacation at the Jersey Shore. It...was...wonderful! I love the work I do, and am so grateful to be able to do this work, and I was ready for some down time to feed my soul. I think we all need to get away once in a while to relax and refresh. Yet it's astounding how many people don't take that opportunity!
In fact, in 2016, more than half of American workers - 54% - left vacation days unused, according to a recent survey by Project: Time Off, who studies American vacation habits. This means that 662 million vacation days were left on the table, and since some of those days had to be forfeited (since they couldn’t be rolled over, banked or paid out) American workers gave up $66.4 billion in benefits in 2016. Seriously?
Here are some more startling facts from the Project: Time Off report.
-Unused vacation days cost the U.S. economy $236 billion in 2016, due to lost spending
-That spending would have supported 1.8 million American jobs, and generated $70 billion in additional income for American workers
-If the 54% of workers who left time unused took just one more day off, it would drive $33 billion in economic impact
So why are Americans so reluctant to take vacations? Some often-cited reasons (ahem, excuses) are: heavy workload, lack of money to “go anywhere” and the perception that people who take time off are less dedicated.
It may also stem from the fact that the United States is the only advanced economy that does not require its employers to offer their workers paid vacation time. In their report, No-Vacation Nation researchers at the Center for Economic and Policy Research found that:
-Nearly one-fourth of U.S. companies offer no paid time off
-Those companies that do offer an average of only 10 days vacation per year
Compare this to European countries where employers are required by law to offer at least 20 days per year. And they expect their employees to take it! In Austria, the typical employee gets 25 days annual leave plus 13 paid holidays. Now that’s a vacation!
It amazes me that so many people in the U.S. who DO have the opportunity to take time off don’t take it. Even those working for companies that have unlimited or more generous than average time off policies.
Back to that 54%. If you’re in that category, you are missing out on myriad benefits from getting away from the office. And I mean REALLY getting away. Not just moving your electronics to the beach! Research shows that time away from work:
-Improves overall health
-Increases creativity (New experiences! Different scenery!)
-Provides for quality time with family
-Ignites neural connections (increasing your brain power, and that’s got to be good!)
-Increases productivity upon return
So what are you waiting for? You still have plenty of time before the winter weather sets in, and popular vacation spots are less crowded in the fall. Even if you take a “staycation” (note: without electronics), you’ll feel better for it. Your family will feel better for it. And, yes, the company will survive while you’re gone.
Till next time,
How many times in the last six months have you said “yes” to something you really didn’t want to do? Or allowed yourself to be burdened with meeting expectations that were unreasonable or out of your control? Or avoided saying something when a person or situation made you uncomfortable? Most of us have been in one or more of these situations at some point. We kick ourselves afterward for acquiescing, yet may rationalize it by the desire to be “seen as a team player,” or, not wanting to “hurt someone’s feelings.” Here’s the problem with this. We teach people how we want to be treated. And when we keep saying “yes” when we’re thinking “no” and don’t set and communicate our limits – our boundaries – people are going to keep asking us, and expecting us, to do things we don’t want to do, or to do more than originally agreed. (Can we say “scope creep?”) Eventually we become resentful. And when we finally draw the line, it may not be pretty. Better to set, communicate and maintain your personal boundaries up front. Here’s how.
Be self-aware. Knowing your boundaries starts with understanding your values and what’s important to you. If having personal downtime in the evening or family time on the weekend is important to you, then you would want to make it clear that you’re offline in the evenings and not working on weekends. Difficult, I know, in this always-connected work environment. And, this environment was created by all of us who said “yes” to being always connected and working a ridiculous number of hours in the week (including weekends!) It’s up to us to change it.
Set your boundaries. Decide what your boundaries are. Prioritize them. Write them down. Internalize them. Practice saying them in front of the mirror. Give yourself permission to have boundaries and acknowledge the benefits – more respect from others; more respect for yourself; less stress and anxiety and/or feelings of resentment; more free time; more time to focus on the projects you want to do, etc.
Communicate them. Be direct. If you don’t want your boss and co-workers contacting you at all hours, be specific about the times you’re available. On projects, manage others’ expectations up front with regard to what you’re capable of and the timeframe in which you can achieve it. Be very clear about scope, and the cost – in time, dollars or other work – when scope expands beyond that.
Learn to say no. Saying “no” is hard, especially when it’s to your leader, or to someone whose relationship you value. Yet as workplace communication consultant Diane Amundson says, “Good bosses appreciate employees who have the confidence to say no.” It’s all in how you frame it.
Challenge the stories that hold you back. Think about times in the past when you’ve said “yes” and later regretted it. Or allowed yourself to be taken advantage of. What held you back from being more direct? Fear of losing your job? Fear of disappointing the other person? Most people are unaware of how their actions impact us unless we tell them, and will appreciate being told what our limits are.
Be consistent. Once you’ve established and communicated your boundaries, work to maintain them. This will help educate others how to treat you, and will contribute to your well-being and peace of mind.
“I encourage people to remember that “No” is a complete sentence.” - Gavin de Becker
Till next time, Karen
Let’s face it. There’s a lot of information and activity out there. So much, in fact, that it’s impossible to keep up with it all. And yet we try. Like bees seeking pollen, our attention flits from task to task, from email to phone call, from text to Twitter, from LinkedIn to Facebook and back again at a dizzying rate throughout the day. Heaven forbid that we should miss something. This “fear of missing out,” or FOMO, is creating an army of multitaskers and adrenaline junkies who are stressed and, well, not as productive as they think they are.
Let’s talk about FOMO and the sheer volume of content some are trying to keep up with. A daunting task indeed. According to statistics from Micro Focus, Internet activity in 2016 included:
-More than 350,000 Tweets per minute
-400 hours of new video on YouTube per minute
-3 million Facebook posts per minute
-4 million Google searches conducted worldwide each minute of every day
-In the US, 4 million text messages sent per minute
Even the most adept multitasker could never keep up with it all, so why do we keep trying? Maybe it’s time to take a step back, breathe deeply, and learn to focus. Besides, multitasking is detrimental to your health, and research shows it does not make you more productive.
In a BeBrainFit.com article, The Cognitive Costs of Multitasking, the author points out that while most of us are capable of doing two things at once, such as carrying on a conversation while walking or drinking coffee while driving, “what we can’t do is learn or concentrate on two things at once.” When the brain receives more information than it can process, she says, it queues up the first two pieces and ignores the rest.
Some other startling gems from the research in her article:
-Multitasking costs the US economy an estimated $650 billion annually in wasted productivity
-After an interruption, such as a phone call or checking email, it can take 5 minutes to get back into your workflow
-Studies show that multitasking stunts emotional intelligence and makes us less creative
-Chronic multitaskers have more trouble organizing their thoughts and filtering out irrelevant information, making them slower at switching gears
-According to brain scans, chronic multitaskers have less gray matter in their brains, which is linked to depression, anxiety and poor impulse control
-Excessive multitasking meets the criteria of an addiction – you can’t easily quit, you suffer withdrawal symptoms when you try, and you’re aware of the negative consequences but you do it anyway
Yikes! And it’s not just your brain and productivity that are affected. Multitasking can be a safety hazard as well. Texting drivers are 6 times more likely to cause an accident than drunk drivers.
So what are we to do? Start with a self-awareness check. What’s your workflow like during the day? Are you constantly checking your phone, stopping tasks to check email, or taking a peek at Twitter to make sure the world hasn’t ended? If so, time to get a handle on that habit.
Consider chunking your tasks into 25-30 minute segments, focusing on one task only during that time period. Schedule your email checks, phone calls, and confirmation that the earth is still turning at specific times during the day. Say, every two to three hours. Believe me, if something major happens in the meantime, someone else will let you know!
And practice mindfulness. Allow yourself some time every day to unplug, sit outside or some other place that’s quiet, and just be. Whatever you’re missing out on is not as important as your personal health and well-being.
Till next time,
The average American worker earns 22.6 days in vacation. Yet in 2016, they only used an average of 16.8 days, leaving 662 million vacation days on the table.
I find this amazing. We need our R&R, people!
Why are US workers so reluctant to use their vacation time? A survey by GfK, who studies American workers and time off, found the following:
26% worry they’ll be seen as less dedicated
23% worry that they’ll be replaced
21% worry that they’ll hurt their chances for a raise or promotion
But here’s the thing. In a comparison of vacation takers and vacation forfeiters, GfK found that:
“Employees who forfeit their vacation days do not perform as well as those who use all their time. While they may believe sacrificing vacation time will get them ahead, these employees are less likely than non-forfeiters to have been promoted within the last year (23% to 27%) and to have received a raise or bonus in the last three years (78% to 84%). This is on top of the $66.4 billion in benefits they lost by forfeiting time last year.”
So vacation forfeiters, let me ask: How’s that working for you?
If you don’t already have something on the calendar, I encourage you to take a few minutes right now and pencil in a week or two weeks or whatever your schedule allows. You need a break. It’s good for you, and it’s good for your employer.
Taking vacation has been shown to:
-Contribute to better mental and physical health
When companies encourage their employees to take vacation, they benefit through:
-Higher employee productivity
-Stronger workplace morale
Whether you take an exotic vacation or a low-key “staycation,” get something on the calendar before the summer gets away from you!
Just like you need to give your body a break from your workouts, you need to give your brain a break from your work. Thinking, managing your emotions, making decisions, creating new ideas, interacting with others, all require mental effort that can wear your brain out. You need to give it a rest.
“Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind.” -Seneca
Till next time,
It seems that everywhere I go these days, people tell me that they’re not feeling like their “best selves.” In some cases, it’s winter fatigue – tired of the rain, tired of the cold; in others, it’s a feeling of being overworked and overwhelmed (so ready for a vacation!); and in others it’s just a general malaise brought about by the uncertainty of our world today. It feels like one…big…collective…SIGH out there.
I get it. And…I’m proposing that the way through these doldrums is not to just sit back and wallow in them. Don’t give up, give back! Help yourself feel better by helping others.
Most of us try to give back in some way during the holiday season – we write our annual check to our favorite charity, or we volunteer at a food kitchen. The fact is, though, that organizations who serve need volunteers all year long. Where can you carve out a couple of hours in a week or a month to help those in need? What skill/knowledge do you have that you could share? What issue or need touches your heart?
For me, it’s helping other burn survivors. I was burned by hot water at the age of two. This experience has impacted my entire life, and inspired me to get involved with the Phoenix Society, which provides support and resources to burn survivors and their families. After volunteering for many years, I joined the Board in 2014 and am now Board Vice President. I’ve conducted workshops for volunteers, I’ve run for Team Phoenix in the Big Sur Half Marathon for the past 3 years, and I’ll be a featured speaker at the World Burn Conference in Dallas this fall.
There are myriad volunteer opportunities available. Here are a few of them.
BUILD is nonprofit organization in the San Francisco Bay Area that matches volunteers with high school students in under-resourced communities to help the students learn the fundamentals of business while developing critical 21st century skills. “Entrepreneurship is the hook. College is the goal.” BUILD has volunteer opportunities that range from 2 hours a week to 2-3 hours a year.
One Brick provides opportunities to make an impact without a long-term commitment. This nonprofit has 8 chapters nationwide – San Francisco, Silicon Valley, New York, Chicago, Washington D.C., Seattle, Boston, and national. Their model is to build local communities of volunteers that support other nonprofits “by creating a friendly and social atmosphere around volunteering.” Volunteer activities are usually followed by a gathering at a coffee shop or restaurant.
If you live or work in San Jose and enjoy reading with children, Grail Family Services is a local nonprofit that is always looking for Reading Mentors to help kindergarten and 1st grade students with their literacy skills. For an hour a week during the school year you can help launch an early elementary school student on the path to school success.
VolunteerMatch has opportunities all over the Bay Area for a variety of interests, including the environment, hunger, education and literacy, immigrants and refugees, crisis support, homeless and housing, and more.
And sometimes to give back you need look no further than your own organization. Do they have a mentoring program? Become a part of it. If there isn’t a formal mentoring program, start one. Or simply let it be known that you are interested in helping others move ahead on their career paths.
Most people who volunteer will tell you that they get back as much or more than they give. That has certainly been my experience. I am forever grateful for what I have received from the Phoenix Society. I signed up to 'give back' and I have gotten way more than I could ever give!
Often volunteers get to use or develop skills in a volunteer role that they may not have the opportunity to use or develop at work. They learn to better appreciate what they have by feeling the appreciation of those who have so much less.
Volunteering warms the heart and heals the soul. Not only that, according to an article in The Atlantic, people who volunteer live longer and healthier lives!
So what are you waiting for?
“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” – Mahatma Gandhi
Till next time,