Know when to stop still
Stress is everywhere — but so are answers to address it, writes Lynnette Hoffman
ASaying that, Jefferies says there are a lot of misconceptions about what it means to live a balanced life.
‘‘ It’s not about sitting on a mountain top doing yoga and chanting ‘ om’,’’ she says. ‘‘ You can go as hard and fast as you want, you just need to listen to your body.’’
What that means, she says, is things such as taking some time to rest when you feel drained, rather than loading up on stimulants such as caffeine and sugar to push through your exhaustion. You don’t have to give up your coffee altogether — that would be unrealistic — but you can do small things, such as add in a bit more water instead. Other keys to keeping burnout at bay? Learn to say ‘‘ no’’. Don’t work so late that you cut into time with family and friends — or food. Eat right, move more, laugh, take time to enjoy things and plan, Jefferies says.
But as most people who have worked in the corporate world can tell you, workplace stress often goes deeper than lifestyle and time management. Corporate culture, poor management or leadership, conflicts with colleagues, not having autonomy or control over your work, lack of opportunity for career progression, little recognition, excessive workload, ambiguity over what’s required and job dissatisfaction in general are some of the issues that can play a role.
Former corporate lawyer Paul Heath enjoyed a decade of challenging, rewarding legal work before a career move to a prestigious boutique firm left him with a bad taste in his mouth. While it had seemed a step up, Heath entered a world plagued by divisive management. Personality conflict between partners pitted them against one another. ‘‘ There was a constant mania to convince the partners you were committed to job,’’ Heath says. Inefficiencies were rampant — for example, no matter how early he sent an email, it would never be acted upon until the last minute, so work was always a frantic rush.
Heath stuck out the difficult situation for about six months before he resigned and decided to live off his savings for a time.
He took long walks in the morning, dropped into coffee shops and read the newspaper — the whole paper. He lunched with friends who were on maternity leave. He did volunteer work for a community theatre organisation, where he was on the board. He went to the gym, and lingered.
‘‘ I just did everything I would normally do, but I did everything a lot slower,’’ Heath says of his eight-month sabbatical. The time off gave him a new perspective. ‘‘ Once you’ve taken the first step off the career conveyer belt you realise it’s not going to kill you,’’ he says.
So when he ultimately did go back to work, it wasn’t to another law firm.
He found a job on his own terms, consulting as chief operations manager in the IT industry. It’s a job he says he’s much more engaged in.
‘‘ I don’t think I’ve ever willingly, consistently left home at 7 and stayed until 6. But work you’re engaged in doesn’t seem nearly as hard as something you’re uninterested in,’’ Heath says. And as for stress? ‘‘ It’s a better stress — you’re more engaged, so when you wake up at 4 in the morning thinking about work, it’s not an unpleasant can’t-sleep-because-you’re-stressed feeling — it’s more like when you’re a kid and you can’t sleep because you think Christmas is coming.’’ USTRALIANS are working longer hours, taking fewer vacations, and not surprisingly, workplace stress is on the rise. The United Nations has dubbed it the 20th-century disease, the World Health Organisation has branded it a worldwide epidemic, and it’s been linked to everything from obesity to heart disease.
No doubt workplace stress and the ‘‘ corporate burn-out’’ born out of it are serious problems. But what to do about them?
Some people get so fed up with the corporate world and the stress that often goes with it that they opt to step out of it and start their own businesses, or downshift their careers. But that’s not for everyone, and increasingly employers are taking the initiative to provide support and options — from assistance programs to health promotion programs to help keep staff happy and healthy, and more to the point, to simply keep staff.
Only a year ago Sydney-based production coordinator Bev Hale was engulfed in a battle balancing work and caring for her young family.
‘‘ I felt like I was chasing my tail,’’ Hale says. ‘‘ I’d go to work and I’d come home and I’d go to sleep — I didn’t feel like I was getting anywhere. I never had enough time to do what I wanted to do.’’ She was also perpetually sick. Life had become a stream of colds and flus.
The turning point came when Hale enrolled in a ‘‘ wellbeing at work’’ program run by her company to foster better work/life balance.
She started to make small changes. She changed her diet, she started to drink more water and eat less refined foods, giving her more energy through the day. She made a conscious effort to be more positive. And she got organised — she continued working the same amount of hours as always (she’d already struck a good balance in that regard), but she began scheduling things. Everything, really. And significantly, she began scheduling time for herself.
‘‘ I’ve always been a keen bike rider, but for a number of years I didn’t ride at all. It wasn’t until I started to think about work/life balance more that I realised it was something I really missed.’’ Soon bike rides were blocked out in her diary. Though the changes themselves haven’t been earth-shattering, Hale says the difference in her life has been huge. ‘‘ I seem to be achieving so much more with less effort,’’ she says.
It’s a philosophy advocated by Jennifer Jefferies, a naturopath, public speaker, consultant and author of 7 Steps to Sanity , a book devoted to the subject of achieving better work life balance. One of the primary effects of stress, Jefferies says, is to over-exert your adrenal glands, eventually causing them to underfunction, leaving you vulnerable to illness and exhaustion.
‘‘ There’s no pill or potion that you can take to replenish your adrenals,’’ she says. ‘‘ What will do it is regular and consistent good food, good rest and good play.’’
In control: Bev Hale with husband Rob and children Nicholas, 7, and Clare, 5. Little changes brought a work/life balance