Dec. 7, 2001 -- Do you handle stress, or does it handle you?
A 28-year-old female lawyer directed the following question to Cheryl Richardson, coach and author of Take Time for Your Life: A Personal Coach's Seven-Step Program for Creating the Life You Want.
We won't reveal her name, but no doubt, she reveals a familiar feeling of being overwhelmed. Such feelings demand some attention -- whether the pressure you feel comes and goes with the holidays or it is a year-round fixture in your life.
"I work an average of 10 to 12 hours daily, and my work is deadline-oriented. Several months ago, at the same time I was transferred to a new location at my job, the person I love and my parents began to have emotional conflicts with each other. Since then, I have suffered from the following symptoms: tight neck and shoulders, feeling weepy and anxious, memory loss, low energy, diminishing appetite, migraine headaches, irregular sleeping patterns, lack of focus, breathing difficulties, and more.
At first these symptoms occurred one at a time, but now I suffer from most of them all the time. I don't know what's wrong with me. I love my job and I know things will get better on the personal side, but somehow this does not seem to make me feel any better. Can you please offer some advice?"
Here's how Richardson responds:
"Consider these symptoms as your body's way of offering you a warning that you're heading for danger, and take them seriously. I highly recommend that you sit down with your partner or a good friend and have a heart-to-heart talk about what's going on in your life. Consider everything from your long work hours and deadline-oriented work to the emotional conflict between your partner and your parents. Then, together, create a plan of action in order to restore your health and well-being as soon as possible. Your self-care must be a top priority.
It's important to know that the emotional conflict you're dealing with in your personal life does create additional problems at work. Too often, we make the mistake of believing that we can separate our work lives from our personal lives, but we can't. Conflicts related to parents or a loved one -- the people who are closest to us -- are some of the most stressful of all. What goes on at home either enhances your well-being at work or adds to your overall stress level.
You need to reach out for help. First, I'd recommend that you see a good
physician who can look at the health of your body in relation to the health of your whole life. A medical professional who takes into account the effects of lifestyle on your health can recommend not only medical action, but also stress-reduction options and preventive measures that may help enhance your immune system and protect you from future problems.
Regarding your work, I'd recommend that you take some dramatic actions to cut back your hours, remove a few deadlines or lower your expectations in some way. You will probably need to meet with your boss to let him or her know that you need to care for your health at this time. I know that work of attorneys can be very demanding and the expectations unrealistically high. But, please remember that your life is far more important than your career.
Working 10- to 12-hour days will rob you of your precious life-energy, not to mention your precious time.
Think about the changes you can make in the next 30 days that will dramatically reduce not only your stress, but also improve your overall health. To make this process easier, start by identifying three things you can remove from your life and three healthy things you can add to your life. For example, you might reduce your hours at work, set boundaries with your parents, or delegate a project at work. And, you might add a weekly massage, a visit with a friend, and a good multivitamin every day.
You're young, and it's important to pay close attention to the work and life habits you're putting in place. These habits will either serve you or hurt you in the long run. If these recommended changes seem too difficult, please reach out to a professional counselor for support. Your life is worth it!