Do You Have Your Foot On The Pedal? Are You Overwhelmed At Work?

Is your in-tray or inbox full? I don't normally check the time that emails are sent to me, but for some reason I noticed that Nadia's message had been sent at 2am. In her email she explained that she really needed some help, to deal with all the stress in her life:

This morning I rushed out of the house before the kids got up. I walked into the office at 8am there was a pile of notes on my desk relating to people who had called yesterday (I took the day off to visit my mother in hospital and to wait for a sofa to be delivered). I did take some work home with me, but didn't manage to even open my briefcase. When I saw all the messages on my desk, I wondered how I was going to get through the day, let alone the rest of the week.

Just as I tackle one task, my mind tends to wander off on to what I haven't done. Sometimes I feel so guilty that I can't get my act together. I seem to have continual 24-hour chatter going on in my head. I'd love to find a way to stop my head buzzing. I find my inner critic so unhelpful, telling me to get a grip on my life. If only I could!

At work I know I have achieved such a lot. In some ways, I have more than exceeded my dreams, promoted several times, but my hours and responsibilities have increased. I have 3 children (all boys, 7, 9 and 15) and consciously made a decision not to work until my youngest started school. More and more I am worried that I may be neglecting them. My family used to be so proud and supportive of me, but now they can't understand why I continue to work.

My husband, who until recently has been so supportive, read me the riot act at the weekend. My family were visiting from India. I had spent all day Saturday cooking, and then promptly fell asleep in the chair just after dinner. I feel so embarrassed that I can't manage my own life, the life I dreamed of has fallen apart.

Every so often I question why I need to spend so long at the office, but I have worked so hard to get where I am that I tend to dismiss this question very quickly. Now I'm beginning to wonder if everyone else is right. Should I give up working? The truth is I am drowning; I am torn in all directions. I do worry about work. I worry that I am not a good wife. I worry that I am not a good mother. I am often so distracted that I don't listen to what the boys say anymore. I want to stop all this stress, but I don't know how.

Is it time to look in the mirror?

In writing this email to you, I am beginning to realise that I can't continue life at this pace. I used to think I was being very effective by working 16 hours a day. I have placed so many expectations on myself, I am not doing anything well. But I think if I can be more refreshed at work, have more fun at home, I will find my work so much more rewarding.

Is it only me that finds it so hard? I love my job, so I don't just want to give it up. I'm sure there must be another way that I just can't see right now, to lead a less stressful life without sacrificing everything I have worked so hard to achieve."

Nadia's story is a classic example from someone who is too caught up in her hectic lifestyle to realise what may appear obvious to others who are reading this. It is much easier to look from the outside; it is tough when it's your own life!

If you feel that your life is veering out of control, it may be time to face your own truth. Sometimes it takes family intervention to turn our attention to how bad things have become, which is what Nadia's husband did. Sometimes it takes huge debts, losing a job, becoming seriously ill, or losing a good friend or partner.

What will it take for you to pay attention to the stress in your life?

It takes courage to change our lives, especially if we are not sure what to do, how to do it, whether we will like the changes, or if we are worried about what others will think of the new us.

It takes bravery to ask searching questions because we may not be ready to hear the answers. I call this ability having a 'Courageous Conversation' (CC) with yourself. What are CCs? Questions we may have been thinking about for a long time but have been reluctant to answer.

Let's switch back to Nadia for a moment. Why wasn't she being honest and having a CC with herself? Why did it take so long for her to reveal how she was really feeling? It seemed pointless to tell herself the truth about how unhappy she was, because she had tried cutting down her hours before and it hadn't worked. The only possible solution she could see was to give up work totally and she really didn't want this. So she had put off her CC because she couldn't envision a viable solution.

Too busy to think straight?

As Nadia started to think about her working week, she realised that over the last year she had rarely taken a break at any time during the day. In order to manage her mountains of work, she always ploughed straight through. Yet she often questioned how effective she was, with her head full of things she hadn't got round to doing.

She decided to take a 30-minute break each day - no matter how overloaded she felt. Near to her office was a small but vibrant park and, most lunchtimes, she would take a walk and sit quietly for 15 minutes. By allowing a little time each day for this quiet reflection, she began to realise that, in the same way that she had taken care of her family, she had fallen into the trap of taking care of everyone at work as well. Unfortunately, everyone had been taking advantage of her kindness. She spent most of the day answering questions and finishing off work that hadn't been completed by others. As a result, she always ended up staying late each day just to keep up with her own work.

I once asked a client this simple question: Are you living the life you want to live? His answer was honest: I am not going to answer that question because, if I do, I will be forced to do something about it."

You have the answers but are you brave enough to ask the right questions? When Nadia finally summoned up the courage to share her honest feelings with me, she started being honest with herself. Everyone has their own truth waiting to be recognised, and that includes you. Is it time you took a few minutes to ask yourself some honest questions?

Carolyn Matheson is a nationally recognized Coach, Speaker and Author of "Yes to Less Stress."

Carolyn is a Master Certified Coach, and works with executives and their teams across the world. She has pioneered an innovative approach to coaching, combining many years of high performance coaching with a holistic approach to work/life balance and has coached hundreds of leaders and their teams. Her experience as a presenter, both nationally and internationally, spans 20 years, with clients currently in Europe, Australia, the Middle and Far East, and the USA.

Her book, Yes to Less Stress is available online from http://www.areustressed.com

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