Know that you’re not alone, Mama.
I remember it clearly. I just kept watching the clock, hoping the day would be over soon. I didn’t know how much longer I could put on a happy face around my colleagues.
The day finally ended, and I no more than stepped into the elevator and the tears started streaming down my face. Anyone who knows me knows I’m not a crier. Never have been. But on this day, I couldn’t hold the tears back. Sure, I worried about who might see me crying, but I couldn’t stop the flow. I was sad, and the saddest part was that I didn’t know why.
I had been feeling this overwhelming sense of worry, stress, and burnout for some time, but I thought it would go away. It was early in my career. I was a new mom and wasn’t feeling confident in that role. I was also in a new leadership position and had imposter syndrome–a daily fear that my team would “find me out” and realize I wasn’t qualified for the job. I was constantly putting unrealistic expectations on myself both at work and at home and was always worried about how others viewed me.
- Am I seen as someone who is capable enough?
- Am I seen as someone who is committed enough?
- Do I sound smart enough?
- Do I deserve to be in my role, or did I just get there because someone in leadership liked me?
- What happens if I make a mistake?
- What happens if I fail?
- Am I a good enough parent?
- Am I a good enough leader?
- How do others see me?
This daily tsunami of doubt caused me to feel overworked and unhappy constantly. I became really good at stuffing it down and out of the way, but eventually, it bubbled to the surface–like it always does. As the tears flowed, I realized I needed help dealing with the stress. What I didn’t realize was that I wasn’t alone.
According to Headspace at Work’s 2021 Mental Health Trends Report, 54 percent of employees surveyed reported being “stressed” or “extremely stressed.” They cited work-life balance and work stress within the top three sources of stress, just behind money stress.
For many, the pandemic has exacerbated stress and mental health concerns even further. The American Psychology Association’s latest Stress in America poll revealed parents, essential health workers, and communities of color were more likely to report mental and physical health consequences related to stress. Survey respondents reported effects including undesired weight changes, irregular sleep, and increased alcohol consumption.
Throughout my career, I’ve seen people suffer from stress-induced afflictions like alopecia (hair falling out from stress), hives (even someone who got them on their eyeballs), paralysis (losing the ability to walk and talk because their bodies just shut down from the stress), and panic attacks (often mistaken for heart attacks due to the intensity of the heart palpitations). I’ve seen people medicate with a nightly glass (or glasses) of wine. Pour themselves into work and achievement as a way of numbing. Shop, eat, gamble, or find other ways to keep the stress at bay. But it always catches up–and the impact is never positive. Not on their bodies, their minds, their families, or their organizations.
Stress is complicated. But what I’ve learned is that prevention is key. Proactively doing things that help to get ahead of the overwhelm is essential to maintaining wellbeing.
Here are some of the things I’ve found help me avoid a dangerous state of overwhelm:
Sleep: My whole perspective is off when I’m sleep-deprived. Staying up all night to check off more of the million things on my to-do list doesn’t feel nearly as good as being well-rested and able to accomplish my work with energy the next day. As I tell my kids, “let’s all get some rest and wake up a better version of ourselves in the morning.”
Movement: It’s easy to get in a rut of sitting at my computer cranking through work all day. But I know when I get up and stretch, take a call on a walk, or spend time playing outside with my kids, I’m prioritizing self-care. When my body moves, my mind is better able to operate in a way that helps me feel on top of my game.
Perspective: I make a point to keep grounded in what’s really important rather than getting side-tracked by others’ agendas or minutiae that doesn’t actually matter. For me, it’s my family, my health, and my team’s well-being. Everything else falls away when I keep those priorities within focus and use them as measuring sticks for whether or not something is worth spending my emotional energy on.
Support: I’m grateful for a network of support at work and in my personal life–from regular coffee meet-ups with mentors and colleagues-turned-friends, to monthly outings with my girlfriends. As an extrovert, I know social interaction brings me energy and new ideas. Through the social isolation of the pandemic, it emphasized how important it is for me to maintain connection. Scheduling catch-ups on my calendar holds me accountable to making them happen and gives me renewed energy for my work and my life.
Attitude of Gratitude: Before I started a gratitude practice, I found myself going to sleep cranky and dreading the challenges that awaited me the next day. Reorienting my mindset to focus on a few simple wins each day has helped me maintain a more positive outlook. An intentional practice of gratitude before bedtime ends my day on a high note regardless of what transpired earlier and reminds me to appreciate life–chaos and all.
Authenticity: All those “good enough” thoughts I mentioned above? Worrying about what others thought of me ran me down; I realized I had to stop trying to be someone I’m not and embrace who I am. Being myself, at home and at work, isn’t always rosy, but it models for my team and my kids that it’s OK for them to also show up authentically.
Growth Mindset: Seth Godin talks about CNP (as Close as Necessary to Perfect) as a smart allocation of resources. I’m constantly reminding myself and my team, “It may not be perfect, but it will be good enough.” Incremental growth, not perfection, is what allows us to be successful without compromising our well-being.
I share this to illustrate that well-being isn’t just about the physical: exercise and nutrition. It’s about taking care of the whole person–things like learning how to be confident in your own skin, focusing on your own accomplishments vs. comparing to others, and embracing growth and failure rather than being on a constant quest for perfection. We need to flip the script on well-being and start taking care of our whole self if we expect to be and feel well. Organizations can play a critical role in providing employees with access to holistic wellbeing support to help prevent stress induced well-being and mental health issues.
None of my personal revelations would’ve been possible without coaching. My coach, Karen, helped me gain perspective and realize, to quote the great Glennon Doyle, “I can do hard things.” As for my well-being today, it can be wrapped up in the quote on my coffee mug (a gift from Coach Karen): “I love the person I’ve become because I fought to become her.”
Teresa Hopke is CEO, Talking Talent -The Americas, a global coaching firm that inspires inclusive cultures that allow people and organizations to thrive. It works with organizations globally to create company-wide behavior shifts that accelerate business performance. A working mother of four, Teresa is committed to creating a more inclusive world for her children and the organizations she serves.
Know that you’re not alone, Mama.
Feeling exhausted and burnt out? You’re not alone. These tips will help.