Today’s world requires a great deal of personal and professional self-leadership. These are indeed disorienting times, and some find themselves simply overwhelmed by the demands of daily life, whether at home or at work. You are not alone. If you find yourself withdrawing from daily activities, being irritable more often than not, or engaging in avoidant strategies, it is time to mobilize your strengths for healthier outcomes.
Here are the major themes I have been hearing from clients over the past months. See if these are themes that you can shift from a stressor to a strength:
Stressor 1: I feel alone.
I hear this more and more from individuals. It may not be surprising given that we live a very mobile lifestyle, and many must relocate for professional reasons. Our demanding lives and the disintegration of community - such as knowing neighbors or being part of a church or club - reduces contacts more. In a 2011 study, the average American had three friends they could confide in. When this study was completed again in 2016, that number dropped to 2 friends. This does not mean we are becoming less social as a species, but perhaps we are engaging less with our community and hence find fewer emotional supports to lean on.
Strength: Proactively cultivating connection.
As social animals, we need to be with others and feel part of a group. I often ask my clients who report that they feel alone, “when was the last time you invited friends over for dinner or extended an invitation to someone for coffee?” Many cannot remember the last time they did so in a non-business-related framework. Another question that I ask is “what sort of organizations do you support or are you a part of?”
If feelings of loneliness is a stressor for you, create a list of 7 passions (those aspects of life that you look forward to engaging) and 7 interests (topics which you would like to learn more about) and challenge yourself to work towards these passions and interests more often. Be inspired and extend yourself to an activity or an invitation and savor some connection.
Stressor 2: People seem easily angered and upset.
It doesn’t take much to get a pulse on the stress and anxiety on a commute to and from work. I see higher levels of frustration and anxiety in family, friends, clients, and myself. We simply are always going, going, going, and doing, doing, doing.
Strength: Build activities that promote resilience.
There are many counter-measures to the increasing heated feelings we carry around. The three major ones I find immediately useful are exercise, meditation, and downtime with friends and family (and please take that vacation time you have accrued at work).
As a first step, complete the North Stars exercise: reflect on your 7 core values (philosophies or values) that guide you in life. At a quiet moment, ask yourself what is important to you. Then look at how those values are showing-up in your daily life. For example, if you put “nature” as a value but have not taken a hike in years, it is high time to do so.
Stressor 3: At times I feel hopeless or helpless to making change.
We all need a space that creates a respite - a place to retreat and recharge. It doesn’t have to be grandiose or complicated: the library, a walk in the park, or a coffee shop can provide such opportunity. Hopelessness and helplessness are the major drivers of anxiety and depression. Without a sense of a chance for change or options to change, human beings suffer.
Strength: Adapt to change in life.
In a rapidly changing world it is critical to adapt. Assess approaches that are useful for you to keep and jettison that which is no longer helpful. Resistance to adapting to new circumstances runs the risk of going “extinct.”
Taking a healthy step back provides an opportunity for greater perspective that is often lost when life is demanding. Try to get an aerial view of your options and opportunities, often best done in consultation with trusted people in your life, and then enact constructive adaptive change.
In leading change for oneself or others, it is critical to continually recombine our “DNA.” Look at the stressors in life and see how another perspective may allow you to change something destructive to a constructive outcome. This requires deploying your strengths in order to undertake the challenging task of change. It also requires engaging in self-care in order to manage the disequilibrium that change requires. Change is possible and new normals will emerge, but it requires ongoing adaptation to not only survive, but also (and most importantly), thrive.
Dr. Gregory is an individual consultant and psychotherapist (humanistic and positive psychologies). His focus is on adaptive change work and carries international expertise work with start-ups (Sidekicks International, meQuilibrium.com), as well as with non-profits, and NGO's (Public Health ministries in Swaziland and South Africa), higher education (including Fielding, William James, New England Conservatory, Northeastern, UCLA Extension) and for-profit organizations (such as Mazda and Fablevision).