Is Balance Possible In A 24/7, On-Demand World?

Stress is at an all-time high and showing no signs of slowing down. In fact, it is reaching epidemic proportions and it’s time we pay attention before we reach the highway to the danger zone. Stats Canada’s  2012 report on Perceived Life Stress found that up to 30% of the population, aged 14-64, is experiencing high levels of stress. The Sunlife Canadian Health Index research found that as many as 77% have of the people they surveyed had at least one source of stress that is either at an uncomfortable level or excessive. The index showed that we experience stress for a variety of reasons including financial pressures, relationship issues, pressure to achieve in our studies, workload demands, health issues and not having enough time the day to do everything that needs doing.

In one scene of the movie Top Gun (1986)1 Tom cruise tells him mate, Anthony Edwards: “I feel the need for speed”.  The two guys climb in their aircraft, fly at top speeds and carry out various maneuvers to the Kenny Loggins song:  Highway to the Danger Zone. Their spirits are flying high as they blow enemy planes out of the sky. One might easily assume by watching this movie that the danger zone is an exhilarating, fun and stress free place to be. Then again movies are quite different from the realities of everyday life, aren’t they?

While a certain amount of stress is healthy and needed to perform effectively, the problem arises when stress reaches the point where it begins to affect your physical, psychological, social and intellectual well-being.  The twelve signs below are sure indicators that your stress levels are too high and that you are heading towards the danger zone. Trip Out West May 2011 123

  1. Your energy is much lower than normal and you have more unexplained aches and pains.
  2. You’re not eating well and the guilt is mounting.
  3. You’re sleeping more than usual because it’s the only way to unplug.
  4. You find yourself withdrawing from social situations and have an increased desire to be alone.
  5. You have no energy for your friends and family or for romantic relationships.
  6. You feel emotionally spent most of the day.
  7. You’re losing your sense of self.  You look in the mirror and ask: Who is this person?
  8. You feel disconnected from your community.
  9. You have trouble feeling and showing empathy for others.
  10. You’re finding it difficult to concentrate and process basic information.
  11. You see your grades or performance at work slipping.
  12. You feel confused and forgetful, more than usual.

If you found yourself checking off a number of these symptoms, you may have unknowingly drifted onto the highway and reached the danger zone where your stress levels are too high.  These warning signs are there to tell you to slow down and pay attention to what’s going on in your life.  You can start by eliminating the activities that are nice to do but not critical.  You can also

  • Pay attention to your physical symptoms and take action to deal with them before they become debilitating.  Start by taking small steps to deal with the symptoms instead of trying to change too many things at one.  You’ll accomplish more and feel less stressed.
  • Reconnect with your friends and family or rekindle romantic flames, even if it’s only for a short period of time at first. Start with one or two connections each week and add others as you begin to feel more social.
  • Find an organization where you can volunteer a couple of hours each month. Giving back to others provides a fresh perspective on what’s truly important and increases your level of empathy of others.  Writing down what you’re grateful for to recognize what's positive in your life.
  • Take time to unplug intellectually, to shut down your busy self-talk.  Find the place where you feel most relaxed and begin a daily practice of 5-10 minutes of complete silence.  Add a few minutes each week until you reach 20-30 minutes.  Use this time to allow your mind to relax and gain clarity at the same time.

Paying attention to your stress levels when the danger warnings are present is the best investment you can make in your well-being. If you need help getting started, you can work with a coach to clarify your goals and identify steps to manage your busy life more effectively. But if you find that your level of stress are increasing and coping is become difficult, seek professional help before you reach the point of burnout. With stress now a constant in our lives, managing it has become as critical to our well-being as feeding our bodies with healthy foods and staying active.

  1.  Top Gun was produced by Paramount Pictures in 1986, directed by Tony Scott and produced by Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer.

scan0015It seems everyone I talk to these days is afflicted with the “overwhelmed” virus. I hear it in their voice and see it in their body language. Feelings of being overworked and stressed out are almost as common as a cup of java in the morning. Has life sped up to a point where we’re completely losing balance? Are we unknowingly joining a not so exclusive club of the walking living, troche those who are going about the business of life feeling spiritually dead inside, decease shells of individuals who were once vibrant and full of life? More and more, help we find ourselves going through the motions, feeling overwhelmed and unfulfilled. There is no denying life is more complex and unpredictable. In a 24/7, incessant on-demand world, we are more connected than ever with smart phones, tablets, laptops and social media.  A connected world implies that we are available, anytime, anywhere.  Yet, a recent survey found that we are lonelier than ever. The virtual world and modern technology, it seems, are poor substitutes for human connections and happiness.

In addition to these incessant demands, change has become a constant companion. We are being forced to start over again through job losses, changes in relationships, tragedy or financial pressures. Because of the constant pressure to achieve, multiple priorities are ruling every minute of every day, while activities that bring us the greatest fulfillment get pushed aside. Joyful, less structured activities pale in importance compared to everything else that needs doing. At the end of the day, we go to bed mentally and emotionally exhausted with a long list of activities that didn’t get done.  We feel like we’ve failed because we couldn’t do it all and the vicious cycle begins all over again the next day.

Intuitively you know that many of these activities that keep you so busy do little to enhance relationships or contribute to reaching the most important dreams and goals you have; but you feel a sense of obligation that isn’t easily shaken. It’s time to slow down or get off this crazy, incessant treadmill. Listening to the urgent messages within and re-aligning your everyday activities with your most important goals is a good place to start. Commit to a process of disengagement from your busy schedule to focus on re-engaging in more balanced and mindful activities. These ten steps can help you get there.

Park low value added activities on a “Stop doing…” list to lighten up the load. Consciously recognize which activities are self-imposed and stop doing them.  You’ll gain more focus on doing the activities that are important.

  1. Make a “Start doing more of…” list and include only the meaningful activities that will bring you closer to your goals. Focus your energy on getting those activities done and feel a sense of accomplishment.
  2. Give yourself the luxury of a few minutes each day to brainstorm possibilities for your life without letting your negative self-talk censor any idea. Cultivate the possibilities and make intentional changes in your life.
  3. Create and align one goal with your most important dreams and focus on one goal at a time.
  4. Plan to take 1-3 baby steps, every day, to reach your goal.
  5. Connect more often with family and friends. They are your anchors.
  6. Make time every week for reflection and pay attention to what you want.
  7. Exercise to stay fit and take time for leisurely activities to help release stress.
  8. Take frequent 1-3 day mini vacations to rejuvenate your spirit and to give your mind a rest.
  9. Celebrate the small victories as you move closer to a more balanced life.

These actions will reduce your risk of becoming a member of the barely living and spiritually dead club. When you make a conscious decision to turn off the incessant demands and focus on what really matters, you will find a renewed sense of clarity and balance. You will no longer feels like you’re adding more activities on an already overcrowded to-do list; rather you will breathe new energy into your life and gain you a clearer sense of purpose.

Written by

Dianne Gaudet is a certified Coach who is passionate about helping her clients manage the dynamics of continual life transitions as they reach new heights of personal and professional success. Helping Boomers create rich and inspired lifestyle plans for the retirement life they want is one of her greatest joys. Dianne is the author of a new book, If There Are No Limits... A guide to living with passion, purpose and possibilities. She is also a motivational speaker, teacher and world traveller.