I need a to-do list for my to-do list. When I’m feeling overwhelmed, “SERENITY NOW!” (inspired by the Seinfeld episode) has become my mock-mantra. Seeing that I was at the end of my rope, my sister urged me to join her at a Working Women’s Workshop in Chicago focused on work/life integration (or what us old timers call “work/life balance”)
The highlight of the retreat was an all-woman panel of experts including a neurologist, cardiologist, ob/gyn, and a nutritionist discussing trends they are seeing in their own practices. In tough economic times, people are under increased stress at work, taking on more responsibilities as staffs gets slimmer. Women are becoming the primary breadwinners in their households while performing the duties associated with raising children, a well-cited cause of high-stress. As our parents live longer, women are also becoming caregivers and adding to one’s daily stress load. Close to 15 million people in the U.S. fill the role of caregiver for relatives with dementia, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Statistically, 2 out of 3 of these informal caregivers are women.
The numbers bear out this truth: The Chicago Tribune recently reported that 2 in 3 workers report high levels of stress with extreme fatigue and a feeling of being out of control. Little did I know I was living not just one, but all these trends. I have an aunt, a mother, and a father struggling with varying stages of dementia. I have found myself orchestrating the inner workings of three households: doctor’s appointments, bills, insurance receipts, homework, home repairs, grocery lists, caregivers, and PTA meetings. Weekly, I dispense close to 40 prescriptions and supplements. Many days it seems like too much.
Thankfully, the workshop closed with actionable takeaways to manage all this stress. I would like to share with you six simple, and QUICK, tips.
1) MOVE: “It’s my new favorite four-letter word” joked Dr. Neelum Aggarwal, M.D., Associate Professor of Neurological Sciences at Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center.
2) SHARE: Open up to friends, colleagues, counselors and ask for help when you need it. Face-to-face connections with people reduce the feeling of isolation. Personally and professionally, making the effort to connect face-to-face may take more work, but makes for more meaningful interactions.
3) UNPLUG: Since technology allows us to work anywhere at any time, it is more important than ever to set boundaries and unplug according to Google’s Kellie Fitzgerald. Dr. Neelum advised us to keep smartphones out of our bedrooms as we sleep to give our brains true downtime.
4) BREATHE: Sit quietly and focus on your breathing. Doing this simple form of meditation for one or two minutes a day increases beneficial EEG alpha waves, returning the mind to a more healthy state, agreed Dr. Aggarwal and yoga specialist Mike Zolfo.
5) NOURISH THE SOUL: Make an appointment in your calendar every day to do something small for yourself. Plan bigger things to look forward to. For me, life is not worth living if I don’t travel. Silicon Valley companies like Evernote, looking for new and creative ways to invigorate staffers, offers $1,000 to encourage employees to take a “real vacation”, not a stay-cation or to visit relatives, but to actually explore a new place.
6) PRACTICE GRATITUDE: A positive perspective goes a long way. Instead of seeing my “sandwich” as plain turkey on white, I can choose to see it as a luscious muffaletta, overflowing with spicy crunchy giardiniera, fatty meats, salty olive tapenade on a fresh out of the oven focaccia. Being the middle of THAT sandwich suddenly becomes appealing.
I’ve incorporated these tips little by little, and have already noticed an increase in mental clarity, productivity, and joy in my life at home and at work. It’s not as easy or quick as saying “SERENITY NOW”, but it is worth the investment of time. My monumental “to-do” list will always be there. I just have to remember to put “take care of myself” at the top of the list each day.