Have you been asked are you all ready for Christmas yet?
If I hadn’t found my zen 😉 , that question would make me want to punch someone in the face!
Do men get asked that question I wonder? Or is it mainly women because we take on the lion’s share of the festive season.
Anyway, I’m not really here to rant about Christmas and the many jobs of it (even though they clearly add to our load). I’m actually wanting to talk about the stress we are under as women.
How many of these things are you juggling…
- A busy and demanding job
- A team with many needs
- Home responsibilities – be it kids, managing the house, just general adulting
- Ageing parents
- Problematic periods/ peri/menopause, or any other health challenges
- Trying to keep on top of your health and emotional/ mental wellbeing
- Friends and relationships
- And I hate to say it but the pressures of how we look, our choices, the hand life has dealt us, the tightrope of being likeable AND confident (and so on, I think you get it)
And those are the top level things, the list could go on, probably endlessly! It actually amazes me how productive we are when you consider the physical, emotional, and mental load we carry on a daily basis.
Yet we are actual rock stars.
I was chatting with an amazing leader the other day who has endometriosis. She has been through medically induced menopause 6 times, lives in pain, has days when she struggles to leave the house because of how much she might bleed. She’s had to push and advocate for her medical care over and over.
And she is an unbelievable leader (and mum, and daughter…).
I’ll bet you no company she’s worked for has ever seen her performance suffer.
And that right there is what we women do, we get on with it, even when we probably shouldn’t.
I have the utmost respect for her and all of us.
But I can’t help but share that I’m a bit worried. You see we’re so good at getting shit done, carrying everyone around us, and barely drawing breath, that I worry about how close we can come to breaking point without even seeing it.
It’s at this point that women tend to seek me out, and of course I can help…though I could have made it a lot easier for them if they’d come to me sooner.
So with that in mind I wanted to share some of the stress warning signs I regularly see in the leaders I work with, and of course share some tips on how to handle them!
1) Living from holiday to holiday/ weekend to weekend
Are you running an eternal loop in your brain telling yourself if I can just get to the weekend/ the end of the month/ the end of this project/ the holidays…then I can ease up and take a break and I’ll be fine.
But what happens? The next thing pops up and off you go again. This pattern of push through and crash is a a dangerous one. It leaves your body depleted, and without proper recovery you never quite feel at yourself. Throw in perimenopause and you have a perfect storm…believe me, I’ve been through it!
Pay attention to your inner monologue. Are you always promising yourself that there will be change, but you just hurtle towards the next thing?
There are some simple shifts you can make that make a massive difference and give you more energy, more focus, and mean you are so much more at ease.
2) Lost mojo
If I had a pound for every woman that tells me she’s lost her mojo, I might not be a millionaire but I could work a few months less a year!
So what do we mean by lost mojo?
What I see is lost drive and motivation. You were firing on all cylinders, killing dead things. Then suddenly you feel like the dead thing.
- What has usually happened is…
- There’s no longer a challenge in the role, so they’re bored, or…
- There’s no recognition for all the hard work they’ve done, or…
- They’re exhausted and demotivated by setting massive expectations on themselves and not achieving them
You start to wonder why you’re bothering? What is any of this for?
And the typical knee jerk reaction is to start looking for another role, only to repeat the cycle.
There are other ways of managing this so that you get the best out of your role, and move at a time that’s good for you, not because you feel you’ve no other option.
3) Feeling like you’re failing everyone
Your brain is always buzzing with the million and one things you need to get done so you’re never fully present in the moment. You’re not giving the kids your full attention because you’re thinking about an email that needs urgent attention. You are not fully there with your partner because you’re thinking about how much you need to do before you get to bed. You’re snapping at your mum because she doesn’t understand how much is on your plate.
Then of course you start to feel guilty. You tell yourself you’re not doing anything right for anyone, so why bother?
This is of course extremely draining.
The reality is you’re not recharging your brain, and you’re…(leads me into my next point)
4) Never switching off from work
If you are finding you’re always having to hop back on the laptop at night. Or struggle to take a FULL weekend off. Or you’re waking up panicking in the night because you;ve forgotten something. Then it’s time to make some changes.
You’ve allowed yourself to obliterate all of your boundaries.
You are telling yourself that NOTHING is as important as work.
But is that the truth, or are you getting work out of proportion? If your best friend told you they were working X (enter your number) of hours per day/ week/ month. And said it was impacting their sleep etc. what would you say to them?
So why is it ok for you to do it?
5) Not making time for anything that’s just for you
Have you let the things you love drop to the wayside? Your daily run/ reading a great book/ coffee with your friends.
Have you got to the point where you’re telling yourself you’ll get back to it on Monday. Maybe you’re keeping up that one yoga class, but is it really enough?
We all know the expression you can’t pour from an empty cup.
It’s become a cliché for a reason…it’s true!
One of the lovely clients I started working with this time last year was on the cusp of burnout. She wasn’t doing anything for herself. Fun was not being had, ever.
Roll forward to this year, and she has a new catch phrase “I’m living my best life”.
A big part of our work had nothing to do with helping her change roles, it was helping her live again and enjoy life. She makes me beam smiling every time I see her now. She’s unrecognisable from the woman of last year.
All work and no play makes Jackie a dull woman!
Some fun and new experiences can reinvigorate all areas of your life.
6) Disrupted sleep and/or irritability
We all know if you’re not sleeping then you’re not going to be capable of doing much. Sleep is the most important of resources we have in our lives. But if you’re waking up in the night in a panic, then struggling to get back to sleep, then you have to fix it.
Yes hormones can be a nightmare for disrupting sleep, but their impact is worsened by stress.
Sleep is the linchpin for everything else. It’s vital for doing your best work, for being present, for focus, for energy…
And whether it’s lack of sleep that’s making you snippy, or the stress, no one will have much patience with you if you’re jumping down their throat!
7) Falling into your tried and tested stress behaviours
Hello perfectionism? Ola micro-managing? Ciao catastrophising?
We all have our go to behaviours when we feel under pressure. And the unbelievably annoying bit is, they only pile on the stress.
If you’re a people pleaser, then you guessed it…you’re going to take on too much work and struggle to say no.
If you’re a micro manager, you’re going to struggle to let others get on and help you out.
Your perfectionism might spiral out of control so you’re over-working everything.
Maybe you become overly vigilant and so fearful of getting anything wrong that you stress, have a plan for every eventuality.
As you can guess this is going to exhaust you, inhibit you, and instead of you doing your best work, you can often fall short of your true potential.
If any of these 7 stress signs are sounding familiar, you might be thinking ok Sinead, what the hell do I do about it?
Well no need to stress yourself out, because I’ve got some answers for you. I’m going to share 4 of my top strategies to help you surf the stress and not get dragged under the waves.
1) Think about your energy and mindset as like a battery
And what does a battery need? To be recharged. Now if you try and do a big charge at the weekend, it will start to run very low in the middle of the week…oh hello hump day!
If you only ever charge it properly when you’re on holiday, then you find yourself running on fumes.
What I help my clients to do is charge up every day, and with little boosters throughout the day.
They have the benefit of my mental fitness app to keep them on track, but here’s some thoughts for you and how you can make it simple.
Start your day with a little mindfulness, even better if it’s outside. I love to take a walk in the morning and listen out for the different sounds I can hear, notice the feel of the air (or rain) on my skin, and feel my feet as they connect with the ground.
Then give yourself brain boosts throughout the day. Avoid back to back meetings like your life depends on it (because it actually does). How? Start scheduling 20/ 25/ 40/ 45 minute meetings. They naturally build breathing space into your day. If someone else has scheduled the meeting, let them know you have to leave 5 minutes early.
Use these moments to do some focused breathing. Breathing in for 4 and out for 8 will help engage your parasympathetic nervous system and trigger relaxing hormones instead of all that stressful cortisol.
Try different types of brain breaks, like rubbing 2 finger tips together very slowly and with a tension that helps you feel the ridges, focus on that sensation. Or use something visual like your rings or the back of your hand. Notice all of the colours, the light, the textures.
These practices are proven to reduce your stress levels, increase your focus, and give you energy. I promise you this alone can have a dramatic impact on your day.
2) Purpose, values, and self belief
When we lose our way a bit, it’s because we’ve lost sight of what’s really important to us. It’s important that we take time out to reconnect with that, because too long drifting in that no-man’s land can have a huge impact on our mojo and sense of self. I’ve noticed that the lack of drive and direction can start to leach away your confidence. So instead of recognising that maybe you’re in the wrong place or you need to make a positive change…you might start to doubt your own abilities and potential.
Here are a few questions you can ask yourself to give yourself a more purposeful focus:
- What is important to you about your career in the short/ medium/ long term? (Answer for each)
- Take each answer and keep asking yourself, why is that important to me?
- What do you do that sparks joy?
- What drains your soul?
- In what ways do you have impact?
- What are others not seeing that you do?
3) Check your brain’s lies
If you follow my stuff you’ll know this is a drum I bang a lot! Whilst our brains are amazing things, they also cause all kinds of trouble.
Like telling us we can’t ask for what we want because we’ll risk being fired at worst, being disliked at best. LIE!
Or like telling us that we have to do it all ourselves, it will be quicker or someone else won’t be able to do it as well. LIE!
It’s what sends us those feelings of imposter, makes us second-guess ourselves, and tells us we’re not enough. LIE!
It’s crucial for our confidence, our well being, and if we want to get anywhere near to fulfilling our potential…that we recognise the lies.
Step 1 – is awareness. You’ve got to recognise that these are feelings not facts. Your brain is great at being believable. Fact or feeling?
Step 2 – Name it. Label your judge, your people pleaser, your perfectionist. Labeling them helps you to distance from their power.
Step 3 – Lower your stress. Take a mindful moment of breathing and settle those saboteurs so they’re no longer in control.
Step 4 – Take purposeful action. Most of our self sabotage is fuelled by fear. A great antidote to fear is purpose. If you have a great why behind what you want to do, you will overcome the fear.
4) Prioritise you
This one goes against the grain for many women. We are the doers and givers, and find ourselves putting everybody else’s needs ahead of our own. But when we do this we are constantly draining ourselves and never getting what we need to be at our best (or even mediocre).
We have to recognise that because we’ve always pushed through before, we can keep pushing through.
Burnout is a scary and difficult thing to recover from. It can take months or even years to restore yourself.
The antidote is to make time for yourself and your career. The best way to achieve this is to do things at the start of the day. When you put yourself last on the list, you’ll always fall off.
Put yourself first and you’re saying I’m important, plus you will get the important things done more efficiently after you’ve invested in you.
Take that walk, do your yoga, go for a run, spend sometime reading or colouring…whatever fills your cup! And when it comes to career actions, do that reach out to a potential sponsor, make time for so,e development, or take some time to reflect in the morning. Your future you will thank you for it!
One of my main goals when working with my clients is to help them breakthrough the structural and mindset barriers by adopting simple and sustainable habits that get big results.
In the last year I’ve helped women shift from feeling trapped and lacking self belief, to confidently stepping up to C Suite and CEO roles. From hiding and supporting other to success to enjoying stepping into the limelight and getting recognition. From burned out to surfing the stresses of life and coming out on top.
Several of my clients have told me that this year working with me has been the best year of their lives!
You can read more about my ground-breaking Impactful Leader PQ Mastermind programme here and book in a call to explore how I can help you accelerate your results whilst reducing your stress in 2024.
Sinead Sharkey-Steenson is a Leadership Career Coach who specialises in supporting women into top roles in business and sport. She uses a combination of top neuroscience and coaching practices to help women get results. She’s helped over 10,000 women to step up since founding Generation Women.