Tidying Up Your Career

Tidying Up Your Career

In the Winter, the cold weather and shorter days encourage us to stay indoors and do less. For most of us, our worklives are quieter in January than in the bustling Spring and Summer months to come. No matter how busy you feel right now, this is an excellent time to clear some space in your career so that when it’s time to plant new seeds in the Spring, you have the energetic space for the kind of work you desire.

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Reclaiming Authority Over Our Own Lives

Reclaiming Authority Over Our Own Lives

I saw a naturopath recently, and she told me she thinks I’m walking on the edge of postpartum depression. “You could go either way,” she said. She suggested I take St. John’s Wort to alleviate my depressive symptoms.

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How to Talk About Your Career When You Have No Idea What You're Doing

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultant

The holidays are coming. This means that there could be a lot of unstructured family time in your future, which you might be dreading.

Getting together for meals and merriment with well-meaning loved ones can be a real challenge when you're not feeling awesome about where you are in life. The same feelings can come up when you're trying to network with peers in the midst of a personal or professional transition.

It can be really difficult to talk about your career confidently and enthusiastically when you're just not sure what it is you're aiming to do.

But here's the thing:

It's okay to not know what you're doing.

It's okay not to know what kind of work you're interested in, or how you'll make a living, or what you're good at. A lot of people actually don't know this for themselves, they're just pretending like they do because it feels safer.

I commend you for not knowing, and while I know that's not a comfortable place to be in for very long, it means you've started the process of finding an authentic path, which is one of the bravest acts anyone can do.

So, now that you know it's okay not to have it all figured out, let's talk about how you're going to interface with Aunt Gertrude at Christmas Dinner.

I want to make the ideas below digestible so that you can easily recall them at your next networking event or family gathering. I'll give you a little acronym in case it's helpful: IFCBS.

I: Intend

Before you engage with anyone you're a bit nervous about talking to, get really clear on your intentions for the interaction. A lot of people (and I've done this myself) go into these conversations without having thought about it ahead of time and then end up feeling totally deflated and confused afterward.

So what do you intend to happen with your family or your network when you give them an update on your career? Are you intending to solicit advice? Are you intending to share without getting advice? Are you intending to be a little more open this time around, or maybe a little more reserved?

All intentions are good as long as they fit for you and are really clear in your mind's eye before you engage.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultant

F: Frame

How we frame our experience - to ourselves and to others - is incredibly important. Just the other day, I was working with a client who was feeling really nervous about seeing her family and having to explain that she "still" wasn't working. When she described what she'd have to tell them, she used a phrase like "Well, I still don't know what I'm doing, but I'm working with a coach, so I hope I'll figure it out..."

I noticed that and offered a different approach instead - something like "I'm being really intentional about my next step and I'm not ready to talk about it yet, but I'm feeling more energized than I ever have about the work I'm going to do."

Both of those sentences could technically be true, but can you see how they elicit different responses from others?

When I offered her that re-frame, her whole energy shifted. She sat up straight, took a deep breath, and took up more space in the chair. She came across as grounded and sure of herself, which was wonderful to see and will impact her family in a more positive way.

See if you can take what you normally tell people make it more powerful and positive. It might feel like you're faking it, but you're not - you get to decide how you frame your experience.

The more you hear yourself reframe your experience into one that's intentional and positive, the better you'll feel, which really impacts how you'll come across to others.

C: Curiosity

Family and friends can be really weird when we're in the midst of a big life transition like a career change. They often mean well but ask questions that make us feel small and defensive, like "What will you do with that degree?" or "But you can't make any money that way - how will you live?"

Curiosity is your friend. It's always your friend, but it's your bestie during family gatherings. Instead of getting hot and bothered because your dad is grilling you again about "when you're going to grow up," see if you can take a curious orientation instead. Ask yourself why your actions bother him so much. What is it about how you're living that causes him to act this way? What about his past is coming out at you?

The reactions others have about our lives is always about them. It is not about you. When you start stretching and making changes, it makes a lot of people around you uncomfortable because it can make them feel insecure about what they're doing with their lives.

Instead of getting defensive and allowing their insecurity to cause you pain, see if you can be like a scientist looking at the interaction objectively and curiously.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultant

B: Boundaries

Being in the midst of a career change is a precious, vulnerable, and scary time. You're working things out, and oftentimes, getting lots of input from people who want you to stay the same is a recipe for disaster.

You get to decide what you will and won't share with family members, friends, and people in your professional network. If you don't feel like explaining yourself to anyone, you can say "I'm really excited about where I'm heading, but I still want some time to figure it out on my own before talking about it with others."

Or you could say, "I really appreciate you asking, that means a lot, but I read on a blog that it can be helpful to keep the process private until I'm really sure of what direction I'm going in."

You can also be totally open with the fact that you're in the muck and mire of a transition - it's up to you. The point is that it's important to know what our lines are and, when those get crossed, assert our needs and confidently redirect the conversation.

There's no reason you have to be interrogated this holiday season. You call the shots, and you get to decide what you do and don't want to talk about.

S: Self-care

Taking care of yourself is always important, but it's 1,000,000 times more important when you're going through a major transition. This holiday season (and anytime you're doing work on yourself), make sure self-care is a priority. That could look like splurging for a massage while the rest of your family goes shopping, taking a lot of space in your room, going on walks alone, using mantras, or having a friend on speed dial.

The holidays can be a hard time for many of us, for lots of different reasons, but by taking extra good care of our spirits and bodies, it's possible to enjoy them and the fullness they bring.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultant
megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultant

Remember IFCBS this season and anytime you're in the midst of making a change that you're a little unsure about.

If you're in the midst of a holiday gathering or professional event and are just feeling exasperated and like you really do want to make a change but aren't sure how, I'm around. You can always drop me a note here or work with me in a more formal way.

I've been where you are and have felt that sense of dread knowing I'd have to update others on my career. I hope that maybe with this information, it will be a little less painful for you. Take good care of yourself this season, and please reach out if you need to.

What to Do If You Don't Want to Check Email on Weekends

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantI was in a staff meeting once and some women were chatting about the pressures they felt to be available even on their days off. One woman, bless her heart, said that her big victory was waiting until 2:00 on Sunday afternoons before she'd check her work email. It seemed like I was the only person in the room who thought that was absurd - "checking work email in the middle of your precious Sunday?!?" Flash forward six months: I'm checking email as soon as I wake up in the morning and regularly throughout most weekends.

No one explicitly told me to stay connected to my inbox on Saturdays and Sundays, but there I was, drinking the Kool-Aid and waving the "I work so hard and am dedicated" flag. At first it felt like I'd finally made it - I was "important enough" to be "needed" over the weekend. Then, after a while, it felt yucky, and heavy, and I never felt very rested on Monday mornings.

I wish someone had told me two things back then:

First, that I didn't have to check email all of the time - no one was going to get hurt if I didn't and I wasn't going to be fired.

Second, how to draw a line that I'd already crossed weekend after weekend. How could I change course once people expected instantaneous responses from me?

So, message #1 in this post is this: If you don't want to check email on your weekends, don't.

If being "on" all the time works for you, then okay, but if you're finding yourself anxious every Sunday night, constantly exhausted, or refreshing your inbox without even being aware that you're doing it, I'd encourage you to read on.

Assuming you've been sucked into the common practice of 24/7 availability (and most of us have been there - so no shame), it's not too late to change course.

You can create different rules by which you work - rules that work for you.

Here are some ideas for how to shift the nasty habit of weekend emailing:

First, if no one has explicitly asked you to be on email over the weekend, then it's really a matter of the pressure you put on yourself. That's great, because it's an easy fix: just stop doing it.

I'm not being facetious. You're responsible for your own well-being, and you have what it takes to decide not to participate in the crazy email culture from Friday night to Monday morning.

If the expectation is explicit or if you get push-back once you try this, I have a couple of thoughts:

  • You can stand your ground and say something like "I choose to shut off email over the weekends because it's really important to me to rejuvenate and come in fresh on Monday morning," or something like "I know I do better work when I've had a couple of days away from email, so I've made it a priority to shut it off over weekends."
  • You could tell people you're doing an experiment - you're going to see how your workweek changes after not checking email for four weekends in a row.
  • You could write an autoresponder over weekends that says something to the effect of, "Thanks for your email. I'm committed to resting on weekends so that I can give 100% Monday - Friday and will respond to your note as soon as I can next week."
  • You could leave the organization and find people who respect your time and life outside of the office.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantI hope those ideas are helpful, but the biggest hurdle to quitting this habit will still be your own beliefs about needing to check email all the time.

Drawing boundaries with other people is difficult, but really, it's the boundaries we draw with ourselves that need the most tending.

Weekends are so important for people working a regular 40+hour workweek. A lot of the people I meet underestimate how much rest and rejuvenation they really need, and they compromise their own health and vitality by giving away that precious time and energy to tasks that don't need to be addressed right away, like checking email.

Try it for one weekend (or even one weeknight) and just see what you notice. See if anything feels differently. You can always go back to checking it!

Violence, Grief, and Photosynthesis

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantA few years ago, I was living and working in Boston, not far from downtown. One usual Monday afternoon, the mood in the office began to shift - people were getting uneasy, looking at their phones, whispering concern...and then I found out about the tragic Boston Marathon bombing that had just occurred. I rushed home, picked my husband Chris up on the way, and we sat glued to the news, and each other, for the rest of the evening. The bombers were still at large the next morning, but the East Coast being the East Coast, everyone was expected to go to work anyway.

Maybe it's my West Coast demeanor, but I just couldn't get myself up and out to the office that morning. I woke up and couldn't stop crying. I felt confused, and so, so sad for the victims, for the people whose hearts were so dark they could do something like that, for all of us and our suffering. I didn't understand how companies could open their doors the next day without even talking about what just happened less than a mile down the road.

I know the pain was felt in everyone's hearts, but no one really knew what to do with it - it was too big and too heavy. 

I was fortunate to have an understanding boss who agreed to let me work from home that day, but there were many employees who I'm sure felt the same things I did but didn't feel comfortable asking for what they needed. I'm sure there were leaders in the organization who woke up and couldn't stop the sobs but felt like they had to put on a brave face and get back to work.

The tragedy this past weekend in Orlando, Florida affects all of us, even if we live on the other side of the country.

Tragedy anywhere affects us, whether it's systemic violence against people of color, the raping of women, or the destruction of our planet. We are social, connected creatures sensitive to the harm of other living beings - that's an irrefutable fact.

But these painful, heart-wrenching events get even more destructive to our collective well-being when we pretend that they are not, in fact, painful and heart-wrenching. When we resist the pain, rage, or hopelessness that is within us for fear that it could suffocate us, it stays in our bodies. We have to give these big, terrifying feelings space to be expressed if we're going to be able to meet the challenges of our times with love and grace. This reminds me of a quote I love from Lao Tzu:

"Be like the forces of nature: when it blows, there is only wind; when it rains, there is only rain; when the clouds pass, the sun shines through."

If you woke up this morning feeling weepy, afraid, or angry, take note. Honor your own humanity and let the force of your grief pass through you, even though it's scary.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantThat brings me to photosynthesis.

Plants, the miracles that they are, absorb things from the environment that animals are unable to process (like sunlight and carbon dioxide) and convert them into oxygen, which is critical for our survival.

Without this specific process of inhalation and exhalation from the plant kingdom, animal life on this planet would cease to exist.

Today, and every day, really, there is a lot of pain to inhale. It is all around us, and some days it can feel completely overwhelming. But we can photosynthesize, too - we can transform this immense pain into something else that supports life.

In high concentrations, carbon dioxide is poisonous to humans, but our plant friends can take it in for us and breathe out the very thing we need to survive - oxygen.

In a very real way, the pain we experience from violent acts around us is also toxic - it lives in our bodies and can cause us to do horrific things to ourselves and others. Those of us who are brave enough to face the pain can transform it into oxygen for others who aren't yet able to do it themselves.

Can you breathe deep into the pain that is within you and exhale peace and joy?

Can you take in what may be toxic and, in your own beautiful way, breathe out more of what this world needs?

Tragedies like the one this weekend affect each of us in different ways, and whatever you are feeling today - or on any day when you witness the pain of suffering - is real. It doesn't matter if you didn't know anyone personally or if you're a million miles away - if you feel pain, then you feel pain, and I hope you'll do whatever you need to do today to let it move through you so that it can be transformed.

If you're in Human Resources or management, then you have an extra responsibility to model responsible grieving and take good care of yourself first. Be open with your team about the fact that we are all impacted by mass shootings, systematic oppression, or any form of violence in our lives. If someone expresses a need to be alone and cry for a while, honor that need. If someone's lashing out in anger, calmly check in about what's going on below the surface. If you're in a leadership position of any kind and you're reading this blog, I have no doubt that you have what it takes to model emotional intelligence and healthy grieving.

No matter who or where you are, you have to exhale today. The question is, can you exhale more joy, peace, and beauty than you did in the last breath?

labyrinthCan you photosynthesize the pain within and around you so that there is less of it now than there was a minute ago?

If you need some help, below I've shared a photosynthesizing-esque meditation practice called Tonglen, which is Tibetan for "giving and taking." It's a practice for breathing in suffering and breathing out compassion, and you can do it for yourself, for a loved one, for the plants and animals, or for any group of people that calls to you. Below is a written guide, adapted from Pema Chodron, and below that is a guided meditation from Tara Brach as well as a video of Pema walking you through this practice. I hope you'll try some of these techniques out or photosynthesize in your own perfect way today.

I'm holding space in my heart for each of you today, near and far, and I am so grateful for this community of workplace photosynthesizers.

Tonglen practice, adapted from Pema Chodron:

First, rest your mind briefly, for a second or two, in a state of openness or stillness.

Second, work with texture. Breathe in a feeling of hot, dark, and heavy-a sense of claustrophobia-and breathe out a feeling of cool, bright, and light-a sense of freshness. Breathe in completely, through all the pores of your body, and breathe out, radiate out, completely, through all the pores of your body. Do this until it feels synchronized with your in and out-breaths.

Third, work with a personal situation-any painful situation that’s real to you. Traditionally you begin by doing tonglen for someone you care about and wish to help. However, as I described, if you are stuck, you can do the practice for the pain you are feeling and simultaneously for all those just like you who feel that kind of suffering. For instance, if you are feeling inadequate, you breathe that in for yourself and all the others in the same boat, and you send out confidence and adequacy or relief in any form you wish.

Finally, make the taking in and sending out bigger. If you are doing tonglen for someone you love, extend it out to those who are in the same situation as your friend. If you are doing tonglen for someone you see on television or on the street, do it for all the others in the same boat. Make it bigger than just that one person. If you are doing tonglen for all those who are feeling the anger or fear or whatever that you are trapped in, maybe that’s big enough. But you could go further in all these cases. You could do tonglen for people you consider to be your enemies-those who hurt you or hurt others. Do tonglen for them, thinking of them as having the same confusion and stuckness as your friend or yourself. Breathe in their pain and send them relief.

Guided meditation from Tara Brach:

This guided meditation is about 28 minutes long: https://www.tarabrach.com/guided-meditation-compassion-practice-tonglen/

Video on tonglen from Pema Chodron:

This video is only about five minutes long: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QwqlurCvXuM

How to Be Open About Your Intuition at Work

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultant This week I had the honor of getting a group of women together to talk about intuitive communication (which I'll be doing again online soon if you're into it).

Toward the end of the class, after lots of information sharing and discussion, one woman spoke up and said something to the effect of "Yea, okay, but how do I tell my old-school boss who wants hard data all the time that I'm making a decision based on my intuition?"

Mmm, yes.

In this class, we'd created a sort of cocoon where everyone was in agreement about how clarifying and helpful our intuition is in the workplace. We were sharing our experiences, affirming our intuitive knowing, it was all happening, and then...we remembered that this stuff still isn't mainstream.

The old paradigm that worships hard data and efficiency above intuitive knowing and human connection is on its way out, but it's not going down without a fight.

As more and more people demand "high touch" experiences with organizations, we will have to reconnect with our own humanity, which includes our intuition. Unfortunately, many leaders in organizations are unable to access this for themselves, and so they continue ravenously hunting for external data that shows them what they already know in their hearts, and they put the same diseased pressure on their employees.

It doesn't have to stay like this, though. The tide is shifting, and intuition will become more and more acknowledged and accepted in our workplaces, but it's still at the edges for now.

So how do we, as intuitive people, be more open about accessing that part of us in the workplace?

How do we explain that we don't need to spend another hour looking at reports - that we already know what we need to do? How do we explain that we can't explain - we just feel something deep in our core that's leading us in another direction?

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantThe answer isn't easy, but it is very simple: We just do it.

I don't know any other way. We just have to be more open about it. We have to do it for ourselves and for the people in our organizations who are starving for their own inner wisdom.

Now, of course, you get to decide how you do it, and with whom. And you can be choosy - maybe you drop "feeling" into a conversation with a colleague you think might be open to it. Maybe you tell your boss that you "just sense" something and watch their reaction. Or hell, maybe you're ready to open your next staff meeting with "This is what's in my heart, and I want to be more open about where my intuition is leading me because that's how I make the best decisions for our team."

You can also choose not to use the word "intuition" if it's still a dirty one in your organization. You can simply say things like "I feel..." or "I'm sensing..." or "Something that comes up for me is..."

If the tide is going to shift, we have to be more open about how our deeper, mystical, seemingly "less rational" selves inform our work. We have to do that and then hope that the person across from us is open to accessing their intuitive side and can meet us in that place.

In the last few weeks, I've been struck by how open-minded so many professional people are - people you may not expect to be on board with the more squishy, intuitive skills that I'm talking about here.

Last night at an HR Association event I was facilitating, I told about 20 HR professionals that next month we'd be talking about office auras, and no one yelled or threw food at me! Okay, sure, I live in Portland, and this was an innovative group of people, but it still gives me hope - I think people in the professional sphere are ready to talk about things we can't always name, or see, or measure.

We have to show up as our intuitive, authentic selves in our worklives and trust that the right people - the ones we want around us - are going to be able to meet us there.

Start wherever you are today, even if it's just imagining dropping "the I word" into a conversation with a colleague.

Honor yourself by making space for your intuition in your work - I can guarantee you'll reap rewards, even if it's just feeling completely aligned and genuine for one amazing moment.

Lovingly Assertive Boundary-Setting

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantMy post earlier this week, How to Gracefully Choose Between Work and Life, touched on this issue of setting good boundaries at work. This is one of the toughest issues that comes up for people in the workplace, and unfortunately, most of our organizations are pretty anti-boundary. We don't really like it when someone declines a meeting, or says they need to work from home instead today, or doesn't get back to us within .25 milliseconds.

But if we're going to stay sane in today's world of work, we have to learn how to set - and enforce - good boundaries in a way that's both loving and assertive.

In an effort to help us all do that, I've created a SlideShare presentation called Lovingly Assertive Boundary-Setting. I hope you enjoy this visual presentation!

One Surefire Way to Deal with Toxic People

swearing-294391_1280 (1)A few months ago, I presented a workshop on Work Life Integration to a group of Human Resources professionals. A woman contacted me afterward and said that as I was talking about negative emotional stress and its impact on our bodies, a light went on in her head: she's been getting sick over and over again, and she realized that it's due to working in an extremely toxic work environment. This isn't the first time I've heard a story like hers; recently, I was working with two women who had horrifying tales to tell about working under a boss whom many people might consider a sociopath. They were clearly suffering - they exhibited signs of severe burnout, and I hate to think about what that job is doing to their physical, emotional, and spiritual health.

Stories like these make my blood boil. They make me want to march into that sociopathic boss's office and invoke a serious ruckus. Even recalling their stories, my stomach is in knots, my chest feels puffed, and there's a probably a vein in my forehead about to burst. UGH.

Now, I get it, "hurt people hurt people" and all of that - I'm married to a clinical social worker who lovingly reminds me that people act out of unresolved pain. BUT STILL. That doesn't give them a right to abuse and degrade the people that work for them, and there's no reason any of us should tolerate treatment like that - especially when we're voluntarily employed.

soap-bubbles-817098_640If, for some reason, you don't feel ready to leave a toxic work environment, I can offer one guaranteed way to help limit the damage it's going to cause you: energy bubbling.

You know how we jokingly refer to our "personal bubbles"? How some people have small bubbles and they like to get all up in your business, and others have big, wide ones, and they stand five feet away from you as they talk? It turns out, those bubbles are real! We each have a flexible, fluid energetic bubble that surrounds our bodies. Before you scoff and say this is all hippy-dippy nonsense, let me tell you a story to help illustrate:

Last year, I took a self-defense class with some girlfriends, and one of the exercises that the teachers had us do was to partner up with someone across the room. One of us would act like an oncoming attacker walking up while the other would be the potential victim. As the "attacker" walked toward us, they told the "victims" to emit the most forceful, solid boundary we could, without moving, without saying anything, just through our looks and the energy we gave off.

wonder-woman-1016324_640The differences in the various "bubbles" we were each giving off was pretty palpable. When I played the attacker, my partner's bubble felt very strong, even from far across the room. If I had actually wanted to attack her, I probably would have changed my mind. Other people, however, didn't seem to know how to emit that "don't f*ck with me" energy - their boundaries felt less solid. This stuff is real, and it's easy to see once you start to pay attention to it!

One of the best, most effective ways to protect yourself from toxic emotional garbage that people sling at you throughout your day is to enforce your bubble.

To do this, just start to play around with imagining your bubble. What color is it? Is it transparent, or opaque? Is it squishy, or firm? Are there holes anywhere? Ideally, your boundary (or bubble) should surround all sides of you, front and back, left and right. It may be more open and fluid with those you feel most safe with, and it might be like titanium when you're around that jerk at the office.

If you want to take it to the next level, you can use your hands to physically reinforce your bubble - pretend like you're drawing it down all over you. Imagine it reinforced throughout your day, and if you're getting emotionally assaulted at work, envision all of those stupid little bullets just bouncing gently off of your bubble and back onto the floor. For an awesome guide to doing this, check out this 8-minute tutorial by Julianna Ricci.

soap-bubble-1033701_1280Another benefit of being aware of and reinforcing your energy bubble is that it also keeps in what is yours, and therefore your "stuff" is less likely to spill onto those around you. By taking care of your boundaries, you ensure that you're only keeping the emotional baggage that is actually yours - you're not picking up whatever Desperate Diane is putting off across the room, and you're not oozing anything onto her, either. You each keep what you're dealing with, plain and simple.

I know this might sound weird, but trust me - it works. People with enforced energy bubbles don't pick up toxicity as easily, they protect their health, and they're more able to give off energy that is solely uplifting to others.

I would really encourage you to try this, whether you're in a toxic work environment or not. Enforcing our boundaries is a skill that we all need to develop if we're going to stay healthy amidst unhealthy people. In the words of Ice Cube, which came to me multiple times while writing this post:

"chiggity-check yo self before you wreck yo self."

If you're into this energy stuff, you might check out Donna Eden's groundbreaking work, Energy Medicine.

Know someone who needs a better bubble? Send this their way!

Tips for Work-Life Integration: Be nicer to your body

We're not doing ourselves or our workplaces any favors when we ignore our physical health.

We do some pretty awful things to our bodies in the modern workplace. Many of us stay stationary for hours on end, fail to drink enough water, over-caffeinate, under-nourish, and push our bodies to do more, more, and more.

How we treat our bodies has serious ramifications for the quality and quantity of work that we do. None of us can feel integrated and energized to do our best work when our bodies are exhausted and starved of the nutrients that they need. Tony Schwartz writes, “Taking care of yourself physically won’t turn you into a great performer - it’s just once piece of a more complex puzzle - but failing to do so assures that you can’t ever perform at your best (emphasis mine)."

In the past few months, I've gotten serious about working with my body instead of against it during the workday, and I've noticed a real shift in the quality of my work and the way that I feel at the end of the day. I've had the privilege of working with Amanda Helser, who is a certified Nutritional Therapy Practitioner (NTP) and a Western herbalist. I asked Amanda if she'd be open to sharing some of the tricks and knowledge she's given me in our work together, and she said yes!

In our conversation below, you'll find some seriously helpful insights into how you can support your body (which, of course, includes your mind!) during your workday.

Me: What are some of the harmful health habits that you see a lot of working people exhibit?

Amanda: It comes down to movement and meals. Our bodies are not meant to sit in front of a computer doing repetitive movements. Sitting for long periods of time with poor posture contributes to sluggish digestion. Going for a brisk walk every day to get your blood circulating will improve digestion, energy, and blood flow to your brain.

Another harmful habit is caffeination instead of balanced meals. We often mistake our low energy, typically mid-morning and mid-afternoon, for a need for caffeine. The 3 o'clock soy latte or sugar craving to get through the day is our body's way of saying, "Hey we're crashing from a lack of a balanced lunch." If your lunch consists of mainly protein and fat with vegetables, with low simple carbohydrates (grains), then your body has slow-burning fuel to keep your energy up and your appetite satiated well through the afternoon.

Me: One thing I've been hearing about among working professionals is something called "adrenal fatigue." Can you talk a little bit about that and how it might show up in the workplace?

Amanda: Adrenal Fatigue is a deficiency in the functioning of the adrenal glands. Normally, our adrenal glands secrete specific amounts of steroid hormone, cortisol, which is the hormone that shows up in our stress response. Too much physical, emotional, environmental and/or psychological stress can deplete your adrenals, making everything seem overwhelming and exhausting.

Typically, it begins with an over-reaction to stress. For example, traffic sending you into a rage or a deadline at work that puts you on an emotional roller coaster. Our adrenals become fatigued after constantly taxing them in an overly stressful lifestyle. Regular, balanced meals are extremely important for someone with depleted adrenals. Low or irregular blood sugar is in itself a stressful situation that taxes your adrenals.

Here are some signs of adrenal fatigue to look for: difficulty getting up and going in the morning, craving salty foods, everything feeling like a huge effort, taking a long time to recover from illness, constant snacking on sugar or caffeine, 3 or 4 o'clock afternoon drag, feeling less focused and difficulty staying on task.

Me: Unfortunately, I've seen all of those signs in every workplace I've visited. How do you think our workplaces would change if we took better care of our bodies and were more in tune with what they needed?

Amanda: I can think of quite a few ways:

  • fewer sick days
  • increased productivity (and maybe, as a result, shorter work days)
  • reasonable expectations for work load
  • more laughter and joy
  • more focused time on work tasks and less time spent on distracting things like social media
  • longer lunch breaks with time for exercise
  • weight loss, especially around the mid section (this is where people with poor adrenal health tend to put on weight).

Me: What are a few easy, simple changes that working people can make to be healthier today?

Amanda: Changing how we react to stress starts with nourishing our bodies with a balanced diet. This is important because how and what we eat communicates to our body's nervous system what kind of response we want to create: one of “fight or flight” that halts digestion and gets you pumped to run from the threat, or one of “rest and digest” that promotes good digestion and optimal energy balance.

  • Start with balanced meals. Combine healthy fats, proteins, vegetables, and a few whole grains at every meal to provide a steady source of energy. All of these macronutrients break down at different rates to sustain energy levels.
  • Eat in a peaceful setting away from your desk. Sit down, take 3 deep breaths and smell your food. This ritual starts the process of good digestion. Chew your food well.
  • Avoid sugar and caffeine as a general rule. Once in a while is fine, but an everyday habit will deplete your energy. Try a healthy snack high in protein before reaching for the coffee or cookie.
  • Go to sleep before 10:30pm. This is before your second wind, which will keep you up until 1:00 or 2:00am. Try to turn off all electronics by 8:00pm. The light of electronic screens is especially stimulating.
  • If it's ever possible, sleep until 9:00am. This is extremely restorative to the adrenals.
  • Let exercise be something you enjoy-- not just another life stressor. Change up your exercise routine. It doesn't have to be painful or sweaty or long, but make sure you have at least a little fresh air and movement every day.

Me: You're awesome! How can people work with you?

Amanda: I work with local or distant clients to help them balance their energy through eating a delicious whole foods diet. It starts from the inside out! You can reach me at www.coevolutionnutrition.com, email coevolution.ntp@gmail.com, or visit us on Facebook.

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An Update on the "Be Less Busy" Challenge

honey-bees-326334_1280 A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post about letting go of the identity that many of us share as the "frenetic professional who can get brunch with her friends if she has time next month". You can check that out here.  I wanted to provide an update on how that's going because a) it will help to keep me accountable, and b) a few of you have asked for one.

Unfortunately, even with a nice goal like "take more time to rest," I feel the need to do it perfectly, and guilty when I miss the mark. I've become really good at being "frenetic professional lady" and am rewarded by that in a society that equates exhaustion with work ethic. I have made some small changes, though, and small changes are the building block for big ones, right? (Side note: that reminds me that I've been wanting to read Gretchen Rubin's new book, Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives).

Here are the itty bitty changes I'm making that are working and that I'd like to build on:

  • I'm scheduling down-time. I know, I know, this is kind of sad, but it's working! I've blocked out two weekends in October with "NO PLANS!" in my day planner, and so far, those have not been chewed up by other commitments. I know I need to go on a Fall Retreat but don't have time to research where to go yet, so I just put it on my calendar in November and will figure the rest out later. I'm creating space for rest, not just assuming it will happen.
  • I'm practicing "No." I've declined getting involved in or attending some functions that just didn't light me up inside. They were probably good networking opportunities, but I'm using Leo Babauta's rule of thumb that says if you wouldn't pay money to do something, it's not worth your time.
  • I'm downsizing my container. Seth Godin had a great little post the other day about changing your serving size. I've begun thinking of my days as 6-hour chunks for work: 4 hours in the morning, and 2 hours in the afternoon for miscellany. This has helped me lower my expectations for what I can get done each day, which makes it easier to justify taking a 20-minute walk or savoring my lunch. Here's the caveat, which I'll write more about later: As I start focusing on doing things I love, it's getting harder and harder to know what counts as "work" and what I need to put time limits on. 
  • I'm trusting the process. Finally (and this one's important), I'm trusting that by increasing my focus and only allowing into my life that which truly excites me, the future I want will be there waiting. I'm trusting that by creating space to be well-rested, mindful and healthy, I will be better equipped to absorb life's challenges and its blessings. Some days it's really, really hard to have faith in that assumption, but then I see that the work I'm producing is actually better and more fruitful.

So that's the latest! As we transition into Autumn over here in the Pacific Northwest, it feels more and more natural to slow down. I hope you can create some space today to feel more grounded and rooted in what you know to be true for you.