Let Go of Stress: Slow Down! Survive!

Don't wait to have a life-threatening disease to learn what I learned. When you think you'll die from cancer in six months you wonder why you've spent so much of your life rushing to get more done. At least I did. Let me explain: I grew up believing that I'd be loved, or not, because of what I did and that belief drove me to constantly try to please people.

I craved approval and finally found it in the workplace. I loved it. It wasn't long before I figured that if I worked faster, harder, longer hours I'd get even more approval. And I was right, I did! Coffee breaks? Who needs them? Take time to get to know other employees to understand their role in the company? Plodding away at my desk would show how much more responsible I was than my coworkers. Through the years I developed a bad habit of staying late, and coming in early, and as if that wasn't bad enough, I spent all my evenings and weekends writing so I could have more approval as an author.

You know, when a car is out of control it has to either stop or crash. It's simple for us to understand this and so we're careful not to let our actions cause the car to be out of control.

Not so easy to make that connection in our lives. Too often, when we realize we're out of control we just pick up the pace, try to do whatever we're doing faster, harder, longer hours hoping that we can regain control. Not only does that not work, but most of the time we don't even connect the inevitable crash to our earlier behavior.

Once (okay, more than once) I had a job that was so stressful that some days I could barely bring myself to go to work. Did I quit? Uh uh. I kept showing up, kept putting my poor body through incredible stress until it crashed.

In October 1997 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. One of the things I realized was that if I died, very few of the projects I was pushing myself to get done would matter ? at least to me. And everyone could appreciate my hard work a lot at the funeral but I'd still be dead.

I had the lump removed, didn't do the other things the surgeon wanted me to do and I made a commitment to learning to take care of myself. I trusted a naturopath for my after care.

I stopped putting myself at risk by trying to do what everybody else wanted me to do. I stopped being a workaholic and took time to relax, to have fun, to eat healthy food even if it took a few minutes longer to prepare.

I learned to focus on a few projects instead of trying to get everything done. I learned to schedule meetings and social lunches into the next week, never the current one.

Last year I took off a whole day to think about my filing system and developed one that works for me (everything goes into a labeled folder, every folder goes into an 8-inch plastic filing tub, a 3x5 card with identifying information gets stuck on a corkboard to remind me about callbacks).

I learned that a lot of what it takes to slow down is just deciding to. In your car you back off a little, ease the pressure on the gas pedal, maybe even put on the brakes to avoid a crash. In your life, sometimes you need to back off a little, ease the pressure on yourself, put on the brakes. Don't wait to get sick to learn what I learned. Slow down now; avoid a crash.

Karin Ireland, author of the award-winning Learning to Trust Myself: Lessons From Cancer and Other Life Dilemmas and 10 Practices That Will Bring You Peace, Confidence and Success: The Workbook is a popular speaker, workshop leader, and personal coach. Visit her at http://www.IrelandCommunications.com

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