I don’t know about you but I’m “at wits end” far too often. I am emotionally and physically spent, calling upon resources I didn’t even know I had in order to make it through the day. Between personal and professional obligations and relationships, I often feel anxious, guilty, frustrated and resentful. The voice in my head never turns off. I stew about the past (choices made that have gotten me to said breaking point) and worry about the future (whether the consequences of current choice will lead me to a happier and more sustainable place). I try to not to tell anyone about my feelings; they are inconsistent with the persona I want to portray—upbeat, optimistic, a well-spring of energy. And most honestly, I’m embarrassed.
Does any of this sound familiar to you? For better or worse, you are not alone. Every time I give a presentation people come to me and talk about:
- nagging insecurity that prevents one from pursuing career advancing opportunities;
- chronically feeling overwhelmed to the point of hopelessness, lacking willingness to invest energy in potentially risky endeavors;
- struggling to be an inspirational leader able to motivate staff while dealing with personal depression;
- not-so-gracefully juggling time with family and high-stress traveling job;
- concern about the pressure on one’s children to excel in an increasingly competitive environment; and
- feeling “punished” for taking time (typically within company policies) for personal or family medical care. (Note: Many of these stories shared with me are from parents who have autistic, ADD or ADHD children and receive calls in the middle of the work day from school insisting that the child be picked up immediately.)
This list isn’t exhaustive but it definitely captures sentiments that are more the norm than the exception. All of these issues are, in my opinion, rightfully considered part of a larger mental health conversation that needs to be had in more earnest, and as part of a holistic wellness regimen. Far too often we put mental health in a separate category, one associated with societal stigmas, rather than as one of the many threads of the complex tapestry that makes us fully human and positioned to flourish.
Some of my favorite work on positivity and flourishing comes from the work of Barbara Frederickson, which you might find useful in your own leadership development journey, or leadership role within an organization. (Note: I also talk about the important role of positivity and practical guidance for building it into your life in my book Hot Yoga, Coconut Water and Eustress: 10 Strategies for Bringing Intention to Your Leadership Practice.)
- Positivity is the key ingredient for flourishing. Its absence can lead to languishing. Flourishing and languishing aren’t just my gut assumptions. There are years and years’ worth of scientific data, collected separately by different researchers and using various methods, that have arrived at the same conclusion. It’s also been proven that flourishing and languishing associated with one’s propensity for positive versus negative emotions applies to individuals and groups, such as work teams.
- Positivity is different, and more specific, than happiness. The emotions included in the positivity spectrum include:
Each of the above emotions should be explored and experienced with as much regularity as possible, which creates upward spiral trends in our emotions. The goal is a 3:1 ratio, positive to negative emotions.
- Why is positivity important? It has been scientifically proven to a) broaden—open up our thinking about an experience, and b) build, create a foundation upon which new ideas and relationships can be born. Further, people with high positivity ratios are found to be more resilientduring tough times.
Action Take-Away: It’s possible to increase your positivity ratio and create upward spirals in your own life and allowing you to flourish—have breakthrough experiences that otherwise would have not been available to you. Techniques for increasing your positivity ratio include:
- Be more aware of the various positive emotions and consciously tapping into them as much as possible—especially love.
- Learn to meditate, practice yoga or keep a reflection journal.
- Slow down, shift your environment, get in touch with nature (being outside, especially during good weather, has been found to have a positive effect on human’s emotions).
- Surround yourself with people you love as often as possible.
- Focus externally—happiness cannot be directly pursued, it must ensue as an outcome of a meaning-filled life. Focus on others and the good you can bring them, with a genuinely open heart, and you will flourish.
For more on the topic of mental and emotional well-being, listen to the February 2, 2015, Episode 6 of DJ and Da Bear: Keeping You at the Top of Your Game, when special guests, Michelle Simmons and Nikki Sterling, talk with us as a health care professional and autism mom, respectively, about some of the important issues of our time, as parents, caregivers, professionals, and just humans living in this over-stimulating world!