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Tag: "learning how to relax"

The Pursuit of Happiness and the Death of Superwoman

I recently wrote an article that was triggered in part by two threads in one of the online clubs I belong to.

Entitled How to avoid burn out it was a response to the conversations, and also born out of my own experiences in being Superwoman balancing the everyday work that pays the bills, the domestic and family responsibilities that come along with being a (solo) mum and the pursuit of a better place in the future ie happiness and success, perhaps best encapsulated by the dream of paying off a mortgage or finally arriving at the sunlit upper pastures of the four hour week.

The threads were written by two women, both of whom had been working excessively hard the last year or more to try bring their dreams to fruition, and both had recently achieved a level of success. However – and it’s a big however – in both cases the successes were less than what they had been hoping for and working towards, they were very tired, and inevitably they both hit a wall.

While I don’t want to get tangled up in a feminist discussion, I do think that there are distinct differences between men and women when it comes to entrepreneurialship, as well as in other areas. I haven’t analysed it in any great depth, so this is just my general view, but it does seem to have something to do with women not liking to ask for help, and wanting to be seen to be better or more competent than anyone else, and something to do with trying to be best in class in every area, whether that is he best mum, the best cook, the best dressed, and now, the best business women or entrepreneur. And this is particularly damaging in my view because few women seem to take the plunge until later in life when they are frequently trailing family responsibilities in a particularly hands on and domestic way that already means they are stretched thinly. And might just really want to be at home and see staring their own home business as a way to do that.

Because I have also noticed the disquietening rise ‘mumpreneur on a shoestring’ syndrome kicking in over recent years, and as many of you will be aware, I have written fairly extensively in Funky Angel and other places on how to keep work life balance, how to set up a business realistically, how to keep it going etc etc. While it is entirely possible to set up and start a business of a budget, it does bother me a little that some peeps seem to think that they can set up a thriving business on tuppence happenny and some goodwill, because although it is much much easier than ever before to set up a business, especially from home, equally it does take money and it does take effort and it does take time.

The broad problem is, I think, not so much a female problem but more a social one – the belief that all you need to succeed is determination and if you don’t then you are somehow lazy or inadequate, and just wanting ‘to be’ is somehow morally corrupt. I am sure it has its roots in our Puritanical period and the Protestant work ethic, but it really is a load of rubbish and extremely damaging for most people. All these stories of people making millions and achieving their dreams with a few pounds and a lot of hard work just aren’t realistic for most people and almost always lead to a deal of unhappiness and exhaustion and failed business that could have added so much to the economy.

There is nothing tougher, in my view, that working alone to achieve a dream, and I know this is a controversial statement, but doing it solo, especially with myriad responsibilities, is almost always doomed to fail, or perhaps ‘not succeed as well as it could’ would be better judgement. And this is not because of any lack of talent or industry or brilliant ideas on the part of the entrepreneur. No, not at all, as a business coach I am constantly amazed and humbled by the sheer quality and quantity of brilliant ideas, fabulous ability and breath-taking determination – this nation is still a nation of innovators and own business owners! No, the key points in achieving lasting success is to be realistic about how much you can accomplish in a day comfortably given your constitution and other responsibilities, that you can build yourself a team and recognise you are a human being who probably likes gardening or making cakes or reading and that time must be allocated for these things as well in order to achieve balance.

Try to do it all alone you and you will have to learn the hard way exactly what constitutes life/work balance and how it works in practice ie push yourself too hard and too obsessively and you will crash and burn – and it could take ages for you to recover and if there is no one else but you who is servicing your clients, running your marketing campaign and dealing with the admin? And if the answer to that is an “er…” then where does that leave your business?

People are not machines. People thrive on variety else they get stale and bored – they need routinue yes, but variety within that structure. People can handle change so long as they are ready for it. People get stuck when they don’t have other people to bounce off and interact with. Doing the same thing over and over again in the hope that this time it will work and will make you happy is sure recipe for failure.

Later last week I was talking to a client of mine, Jo Geraghty, who is very busy running two businesses – Beyond the Ladder Coaching and London Sightseeing Runs. Her approach to it is very different to the two entrepreneurs mentioned above – she has support and assistance, and her second business compliments her first in so much as it is a very active and relaxed whereas her main one is quite static, and so she can balance the smart, work based intense side of her life with something completely different. Another of our Agency client’s, The PR Network, is run by two business women and PR professionals with young children and they are extremely disciplined about days they work and very good at outsourcing all the bits of their business that they don’t want to or can’t do, and so have built themselves a truly hollow company in the process –and a highly respected and successful one to boot.

My work life is currently extremely busy but totally unstressful and very rewarding because I have excellent support and I am very organised and I understand when I need regular breaks and self care in order to keep on functioning at a high level. Two or three days a week I travel to London to work inhouse with Cision UK with my trusty netbook (AKA ‘home office on the move’) helping me cut down on the impact of commuting in lost hours and saving my shoulder from dying from a laptop’s weight! The rest of the time I work from home – business as usual.  I am in touch with The Funky Agency Team via Skype, email, mobile social media, at regular intervals, and the domestic side of things either face to face if I am home (there’s a novelty!) or via text, mobile and social media, so when I have down time with friends, family and the children I can concentrate on BEING with them because technology in all its glory has made it so much easier to juggle the various demands and to do so gracefully.

The upshot is that I can therefore concentrate on being happy, putting myself first, enjoying my work and my closest best beloveds, and feeling balanced rather than desperately chasing my tail and trying to be Superwoman.

Superwoman? Pah, I’d rather just be happy…

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10 Top Tips on How to Relax

When all around you is going off like a rocket, it can be hard not to get pulled in and affected by everyone else’s stress and bother. Calm yourself and relieve your stress by using these top tips for a more relaxing life.

• Choose Silence
Too much noise is as stressful as too much clutter, too much demanding your attention, a too long to-do list…in fact a too much of everything list. Calm down by switching off the noise, and if that isn’t possible, then by taking yourself away to somewhere that is quiet, such as the top of a hill, a walk in the park, the end of the garden, the garage…Somewhere. Really. Quiet.

• Breathe
Stress is fear, and fear makes us hold our breath and breathe more rapidly and shallowly, which makes us more anxious. Counteract this by breathing in slowly and evenly to the count of 10. Hold for a count of three, and breathe right out, emptying your lungs slowly and evenly. Once it feels like your lungs are empty, push out just a tiny bit more. Repeat.

• Clear Your Space
Clear all the debris that accumulates as a part of usual everyday life, tackle all the stuff you have waiting around pending, and address head on anything that is making you anxious or irritated. Clutter in your physical, emotional or mental space all has the same result – an inability to focus and a loss of clarity, which in turn leads to feeling overburdened and stressed.

• Scent The Air
The sense of scent is the oldest sense we have and located in the most primitive part of the brain. This is why smell is so instantly evocative and effective, so choose to fill your space with calming scents, such as rose, lavender, sandalwood and mandarin, and whether you prefer to use incense, oil burners or candles, feel yourself start to relax.

• Lie Down
Standing still puts strain on your knees, calves and lower back, especially if you do it all day. Sitting can cramp your bottom and put strain on your lower back and tense your upper back and shoulders…so lying down, even for just 10 minutes a day, with a pillow under your knees, will make the world of difference. Breathe slowly and deeply. Count strawberries. And when you get back up and re enter the real world, feel how much lighter and happier you are.

• Eat For Pleasure
There are reams and reams of books of books and magazines about eating healthily and dieting. It has, in fact, become of the most lucrative markets and one that thrives on making you feel anxious so you will keep on buying information and advice and diets! Stop and relax. Food is really simple. It is fuel and pleasure in one wonderful package. What you take in will either get used (and the more active you are the more fuel you require – like a car and petrol) or stored (against future deprivations – remember we didn’t always have 24-hour supermarkets and more-or-less world peace). And if you starve your body, it will immediately go into survival mode and increase its storage allocation, which is why strict dieting makes you fatter and more stressed. So make sure whatever you eat is what you need for your body and lifestyle and then make sure it is something that you like AND the best you can give your body. And that means being aware of what is known as provenance ie fresh, local, and from known suppliers. Home cooked is also better than pre-prepared, but you know all this unless you’ve been living on the moon for the last 10 years.
Main points then?
• Be aware of the provenance of what you are eating.
• Don’t overfill your fuel tank or try and run your body on too little or inferior food – aim for balance.
• Cook from scratch whenever you can.
• Choose to eat with friends and family rather than alone.
• ALWAYS, ALWAYS eat for pleasure.

• Chew Slowly
One of the key places we hold tension is in the jaw, hence why so many people grind their teeth at night and why the phrase “to grit your teeth” is commonplace! So concentrate on your food and chew slowly, focusing on what you are doing and the flavours in your food, rather than galloping through your meal quickly, while your attention is elsewhere (such as on the television or computer screen!). Relax your jaw once a day by doing the following exercise, taken from the marvellous Eva Fraser’s Facial Workout book:

1. Sit or stand with a straight spine. Tilt your head up and back slightly. Now jut out your chin.
2. In this position, keeping your head still, open your mouth wide by lowering your jaw. Now grin widely.
3. Bring your back teeth together gently. Now – still grinning – lower and raise your jaw 10 times.
4. Relax and breathe.

NB Don’t gnash your teeth, or tense your eyes or forehead.

• Drink And Be Merry
No, not alcohol because much as we all love it, that’s like drinking liquid butter when it comes to gaining weight, as well dehydrating you, making you feel depressed after the initial rush, and putting your liver under strain, which causes you to sleep fitfully, and so lowers your immune system. So the upshot of drinking lots? You look rougher and older, and get more colds, you feel down in the dumps more often, find it difficult to concentrate as well as you should, and you gain weight…sigh. So basically it’s best to keep alcohol as a pleasurable treat, rather than a main food group (binge drinking is the worst, by the way), and so generally choose to drink:
• Water – dehydration makes us feel rubbish and tired and look older.
Tea – contains anti oxidents thought to guard against cancer. If you add milk, you’ll gain extra bonus of calcium, but sugar makes you more stressed (it gives you a blood sugar rush) so avoid it.
Soya milk – contains isoflavones that are mildly oestrogenic; use it in smoothies and froth for chocolate and lattes if you can’t face it straight.
• Real hot chocolate – chocolate contains chemicals that improve your mood and energy.
Smoothies – get your 5-a-day, extra hydration, and all those lovely vitamins in an easy-to-swallow format. Bonus.

• Rest Your Eyes
Working on a computer, a key part of the 21st century work life for many families, can easily lead to eye strain. This is because we can get so engrossed in what we are doing that we forget to look away, or to blink, both of which are detrimental for our eyes. Twenty minutes is the maximum you should focus on one spot, such as a computer screen, without looking away and letting your eyes refocus to give them a break. Also remind yourself to blink, and generally humidify the air by placing a small saucer of water near or on your radiator or having a vase of flowers or damp-loving plants (and spray them daily) on your desk. Also check your light levels and sources. Too much contrast around your screen can mean your eyes are constantly having to readjust. And then have lovely things to look at…a beautiful picture of the seaside, or of your children, a lovely view of the garden, or a pretty vase of flowers. Whatever it is, make sure you relax your eyes and look at it OFTEN.

• Indulge Your Sense of Touch
Often neglected and yet utterly fundamental, our sense of touch is essential to ground ourselves. It also release wellbeing chemicals and hormones and has been shown in studies to facilitate physical and psychological functioning, particularly in terms of reducing stress, relieving pain, increasing the ability to cope, and general health ratings.
So what are you waiting for?

• Get a furry blanket or cushion and stroke it when you have a coffee break, answer the phone, or sit down to do some research.
• Stroke the cat. Or dog. Or guinea pig. Or rat. Snakes and lizards probably don’t count.
• Hug your child, parents, partner, and friends. Often.
• Stroke your face by running your fingertips over your temples, eyes, ears and scalp.
• Get an Indian Head Massage regularly, or buy a copper head massager and do it yourself.

© Claire Burdett. Please only reproduce this article with permission, in its entirety and with a hyperlink to www.claireburdett.com. Thank you.

First published on www.funkyangel.co.uk, the ultimate lifestyle website for WAHM and Home Businesses.

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