When Shakespeare wrote of Richard III's "winter of discontent", he was not referring to the summer of 2011, but perhaps he could have been. Possibly the long, drawn out contentiousness in Congress is rubbing off on us, and the nationwide heat wave and seemingly unending travel delays are not helping. In corporate America, many executives are facing layoffs while others are being forced to do more with less. Some are not certain their company will be intact in a year and others are still seeking a position to replace what was lost in the downturn. Those in stable executive roles (does such a thing exist?) are barely halfway through a challenging year and the thought of a year-end bonus seems a long way off. On a personal level, we are in the dog days of summer. It is hot everywhere! August used to be the highpoint of summer, but with many schools starting in mid-August, shopping for school supplies has replaced looking for a nice hammock on the beach. Let's face it...for some right now, life is a slog.
What to do? Although "The Who" wailed "There ain't no cure for the summertime blues," we have some suggestions, if not cures:
1. Take stock. Where is your stress coming from? Is it work? Kids? Finances? Relationships? Work-life balance? Break it down further. What about work is causing the malaise? Get it down to one or two issues.
2. Is there anything you are doing to contribute to your malaise? Stressing out when a flight is delayed does nothing. Worrying about problems just doesn't seem to work, does it? Getting into power struggles with your manager doesn't work either.
3. Advising yourself. Once you have it boiled down to two to three short issues - what advice would you give someone who had the same problems? Part of you is very wise and knows how to fix what ails you.
4. Small steps. Come up with, if not solutions, easy immediate actions to ease the stress. If your company is having hard times, what can you do for yourself? Update a resume? Reorganize your department? As Paul Simon said in "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover," "Make a plan, Stan."
5. Gratitude. Every day, look for glass half full stories. What do you have to be grateful for? No matter how frustrating and dismal things are, there are moments that can bring pleasure. A beautiful sunset - - the welcoming lick from your dog, etc. Every day I try to take a picture of something of beauty. Some days the best I can come up with is my cat, but it establishes a habit of gratitude.
6. Small pleasures. What are some small things you can do for yourself? It could be as simple as taking a day off and seeing an old friend, catching a movie, or having lunch with a mentor.
7. Focus on the future. Visualize a time when these times will be in the past. Plan for it. Live it.
8. Ask for help. So much help is available to us all personally, professionally and spiritually. Many people are embarrassed to ask for help. But there is power in reaching out. You can't have what you don't ask for.
9. Remember, nothing lasts forever. Life is replete with cycles. Cycles of sadness, struggle, joy, fear, accomplishment and ultimately renewal. Remember the saying that there is "light at the end of the tunnel"? One can surmise that you have to go through the darkness to get to the light. And as sure as night follows day, crisp fabulous fall days will soon follow the summer of our collective discontent.