If you live in Calgary and work in the oil and gas industry – chances are good you’ve experienced some significant stress around job security. Thousands of people have lost their jobs, some of them are still not back in the workforce. The exact number is hard to nail down, but some estimate over 44,000 became jobless in Alberta during the downturn.
The lucky ones remaining at work, especially within the energy sector, are now doing the work that was previously done by several people. Sure when projects shut down and there was less work, having fewer people at work wasn’t a big deal.
However, when things started happening again, most companies have been slow to re-hire. The ones left working are working longer and harder than ever before.
Across the industry, people are expressing their workloads have doubled or even tripled. My partner is one of them. In the past, working a regular schedule, maybe 8-10 hours a day was normal. Now? Now he regularly and consistently puts in 12 hours days, sometimes 15 or 16 hour days are still not long enough to keep up with his workload.
The glaring result of this kind of workload is obvious: stress. Such a small word for such a massive problem. Stress has one of the biggest negative impacts on health, wellness and general satisfaction in life. High stress-levels are crippling, and the impacts are diverse.
For a surprising number of people, the biggest impact is sleep – both quality of sleep and quantity. How do you effectively turn off your mind at the end of a 15 hour work week, when the only thing in your mind at midnight are the 20 emails you didn’t get to by the end of the day?
Stress fires the amygdala, which sends fight flight or freezes responses coursing through your body. If you experience chronic stress, like the majority of people working in downtown Calgary these days, your amygdala doesn’t have a chance to come back to baseline.
That means you are in a constant state of heightened awareness, looking for danger around every corner. Some people will experience crippling anxiety or depression as a result. Others will simply get physically sick more. Lots will drink more, smoke more, exercise more or shop more to handle it. Perhaps some will just stoically work harder – put their head down and grind it out. Eventually, lots of people wake up one morning realizing they hate their life, they have lost interest in things they used to love, joyless for another day at the office and wondering how it got this bad.
So what do you do?
If you are like most people, hearing that you are stressed is particularly annoying. Yes, thank you, I am aware of how stressed I am! What isn’t covered so much is how on earth to deal with it.
In my experience, what causes us the most stress tends to be our thoughts about a situation. Let me be clear – I am not about to ask you to just ‘change your thoughts’. Honestly, this kind of talk makes me mad, if people could simply turn off these negative thoughts, or just change, all helping professionals would be out of business.
What I’d like to present to you as an option for how to decrease your stress is very simple, and shockingly effective.
Byron Katie calls it “Inquiry” or just simply, The Work.
I had an opportunity to go to Byron Katie’s “School for the Work” recently. A nine-day intensive experience that really did change my life.
Byron Katie thinks that the major and possibly only cause of our suffering (and our stress) is the fact that we believe our thoughts. If we didn’t, all sorts of new and incredible opportunities for peace, productivity and stress-free work becomes possible.
To do “The Work” – this is what you do.
Firstly, get still. Take a breath, come into yourself.
Find a situation that stresses you out. Let’s take an example. Think back to the point in time when you felt stressed. In our example, it was yesterday and my boss gave me three more impossible-seeming tasks to complete. Now – get very clear in your mind about the situation, bring yourself back to that moment in time.
Okay – I’m sitting at my desk, my boss walks in with a pinched look on her face. She slams down three more client files and barks at me, “I need these by the end of the day”. Abruptly, without another word, she leaves my office.
In my mind, I am back there, sitting at my desk, staring at these files.
Next, we need to take this situation and boil it down to a sentence, a thought that causes us the most stress. There might be lots of thoughts, pick the one that is the most stress-inducing. As I sit there staring at these files, what thought is racing through my head? Pick one – “I’ll never get everything done”.
Now we can begin The Work. Our thought is: “I will never get everything done”.
Ask yourself the first question (or have a friend ask you): “Is it true?”
In your mind, bring yourself once again back to that moment in time when your boss leaves the office, “I will never get everything done, is it true?”.
Once again, get still. Really contemplate that question. Find your answer – which is either a yes or a no. There is no judgement in the answer, just noticing.
“Yes, its true”.
Okay, let’s ask the next question: “I’ll never get everything done, can I know, absolutely, that its true?”
Ponder this – can you know, absolutely without a doubt that you will never get everything done? Are you 100% sure that this is a true statement? As you ponder, bring yourself, in stillness, once again to that moment in time when you are sitting at the desk. As you do this, you might become aware that in fact, you really can’t absolutely know that its true that you can’t get everything finished. So its a no.
For you, in your own example, as you sit in stillness, know that it is okay if your answer to this second question is still a yes. Again, no judgement, just notice. Let’s move on to the next question:
“How do I react, what happens, when I believe the thought, I’ll never get everything done?” Again we bring ourselves in stillness to that moment in time when we had that thought.
What happened? Well, I felt anxious, my heart started to pound, I started feeling panicky. I found I couldn’t focus on anything, I started to sweat slightly and wanted to crawl under my desk, curl up into a ball and rock myself to sleep. Perhaps you got up and got some coffee, chocolate, chips, maybe had a cigarette. Perhaps images of the past when you missed a deadline surface in your mind, perhaps a future image of you getting fired like your friend did last month surface and the panic sets in even stronger. I feel terrible, unable to focus and sick to my stomach.
Get still again – is there anything else. Anything else that happens when you believe the thought “I’ll never get everything done”. When you feel empty, go to the next question:
“Who would I be without the thought ‘I’ll never get anything done'”? Bring yourself once again to the past, you’re sitting at your desk staring at the files. Who would you be if you never had, nor could have, the thought that you’ll never get everything done in time?
In stillness, it occurs to me. I would be at peace. I would be perfectly peaceful as I pick up the files and put them on my to-do list. I would be calm and collected. I would be noticing how effective I have been today. Perhaps I would tell myself that I have lots of time. I might even feel empathy for my boss as she looked particularly stressed when she dropped those files off at my desk. I would feel competent, my body would be relaxed, my heartbeat normal and even. I would simply return to my work.
Sit with this, experience what it feels like to think back to that situation and imagine this alternative version of yourself – handling the situation with ease and joy.
Anything else? Make sure you are empty, you have completed the fourth question.
Finally – the final step. Byron Katie calls this the “Turnaround”. Take your thought, and find a turnaround for it. You can turn the thought around to the self, to the other, or to the opposite.
In this example, the first and most obvious turnaround is “I will get everything done in time”. Sit with that new thought, come up with three examples of why that is true. Perhaps you always have in the past, so nothing is different now. Perhaps the example of why that is true is because you will simply stay as late as necessary in order to get everything done. Thirdly, it is possible perhaps to get help from a colleague, allowing you to meet the deadline. These are all good examples of how you will get everything done in time!
Find more turnarounds, and for each one, come up with three examples for why it is true.
And that’s it. When you experience the freedom that comes from this work – your life will never be the same. No amount of stress, job insecurity, relationship challenges, or disaster will hold sway over you again.
No longer will the thought “I am going to lose my job” give you concern. Neither will more serious thoughts like “My husband doesn’t love me anymore”, or “my boss is a bitch”. All these are just little thoughts, and once we ask each thought, honestly and with integrity and curiosity – “is it true?” and then the rest of the four questions and turn around, our lives change.
For more information, or to book a Lunch and Learn with Anne – please contact us here.