Stress Is A Luxury No One Wants And No One Can Afford

“While all aspects of our life are important, without a balance, you become addicted and like all addictions you lose.”
Catherine Pulsifer, author of “Balance of Life”

A while ago, Rebecca Maxon of Fairleigh Dickinson University called “Stress in the Workplace: A Costly Epidemic.” She discovered that 3 out of 4 American workers describe their work as stressful, and occupational stress has been defined as a “global epidemic” by the United Nations’ International Labor Organization.

Of course, most people tend to think of the physical ailments that come with too much stress. But the economic consequences of job stress are just as alarming.

When Maxon published her research, she said workplace stress costs U.S. employers an estimated $200 billion per year in absenteeism, lower productivity, staff turnover, workers’ compensation, medical insurance, and other stress-related expenses. Today, we believe the cost is much, much higher.

That being the case, stress management may be one of the most important challenges facing businesses in the 21st century. As an author, speaker, and consultant, I hear it all the time. My audience members repeatedly tell me, “I want to do a good job for my company. But I also want a life. I just don’t know how to balance the two.”

I suppose that’s why one of my most requested programs for association meetings or corporate on-site training is my program on “Take This Job and Love It! Managing Stress, Preventing Burnout, and Balancing Life … On and Off the Job.”

The good news is YOU can learn to eliminate most of your stress and manage the rest of it. So let me give you “Dr. Zimmerman’s 14-Point Plan For Kicking The Stress Out Of Your Life.”

1. Pay attention to your body.

Most of the time, your body will tell you when you’ve got too much stress or when you’re off balance. Pay attention to your body. Don’t ignore those signals. If you notice changes in your weight, appetite, or sleep patterns, pay attention. If you’re experiencing more colds, headaches, and upset stomachs, pay attention.

After all, if you don’t pay attention to the dis-stress … and do something about it … you’re going to have dis-ease. So get to know your body and the way it communicates with you. Listen to the signals your body is sending you; care for it appropriately, and your stress will be dramatically reduced.

2. Think about what you REALLY want out of life.

I see too many people who work too hard, live too fast, and then feel somewhat empty … instead of excited and fulfilled … when they’re successful. The reason is simple: they never took the time to figure out what they REALLY wanted out of life or out of work. All they ever did was think about their next project or what else they had to do.

If that sounds like you, if you’re living an overly busy, hurried and hectic life, you may be wasting your life. Oh sure, your calendar may be filled with “good” things, but those “good” things may be crowding out the “better” things … or the things you REALLY REALLY want.

Maybe it’s time for you to take an honest look at yourself. Are you living your life by default, letting your pressures control your life? Or are you living your life on purpose, using your priorities to create your life?

The more you know what you want, the more focus on getting what you want, the less stress you’ll have.

3. Refuse to be proud of your busyness.

This will be a difficult rule for some of you to follow. I know it was for me.

As a professional speaker, I used to be guilty of comparing my calendar with other speakers to see who was the busiest or who had the most bookings. It somehow gave me a sense of pride to know how hard I worked and how much in demand I was.

Let me tell you, when you’re proud of your busyness, you’re going to carry a huge load of stress. So please, forget the comparisons. Take the focus off your busyness. After all, no tombstone ever read, “He led his department in the number of hours he worked.”

Just remember, you’re the one paying the price if your work and family life are out of balance. As Lee Iacocca, the former chairman of the Chrysler Corporation, said, “Over the years, I’ve had many executives come to me and say with pride: ‘Last year I worked so hard that I didn’t take any vacation.’ It’s nothing to be proud of. I always feel like responding: ‘You dummy. You mean to tell me that you can take responsibility for an $80 million project and you can’t plan two weeks out of the year to go off with your family and have some fun?'”

Don’t wear your busyness as a badge of honor.

4. Do only the most important things.

Even Oprah Winfrey says, “I’ve learned that you can’t have everything and do everything at the same time.”

She’s right. There isn’t time for everything. So you’d better decide what’s most important and do more of that.

And if you happen to be one of those people who don’t know what’s most important, just ask yourself one question: “If you had 6 months left to live, would you be living your life the way you’re living it now?” If your answer is “Yes,” you don’t need to change anything. You’re living a well-balanced life.

On the other hand, if you had only 6 months left to live and your life would change dramatically, that’s a pretty good sign you’re overstressed and off balance. You’re spending too much time on things that won’t make any difference ten years from now.

Focus on doing the most important things. And then, as time permits, you’ll get around to some of your lower priorities. It will automatically de-stress your life and your work.

5. Remind yourself “you’ll never get it all done, and that’s okay.”

I was raised in a family where my parents repeatedly told me, “Get all your work done and then you can play.” It wasn’t a bad thing for my parents to say, and it isn’t a bad thing for you to tell your kids. After all, most kids haven’t been to a time management seminar.

The trouble is … if you take that advice literally, “get ALL your work done and then play” … you’d never have time to play. There’s always more work to do.

No matter how hard you work or how fast you work, on the day you die there’ll still be a few things left in your in-box. So be it. Let it go. Remind yourself “you’ll never be finished, and that’s okay.”

6. Look at how your career is affecting your family.

Not only now but five years from now. Every project you take on and every commitment you make has a personal price tag. Are you aware of those costs?

I remember in the early days of my speaking career, one of my daughters would often interrupt me when I was preparing a program. She’d say, “Dad? Dad?” … and then ask a series of questions … or want me to come out and play with her. More often than not, I’d reply, “Not now … Later … I’m busy …Leave me alone.” Eventually she left me alone, and as a result we had a very stressful relationship for several years.

Time does pass more quickly than you think. You’ll soon be facing the consequences of your present work decisions. So make sure you make those decisions in the context of how they will affect your personal and professional life … if you want to kick the stress out of your life.

7. Balance your “get” goals with your “be” goals.

Too many people are unbalanced workaholics because they only have “get” goals. They want to “get” ahead, “get” that promotion, “get” that new boat, “get” that trip, and so on.

While goal setting is good and healthy, if you only have “get” goals, you’re almost certain to burn out. Well balanced individuals know they must have some “be” goals as well.

In other words, what do you want to “be?” Who do you want to “become?” Maybe you want to “be” happier, more content, and more confident. Maybe you want to “be” more effective in your job or with your customers and family members.

You see … 10, 20 years from now you will “be” a different person. Are you planning for it by setting your “be” goals? Or are you merely leaving your destiny up to whatever happens?

When you get to the bottom line, a stress-free life or a balanced life has a lot more to it than merely “getting” things. It’s also about “becoming” the kind of person you want to “be”.


You can’t afford an overstressed life. Neither can your company. But the good news is you can kick most of the stress out of your life and out of your work if you follow my 14-point plan. You’ve just learned the first 7 points. Next week I’ll give you the other 7.

Action:  Make a list of your top 3 priorities for your day, and as much as possible, focus on those three things. Don’t let the little things distract you from the bigger, more important things.