So you're multitasking like a demon, operating on all cylinders at home and at work, completely wired and strung out by all that you have to do. And most likely, you're thinking to yourself that this is just how it's got to be. Or is it? We found three superwomen running on empty and offered to pair each with a specialist who helps people regain vim and vigor: a nutritionist, an acupuncturist, and a life coach. The nutritionist would approach the problem through eating habits and diet, the life coach would address mental and emotional drains, and the acupuncturist would apply various forms of Eastern medicine to stimulate life energy, or qi. The pace of our energy interventions—a month's work crammed into half the time—created some stress of its own. Hellish as it was to fit the appointments into their schedules, each of the overcommitted, overextended women we approached jumped at the opportunity to get relief.
If you're in need of an energy boost (of the noncaffeine-, nonsugar-, nonephedra-based variety), take a look at what revived our three volunteers.
Subject: Gail Wilson
Fatigue Factors: Overbooked on all fronts—caring for teenage children, involved in community service, and working full-time at a pressure-filled job.
Gail runs errands for her elderly parents, takes martial arts classes twice a week, and has two teenage sons whose activities alternately require cheerleading or chauffeuring. An observant Muslim, Gail is involved in activities at her mosque that include gathering gifts for children in homeless shelters and developing more community services. She's also a senior-level attorney for the Environmental Protection Agency. "EPA enforcement work means rumbling with people," Gail says, "and that takes up huge amounts of time and mental energy." Right now her bicycle is unridden, and the house, she says, looks like hell. What would she do with extra energy? Gail would up her physical activity and think about someday starting her own business. "There are more things I'd like to accomplish in my life," she says, "but I'm running all the time just to keep up."
Gail, who lives in Philadelphia, chooses to work with New York–based life coach Nancy Boyd. Life coaching is a by-product of the self-help movement and the consulting world, says Boyd, a founding member of the International Association of Coaches. Unlike psychotherapists, coaches don't focus on the past. They help you investigate your current situation and suggest how to overcome obstacles.
Talking via telephone, Boyd starts off by asking Gail to complete two assessment exercises. First she tells Gail to draw two pie charts, one representing how she actually spends her time and the other how she'd like to. Gail then identifies the biggest gaps between the two charts and the changes she could make to move toward the ideal schedule. In the second exercise, Gail is asked to list 10 to 15 irritants that she tolerates in her daily life. This is tough for most people to do, Boyd explains, because we tend to see the burdens we shoulder, large and small—from a creaky door to a coworker who leans on you to solve her problems—as inevitable.
Gail struggles to come up with her first five irritants, which coaches call tolerations, but the more she thinks about it, the more easily they come to her. She and Boyd review the list, which includes mostly domestic tasks and office workload. Together they choose one—housekeeping—to actually tackle, and start brainstorming ways for Gail to delegate some responsibilities. Once Gail has moved a few things off her plate, she'll have time to address a few nagging concerns (like the pile of mending she's walked past for months).
End Result: Gail says the process of evaluating her situation was valuable. "It's easy to feel overwhelmed," she says. "To have somebody asking questions helps clear away clutter and barriers." She hasn't yet figured out how to wedge in more exercise time, but she has found a neighbor who, for a small fee, will help out around the house, sweeping her sidewalk and washing her car. The pleasure of eliminating some irritants is small but significant, producing, Gail says, "little bursts of energy." Having off-loaded those tasks, Gail stopped ignoring the to-be-mended heap; she finally sewed on buttons and repaired fallen hems.
Going forward, Gail plans to redraw her pie charts periodically, hoping to cut down the huge slice that is work and build up the slices that are personal time. And if she could start her own business, that would put her in charge of her own schedule. Boyd says that many women are so accustomed to addressing the needs of others, they cease to take care of their own. "They don't see that if they're giving it all away, they won't have enough left for themselves," Boyd says. Gail has definitely gotten the hang of the second exercise and now looks at her life with more of a sense that she is in charge: "Every day I think about another two or three things I could eliminate."
Try It Yourself: Coaches charge $200 to $1,000 a month, with most falling in the $300 range for two to three sessions, often by phone, each lasting 30 to 45 minutes. You can find referrals through two major certifying organizations: the International Coach Federation and the International Association of Coaches. Nancy Boyd can be reached at DayToppers.com.
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