Dear Dr. Norquist:
I’m working too much these days, and it’s taking its toll on me. I leave for work at 7 a.m. and don’t usually return until 7 or 7:30 p.m. – six days a week. I’m in the legal field, and my days are very demanding. Working so much, I have trouble unwinding at the end of the day. I’ve gotten into the habit of having a couple of drinks with dinner just to unwind. I get headaches regularly, my shoulders are always tense, my social life is practically non-existent and my home is always in disarray. I can’t see an end to this routine anytime in the near future. The other day, when taking the PATH back to Hoboken after a stressful afternoon, I just had to ask myself if it’s all worth the effort. It’s a question I’m still asking myself. What do you think?
Dr. Norquist responds:
We are human beings, not production machines. Human beings are meant for more than working, eating and sleeping. We are by nature also curious, sensual, social, pleasure-seeking, nurturing, loving and so much more.
It’s so easy to let routines and the demands of our work lives determine what our daily lives look and feel like. It’s easy to forget that we have so much more freedom than that. We determine the quality of our lives.
Our inner state determines how we approach our lives, and what our daily experience will be. A rich, enjoyable and meaningful life is accessible through skillful, conscious management of our inner state. One of my favorite books of all time is a book that Viktor Frankl wrote while in a Nazi concentration camp, Man’s Search for Meaning. In the harshest of circumstances, he was able to keep himself alive and sane, and even provided support for his comrades, by developing his ability to manage his internal state.
Managing your internal state has to do with choosing how to focus the lens through which you are viewing the world. It requires consciously making choices, rather than responding out of habit. Conscious choices can be made regarding your perceptions and your actions and these will influence your emotional and physical well being.
I’d suggest that you start by carefully considering what you’d like to be different in your life. Your life is out of balance and feels out of your control. What are you missing most in your life? What could you bring back into your life that would bring the most relief, the most counter-balance to your current unbalanced state?
It could be an attitude, an activity, a practice, and a lack of activity – whatever works for you. This is a place to start. Consider how you can incorporate this change into your life. You do not have to be a slave to your work demands. Your life is your creation. Consciously recognizing and embracing this approach to life will restore the meaning, joy and inspiration that you are currently missing.
(Dr. Sallie Norquist is a licensed psychologist (NJ #2371) in private practice and is director of Chaitanya Counseling Services, a center for upliftment and enlivenment, in Hoboken.
Dr. Norquist and the staff of Chaitanya invite you to write them at Chaitanya Counseling Services, 51 Newark St., Suite 202, Hoboken, NJ 07030 or www.chaitanya.com or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by fax at (201) 656-4700. Questions can address various topics, including relationships, life’s stresses, difficulties, mysteries and dilemmas, as well as questions related to managing stress or alternative ways of understanding health-related concerns. 2009 Chaitanya Counseling Services