The Blog.

Are we collectively holding our breath?

23 Nov 2023 | Being Human

I was chatting to a leader about how his team were doing, and what he was noticing in his world of work:

“I don’t know what to call it” he said.

“Is it burnout? Wellbeing? Change fatigue? Mental health? I don’t know. I just feel like we don’t have the same resilience we used to.”

Other people I’ve spoken to have echoed similar observations. Not necessarily despair or doom. In fact there are a lot of good things happening, new initiatives being started, excitement, vision, celebration and

There’s an underlying sense of tiredness. A feeling of being frayed around the edges. Depleted of something – mojo, energy, patience or sense of humour perhaps?

I wonder…

Have we been collectively holding our breath, for just that bit too long?

Holding our breath is such a normal instinct when we’re confronted with something new, uncertain or difficult.

  • We wait. To see what it is, to decide what to do.
  • We hold on. Hoping to get through it.
  • We keep going, doing the things we need to do, but never really stopping to exhale.

We tell ourselves “this too shall pass” but here’s the thing:

What if it takes a really long time to pass?

And just as one thing passes, another thing arrives?

We’ve been waiting for this – whatever this is – to pass. For the pressure to lift. For the unsettling to stop. And that hasn’t really happened. Truth is, it’s probably been a succession of overlapping ‘this’, one ‘this’ after another, and sometimes one on top of another.

So what do we do when we realise we’ve been holding our breath for too long?

We exhale.

We take rest stops.

As I talk about in my Struggle talks, we pitch our tent in the middle of the desert, instead of waiting for ‘when it’s all over’.

On an individual basis it might be clearing up that work life blur that might have crept in. On a team basis, it might be reinstating a team rhythm of reviewing and regrouping, rather than constantly firefighting.

We stop delaying joy.

Is there something you’ve been putting off – waiting for a better time, when things are more steady, or stable? Now is the time we need joy. And funnily enough, when we laugh, we naturally exhale!

We have tunnel conversations.

We start to pay attention to the landscape as it is now. I call this shining a light in the middle of the tunnel, instead of looking for light at the end. Because the tunnel is where the work is.

And it also happens to be where a lot of treasure is: the opportunities to innovate, to discover, to grow – to restore our sense of vision and energy. Our sense of humour and hope. Our playfulness, our curiosity. A surprising place to strengthen ourselves and our relationships.

What about you? Do you feel like you’ve been holding your breath for a bit too long? Which of these three ways of exhaling could you – or your team – do with right now?


Image if author Grace Marshall

About Grace

I coach, train, write and speak on productivity. I help people adopt new ways of working and thinking about their work to replace stress, overwhelm and frustration with success, sanity and satisfaction.

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