The University Record, June 25, 1997

Take charge and put out the burn-out fire

By Rebecca A. Doyle

Humor is one of the essential ingredients in the successful formula for juggling the roles most women play in family, work and community, according to Maureen Burns, a consultant from Greenville.

Burns, who admits picking up a ringing store telephone in a large supermarket and berating the caller with "I told you never to call me here!" recently held a workshop titled "Burning at Both Ends---How to Put Out the Fire."

"Get silly," Burns told her audience at the Workplace 2000 conference, noting that most people laugh far too little and frown far too much.

Mixed with anecdotes about personal experiences with stress were tips on exercise, personal and intellectual growth, dealing with anger, and spiritual advice for women---and men---who are stressed and stretched from trying to do and be everything at once.

"Write down everything you do---cook, housekeeper, laundress, student, taxi driver, employee, spouse, parent, daughter, friend, teacher, musician, volunteer. Now look at that---no wonder you're stressed!"

The greatest power humans have is choice, Burns noted. Although no one can control the external conditions that lead to stress, everyone chooses their own reaction to stress.

Focusing on stress in the workplace, Burns said that loving the work you do is very important. She talked about recent workshop in which a participant asked why she even brought up the possibility of changing jobs, saying that none of the participants there could change jobs because of the benefits and good pay.

"That's not true," Burns countered. "There are other jobs, other ways to make a living. There are other choices."

In the context of choices that are possible for all of us, Burns talked about putting balance in women's lives by making room for exercise, intellectual growth and stimulation, emotional self-awareness and spiritual growth. Using the acronym PIES, she talked about four important parts of our lives that should be balanced in order to deal with stressful situations successfully.

Physical exercise. Many people, especially women in multiple roles, say there is not enough time or that they are too tired to do some form of exercise regularly.

"So how do these people do it?" Burns asked, pointing to audience members who noted that they exercise at least three times a week. "Do they get more than 24 hours in a day?" Benefits from regular exercise that participants noted were sleeping better, having more energy and feeling less tired, as well as feeling they had accomplished something.

Intellectual growth is important to everyone, Burns said, and part of that growth is learning to set limits---to say "no" to some things and "yes" to others. Adding new people to your life at all levels of friendship and of all ages expands your alternatives for intellectual growth, she noted.

Understanding emotions is key to being able to control how situations affect people and to control reactions that may be instinctive rather than thought out, producing a chain of negative results.

"I thought I understood my emotions and was very open about them," Burns said. "And I learned through counseling that anger is an emotion it is good to feel. But I never got angry until I was 40, so I've only had it for 10 years." She related personal experiences about recognizing and learning to deal with anger and forgiveness, lightened with humor and personal anecdotes about her dog, her husband, teenagers and travel agents.

Finally, spiritual well-being makes up the last piece of PIES, the acronym Burns uses to illustrate what she finds important in managing stressful and demanding lives. "People who have a faith have half the medical problems and half the stress," Burns asserted, citing studies in the medical community. Burns advised her audience to find a peaceful place where they can meditate, reflect or worship according to their own preferences.

In closing, Burns urged participants in the workshop to leave work at work, simplify their lives by getting rid of clutter and time commitments, and let go of relationships that should be ending.

Workplace 2000 is sponsored by Human Resource Development and Conference Management Services.