P.A.C.E. Yourself! – Dr. Mary S. Williams

Balancing all aspects of your busy life may seem like an impossible task, and just one more thing to put on your to-do list. Extension agents, staff, and faculty are busy professionals with full work schedules. We are also friends, parents, spouses, siblings, sons and daughters. We are community volunteers, neighborhood association officers, church leaders, and homemakers. We are writers, ranchers, readers, and dreamers. We are, in short, an amazing breed of people and we have much to be proud of! But all of these roles, however many apply to you personally, can be overwhelming and stressful at times.

Stress implies a negative reaction to normal life functions, and is often studied in negative terms. Why do 80% of individuals studied fall prey to negative symptoms of stress including illness or poor job performance or family dysfunction? Perhaps the more important question is why do 20% not fall prey to the same ailments? Individual and family resiliency plays a big part in the ability to cope with stress, but so does a little common sense and awareness of the critical balance points in our lives. Whenever we are feeling stressed, we might begin to de-stress by simply asking, “What is out of balance?”

Our theme this issue, “Pace Yourself,” helps us look at our personal and our professional lives from the balance perspective. Let’s turn this theme into a learning too. Learn to look at your life through the P.A.C.E. model and try to balance these aspects of your life each and every day.

Perspective = purpose = principles. Your overall life perspective helps to set the context for each and every choice you make about your daily behavior. Do your actions and activities lead in the direction of purpose that you have consciously chosen and believe in personally? Are your goals based on values that you have deliberately subscribed to, bot personally and professionally? These goals should reflect the inner lights that guide your other life choices, as well. Professional goals of service to community are of little value if they directly interfere with personal goals involving service to your own family, for example. These are the conflicts that cause negative stress. With a little thought and planning your stresses can be turned into positive forces that allow you to apply our individual strengths and talents to both your professional and personal life. And, as my colleagues in a recent workshop put it, give your decisions the “one year test.” In stressful situations learn to ask yourself “What will it matter in one year?”

Autonomy = self control = emotional freedom. Even though we may be under an annual contract with a major institution or a responsible member of a family or other unit, we must always remember that our life roles are ours by choice. Once we have a clear sense of our own identity and personal direction, we have a stronger sense of options, opportunities and choices about or career, both long term and daily. This simple change of attitude is a tremendous stress reliever. Our sense of responsibility to self and to work will certainly vary with the choices we make regarding family and children. Single professionals and their married colleagues often disagree about wise use of time both on and off the job. Parents, whether single or married, have the added stressful complications of their children’s schedules to juggle. The stress will be negative when we make the assumption that we have no choices left open to us. It will be invigorating when we remind ourselves that we chose to have these children, take this job, and live int his community. It is also a vital balance point to choose to say “no” when requests for our time do not fit into our personal balance model. 

Connections = communications = contentment. Connectedness with family, friends, colleagues, supervisors, and even our physical environment contributes to a feeling of contentment and “resonance.” We feel negatively stressed when we do not make the time to nourish our relationships and our environment. We feel more balanced when there is a synchronicity with our personal and natural environment as well as with our relationships. Taking the time to learn and practice communication skills is one of the key elements in improving connections in relationships. Positive, supportive relationships, in turn, are key elements for stress management both at work and at home. Think briefly about your connectedness to your physical environment, as well. Do you love walking in your front door in the evening? Does your office reflect your personal stamp an help convey your sense of purpose? Don’t confuse clutter with litter for this example. One is comfort, the other is stress. And don’t forget to connect with your larger physical environment. Learn to love the community, the region, the geography that you find yourself in. Find the parks, the beaches, or the piney woods that make you feel connected to something larger than yourself, and go there, often.

Energy = exercise = self-image. Managing your health and your physical tone is part of this energy, but your self-image and your appearance conveys your energy to the world. When you are feeling out of balance in all areas of your life, this might be the easiest one to work on, to take back some sense of control, because it is easier to see and feel progress in this area. Self-care, rest, and play all are important tools for developing your personal energy. Self-care involves fueling and maintaining the vehicle properly. It involves exercise, regular doctor’s visits, and attention to the bumps and bruises of daily life. Of course long-term health and life-long fitness are the goal, but don’t overlook the importance of short-term contributions to positive stress management. Sometimes, when all else seems out of control, a crisply pressed shirt and panty-hose without runs become critically important to our self-image.

Learn to use the P.A.C.E. model when making your choices each day about balancing personal and professional lives. When you are feeling dissatisfied with your sense of balance ask yourself which part of the model is being stressed? Which area have you been neglecting lately? Do you remind yourself of your purpose each day as you prepare your to-do list? Do you relish in your autonomy and freedom of choice as you design a program or project that suits your talents perfectly? Do you take time to connect with family, friends, colleagues and self each and every day? Do you expend energy in renewing and recharging activities in order to gain more energy? Finally, learn to listen for your own inner directions, and to respond pro-actively when you hear them. Have the faith to ask for, accept, and use the gifts of strength, grace, and wisdom; care well for yourself; and find the balance points for your own life’s P.A.C.E.