Workplace Stress Or Misguided Ambition?

Sep 26, 2017
8 min read

Do you feel trapped by other people's expectations? Are you in a position that isn't really for you? We often get stuck by trying to live up to other people's ideas of success. We pursue achievement without really thinking about what we want to achieve. Read on to understand how misguided ambition can contribute to workplace stress and how focused introspection can improve your mental health.

This blog post covers part of my conversation with United Kingdom based counselor and life coach Ismene Cole. This is the third part to our interview. Ismene uses a blend of counseling and coaching to help you understand the "why" and the "how to move forward." She has been featured on BBC Radio, iTunes podcasts, and a variety of blogs. Ismene is passionate about helping her clients achieve their greatest potential and creating the life they deserve. Ismene Profile Snapshot.png Zach: A more general question I have is on the concept of “work-life balance.” I believe this is something you deal with a lot. Do you think work-life balance is an appropriate term? What do you think of the term “work-life rhythm” which another therapist I spoke with recently introduced to me?


Hmm, “work-life rhythm”, I really like that! Whatever you want to call it doesn’t really matter, though that is a nice term. I think balance is really important and I think not just between life and work but actually looking at people as holistic beings: balance between physical health and mental health, balance between friends and connection and doing something beyond ourselves.

I think often we want to categorize ourselves with “work” and “the rest of life” But actually if you have really meaningful and specific containers that makes a big difference.

So if you’re work container is really full, but the rest of them are lacking you’re not going to feel great. Whereas if you can do activities that fill as many containers as possible you're going to feel really happy and thriving. I also get a lot of people that are so out of whack because they are not prioritizing self-care, not nourishing themselves, not eating or resting. So they may be financially super wealthy, but in all other aspects they're poor as anything. This is why it’s so important to look at people as a whole and break it down to find out what they need.

Zach: Aside from getting people to break it down, what actual strategies do you encourage people to implement to make sure that they pay attention to all these different aspects of their life? Because I feel like obviously this is something that people think about as a big idea a lot, but then to turn that into actual change in your life can be very difficult to bring that back down to earth.


I'm trying to do this in a practical way. So we would look at an ideal week: what they’re doing and what they like to do. stress management with therapist directory Most people don't have the inner permission to take care of themselves. They feel guilty. They think they don't have time. They think it's a waste of money. You know all of those things. But I think that if you can start reframing that for people and asking the question “what would enable you to thrive?”

All of a sudden you realize “OK, if I really want to thrive I have to take care of myself.”

When you get people to reframe things that can be very good for them. For example, when you sit for 100 hours at a desk in a week, having a massage is not only a luxury but also something that will help you thrive. That is something that helps peoples’ motivation because they go “yes, I can do this!” I have a balanced app and I write down everything that makes me thrive. And I love it because I feel like “ooh I’ve ticked it off.”

We need to view things that are good for us as productive.

So if you can get them to look at work-life balance as a way to be successful, honestly people can’t wait. So I do a lot of work around goals like having a bath with candles and wine. They love me for that! They also really benefit.


If you had to give broad sweeping advice to a large group of people, what are three general keys to stress management? If someone is really stressed out, what are three quick fixes that you recommend? (For additional general advice see 3 tips for reducing stress and anxiety and coping with anxiety.)

Ismene: I think the best care and guidance is personalized, but nonetheless here are some big tips for those that can't get that at the moment.

  1. Looking at the thought that is triggering it.
  2. Time for your brain to process. Make gaps or breaks in the day.
  3. Ask yourself, “what can I do differently?”

work life balance for reducing stress and anxiety Zach: Back to the topic of workplace stress, when people come to you with issues that they claim to be specifically about work, or genuinely think are specifically about work, what are the most common problems you see people facing?


It’s not typically workplace stress, it’s actually quite common that they are in careers that they thought were right for them but actually they’ve got a passion for something else. So I get more people wanting to know what their purpose is, what their calling is, and to go after their dreams. I either work with people who are already on that path and want to become greater or people in careers that they hate or don't fulfil them anymore. That's confusing to them because they spent a long time getting to that place and it’s a risk asking “who am I now?”


Do you often deal with people that struggle with balancing the notions of ambition and outward success? Perhaps another way to think about it is that someone want to be “successful” and pursues the general conceptions that people have of that and the public has of that. And so that can lead you on a path where you're you're really good at something but it's not for you. And so but then when you identify this people will still feel that. People then strive for that general conception or that public opinion of what success looks like instead of what that actually is for them, is that something you deal with a lot?


So basically what you just described is eight out of ten of my clients. You’re absolutely bang on. That's what a lot of people struggle with. We go to school to get good grades to go to the next school, to go to the next thing and the next thing.

We’re in this progress loop, again externally focused. Not questioning who an individual is and what they’re good at. So what I often see with my clients is that they've worked hard, they’ve gone after success, and they’ve gotten there and realized “this doesn't make me happy. I hate going to work.” They’re miserable and stuck in these lifestyles that cost a fortune.

They are actually aching for something different. I do an awful lot of work reframing what success means to them, rather than what they've been told. And I think, going back to what I was saying about the benefits of knowing yourself, is that when we know ourselves we make decisions based on our own value systems, not what we've been conditioned to think. That's where so many people get lost, because we’re taught you can only be successful or happy or wealthy if you follow certain paths – that is just not true.

Ismene and I also spoke about why goal setting is critical for your mental health, and unlocking your full potential through therapy. Follow our blog to hear more from Ismene on these and other topics.

To consult with Ismene Cole in-person or remotely from her UK office, contact her directly through her profile.

If you're thinking "I need a therapist near me" but Ismene doesn't specialize in what you need, try the RingMD therapist directory with a click of the button below. We will help you find the right therapist for YOU!

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