Dealing with my stress and burnout

By Stanley Arumugam

In this time of COVID-19, many people are experiencing severe work stress and, for some, leading to burnout. It’s easy to be deceived into accepting remote working as ‘the new normal’ as work without boundaries, being available 24/7 and accepting that it’s OK not to take a regular break. This way of working is not sustainable. 

A few years ago, I experienced the severity of overwhelming work demands, a non-stop schedule that exhausted me both mentally and physically, as I capture in my poem below. Here also are some tips that work for me:

  1. Start the day with a time of quiet: meditation, prayer, journaling 
  2. Engage in some physical activity: making coffee counts, as does stretching, walking around your neighbourhood 
  3. Take regular breaks in the day: morning, afternoon and especially a lunch break 
  4. After every task/assignment, step away from your computer after every task/assignment: give yourself a sense of closure, completeness. I wash dishes as a break from my cerebral activities
  5. Make time for your family: spend quality time in the day; having a regular ritual can be helpful
  6. Stay connected with your team at a personal level: set up a virtual check-in or chat 
  7. Doodle: as you sit through long and sometimes dull meetings, release your creativity which can help your engaging  
  8. Be kind in your on-line communication: quickly discharged emails ‘on the go’ create a boomerang effect which can spoil your day
  9. Listen to music as you get through the day: whatever keeps you joyful 
  10. Examen: I use a contemplative prayer at the end of most days to review my day: what am I grateful for and imagine my day tomorrow focusing on intentional moments of love and joy

This week:

  • Which of these am I already doing?
  • Are there any others which might be helpful to try?

Life as a checklist

By Stanley Arumugam

I love checklists. On my desk, I have task lists for the day and the week ahead. On my wall is my yearly calendar with medium to long term tasks. My mobile phone gets in on the act with notifications and reminders. I like checklists because they remind me of the things to do. When we tick off a task, our brains release a feel-good achievement chemical, which can become workaholism addiction. I’m aware that checklists can quickly take over control and dictate my life’s rhythm. 

Steven Covey introduced us to the Urgent and Important time matrix. Checklists are useful for highlighting urgent task (Chronos time). But the more critical assignments in our lives mostly do not work according to task checklists. They are based on Kairos timing, which is connected to deeper purpose and seasons in our lives. Sometimes, they might even be an interruption to our logical plans. We need discernment, a spiritual sense of knowing, when to do what is right, and the best time. Discernment requires patience and giving up control, inviting us into a place of intuition and deep rest. 

As former US President Eisenhower said, “What is important is seldom urgent, and what is urgent is seldom important.”

  •  What is most important to me this week in my various life roles?
  • How will I create space for unexpected, essential things?

Leading with love

By Stanley Arumugam

Good leaders love their teams. It feels almost sacrilegious to connect work, leadership and love. Somehow we have been socialised to believe love stays outside the workplace. The Sufi poet, Kahlil Gibran, teaches us that ‘work is love made visible’. 

To some extent, the industrial revolution commoditised people and sanitised any emotion in the workplace. They become an object in a big machine. We talk about system, process and results and lose the people. Yet we know that every person coming to work is looking for an expression of love and a sense of belonging, which is our primary need. In the absence of loving workplaces, we have corporate toxicity, abuse and burnout. We can show workplace love in some practical ways: daily/weekly check-in with staff; paying full attention when speaking to staff, especially with distracting technology; giving open, honest feedback in a kind and constructive manner and being open to receiving feedback as leaders. All of our corporate wellness, diversity, inclusion and development programmes can be leveraged for good when intentionally grounded in love. 

The Forbes article, Leading With Love: An Unconventional Approach To Leadership, seeks to balance professionalism and caring. “With the right boundaries intact, showing genuine concern or compassion for the people you lead will not diminish your respectability or reputation as a strong leader, but it will instead bring out the best in them while fostering an environment that is conducive to thriving…Showing love is not a license for your team to be incompetent. Instead, it conveys that their job performance is not the only thing that matters to you as a leader. They matter too.”

This week, how practically might I lead with love?

Leading with hope

This visual is a simplified version adapted from a webinar that Space for Grace facilitated on the 22nd of January 2021 for leaders of Swedish agencies supported by SMC – Faith in Development.

Maintaining your sleepers

By Stanley Arumugam

I am continually impressed with the creativity and rigour of engineering. Railways, for example, provide a critical backbone infrastructure to moving freight in many countries and also passengers in some. The hundreds and thousands of kilometres of railway track are precisely ‘tied’ together with heavy support structures underneath called ‘sleepers’. These rectangular blocks are laid perpendicular to the rails and serve critical purposes:

  • transferring the energy/load to the rail tracks;
  • holding the rails upright and steady;
  • keeping the tracks correctly spaced to the right gauge;
  • in case of derailment, if they have been properly maintained, sleepers can keep the wheels running preventing massive damage.

The distance and durability of railway lines depend on the strength of sleepers.  Railway sleepers need regular checking and maintenance.

This week I ask myself:

  • What are the sleepers in my life?
  • How could I check on my sleepers this week and give them some maintenance?

Start to Finish

By Stanley Arumugam

Today is my grandniece’s first day at big school. This week was a new start for many children – a new grade, a new school and a new way of being in school. At the start of the year, parents and family have big dreams for their children – seeing the finishing line already in their minds. For their children, especially the little ones – getting through the day is a big enough challenge. 

In a world of work consumed with results, deliverables and outcomes, we can easily be fixated on the end product and lose the joy of the moment. As a manager myself, I am socialised to look out for milestones, progress reports and board submissions—the measure of my work and sometimes my worth tied up in my place at the finish line.  

Finish lines are essential as a destination point, as a beacon of direction providing a sense of purpose. But getting to the finish line first, as if life was a sprint, is foolish. It steals the joy of being in the present. One of my trauma clients reminded me that the Covid-related death of both her parents, within a month, has slowed her down. Now she is being intentional about stopping and smelling the roses that her parents planted in her garden.

  • What roses are you missing when you are so focused on the finish line? 


By Elaine Vitikainen

A week ago, Space for Grace facilitated a webinar for leaders of Swedish mission agencies supported by SMC. We asked everyone to bring an object from home that symbolizes hope. Without second thoughts, I brought an orchid plant that I bought many years ago. Growing up in the tropics, the plant itself is nothing special for me. I was expecting it to last for only a few months. But over the years, it keeps producing flowers. The plant looks very fragile. Many times, it seems like it’s almost dying. But again it sprouts new stems and produces more flowers. 

This plant became a symbol of hope for me as I navigate through these uncertain times. I know that the plant’s growth is made possible because of the nutrients provided by the soil. This made me reflect on where do I get my motivation to persevere? Where does my hope comes from?

Jeremiah 29:1 says, ‘For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’

False positivity is an easy trap to fall into. However, I cannot face my circumstances through mere positivity and misleading assurance that everything will be alright. I believe that where I put my hope matters. I know that it is easier said that done. However, reflecting back on what God has done in my life allows me to look forward to what God is doing each day and to God’s promise for tomorrow. 

What makes you hopeful? Where does your hope comes from?

Walking by this week

By Nick Wright

I have been deeply challenged this week by an incident that happened to my colleague Jasmin in the Philippines. As she was getting off a minibus, she glimpsed a young boy trying to scrape an income guiding cars into parking spaces. The heat was overwhelming. The boy sat down exhausted, looking weak and unwell.

In the midst of COVID-lockdown, I’d have sensibly walked away. Instead, Jasmin walked over to him, spoke gently and reached out to touch his face. His skin was burning with a fever. She urged him to stay there while she rushed to find medicine, food and drink. When she returned with the supplies, she also gave him enough money to cover what he’d have earned in two weeks so that he could rest and recover. She helped him onto a minibus home. The boy looked up at her, a stranger. He couldn’t speak; he only cried.

When I asked Jasmin why she took such a risk, she said, quite simply, ‘I imagined how I would have felt if I was that teenager.’ She couldn’t bear to leave him alone, so very sick. She gave what little she had so that his family would not become destitute. To me, she lived out Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan.

This week, when we come across someone in need, let’s ask ourselves:

  • How are they feeling?
  • How can I help?

More stories about Jasmin in the Philippines by Nick Wright can be found here.