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Lysa Myers
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Surviving Infosec: Keep Calm & Make Time For Yourself

Nine simple but powerful ways to break out of those painful states of mind when you can't leave the office.

Second in a two-part series about reducing on-the job stress and anxiety

If you’ve been in your information security career for a while, like I have, you probably have exhausted the usual list of hobbies and activities you use to decrease your stress levels. 

In Surviving InfoSec: Digital Crime And Emotional Grime,, I suggested a variety of simple changes you can make to improve your state of mind. Today, let’s talk about more internally focused ways to relieve stress and anxiety.

  1. Take a breather. I don’t know about you, but for me some of my most stressful times are when I can’t really step away from my desk to regain my composure. There are plenty of things you can do from the confines of your office chair. Breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, self-compassion exercises, Transcendental Meditation®, mindfulness, prayer, and loving-kindness meditation are simple but powerful ways to break out of painful states of mind when you can’t leave the office.
  2. Invest in personal relationships.  It’s no surprise that the support of friends and family is a good way to improve your well-being. But too often, many of us in “always on” roles forget that these relationships also take maintenance and care. It’s hard sometimes to take time away from the crush of work; home-related responsibilities may feel like spending time we don’t have. But the refreshing effect of being with loved ones will improve our productivity when we return.
  3. Change your perspective. As the saying goes, “there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” Sometimes a simple change of perspective can help make a situation feel less stressful, or at least less overwhelming. Reframe a situation to see the positive in it. Realize that all situations are temporary and will change in time. Understand that “negative” emotions carry benefits too. Acknowledge your emotions and let them be. Lose the “Fear of Missing Out.” Know that most of us feel “Imposter Syndrome.” Keep a sense of humor -- even if it’s gallows humor.
  4. Improve your communication skills. A big part of being successful in this industry is one that is often ignored: the ability to express ideas to others effectively and empathetically. There are a variety of ways to improve this skill. Learn Non-Violent Communication. Negotiate with the goal of both parties succeeding. Seek counseling to help you explore, when you get “stuck.” Find someone neutral to whom you can vent, rather than letting thoughts fester.
  5. Don’t take outcomes personally. As an expert and as someone who sees the rampaging hordes knocking at the gates, it can be difficult when people dismiss your warnings. It can feel as if they doubt your expertise or worth, which can wreak havoc on a person’s ego. But there are plenty of reasons why business decisions that go against your recommendations are not about you. Accept when you have done your best, and let it go.
  6. Improve your work/life balance.  When it feels like the company’s safety hangs in the balance, it can be very hard to separate work from home. There can often be a company culture of “living” your work, where you are expected to be available or even physically at work at all hours. But this is a sure-fire recipe for burnout. Studies show that having time to rest not only increases happiness, but also productivity.
  7. Do something for others. While it may seem strange to volunteer for the benefit of your own health, helping others can be a powerful way to reduce your own stress level. Not only do you get increased social connection and feelings of self-worth, it can also increase feelings of gratitude.
  8. Choose jobs wisely. When looking for a new job, use interviews as opportunities to determine whether a company is a good cultural fit for you. Do people seem happy, friendly and relaxed, or rushed and tense? Is a good work/life balance encouraged? Is there a clear career path, or do people leave when they get to a certain skill level? 
  9. Change jobs. If you find that you’ve ended up in a job where you’re perennially underappreciated and underfunded, working overtime more often than not, or just in a miserable place, it may be time to look elsewhere. Even though working in security can mean a never-ending struggle to protect people, it should not require tolerance for Sisyphean tasks. And with the ongoing shortage of cybersecurity workers, the odds of finding an improved situation may be in your favor.

By equipping yourself with a selection of tools to deal with difficult days, you can truly enjoy those great moments of working in InfoSec. We are fortunate to be in an industry full of passionate people, where we are constantly encouraged to learn and improve our skills for protecting others – and ourselves!

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Lysa Myers began her tenure in malware research labs in the weeks before the Melissa virus outbreak in 1999. She has watched both the malware landscape and the security technologies used to prevent threats from growing and changing dramatically. Because keeping up with all ... View Full Bio

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User Rank: Strategist
5/18/2016 | 1:54:50 PM
Useful Advice...But with a caveat
I enjoyed reading the article you've written about "Surviving Infosec."  It did remind me of some of my past life as a CISO.  Overall, I agree with your advice but I'd also like to offer a caveat.

Essentially being a CISO is almost an "all or nothing proposition."  Probably in the minds of your CEO/Board/CIO (or whoever you work for) you were hired to stop hacks, stop breaches, stop security failings, stop vulnerabilities, etc.

Your job is to be perfect yet you probably don't have adequate resources or clout to do your job.  And...even if you did have "...adequate resources..." (whatever that is), you will still not be successful to please the bosses who hold you to a level of perfection that no one else in the business is compared.

Essentially you have outside, and probably internal pressure to be perfect and to stop the cyber security events I've listed above.

Sadly, there is no true solution to this quandary.  You have to sustain an attitude of "I did my best under the circumstances," and you also need to continuously think outside of the box to bring to bear solutions to solve your infosec problems and still give your bosses the confidence you are doing the right thing.

So, good luck to all CISOs and security leaders....it is a tough job (that I loved) but you cannot think in terms of "win or lose" or you will simply burn out.

Ernie Hayden CISSP, CEH, GICSP(Gold), PSP
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