I talk to many people who struggle with gaining a healthy work/life balance. They often say that it seems like a near impossible task. So many people feel the daunting struggle of managing everyday life, and work. Work takes up a good portion of our day, and at times it can feel like nothing is left for all of life’s joys and obstacles. According to the American Institute of Stress, numerous studies show that job stress is far and away the major source of stress for American adults, and that it has escalated progressively over the past few decades. Increased levels of job stress, as assessed by the perception of having little control but lots of demands, has been demonstrated to be associated with increased rates of heart attack, hypertension, and other disorders.
People push and rush to accomplish everything at work, home, and in our personal lives, which makes us forget that our stress spikes to all-time highs, several times daily. We become accustomed to living in this turbulent chaos, ignoring and not listening to our bodies. Our feelings of despair, shortness of breath, muscle aches, headaches, and digestive problems are just the beginning of a long list of issues. We push the feelings and symptoms off until we are confronted with a mild or severe health crisis. All of this can take a toll on our productivity and relationships.
Achieving balance is easier said than done, but it is the key to managing stress. A healthy work/life balance can be an attainable goal. When we are balanced and happy, we tend to be more productive, take fewer sick days, and are more likely to stay in our jobs.
Here are a few practical steps you can take to gain balance and healthy perspective.
- Make small, manageable goals -- No matter how small the accomplishment, each step will give you more control. The more control we have over our work, the less stressed we get. Be real about workloads and deadlines. Create a "to-do" list and prioritize tasks to help bring clarity.
- Be a good time manager -- It can seem counter-intuitive to take a break when there is a daunting task ahead, but taking a five-minute walk to fill your water bottle, or simply get a breath of fresh air will create good energy within you, and will help you be more productive and think more clearly. Don’t procrastinate. This is a big issue with many people. It occurs because people get distracted and overwhelmed when work becomes too big. Allow yourself a few minutes to gather your thoughts, practice deep breathing, center your thoughts, then get back to the task at hand. Know when is enough is enough. Manage your mind as well as your time. If you keep pushing on a project when your mind is tired, you’re more apt to make more mistakes which could cut into your personal time.
- Be your own best advocate -- The more you take control of your schedule, the more you create empowerment. Empowerment will give you mental and physical energy. Don’t look for accolades or self-fulfillment by adding more to your plate. Take time to think before agreeing to take on a new task. It is okay to say ‘no.’ Have confidence in yourself and your work, but don’t try to prove it and die on the sword. Don’t be a martyr. Remind yourself that creating space for balance in your life is the most rewarding pay-off. Remind yourself that you’re in control of your own destiny.
- Communicate -- Never hesitate to ask for help, we are stronger when we know our limits. Do not react to work situations, give yourself time and space. No one’s perfect! Allow yourself to be human and just do the best you can. Take advantage of your company’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP). Many companies offer resources through an EAP, which can save you time by providing guidance on issues and connect you to helpful resources, referrals to mental health, and other services.
- Be Active -- Regular exercise or activity reduces stress, depression and anxiety, and enables people to better cope. It’s like giving your brain a healthy time out. Moving your body with a walk, a class, or just being outside will help set the tone for the rest of your day or evening. Treat your body right. Eat right, exercise and get adequate rest. Relying on alcohol, nicotine, drugs, or technology is not a healthy outlet, and will only lead to more complications.
- Communicate -- Everyone in your family may not always be on the same page, but try to at least get everyone in the same chapter of the book. Set ground rules about meals and meal times, this can be a great place to get caught up on the day. Take turns cooking, cleaning up, and carpooling. Divide and conquer! Don't over commit. Practice saying “no”. If you say “yes” to all things, you’re really probably saying no to things you really want to do.
- Create Space -- Shut down the day by turning off all screens and dimming the lights. Make a ritual of herbal tea, reading a book, taking a hot bath, try meditation, or simply sitting and breathing. Quit making excuses. You do have 15 minutes at the beginning or the end of your day to quiet your mind. Try this relaxation breathing technique:
Choose only one or two things that you want to concentrate and focus on changing to help you gain control. Sometimes if you try to change everything all at once, it can actually throw you off and send you into a deeper chaos. Make small goals and create frequency with those goals, so that your outcome is positive behavior change. Here is an example: If I want to leave my office by 5:00 pm. I have to ask myself: why do I want this goal, and determine the importance of my “why”. My why is that I want to get home earlier to enjoy more family time. These are some simple clear steps to help achieve 5:00 pm office departure.
- I will start by organizing my day earlier to set myself up for 5:00 pm departure.
- I will complete my email list and not put emails off until the end of my day. Emails are a necessary way to communicate, but end up taking much longer than anticipated, so start the process earlier.
- Prioritize emails. We live in a quick answer society, but not all things need an answer ASAP.
- I can make a small to-do list for the next morning, by 3:00 pm.
- I can complete all phone calls by 4:30 pm.
- I will schedule office departure time in my calendar and keep that appointment with myself just like I would keep a business meeting.
The more I practice these things the more I find joy and ease in them and it really becomes second nature to get home earlier.
One of the number one reasons people state for not achieving their health goals is lack of time. A healthy work/life balance is one of the best things you can do for yourself to reduce stress and create time for other things. Take the steps now, to work toward spending your time on the life you desire.