More than one in four Americans say they're "super" stressed, according to Mental Health America. That's the driver of every fourth car that speeds past you on the roadway, in a hurry to get to work. Or, maybe it's you, wishing you could just turn around and go home again. Conflicting demands on our time can take a toll both physically and mentally, leading many to seize on the concept of work/life balance. But is such a thing possible?
The Effect of Stress
Stress is a productivity-buster. The more you obsess over getting it all done, the more likely it is that you won't get it all done. Stress interferes with your concentration, and it can lead to resentment toward those who are tugging on each of your arms, wrangling for your time and attention. Then there are the physical effects, from insomnia and fatigue to a weakened immune system and the increased likelihood of a heart attack.
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What Is Work/Life Balance?
The idea behind work/life balance is to prevent one obligation or the other – home or work – from taking over your life. Your personal life expectations and your work expectations must effectively share you. You're probably not going to achieve an exact 50/50 divide. The goal is to reach a point where you feel comfortable and relaxed with the amount of time you're giving to each.
How to Achieve Work/Life Balance
"Balance" is the keyword here, and achieving it means drawing some lines in the sand after you determine your priorities – your priorities, which might not be identical to what everyone else expects from you. What's your vision for your life? How can you get there without shortchanging yourself or others?
This can mean saying no sometimes, and learning how to delegate. Ask your partner to run a certain errand today instead of adding it to your to-do list. Tell your boss that no, you can't stay late tonight because you have something important to see to at home.
Set some time apart, if possible, for exercise and physical activities. Maybe it's only a walk around the block, but it will pull the focus back to you for a window of time.
But You Need That Job!
Unfortunately, putting this into practice might cause just as much stress as that imbalance you've been suffering from. Maybe you need the overtime to meet a steep budget. Or, maybe your employer has made it clear that they really mean it when they say, "All hands on deck!"
Consider also: Reasons for Preparing a Budget
At least make full use of any breaks your employer offers. Take that vacation time, that paid sick day and those coffee breaks. Pull back once in a while, even if it's just for a few minutes.
And leave work at work at the end of the day. Set a firm rule that you're not going to respond to emails or phone calls when you're off the clock. Your employer probably doesn't want you to take personal calls at work, so why should you take business calls at home? Just be sure to be proactive, not reactive. Make it clear in advance to your coworkers, boss, customers and clients that you're not available during certain hours.
How to Preserve Work/Life Balance
Consider keeping a daily journal or calendar. Make note of the hours you spend working each day so you'll be aware right away if the scale begins tipping again. Be sure to include the time spent on work tasks that you might take care of from home, such as answering that text on your phone even though you promised yourself that you weren't going to do that. This can be particularly important if you work from home.
Consider also: Working from Home Is Messing with Our Health
Talk about your struggle with others. Venting can be a huge relief and can pull you back on track when and if you start feeling overwhelmed again. Don't overlook the value of professional help.