You come home at the end of your work day and you’re tired. You’re not just tired, you’re burned out. You find it difficult to enjoy your evenings because of the weight of the day’s stress. By the time you can finally relax, it’s time for bed and you begin the cycle again the next day. Or you stay up too late, “enjoying” your quiet home time, and then you’re even more tired the following day.
Your body aches – it doesn’t matter if you’re breaking your back at a physically demanding job, or sitting crunched up at a computer for eight hours a day – you’re sore. You feel sick a lot more than you used to. This is because stress is associated with adverse effects on the immune system and can worsen the symptoms you experience from any medical condition. Stress also puts you at risk of substance abuse. Maybe you’ve been having an extra drink or two each evening, and perhaps more on the weekends.
Economic downturns may have required you to move around through a few jobs, and now you’re on the bottom rung again, with no seniority, and little to no vacation time. Now the only days you’re not working are the weekends. You’ve also heard rumours of downsizing, so you’re definitely not going to complain out loud about working late or through your lunch.
Oh wait, you want to have kids, or you have a big home repair bill? Now you need to work a second job or put in even more hours at your 9-5. Maybe you’re taking work home with you too. Or perhaps you don’t feel like your spouse is pulling their weight, or that they don’t understand your stress, and this is causing marital rifts too.
Your work/life balance sucks, dude.
I know, I’ve been there. But the good news is that there is something you can do about it. You can take control.
Here are 8 ways I’ve improved my work/life balance, and I believe you can too.
- Take control of your own schedule
You have to be at work from 8:30 to 5:00. That’s the schedule you acknowledged when you took the job, and you adhere to it daily. So why can’t you schedule portions of your personal life too?
Set an hour each week to work on your carpentry project or complete that sweater you started knitting months ago. Make a specific time each night to spend with your spouse or children, and try to leave technology out of it (unless of course your ideal evening involves curling up in front of the TV for an hour with your family – that seems perfectly acceptable).
Set limits for yourself at work. If you can’t shake the need to work overtime every night, then at least try going home on time one or two of those nights – or even early if you can manage it every so often.
Track and manage your time effectively. If you find work leftover at the end of the day, evaluate where you could be more efficient. Are you spending time during your workday on social media sites, taking personal calls, or completing online banking? I’ve been guilty of all these things, and I always ended up paying for it at the end of the day when I ran out of time, or had to stay late to finish. Perhaps I could have saved those tasks for my first half an hour at home, or maybe they weren’t really that important to me to begin with.
Leave work at work. This one seems obvious, but I was guilty here too. I wasn’t even being paid for it either, I just had one of those “superstar” complexes, where going “above and beyond” becomes the norm, and working at a regular pace and during regular hours just won’t cut it. It took a long time to realize that the majority of the pressure I felt to maintain “superstar” status was placed on me by…me. I was neglecting my family and neglecting myself and only I could stop it.
Finally, learn to say no. I’ve been preaching this in my work and personal life for a long time, and maybe that makes me a jerk, or self-centred, but it’s kept me from getting walked on and eventually blowing up at everyone. I’ve known a handful of people like this in my life, who say yes until their heart and soul breaks, and they’re never the same. That’s extreme, I know, but I think it rings even a little bit true with people who feel the constant need to please others.
- Get creative with your errands
First of all, what can you outsource? Can you order your groceries online and have them delivered? In Ontario, the most reputable company I know of is Grocery Gateway, which is tied to Longo’s stores. They even have a mobile app, so you can grocery shop while watching your kid’s soccer game, or while getting your hair done. The prices are obviously going to be a little bit higher, but what is your time and sanity worth? A large amount of shopping can be done online now, so investigate what errands you run most often that take the most of your time, and see if you can get it done quicker and easier online!
Barter chores. I’ve personally never been able to get into gardening or cooking, much to the chagrin of my husband, but I have friends and family who love them as hobbies. I find it utterly relaxing and rewarding to clean a house, but those gardening friends would rather pay a maid service. Why not swap chores? I come by and clean my friend’s house once a week, and she tends to my gardening, or makes me frozen meals to last through the week. Now, neither of us has to either do the chore we hate, or pay for someone else to do them. It’s a win-win!
- Exercise, eat well, and sleep
This one is pretty obvious and self-explanatory, so I’m not going to bore you with facts and stats. I could reference literally thousands of articles and studies about the correlation between eating right, sleeping right, and exercising and overall mental and physical health, but I’ll just link to this one from the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
An office environment is a dangerous place for junk food. People are constantly bringing things in, or selling chocolate bars for their kid’s extracurricular activity. Ensure you have an ample supply of healthy snacks at your desk or workspace. Things that are easy to eat while you’re working will keep you from pushing them to the side for “later” (aka the garbage) in exchange for that handful of chips or plateful of cookies that Karen just HAD to leave right by YOUR desk! Grapes, carrot sticks, and Triscuit crackers were my personal favourites. Also make sure that if you work at a desk all day, GET UP AND STRETCH. Once every hour, at a minimum. Your employer cannot not let you do this. This is particularly important for women taking oral contraceptives and for male and female smokers. It’s difficult to stick to, especially once you’re “in the flow” with your work, so set alarms on your phone or work computer. Or run an hour timer and each time it goes off, stretch and reset the timer.
I personally would also never make the time to exercise at home, and it was taking a great physical toll.
I got my dog, Dave, in May of 2015, and the responsibility of caring for him has pushed me to walk my block with him, which is approximately 5 km, every morning. I haven’t felt this good in a long time, and getting up 45 minutes early has become a positive, not something to dread. Being more physically in shape also positively affects your sleep. I’m sleeping fewer hours a night now, but I wake up feeling more rested and with more energy because the quality of my sleep has improved.
Finally, cut the caffeine! I still haven’t been able to kick my 3+ cups of coffee/day, but I’ve had close friends who were able to kick the habit and have felt physically amazing ever since. No more stomach cramps, a better appetite, and of course better sleep.
- Actually take a break on your break
If you, like most people, only get a half an hour (unpaid of course) for lunch each day, do you want to spend it thinking about what you need to get done when you go back to your desk, or talking to the gossipy receptionist that you can never seem to avoid? Music can be your answer. Music has been studied extensively as a stress management tool, and has proven to be extremely effective. Bring an mp3 player (or if you’re super cool, a Walkman or Discman). Load music onto your phone. Burn a CD for your car, or purchase a cable for your auxiliary jack, if applicable. Go somewhere you can be alone, like your car. Or a quiet corner of the lunchroom or outside garden. Just turn the music up and listen for the full half hour. I think you’ll find when it’s time to go back to finish up your day, you’ll feel calmer and more able to focus on tasks since you’ve given your brain a bit of a rest.
- Discuss with your employer their policies
Your employer may offer flex-time, or give you the ability to work from home on occasion. This will not be applicable to everyone, but for those who can, I encourage you to take advantage of it. It also makes getting up in the morning so much easier when you don’t have to worry about a long commute. If your employer needs some convincing, accentuate your stellar work performance so they don’t need to be concerned about your productivity, and you could even highlight the environmental benefits of avoiding a commute.
- Don’t be afraid to lean on your spouse
If “for better or for worse” means anything, your significant other will want to help you deal with your stress. When you’re stressed, they pick up on that, and it stresses them out too. I’m 100% NOT saying to hide your issues from your partner or to avoid talking about them. Your spouse may interpret your stress entirely differently if they don’t understand the cause, and that can lead to trouble. Communication is always key. Always.
Different people need different things to help them unwind and de-stress. My husband works a very physically demanding job, on top of having his own health issues, so when he comes home he’s sore in a much different way than I am, having sat at a computer for 8+ hours. I need a walk to stretch and get my blood flowing. He needs to put his feet up and loosen his muscles. So we implemented a routine where I give him a massage as soon as he gets home (otherwise it doesn’t work, it has to be right away), and then after supper he actually has energy and feels more relaxed, so he’s able to go on a walk with me.
- Know when to seek professional help
The stigma of mental illness needs to end. Stress is anxiety. Anxiety is a mental health issue. One in five Canadians will experience a form of mental illness in their lifetime (Canadian Institute of Health Research) and on any given week, more than 500,000 Canadians will not go to work due to mental illness.
You are extremely far from being alone in your struggle. Sometimes no matter what you do, it just won’t get better. Before your stress impacts your life in an irreversible manner, seek out professional help. If you’re unsure where to go, make an appointment with your family doctor. He or she will be able to provide you with a referral to the correct specialist, or to a community assistance program. More often than not, these services are free, or covered through your provincial health plan (ie. OHIP). Your employer may even offer an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), which provides access to counselors over the phone, among other things.
Don’t be afraid to use any of these things. EAPs are particularly prevalent these days, with the increasing acceptance that mental health affects everyone in one way or another.
- Finally, snuggle an animal
I may be biased because I love animals (maybe even more than people), but nothing takes away stress like hugging your dog, or laying down with your cat purring on your chest. If you don’t have pets of your own, but still want the benefit of a puppy-snuggle while making a difference in your community, check out your local SPCA or Humane Society. They are constantly looking for volunteers, or you can even just spend an hour on Saturday afternoon taking some dogs out for a walk. If you think you need exercise, imagine being caged up 23 hours a day. There’s a reason there’s such a thing as “therapy animals”.
If you’re an entrepreneur, you’ll find a lot of these don’t apply. But maybe you’re looking at things the wrong way?
“In pop-entrepreneurial culture, it’s easy to accept, even to admire, extreme relationships with work. Add to the mix a pesky human habit of feeling guilt for shirking to-dos on a never-ending list of self-inflicted responsibilities—and voilà! We’ve achieved the perfect recipe for irresolvable work-life angst.”
I’d like to leave you with this article that I found quite interesting in terms of the particular challenges of the concept of work/life balance as it relates to entrepreneurs.
Have a happy, healthy, stress-free weekend, and please share with us in the comments any other W/L Balance suggestions you’ve applied successfully in your life!