Searching for the often elusive work/life balance
By Tracy Maduro.
The work/life balance
On 16 May, Mental Health Awareness Week began. So it seemed like a good time to think about how our working lives can impact on our mental health. How can we better incorporate mindfulness at work? How can emotional intelligence achieve a more balanced relationship between our work and personal lives?
For many people trying to find a work/life balance is an ongoing issue. In 2015, stress accounted for 35% of all work related ill health cases and 43% of all working days lost due to ill health.
On average, most working people spend around 39.2 hours per week at work and over the course of year around 1,842 hours at work. Not to mention the joy of travelling to work, which is particularly fun in a bustling big city like London where over three million people commute to work every day.
For many a combination of working long hours, having unrealistic deadlines, unmanageable workloads and demanding management can take their toll on wellbeing over time. This will inevitably take you out of balance, where work becomes the dominant factor in your life, a bit like a dark cloud that never seems to move from above your head. Perhaps you have noticed yourself becoming more irritable or angry of late? Or are you having problems sleeping? Maybe tensions are showing up in your body - bad backs, pulled or inflamed muscles, digestive issues and migraines? All of these are subtle sign posts of a life drifting (albeit slowly) out of balance. Often we ignore these warning signs, even if they continue for a while. Mothers in particular are really good at putting others before themselves and as such tend to ignore these ‘warning signs’.
Combat the 'warning signs'
It’s really important to become more self-aware by paying attention to our physical and emotional needs. There are some simple things that we can do that will help us start to regain some work/life balance or at the very least lift our mood, which is a starting point.
Clutter – Clearing clutter in your home and your work space enables us to become more productive. Clutter is often unfinished business, clearing it away is a way of finishing the business enabling you to move on. Emotionally you will feel less stagnant, energetically you are making room for new energy to come into your life.
Finances – Just starting to understand your finances, figuring out where you are financially is a starting point and from there, being able to track your spending, will have a huge impact on the stress of not really knowing where your money is going.
Gentle – Be kind to yourself. Stop trying to achieve perfection, it doesn’t exist! No situation, no project, no decision is ever perfect. How we relate to ourselves directly impacts how we relate to others. If you are cruel and unpleasant to others, there’s a really good chance that you are treating yourself badly on some level.
Nurture yourself. This helps to realign your energy and replenish yourself and in turn helps you to become a more effective person.
Mindfulness - If possible spend some time sitting in silence... I try to sneak in a few minutes in the morning before my son wakes up. It’s great to be still, to connect and to breathe. With regular practice, you carry the stillness with you and are likely to feel less overwhelmed by life.
Movement – Anything that works for you, from jogging to joining a Whirling Dervish group, as long as you are moving, preferably to the point of sweating. What you really want to do is raise your heart rate - but you also want to enjoy it!
For me one of the best resources I have found is Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga. I have practiced for nearly 20 years. It hasn’t turned me into a Zen like guru, but it does has helped me clamber back into the present moment in situations, where I am inclined to drift off into negative thought and lose focus. This makes me more effective in the here and now.
Any kind of regular movement will help to shift low moods - yoga, dance, swimming and running, tennis, table tennis, to name a few. Find what works for you.
Nature - Spend some time in nature. This is one I am working on. I feel it should be obligatory to get out of London (or any big city) every now and then. Failing that, even a walk on a local common will help (almost 40% of London is green space!) There is something about being in nature that reminds us that there is more to life than an unrealistic workload or an angry work co-worker. It helps to calm us down.
Prioritise – A great way to combat procrastination is asking yourself - what is the most important thing I need to give my attention to? Start there. You can apply this to your life and at work, make a list and do the most difficult and unpleasant tasks first.
Punctuality - Try to leave a few minutes early in the morning, not to impress your boss, but for yourself, there is a huge difference between easing into your day, rather than feeling the stress of "I'm going to be late!"
Socialising – Taking time out with people we like is hugely important. Actively seek people that support you and you enjoy being with. Nurture these friendships. Supportive friends are like good therapy, just cheaper. They can be a great buffer against the stresses of work. There is always the option of joining groups that interest you, where you can meet like-minded individuals.
Talking – Despite the stigma that still ensues in the UK, talking to a good therapist can be of great benefit. Simply sharing your issues and feelings and thoughts with an independent witness can have a huge impact on your growth and personal development which ultimately combats stress.
These are some really simple ideas that may be worth giving a go. Perhaps just concentrating on one at a time and see if any positive changes occur. It’s really about finding what works for you and going for it.
"You don’t have to be great to start – but you have to start to be great" – Zig Ziglar
Our personal effectiveness courses are a great way to get away from the office and reflect upon the stresses of your workday in a relaxing and comfortable environment. Talking to a group of your peers and experts in areas of mindfulness and positive psychology can give you a new perspective on how to cope with the pressures of the workplace and personal lives by using simple techniques.