Today, Wednesday 5th November, is the official National Stress Awareness Day (@ISMA_UK) and the theme is work-life balance.
I know from first-hand how not keeping balance of your work and life can have massive detrimental effect on not only your own life, but roll out and start affecting your relationships with those around you making the situation even worse.
Throughout my work life, I have been a very conscientious employee wanting to give my all and help the organisation to strive beyond all expectations – which was amplified when I worked in the charity sector (if you have ever worked in the third sector, you will be more than aware of the burnout that ensures when staff are passionate about the cause!) I had feelings of guilt when I would think about taking time off which my colleagues compounded by saying things like ‘how will we cope without you?‘, ‘but who will…?’ and the rest.
It happened so much so that I would be told to take annual leave and my line manager would have me choose a time and set it in stone. As a result, I would be burnt out, suffering from a terrible cold and be incredibly run down when I finally did take some time off that it was almost pointless to do.
It has taken me many years, many breakdowns and many burn outs to realise that work-life balance isn’t something that you should take lightly or think that other people have of that you will have it when…
The modern world is full of things that cause us to be stressed and cause us to lose sight of the things that create balance in our lives. Things like smart phones and fast home internet connections are a big cause for the additional overload and work overlap that causes us to get stressed. I used to check my work emails from home and for about a week tried having them sync to my phone (worst thing EVER!) which meant that I never truly had a separation from work.
Stress is a huge cause for absenteeism from work, for breakdowns in relationships and for self destructive behaviour to develop. The stronger it gets, the harder it is to get into control as you put more pressure onto yourself which in turn turns into a vicious stress fueled cycle that leads you to nowhere useful.
So in honor of yourself and your mental health here are some tips to help you to reduce your stress and regain your balance.
1. Build boundaries between your work and home life
Create a time when you will stop working and make sure you have time for relaxing, spending time with loved ones and rejuvenating for the next day. If you must bring work home with you, limit yourself to doing it in a certain place and shut it off once you have completed the work. Do not allow it to take over your home time by working into the night.
2. Take regular breaks during the day
Taking regular breaks helps you to clear your head and to stay mindful of the work that you are doing and also saves your eye when you are staring at a screen for long periods of time. We implemented Stretch Clock (an online reminder for stretching and taking breaks in the office) to help with keeping the team taking breaks and getting active throughout the work day. He’s one cool dude too!
2.1 Take a lunch break
I used to eat ‘al desko‘ (eating at your desk in front of your computer) an awful lot when I was in the office and it meant that I would continue working while not paying attention to my food or the break that I was supposed to be taking. Take time away from your desk and pay attention to the food you are eating, it breaks you from the work state and you will enjoy your food much more when doing it mindfully. If the weather is nice, find somewhere outside that you can eat, relax and take in some fresh air.
Swap ‘al desko’ for ‘al fresco’ and change your scenery for lunch! (tweet that!)
3. Take your annual leave/holiday entitlement
…and spread it throughout the year. At the beginning of the financial year I take Jit’s (my other half) holidays and plan the times throughout the year to ensure that we never go too long without having a break and it makes sure that I take time out from my freelance work too – as that can be a cause for burnout if I am not careful.
4. Take responsibility of the pressures
Be responsible speak up when your workload is getting too much or starting to overwhelm you. Your line manager will help you to work through it. I know in the past I was scared to speak up because I thought that people would think that I couldn’t do my job, but that is most certainly not the case! Sometimes we just say yes to way too much!
4.1. Be realistic
If you realistically can’t take on another piece of work, don’t feel that you need to say yes just to save face! Saying ‘no’ will become your best friend in creating a good balance.
5. Plan and protect ‘me time’
Whatever ‘me time‘ means for you, create time to enjoy it. It may be hobbies, exercising, socialising, relaxing or like me sitting in a coffee shop reading and people watching or running around with my borrow dog. Choose time to do it and set it in stone. Doing this regularly will help to make it part of your routine. And on that note, don’t feel guilty about making time for yourself,it is how you will recharge and be the best you possibly can be.
You really don’t need to be constantly connected to the internet/emails/social media. It will all still be there no matter how long you unplug and leave it alone. Turn off your phone and laptop and spend time doing something that doesn’t use power – read, play cards, dominoes or take a phone-free walk (you don’t have to Instagram your every move!)
7. Get enough sleep
Getting enough sleep at night really can help you to deal with stressful situations a lot more easily and with a fresh head you will be able to be more productive in the work day and hence not need to bring work home with you.
8. Talk about how you feel
If you are finding that you are struggling to find a balance with your work and life, tell someone. Be it your Line Manager, HR department or a colleague. Sharing how you feel, even with a trusted friend, will help you to start creating the changes you need to start creating a balance.
9. Recognise the signals
Being able to recognise the signals that your body tells you when you are starting to become stressed can give you the heads up that you need to take a break, get away from your desk or even leave work early (if you work flexi) to work on yourself. Self awareness is a very important technique that can help you to learn how to create the balance that you need before things have gone too far.
10. Value yourself AND your time
Most importantly you need to value yourself and your time. You are not a human doing, you are a human being and you need to take time to recharge and rejuvenate in order to be able to do the things that you want to do. Don’t let yourself, or others, burn you out or eat the time that you need for yourself.
It really is possible to regain the balance in your life between work and home. Over the years that I was working myself into the ground I realised that my health was the most important thing and that without it I wouldn’t be a prize employee, great friend or lover. I would be a shadow of my former self and that was not what I wanted.
Don’t let stress ruin your health or your life. Decide on your balance and make it happen. (tweet that!)
What will you do to regain the work-life balance in your life? What tips do you have for others?
Share in the comments below.