What is the meaning of work-life balance?
If you’re one of those people who can leave work at work, then I envy you. I’m green. Full of envy. I long to be as laid-back as that but I’m just not wired that way… but I’m constantly seeking for ways to improve a better work-life balance.
For National Work Life Week, I’m reflecting on what’s important to me in maintaining healthy work-life balance to improve my mental well-being.
Why It’s important for your mental well-being
Throughout the majority of my 20s, I was self-employed and knew nothing about balancing work and life! It was actually during my time at university when I adopted this insanely intense, full-on, can-do, competitive, move-a-million-miles-per-hour work ethic.
For a long time, it was all work and no (social) life! I went from being care-free to neurotic in the space of 4 years. My thinking was that uni was costly and funded by my parents, so the pressure of that made me fear failure and is something I still can not bear.
Still, at the time, I thought nothing of it and considered the stress I was under as a normal day to day thing and I didn’t have a clue what anxiety was. Everyone around me was just as stressed, what made me any different to them?
Listen to your mind and body
But a day become a week, and the weeks become years.
Before I knew it, I had been living each day like this for 4 years and my body eventually had had enough. I will forever take that discipline and mindset towards work with the understanding that there has to be a healthy life balance too. I’ve learned that no matter how much I enjoy work, there’ll be spells where my body will signal SOS and my mind will soon be flagging alarm bells.
Consequently, during my early 20s, I developed anxiety which I didn’t recognise as anxiety in the first bouts of it, so it became worse over time because it wasn’t treated as such.
I became exhausted. Sick. Paranoid. Irritated. Anxious. But I continued with my day-to-day life because I was none-the-wiser.
Recognising what need to change
Once I understood what was going on inside my mind, I got the professional support I needed to ease the issues brought on by overworking, but I am now putting a lot of that in to practice myself so that I don’t return to that place again. This is becoming an increasingly common situation as we work under the immense pressure of a competitive world, but it doesn’t have to be part and parcel of life.
Now I’m in my 30s, I can have a more relaxed approach and look back on the things I’ve learned about myself so that I continue to make it a priority to look after my mind and wellbeing.
So, here’s advice – or a simply a reminder – to help those who struggle to switch off from work.
5 ways to improve your work-life balance
Have a good night’s sleep
This one’s a no-brainer, right? So how come I spent 16 hours working every day and didn’t hit the pillow each night until 2am?! What was I thinking. Productivity is directly linked to how alert you are and you’re not going to be at your best when you’ve had minimal sleep. Never mind work-life balance, it should be work-sleep-life balance!
It is only in recent years that I’ve valued the importance of a decent night’s kip and equates to not only good mood but determines how productive I am the next day.
I used to think that if I stayed up to get everything done, I’d sleep better. But in the end, I got less sleep and I was taking twice as long to complete my tasks because I was tired.
Also, with my mind being most active at night, I was almost too scared to settle in bed because I would worry about everything and anything.
I’ve broken that cycle now by ensuring that my room is a tidy & peaceful den of Zen and that my bed as comfortable as possible; starting with a quality mattress, a fluffy pillows and divine bed sheets. The little details in adding candles and fairy lights make a huge difference too. With all these changes made, I’m pleased to say that I’m in bed by 9pm these days rather than 2am!
Detach from your phone
How attached are you to your phone? I’m going to hazard a guess that if you lost your phone, you’d feel lost too?
There’s no shame in admitting we’re all attached to our phones, it’s just what we’re accustomed to now. The key is to wean yourself off it (as hideous as it sounds) because that around-the-clock instantaneous response rate that people have come to expect from us is toxic.
My reaction to text messages when I was younger was an excited one (oooh, friends!) but now when my phone flashes, my immediate thought is “oh, god, what now?!”
As an experiment, I once switched my phone off, locked it in a drawer and spent an entire week without it and it was honestly the best 7 days ever.
It was so blissful to not have to worry about responding to calls, messages, emails, group chats, DMs, tweets (and memes) from my phone immediately.
In that week, I read more books, I slept better, and I had more face-to-face conversations which was more enriching that endlessly scrolling through apps on my phone.
I have now switched off badge notifications, pop-up notifications and read receipts and reply to messages in my own time.
Leave work on time
After a hectic time at uni, I went straight into self-employment. A typical day would involve spending 12 hours+ working on my online business, then I’d break for an hour before working on my blog until 2am in the morning! I don’t know how I did it back then, but I did it!
I didn’t take a proper weekend or Bank Holiday off for about 6 years! And the days I took off were spent glued to my laptop and phone.
I’ve realised now that my problem is that working, as strange as it sounds, is my comfort zone. What made it worse was that I was actually working from home, so that blurred the lines as to what was work and what was my personal life. It had blended into one and I didn’t allow myself that time of day to switch-off from it all. There was no home time for me.
I’m very lucky to be working in a business that doesn’t frown upon leaving on time. I have to catch a train so that means I have to clock out at 5:30 to make a dash for the 5:41 train. It’s a luxury for me to be able to do that and I’ve had to train myself to not feel guilty for it – but my commute is a 72-mile round trip so on a good day where there’s no delay on train services, I’ll arrive home just before 7pm.
Enjoy your hobbies
The easiest way to divide work-life is to have hobbies. But how do you tell a work-aholic to switch off and spend more time doing what you love; but what if your hobby is work and you can’t stop working in fear of being left behind and someone takes on an opportunity that was meant to be yours but you’ve missed out because you took one day off? (Are you starting to see how my mind works now?)
It used to be a difficult question for me to answer because I had no time to do fun things. It was a complete oversight. Why would I want to waste my time watching tv when I can spend that time making money?
I used think of hobbies as a pointless, time-wasting exercise but that they’re small precious things you can do to re-set your mind and body from the chaos of work. Approach free time with a different mindset.
I now enjoy travelling and exploring new places. And I love a pamper session. There’s a shelf full of books waiting to be read. I’ve made a list of tv shows I want to watch. Even going to the gym is a joy (well, kind of!) and bubble baths are effective in putting everything on pause for half an hour.
What do you do to do de-stress? When was the last time you took time out for yourself to do something you enjoy?
Stop being a yes person
As part of practicing self-care and a healthy work-life balance, I’ve stopped being a yes-woman. I’ve become selective in the activities I partake in because I simply won’t add pressure to my life by doing things I don’t want to do with the time I don’t have.
It’s all about how you prioritise yourself, the things you’re up against and having tact in handling the situation.
Sometimes you can go with your heart and the answer is easy. But if you’re think obligated but you’re not up to it? Don’t do it. Simple.
You have that choice to put yourself first. Take a step back to work out if it’s going to be more of a benefit or a hindrance to your life.
Don’t forget that your time, energy, mood, and bank account are all important and you don’t have to do anything to compromise that.
Once you realise that nothing good can come of being a people-pleaser, you will free up so much time to other things. Things that make you happy…. like catching up with some much needed Zzz’s.
This post is in conjunction with TEMPUR® but all thoughts are my own.