Finding balance can seem like an impossible task in a world that seems there’s always something that needs to be done and we feel like we don’t have the time for other things. What does balance even mean anyway? Having a balanced life is giving adequate time to things that nurture your mind, body, and spirit- whatever that means to you. Work-life balance is similar in that it is giving equal amounts of time to work and life outside of work. Balance is doing things we need to do while doing the things we want to do. It’s working to live, not living to work. You need to go to work or go to school but you might want to be with your family or traveling. It is possible to do both things if you can find that sweet spot of the balance between your work life and your life, life.
Why Do We Need Work-Life Balance?
Work-life balance is crucial to our mental health. In our American society, we put hard work on a pedestal because it is essential to the narrative of “The American Dream”. Of course, it is important to put in good work at your job so you can make a living. However, some people feel as though in order to get ahead in their career, they need to overwork themselves to the point of burnout. Burnout is being mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausted. Burnout can happen when you’re overwhelmed with the constant demands of work, life, or both. Have you ever been so overwhelmed with the things you need to do that you just end up not doing anything at all? Yeah, you could be burning out.
The lack of work-life balance can be detrimental to our relationships in many ways. When we overwork, we won’t have time for friends and family. When we don’t work at all, we might leave our colleagues to pull our weight for us. When we’re exhausted and overworked, we might lash out at the people we care about. Overworking could also lead to unhealthy coping mechanisms like alcohol or drug use. When we lack balance, our brain suffers. Being overwhelmed could lead to a lack of concentration and inhibit good decision-making. Excessive stress can also lead to mood swings, Anxiety, and Depression.
All these factors could make us completely lose control. Not only can being out of balance affect our mental health, but it can also put a damper on our physical health. When our stress hormone, cortisol is too high, it can lead to things such as rapid weight gain, high blood pressure, skin changes, osteoporosis, and muscle weakness. Can you see how all of these symptoms of being out of balance can lead you down an endless spiral of doom? To avoid the exasperating feeling of burnout, we need to figure out how to implement balance in our lives.
How to Achieve a Balanced Life
Balance can look different on everyone. In general, balance is achieved when you have set boundaries for work and home life. Boundaries give you the freedom to be in the moment and focus on one thing while not harboring the guilt of not doing something else. For example, some working mothers might have “mom guilt” which is the phenomenon where a mother feels like she should be with her baby when she’s working and feels guilty for not working when she’s with her baby. When the new momma in this scenario sets boundaries at work such as she must have a break during the day to pump breast milk, she leaves the office at a certain time, and she avoids her inbox on the weekends, this gives her time to be present with her family.
Setting healthy boundaries at work isn’t always that simple, but it needs to be done so you can live life to the fullest outside of your job. Balance is also accepting the fact that you can’t do it all. Be honest about what really matters to you and be assertive in letting people know this. We must be realistic about our commitments to friends, family, hobbies, and our jobs. You may have a million different hobbies or things you want to pursue but maybe, you should just focus on one thing and make time for it. I don’t mean to make time for it like, “Oh, I’ll do that sometime over the weekend.” You need to make a date with yourself. For example, “On Saturday mornings, at 10 a.m., I will paint for at least 30 minutes.” This is an achievable goal. Once those 30 minutes have passed, you might want to go longer. The point is, if you make time for your hobbies and loved ones, it will help bring balance to your life and you’ll be a happier person overall.
Good Habits to Keep You Balanced
It’s important to put healthy habits in place so you can go about your day without really thinking about them. Look at these habits like brushing your teeth. You do that every day without even thinking about it (hopefully). Like balance in general, these habits will look different on everyone. Here are some healthy habits to implement in your daily routine that will add balance to your life:
1. Plan your meals for the week.
Planning what you’re going to eat for the week can be the source of many good habits. When you plan out healthy meals for yourself/your family, you’re guaranteed to have good, nutritious food that will not only eliminate the decision fatigue of “What am I going to eat tonight?”, but also ensure that you’ll be healthier in the long run. When you plan your meals and shop according to your list, you’ll be less likely to buy random junk food in the supermarket or get fast food. This can be good for your wallet too because you’ll eat out less. Along with planning your meals, it’s a good idea to adopt the habit of packing your lunch the night before work so you can grab it and go in the morning, freeing up some time in the morning.
2. Get some exercise.
This will be a tip for just about anything we write about because it’s so important. Doing some physical activity each day is going to benefit your health and happiness for life. It can be a great social activity. You can kill two birds with one stone when you play outside with your kids or go to a fitness class with friends. Also, getting some physical activity with friends is a lot better for you than going out for drinks if that’s a habit you’re trying to kick.
3. Stay organized.
This is easier said than done. Getting organized can be many things. Keeping a physical or digital calendar can help you plan things around work deadlines, family events, and holidays. Having a cleaning routine can help your home stay orderly so you don’t get grumpy coming home to a messy house after a long day of work. To avoid getting overwhelmed with home admin tasks, you can have one day a week where you tackle cleaning a certain area of the home (Sunday is for the kitchen, Monday is the living room, etc.). Another method to stay on top of cleaning is to take 20 minutes a day before our after work to just tidy up. This habit can keep you from spending hours of your weekend cleaning instead of doing things that will bring joy to your life.
4. Communicate with your boss.
Unless you, yourself are the boss in whatever field of work you’re in, you are an employee. Your boss is not your BFF. Your colleagues are not your family even if your company is described as “one big happy family”. It is okay to talk to your boss about extending a deadline or communicating that project is too overwhelming. They won’t know your limits, concerns, or boundaries unless you express them. Also, you need to actually use the vacation time you are given, even if you don’t go anywhere. Take time to take care of yourself.
Be present in the current moment. Life is too short to be constantly checking emails and social media. If scrolling through Instagram is how you relax and unwind, that’s perfectly fine. However, if social media is stressing you out, take a break from it. Taking a social media break can free up time to do other things. Don’t worry, it will still be there when you decide to log back in. When it comes to answering emails after hours, it’s important to have that work and home separation. When you’re at home, be mindful of your thoughts and where your attention goes. If you work from home, try to create that separation in the space you have. Try working at a desk or in a certain chair that is reserved for work. Definitely do not work from bed, please. Instead of thinking about work after hours, immerse yourself in something you enjoy, whether it be a hobby or just conversing with a friend, partner, or family member. The email can wait but time with loved ones is sacred.
Balance Means Sometimes Saying No
Remember that balance is not something you can achieve in a day or even a week. Balance is something you need to practice over time. Life happens, things come up, we have new priorities. You might have to switch things around and adopt new habits. Don’t be afraid to embrace the word “no” and create healthy boundaries for yourself. If you need some alone time for your hobby at home, make sure your family knows that so they leave you to your craft. If your boss asks you to work late and you have the obligation to go to a 6 p.m. fitness class, tell them you can’t stay. It’s important to prioritize your own wellness because if you’re not physically or mentally well, it inhibits you to do much of anything at all. You are not selfish or lazy for prioritizing the balance of your life and your work. There’s a good chance that if you’re happy with the way you are spending your time, you’ll actually be more productive at work as a well-rested, well-rounded individual. As long as you’re doing your job well while also making time for yourself, you’re already on the right track.
Imani is a writer who is passionate about helping others through her work. Her own struggles with mental health and experience in therapy give her a unique perspective to empathize with our patients and readers. Her experiences influence the articles that she writes. In her free time, Imani enjoys traveling, making YouTube videos, reading, and obnoxiously singing to show tunes.
*All blog content that is written by Imani is approved by a licensed mental health professional.*