It was one of those weeks. I was working tirelessly, but somehow my to-do list kept growing. There were not enough hours in the day. I woke up each morning in a panic. The day had not even begun and I was already behind. I was spread thin between family, work and community. Finally the weekend arrived, but I spent it sick in bed. Stress had compromised my immune system. This terrible cold taught me to either take the time to manage stress, or be forced to make the time.
Stress is a physical and emotional reaction to changes and challenges. A healthy amount of stress encourages growth. Too much stress for too long can lead to problems. In fact, extended exposure to stress hormones can influence physical health. Physical symptoms of stress include:
- Digestive problems
- Sleep problems
- Weight gain
- Memory and concentration issues
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease and stroke
Katherine C. Nordal, PhD, American Psychological Association (APA) Executive Director says, “We know that chronic stress can take a toll on a person’s health. It can make existing health problems worse, and even cause disease, either because of changes in the body or bad habits people develop to cope with stress. The bottom line is that stress can lead to real physical and emotional health consequences.”
The APA reports that one of the top stressors for the American population is work.
Here are four tips for a healthy work-life balance:
- Embrace the unbalance.
There is too much perfection in achieving balance. Balance requires that everything be equally distributed. But this is never how life unfolds. It is impossible to always give an equal amount of attention to family, work, community, faith, hobbies etc. It only takes a sick child, changed deadline, or family emergency to interrupt the balance.
Life is messy. Embrace it. Blur the perfect boundaries and multitask.
I noticed this pattern in the example of my parents. They were both busy working full-time, while simultaneously raising the family. I could expect a phone call at the same time each day. My mom would call home on lunch break to check in and express love. My father had a home office with extra mints in the desk drawer and a quick kiss on the cheek waiting for little visitors. Quality family time often included chores or helping the neighbors. In this way, my parents met my needs while also fulfilling the responsibilities of work, home, and community.
- Be present.
It is easy for the mind to stray during the workday. One can type mindlessly behind the computer screen wondering, “What are the kids doing? I have not had quality time with my spouse lately. When was the last time we had a date night?” Similarly, one can worry about all the emails awaiting responses while playing hot wheels with a child on the floor at home. This type of distraction leads to guilt and makes a person less effective at accomplishing the present task.
The solution is being in the present moment. I am more effective at work when I quiet my concern about what is happening at home, close my Facebook tab, and focus. I accomplish things efficiently, ultimately leaving more time for everything else.
- Evaluate saying yes.
Evaluating when to say yes is a practice that helps to clarify priorities.
I was excelling professionally, accepting and accomplishing assignments. My husband gently reminded me that every time I said yes to something, I was saying no to other things. I was saying yes to work tasks, but simultaneously saying no to reading picture books before bed, a weekend spent with family, and self-care. I was saying no to things that refresh me, inspire my work, and keep me well balanced.
- Practice Gratitude.
Research demonstrates that simply practicing gratitude improves well being. Gratitude extinguishes stress. It encourages a peaceful state of abundance. Gratitude includes thoughts like, “I have enough. I am doing enough. I am enough.”
Write a thank you note. Frequently express gratitude verbally. Keep a gratitude journal.