These days, work-life balance can seem like an impossible feat.
Technology makes workers accessible around the clock. Fears of job loss
incentivize longer hours. In fact, a whopping 94% of working
professionals reported working more than 50 hours per week and nearly
half said they worked more than 65 hours per week in a Harvard Business School survey.
Experts agree: the compounding stress from the never-ending workday is
damaging. It can hurt relationships, health and overall happiness.
Work-life balance means something different to every individual, but
here health and career experts share tips to help you find the balance
that’s right for you.
1. Let go of perfectionism
A lot of overachievers develop perfectionist tendencies at a young
age when demands on their time are limited to school, hobbies and maybe
an after-school job. It’s easier to maintain that perfectionist habit as
a kid, but as you grow up, life gets more complicated. As you climb the
ladder at work and as your family grows, your responsibilities
mushroom. Perfectionism becomes out of reach, and if that habit is left
unchecked, it can become destructive, says executive coach Marilyn
Puder-York, PhD, who wrote The Office Survival Guide.
The key to avoid burning out is to let go of perfectionism, says
Puder-York. “As life gets more expanded it’s very hard, both
neurologically and psychologically, to keep that habit of perfection
going,” she says, adding that the healthier option is to strive not for
perfection, but for excellence.
From telecommuting to programs that make work easier, technology has
helped our lives in many ways. But it has also created expectations of
constant accessibility. The work day never seems to end. “There are
times when you should just shut your phone off and enjoy the moment,”
says Robert Brooks, a professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School
and co-author of The Power of Resilience: Achieving Balance, Confidence and Personal Strength in Your Life.
Brooks says that phone notifications interrupt your off time and inject
an undercurrent of stress in your system. So don’t text at your kid’s
soccer game and don’t send work emails while you’re hanging out with
family, Brooks advises. Make quality time true quality time. By not
reacting to the updates from work, you will developing a stronger habit
of resilience. “Resilient people feel a greater sense of control over
their lives,” says Brooks, while reactive people have less control and
are more prone to stress.
- Exercise and meditate
Even when we’re busy, we make time for the crucial things in life. We
eat. We go to the bathroom. We sleep. And yet one of our most crucial
needs - exercise - is often the first thing to go when our calendars
fill up. Exercise is an effective stress reducer. It pumps feel-good
endorphins through your body. It helps lift your mood and can even serve
a one-two punch by also putting you in a meditative state, according to
the Mayo Clinic.
Puder-York recommends dedicating a few chunks of time each week to
self-care, whether it’s exercise, yoga or meditation. And if you’re
really pressed for time, start small with deep breathing exercises
during your commute, a quick five minute meditation session morning and
night, or replacing drinking alcohol with a healthier form of stress
“When I talk about balance, not everything has to be the completion
and achievement of a task, it also has to include self-care so that your
body, mind and soul are being refreshed,” says Puder-York.
These exercises require minor effort but offer major payoffs.
Psychotherapist Bryan Robinson, who is also professor emeritus at the
University of North Carolina at Charlotte and author of the book Chained to the Desk,
explains that our autonomic nervous system includes two branches: the
sympathetic nervous system (our body’s stress response) and the
parasympathetic nervous system (our body’s rest and digest response).
“The key is to find something that you can build into your life that
will activate your parasympathetic nervous system,” says Robinson.
Short, meditative exercises like deep breathing or grounding your senses
in your present surroundings, are great places to start. The more you
do these, the more you activate your parasympathetic nervous system,
which “calms everything down, (and) not just in the moment,” says
Robinson. “Over time you start to notice that in your life, your
parasympathetic nervous system will start to trump your sympathetic