Are you getting your seven hours of free time a day? According to new research from Direct Line Insurance, seven hours - or six hours and 59 minutes to be precise - is the minimum we need for a perfect work/life balance.
The reality, of course, is a different matter. On average, we tend to have around four hours and 14 minutes, due to work and home life pressures. Although it seems like an impossible goal, we did have the perfect work/life balance back in 1995, which has steadily been decreasing due to overtime and long hours in the office.
The report also indicates that even if you do work eight hours in the office, over 82% of us are constantly connected through smartphones and check emails outside of work hours. According to a Future Foundation report, we feel that our careers ARE more demanding due to being on email a lot more.
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Conversely, even when we are with our loved ones, 47% of us spend time on social media, despite the fact that as a nation, we still clearly love the simple pleasures in life such as having a home-cooked meal (71%) and spending time with our families (75%).
The Huffington Post Founder and Chair Arianna Huffington is very passionate about the subject of work/life balance, having just launched a new HuffPost section called The Third Metric. In her blog, she writes: "...we'll be starting the conversation by asking these questions about how to redefine success. As Mika (Brzezinski) puts it, these are "the questions many women are left with when they achieve financial security, gain power or success -- or all three at once: What about me? When do I sleep? Am I happy? Am I mentally healthy? Am I physically healthy? Am I giving back? Am I remembering where I came from? What about my friendships?"
Realistically, you may not be able to fit seven hours of free time in. But be aware that stress is responsible for 40% of work-related illnesses. If you have a heavy work load, you can make instant adjustments by turning off your phone when you do actually get to spend time with your family. And just as you would schedule in a meeting at work, make sure you do something with your free time. Slouching on the couch is fine, but not if your wandering hands will be checking emails on the sly.
The research also produced a rough guideline of how to squeeze in all that free time. Do you think you'd be able to do it?
Breakfast – 22 minutes
Shower – 21 minutes
Commute – 1 hour 26 minutes
Checking social media – 18 minutes
Work – 8 hours 7 minutes
Reading newspaper/online – 18 minutes
Lunch break – 53 minutes
Spending time with family/friends – 49 minutes
Personal time – 1 hour 6 minutes
Dinner – 1 hour 6 minutes
Life Admin – 45 minutes
Watching TV/Films – 1 hour 3 minutes
Sleep – 7 hours 26 minutes
Some instant ways to relieve stress:
A recent study in the International Journal of Workplace Health Management showed that bringing your dog to work could help to lower office stress and boost employee satisfaction. "Pet presence may serve as a low-cost, wellness intervention readily available to many organizations and may enhance organizational satisfaction and perceptions of support," study researcher Randolph T. Barker, Ph.D., a professor of management at Virginia Commonwealth University, said in a statement. "Of course, it is important to have policies in place to ensure only friendly, clean and well-behaved pets are present in the workplace." The study, which looked at the pet-friendly company Replacements, Ltd., showed that employees who brought their dogs in to work experienced decreases in stress throughout the work day. Meanwhile, self-reported stress increased for people who didn't bring their dogs, and for those who don't have dogs.
If you're feeling particularly stressed, perhaps it's time to take a quick YouTube break. A small 1989 study in the American Journal of the Medical Sciences showed that "mirthful laughter" is linked with lower blood levels of the stress hormone cortisol. The Mayo Clinic reported that laughter also promotes endorphin release in the brain and relaxes the muscles, which are all key for stress relief.
Caregiving is extremely stressful, but a 2008 survey showed that gardening may help to reduce stress among caregivers. The survey, by BHG.com, showed that 60 percent of caregivers feel relaxed when they garden, the Alzheimer's Association reported. And, Health.com reported on a Netherlands study, suggesting that gardening can help to lower cortisol levels and boost mood among people who had just finished a stressful task. That's because doing something that requires "involuntary attention" -- like sitting back and enjoying nature -- helps to replenish ourselves, Health.com reported.
Just six minutes of reading is enough to help you de-stress, the Telegraph reported. The study, which was sponsored by Galaxy chocolate, suggested that reading was linked with a slower heart rate and muscle relaxation. Drinking tea or coffee, listening to music and taking a walk also seemed to help lower stress, according to the Telegraph.
Dark chocolate doesn't only have health benefits for the heart -- eating it can also help to lower stress. LiveScience reported on a study illustrating that eating 1.4 ounces of dark chocolate a day for a two-week period is linked with decreased levels of the stress hormone cortisol. That study was published in 2009 in the journal Proteome Research. (But of course, chocolate still contains sugar and lots of calories, so make sure you're eating the chocolate in moderation!)
Gossip may not be viewed as socially "good," but it might have benefits in relieving stress. Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, found that gossiping can actually lower stress, stop exploitation of others and police others' bad behavior. "Spreading information about the person whom they had seen behave badly tended to make people feel better, quieting the frustration that drove their gossip," study researcher Robb Willer, a social psychologist at UC Berkeley, said in a statement. Willer's research was published this year in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. So if something's bothering you, go ahead and gab -- but just make sure you move on so you don't dwell on the negative emotions!