In our current always-on work culture, creating space for other ways to enhance our lives is becoming increasingly challenging. The Mental Health Foundation calls the exhausting demands of work “perhaps the biggest and most pressing challenge to the mental health of the general population”.
The dramatic rise in Britain’s working hours - 13% of the UK’s working population work 49 hours or more a week - suggests the effect on our mental health and resilence is likely to increase. Already it’s estimated that nearly three in every 10 employees will experience a mental health problem in any one year.
Most of us thrive on some stress, but it’s important that these are finite occasions when we rise to the challenge, not a relentless and constant feeling of being stressed. Hence, the importance of striving for a work-life balance.
A recent Mental Health Foundation survey found one third of respondents felt unhappy about the time they devote to work and 40% of employees feel they are neglecting other aspects of their life because of work.
So how do you find a balance between work and home life? Here are 10 tips to rebalance your life...
1. Work smarter, not longer
Prioritise what needs doing and gives yourself a set amount of time to achieve it in. Avoid unscheduled meetings with no clear target. If you have the flexibility to choose your hours or prioritise different tasks, get to know your body clock and when you work most productively. At the end of the day, write a short list of to-dos for the next day, then mentally close that notebook.
2. Free yourself from ‘should’
You ‘should’ do something at work but it keeps falling down your list of priorities because you perceive the task as dull or difficult. So then you become stuck in a guilt rut where it’s always at the periphery of your mind. Time to change your mindset and free yourself.
“Should: such an innocuous little word but such a mental dictator,” says life coach and accredited counsellor Eve Menezes Cunningham. “Rather than beating ourselves up when we notice it creeping in, we can be compassionate and smile at ourselves to soften its tone. Work on shifting it to ‘might’, or ‘want to’, or ‘don’t actually have to do this at all’, or whatever is most appropriate for you in each situation.”
3. Switch off from your email
Does your work email really need to be on your mobile? Can you set up an out of hours notice (and stick to it)? If your boss sends you an ’I was just wondering’ stream of consciousness email in the evening or weekends, don’t reply. Or reply saying something tactful like ‘received, will get back to you’. Incessant checking of emails and social media does not make you more productive, just less relaxed.
4. Take breaks and exercise
Take proper breaks at work. Stepping away from your desk at lunchtime and going for a brisk 10 minute walk will clear your brain, restore your energy and help you work more effectively than remaining slumped over a computer.
“What kind of breaks help you the most? For many of us, movement can be a brilliant de-stresser, whether that’s a lunchtime swim, dance class, run, stroll or even a few sun salutations,” suggests Eve Menezes Cunningham. “Have a repertoire of choices to improve your wellbeing, dependent on time available.”
5. Plan to relax
That doesn’t include playing Angry Birds in a sofa slump, but really switching off. “Think of relaxation as input versus output,” says Veronica Amarelle, life coach and reflexologist at www.healedsoles.com. “Relaxation is a form of fuel for the body and the more we feed our bodies with all of the things that it needs, the more likely it is to keep up with the pace.
“When we relax it gives our bodies, minds, emotions and energies a chance to reset, to process the millions of things that we are exposed to on a daily basis, refocus our perspective, to use our energy on experiencing being in your body.”
So how do you fully relax? “Step away from the screen,” Veronica recommends. Obsessively checking social media and the news is not allowing your body and mind to let go.” Veronica recommends booking yourself in for a massage or reflexology treatment for some special time out and “to release tension and toxins in the body and let go for a little while”.
Alternatively, she suggests:“Go for a walk and really notice everything that you see on your journey. Notice the plants, the colours, the people you see, the sounds of the cars, the birds, the silence. Just take a moment to get out of your head and experience all that’s around you.Changing how you place your attention will create space in your mind from your thoughts.”
6. Take time to enjoy, using all your senses
Try to live in the moment, rather than obsessively planning what you’re doing next. When you make an effort to be fully aware of your body and all your senses, you are better able to relax.
“Regardless of how busy you are, pick a meal every day and fully and completely engage with the experience of having it,” says Veronica. “Even if you are having a sandwich on the train, take a moment to actually look at your food, notice the taste, the smell, the colours. Pay attention to every bite that you take, the textures and taste.
“This is essentially practising mindfulness. We spend so much time in our heads or being distracted by what’s happening outside that we very rarely pay complete attention to what we are doing.”
7. Make meaningful time for relationships and family and friends
For many of us work can fill up time and mental space, to the detriment of relationships. No one has a gravestone epitaph ‘he spent a lot of time in the office’. Work can be interesting and fulfilling, but it shouldn’t be everything in our lives.
“We’re so much more than our jobs but sometimes, we can forget this,” says Eve, who suggests this simple exercise to re-focus your priorities. “Take a piece of paper and a couple of moments to remind yourself of all you have to offer. Start with your job title if you want, write it down. Then think about your other ‘roles’ in life (perhaps ‘mother’, ‘partner’, ‘daughter’, ‘sister’, ‘friend’, maybe ‘artist’ or anything else that may have taken a backseat as work got so busy). There’s no limit.
“As you jot down all these other aspects of yourself, notice how each makes you feel. Some aspects to your identity may feel very solid. They may help you feel purposeful. Others may spark guilt. For now, just noticing the ones that energise you most will help offer clues about what you can focus a little more of your energy on to bring more balance in your life.”
8. And breathe...
Ever feel that heady, so rushed you can’t breathe feeling? This simple technique is well worth using to calm yourself down. Veronica explains: ”Just below your belly button is your hara which is the centre point of your body. Place your hands there, then inhale imagining your breath reaching that point, then exhale. It may take three or four breaths to feel as though you fully reach the point of your hara.Repeat this deep breathing exercise 10 times. You’ll notice your breath will naturally deepen and the tension in your body will reduce.”
9. Cherish interests
Losing yourself in an activity you enjoy is a fabulous stress buster. Ask yourself what do you love doing or what did you love doing in the past? Then, make it your mission to do it more, particularly if it’s something creative, physical and entirely different from work, from gardening to painting to running a marathon. You may love your work, or elements of it, but it’s still important to have outside activities you enjoy.
Doing something you love, and therefore are probably good at (or improving at), is wonderful for your self-esteem too. You’re not mum, dad, work colleague, wife or husband. You’re just you.
10. ‘Good enough’ is great
“Perfection is rarely attainable and never sustainable,” says Eve Menezes Cunningham. “When we embrace ‘good enough’ we’re not lowering our standards; we’re actually more likely to do a better job overall rather than fixing on a small part, aiming for perfection and possibly missing the bigger picture (as well as draining ourselves). Good enough also means we say ‘Yes’ to opportunities, rather than being held back by a fear of failure.”