You’re reading Life-Work Balance, a series aiming to redirect our total devotion to work into prioritising our personal lives.
We like to believe we have a healthy attitude towards work, logging off when we’re supposed to, taking our full lunch break, and trying not to let our job encroach into our personal life.
But as soon as we’re at our desk, presenteeism rears its head. And even when we’re meant to be out of office – in the evenings, at weekends or even on holiday – it’s all too easy to check in and do a cheeky sweep of emails, firing them off ‘really quickly’. Maybe you even log on early to get on top of the day.
Unsurprisingly, all these things have a knock-on effect on our mental and physical health. And given the political and financial climate (cost of living, anyone?), most of us can’t afford not to worry about work and income.
But when it comes to maintaining a healthy grip on our attitude towards work, who better to ask than the people whose job it is to listen to our personal and professional woes?
We asked therapists how they manage to handle it all. Here’s what they said:
Make small adjustments
Pallvi Dave, a London based therapist and a member of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) says the first step to better work wellbeing is recognising the need to balance your life, not only to function well in the job, but to feel fulfilled and purposeful.
“I take time to walk everyday. I walk with my dog. I leave my phone off and I make an effort to look, listen and smell and its invigorating,” she tells HuffPost UK. Sometimes I meet friends and I do the talking! I garden. I love the soil and the emotions I can feel while I do it,” she tells HuffPost UK.
“Balance doesn’t have to be equal in this context,” she adds. “Small adjustments that provide some element of relief, reward and meeting of a need can sometimes be enough to leave you feeling invigorated and sustained.”
Enjoy a digital sunset
Psychologist and wellbeing consultant, Lee Chambers employs a trick that allows him to switch off. “I put all my devices away at a certain point every evening, the equivalent of shutting down my own internal computer,” he tells HuffPost UK.
“They go in a safe place and I then focus on analogue activities, reducing stimulation, and processing any residual thoughts.”
Block out time for play
Chambers also uses bonding time with his children as a way to destress.
“In the same way I schedule time blocks for deep work and clients, I schedule time blocks to play with my children. It might seem a little rigid, yet it makes these moments non-negotiable, and playing with my children ignites my curiosity and fosters my connection with them,” he says.
“It also helps take some of the seriousness out of life and gives time for me to learn from them and embrace my playful side. During this time, I use airplane mode on my phone so as not to be disturbed.”
Go for reflective walks
Similarly to Dave, Chambers makes sure to go on regular walks, usually in the evening. Once a week, he also spends time walking through his local woods.
“I find this helps me to disconnect from my busy mind and what I’ve got coming next, and makes me feel more connected to myself and value the work that I do,” he says.
“This reflection time in a regenerative environment makes me feel like the stresses of life are transient like the weather, and it brings an equilibrium being away from other humans and devices.”
Try the Pomodoro method
If you’ve not heard of this one, it’s the tactic of taking a five-minute break for every 25 minutes of work you do, so called because its creator, Italian student Francesco Cirillo used a tomato-shaped kitchen timer to keep himself to it. It’s designed to beat procrastination – but also to free you up in the process.
The method is best when you have a list of specific tasks to do. Break the tasks into manageable chunks, then get setting your timer for each of them in turn. For every three pomodoro rounds, be sure to take a longer break to reset.
This one might be a bit controversial if you’re expected to meet quotas or you’re under the watchful eye of bosses, but Susan Carr, another BACP-accredited therapist, says she is a fan and advises trying it if you find yourself in a rut.
Set your boundaries
All the therapists we spoke said this was central to their own wellbeing. As Carr advises: “Set realistic expectations around working hours eg. take regular lunch breaks and consider whether it is really necessary to reply to that email at 11pm (especially as the reality is that it is unlikely to be actioned until the next day.)”
She adds: “At the end of the work day, turn off your work phone if you have one or if you use your own phone for work then turn off notifications so you are not disturbed by work emails.”
These boundaries could also look like transitioning between “work” and home if you’re WFH. This might mean putting away your work equipment, going to a different room, or signalling the change to yourself by leaving your work environment and going outside before starting your evening or weekend.
Life-Work Balance questions the status quo of work culture, its mental and physical impacts, and radically reimagines how we can change it to work for us.