Gary McClain, PhD, is a therapist who specializes in helping clients deal with the emotional impact of chronic and life-threatening illnesses.
The term “work/life balance” gets tossed around a lot. I use it a lot myself when I talk about my own life and with my clients.
I occasionally do a workshop on this topic for local companies. Employees come in during their lunch hour and I talk to them about the importance of having balance in their lives. But I often wonder if I am giving them anything of real value. They tell me how most days, they have no time to do anything more for lunch than grab a sandwich to eat at their desks. Some are working well into the evening, others are rushing from work to pick up children, who are then going to need dinner and help with their homework, or to be transported to Little League practice or dance lessons.
I ask myself: What can I tell them about how to achieve work/life balance when they have so many demands on their time?
Tipping the scale
The problem with work/life balance as a term is the word “balance.” It conjures up an image of a scale, in perfect balance, with an object on each side of the scale. It’s all too easy to assume the object on one side should represent work, with the object on the other side of the scale representing the opposite of work, such as relaxation or fun. (By the way, “work” doesn’t have to mean employment. Responsibilities at home also consume your time and belong on the work side of the scale.)
For most of us, that kind of balance is impossible. And maybe not even desirable. As a result, any possibility of work/life balance is easily written off.
But I think that when we write off work/life balance, we ignore the message. And it’s a simple message: in the midst of your hectic life, take some time for yourself to recharge your batteries.
Work/life balance sounds good. But how do you achieve it?
Everybody needs to recharge; it’s essential to our emotional and physical wellness. If you’re living with a chronic condition, recharging is that much more important.
Half of every day? Probably not. But how about thirty minutes a day? That would certainly be a step in the right direction. And you’d be surprised how much you can benefit from taking even this much time for yourself.
If it’s as easy as thirty minutes, why aren’t we having more work/life balance in our lives? Well, a couple of reasons. One is that life has a way of getting in the way of our plans. Something always pops up, like work or family demands and responsibilities. We only have so much control over that. But the other reason is that we just don’t exercise control where we do have it, and that often results in not making ourselves a priority.
Not sure how to get more balance? Here’s help:
Take the pressure off yourself. So often the messages around work/life balance seem to imply that there’s something wrong with you, e.g. you’re a “workaholic,” if you don’t have balance in your life. You have a lot going on, lots of responsibilities competing for your time. Along with managing your chronic condition. Don’t use having more balance as another reason to criticize yourself.
Find your own definition of balance. One size doesn’t fit all where balance is concerned. When you think of the word “balance,” what other words do you associate it with? Quiet? Relaxation? Fun? Active? Alone? Social? Knowing what having more balance might mean in your life is the first step toward achieving it.
Get specific. Now for step two. Ask yourself just exactly what that balance would look like. Regular exercise? One weeknight with nothing to do? A movie with a friend? A day of fun with your family? A weekend away once in awhile? If you settle for vague generalities, chances are your life will continue to feel out of balance. So give yourself a push to come up with specific examples.
Schedule it. The first step in having more balance is to get whatever gives you more balance on your schedule, just as you schedule other areas of your life. Can you block off 10:30 to 11:00 p.m. to put your feet up after the kids have gone to bed? Or Wednesday evening to do nothing but be at home? Saturday late morning to get to the gym? The second weekend next month to visit family? It would be nice to have a balanced life just kind of happen, but it doesn’t work that way. Schedule it and then commit to making it happen. And take things one step at a time by not trying to turn your schedule upside down. Keep it realistic.
We’re not always in control, so don’t fight back. As I said, life has a way of throwing us off balance. When that happens, it is only human nature to feel frustrated—which can, in turn, lead to more stress. Go with the flow and be flexible. If something you planned for yourself needs to move a day or two, or longer, just chalk it up to “that’s life.” But reschedule! Don’t let yourself off the hook.
You and your busy life. Define what work/life balance means for you. Find your own path. Make a more balanced life a priority. And then commit. You’re worth it!
What helps you achieve a better work/life balance? Share your best tip by commenting below.