Health

7 tips to improve your work-life balance, according to mental health experts

Summary List PlacementCreating a sustainable work-life balance is an ongoing process and will look different for everyone. With that said, a healthy work-life balance boils down to your work commitments and the rest of your life existing in harmony.  "When our work-life balance is not in alignment, we are more prone to problems like insomnia, depression, and anxiety," says Lori Ryland, PhD, the Chief Clinical Officer at Pinnacle Treatment Centers. "This [may contribute] to occupational burnout, which causes high levels of stress, fatigue, sleep problems, substance misuse, and higher risk of physical health conditions." Finding your own work-life balance is easier...

mother stressed at work while kid is screaming in background

Summary List Placement

Creating a sustainable work-life balance is an ongoing process and will look different for everyone. With that said, a healthy work-life balance boils down to your work commitments and the rest of your life existing in harmony. 

“When our work-life balance is not in alignment, we are more prone to problems like insomnia, depression, and anxiety,” says Lori Ryland, PhD, the Chief Clinical Officer at Pinnacle Treatment Centers. “This [may contribute] to occupational burnout, which causes high levels of stress, fatigue, sleep problems, substance misuse, and higher risk of physical health conditions.”

Finding your own work-life balance is easier said than done, but building the following practices into your day can help.

1. Create SMART goals 

Taking time each day to define what you want to accomplish and how you’re going to accomplish it can make your weeks more manageable. 

If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed with all you have to do, consider using the “SMART” goal framework, which involves writing down goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and set within a specific timeframe. 

An example of a SMART goal would be: “I will take a writing course this quarter.” 

2. Manage your time efficiently 

If you often wake up feeling like there aren’t enough hours in the day, you might benefit from getting specific with your schedule.

“Time management both during the workday and outside of work helps you create more time for things that are important to you and align with your values,” Ryland says. 

Breaking your day into chunks and scheduling work commitments, life responsibilities, and even leisure activities on a calendar or app can help you find time to relax away from work. 

3. Take movement breaks

Integrating movement into your workday is a simple way to cope with stress and avoid burnout, particularly if your job requires sitting or standing for extended periods of time.

And you don’t have to workout for an hour to see benefits. In fact, a small 2011 study found just 15 minutes of chair-based yoga reduced physiological symptoms of stress like elevated respiration and improved psychological well-being. 

“Our bodies hold our stress,” says Charmain Jackman, PhD, founder, and CEO of  InnoPsych.  “Give yourself permission to take a break away from the computer to stretch or go for a walk.”

4. Practice mindfulness

Mindfulness is a therapeutic technique where you focus your awareness on the present moment. The goal is to notice, describe, and accept your thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and urges.

Related Article Module: How to meditate with a complete beginner’s guide to meditation and mindfulness

Studies show that mindfulness meditation is particularly effective for reducing stress, anxiety, and depression. It could even improve your focus at work and decrease job burnout

There are many ways to practice mindfulness, but you can start by: 

  • Focusing on your breath while noticing all the muscles and body parts involved in breathing. 
  • Tuning into your five senses to notice your physical environment. 
  • Listening to music and paying attention to your experience of listening. 

5. Unplug 

The average American adult spends more than 10 hours a day looking at screens. While some of that time might be necessary for your work, spending your free time staring at your phone, tablet, or laptop can make it hard to disconnect and destress. 

Experts suggest turning off your phone could help you enjoy face-to-face time with your loved ones — a small 2016 study found using your phone while spending time with someone reduces your ability to engage in conversation with a partner. Research indicates spending time with friends and family can reduce stress. 

6. Set boundaries 

If your work schedule feels unmanageable, setting reasonable boundaries with your employer could help. 

Boundaries will vary based on the person and occupation but could include telling your manager you need advanced notice for new projects, or that you’re unavailable during certain times of the day. 

“Don’t wait until you’re so burned out with your job that you quit out of frustration. Often, your employer may simply not be aware of your workload and be willing to adjust it if you ask,” Ryland says.  

7. Use your support system 

Leaning into your community for support can make you more resilient to stress

Whether it’s asking a friend to help watch your kids, consulting with a colleague on a tough work project, or dividing chores between yourself and a roommate or spouse — reaching out to your support system can help you better cope with the stressors of everyday life. 

Insider’s takeaway

Establishing a healthy work-life balance is a continuous process. Creating manageable goals, scheduling commitments, and prioritizing self-care through exercise, meditation, and spending time with friends and family are all strategies to make your life more manageable — but you don’t have to do it all on your own.

“Explore what resources are available,” Jackman says. “If you notice things are feeling out of whack, reach out and connect with a therapist or counselor.”

6 ways to relieve stress naturallyLearn about mindfulness and its benefits — and how to practice it with or without meditationThe 5 types of anxiety disorders and how to know if you have oneHow to take a break from social media and why it’s so important, according to mental health experts

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