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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.
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.
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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.
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.
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.”
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