Do you work to live, or live to work? Is work a place where you feel challenged, appreciated and fulfilled? Somewhere to pass a few hours and earn money to fund your lifestyle? Or is work a chronic source of stress, weighing on your mind and encroaching into all corners of your life?
With the 24-hour culture and ubiquitous smartphone, there can be increasing expectation from bosses, colleagues and clients to be always available. While for some people that might be exciting and stimulating, for others it could be the fast track to burnout. Either way, with these high expectations and performance pressures, it can be incredibly difficult to achieve that elusive work-life balance.
By ‘work-life balance’ we’re not just referring to busy parents juggling work and childcare responsibilities, but to anyone who works and has a life. Or, at least, anyone who attempts to have a personal and social life. Sometimes that attempt to fit it all in can lead to overwhelm, stress and despair. Here’s our perspective on what happens when work-life balance goes awry – and some tips on how to claim it back.
Signs you’re losing work-life balance
You’re glued to your smartphone. You’re so terrified of missing an email or an important communication that you sleep with your mobile by your bed. Answering emails in the middle of the night, just because your boss has fired off a dozen questions, does not make you more effective.
Work always comes first. You find yourself ducking out of social engagements or family time because you’ve got too much work to do, and you prioritise work deadlines over fun times – not worried that you might be missing out.
Playtime feels pointless. When you’re not at work you feel restless, on edge, and possibly bored. You check your phone constantly, looking for stimulation, and you’re unable to relax.
You feel constantly stressed. You’re impatient all the time, whether it’s waiting for a web page to load, or being stuck at a red traffic light. You may start to develop stress-type symptoms, such as headache, tense shoulders, or IBS.
Work keeps you awake at night. You toss and turn, wake up in a cold sweat, and sometimes even dream about work. You’re likely to wake up feeling panicky and worried.
You’re becoming less productive. You work all the hours you can, morning to night, and yet bosses have noticed you’re just not as effective as you could be. The long hours are taking their toll. You may start to feel low.
How to regain work-life balance
Set boundaries and stick to them. The stress of being available to everyone 24 hours a day can take its toll. Agree with managers and clients when you are and aren’t available to take their calls or action their requests. And don’t respond outside of those agreed hours.
Take the pressure off yourself. This may be easier said than done, but so much work stress is caused by self-pressure. Read our post on six ways to stop being your own worst enemy for more tips.
Schedule some ‘me time’. What things do you love doing – just for the sake of it, not to impress a manager or a client? Find something that brings you joy. This could be exercise, something creative, spending time with friends, cooking, travelling, or taking photographs. Prioritise yourself as well as your work.
Clear your clutter. That can be physical or emotional clutter: tidy up your environment and create a space where you feel you can ‘be’ without having to ‘do’.
Play and sleep. The best antidote to overwork and overwhelm is to find time to play. Do something fun where you can truly switch off. Create some time in your diary every day to leave work behind and allow yourself some decent sleep.
Learn to say no. The pressure to perform and please can leave you depleted. Say no to the less important/urgent tasks and prioritise your workload in a way you can manage things effectively. Other things can wait. Your health and wellbeing cannot.
If the stress of work is becoming overwhelming, and you’d like to talk to someone to help share the load, call 020 8673 4545 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for a confidential chat and to book an appointment.