TIPS TO LIVE BY

4 Questions to Ask Yourself If You're Worried About Your Work-Life Balance

March 29, 2021 - Katie McCallum

Only 6% of working Americans report feeling no stress at work.

Six. Percent.

The other 94% settle into a few stressed-out categories, ranging from experiencing only low amounts of work-related stress to unreasonably high levels.

Now, you might be thinking: Stress isn't always a bad thing. And you're right. Stress can be a motivator, pushing you to get stuff done.

But, from the same survey, more than half of those who reported experiencing stress at work say that this stress negatively impacts their life at least once a week. That piles on to at least 52 times a year, and more than 2,000 times throughout a person's career (if retiring at age 66, which — let's face it — the majority of us won't be doing).

The prevalence of work-related stress and its tendency to affect a person's everyday life is why we even have terms like "work-life balance." And while it can often seem like some elusive, mythical dreamworld, we still strive for it. We read tips, we buy books, we share our favorite mantras to our Instagram stories — all the while unsure if any of it really helps.

Instead of following a list of tips — which, in hindsight, probably didn't even really apply to your personal circumstance anyways — you might try taking a more introspective approach to inching toward work-life balance by reflecting on the following four questions. And who knows? You may be surprised to find that you already know what's needed to balance the equation for yourself — no generic tips needed.

1. What does work-life balance mean to you?

Let's clarify something first. Feeling like your work-life balance is suffering doesn't mean you hate your job or that you're unhappy with your life. It simply means that one (usually work) is taking priority over the other.

Ideally, the two would be balanced — although we all know this is easier said than done. To make things more complex, we're all shuffling and sorting a different deck of work-life cards.

Maybe you're a mom of four whose job isn't unreasonably hectic, but the logistics of getting your kids where they need to be while also making it to meetings and getting your work done is what's stressful. Maybe you don't have kids and you love your fast-paced, on-the-go job, but every now and then it just becomes too much. Or maybe you're an empty-nester who feels like you have to pour yourself into your work, not to mention that taking care of your aging parents feels like a second job.

To work toward a better balance, start by asking yourself what work-life looks like for you.

And this exercise is about more than just sparing a passing thought to whether you feel like your personal life is taking a backseat to your work life. It's a time to reflect on the aspects of your job that cause you the most stress and whether you're really making the most of your free time.

Once you do this, you'll be way more prepared to address the changes that might help improve your work-life balance.

2. Are there work-style changes you can make?

The hardest part about achieving work-life balance is that you aren't totally in control of the work side of equation. Some jobs are hectic by nature. Other jobs come with non-negotiable work schedules. There will always be things you can't change about your job.

Still, there's no harm in taking a look at your work style and determining if there are any feasible changes you can make to help relieve some of the stress you're feeling.

Make a list of these changes, separating them into the following two categories:

  • Changes you can make today
  • Changes you'd like to grow toward over time

For instance, a change you can make right now might be to create daily and weekly to-do lists to help you better plan and manage your time. And if manifesting your work into a tangible list helps you realize that a lot of your stress is stemming from your overwhelming workload, you can tackle that, too. This may mean asking your boss for help prioritizing (or even trimming) your to-do list or making a better effort to say "no" to work requests that don't fit business objectives.

A more long-term goal could be to research, develop and present a use-case for a tool or piece of software that can help you perform your job more effectively or to grow your skills so you can transition from doing the work to supervising the work.

The key here is that by writing these changes down and separating them into things you can work on now versus goals you hope to accomplish over time, you make some items immediately actionable while still providing yourself plenty of flexibility to accomplish your loftier goals over time.

3. How's your personal life?

When work stress piles on and it's starts to affect your everyday morale, make sure you're not letting it totally derail your family time, alone time, hobby time — whatever time you need to unplug, relax and do the things you truly enjoy.

An exhausting workweek might seem like a perfect excuse to let autoplay take you from Friday night straight into your doom-and-gloom dread of the upcoming workweek (aka, the Sunday Scaries), but ask yourself this: Is the way I'm spending my free time enriching my life or actually contributing to my burnout?

In your personal time, you need to unplug and relax.

And while we've mostly focused on how work is often the problem child in the work-life balance equation up until now, many of you will know that the opposite can be true, too.

It's counterintuitive, but while many of us might feel okay about asking for help when we feel overwhelmed at work, we're not always as great at asking for help in our personal lives. The truth, however, is that personal stress can affect your work productivity and success just as much as work stress can affect your personal life.

The point is: When life hands you lemons, don't be afraid to lean on your support network. At least I think that's how the saying goes, anyway. Just be sure to question whether the burden you're carrying is really a load you need to be carrying alone.

After all of this reflection, if work stress is still keeping you from enjoying your free time or if personal stressors are impacting your career, consider finding some help.

4. Is your work-life balance affecting your well-being?

Like we said before, stress isn't always a bad thing.

But everyone reacts to stress differently. Plus, prolonged stress can not only take its toll on your mental health, it can also affect your physical health. If you're stressed, you already know it impacts your sleep. But did you know that chronic stress can also suppress your immune system, cause tension headaches and lead to increased belly fat?

Once work or personal stress starts affecting your well-being, it's time to take action. A mental health professional can help you identify the root cause of your stress (if you haven't already) and offer personalized tips for overcoming this stress that reflect your actual work-life situation.

Consider taking advantage of any employee assistance programs that may be offered through your job. If none are available, Houston Methodist Virtual Behavioral Health is an app that allows you to connect with counselors and psychologists.

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