In this day and age of increased accessibility and productivity, it is very easy to experience feelings of burnout. It is very easy to just take your laptop to dinner with you and work while eating. Or to work on your phone, just answering that one last email. Work on the plane, work on the train, work like a dog, and soon you’re in a fog! And if you’re anything like me, you might well be the last person to even realize that you’re stressed. People all around you are telling you to take a break, but there’s no time for breaks, are you crazy?
Stop. Please. Now is the exact time for you to drop it all and go for a run. Go for a walk. Do some jumping jacks. Plank for as long as you can. Take some stale bread to the park and feed the ducks. Sit and stare at a wall. Yes, now. Whatever you do, you’ve got to swing that pendulum the other way, Overachiever! You can’t sustain this. And you’re no good to anyone in a hospital bed suffering a nervous breakdown. I know you know this. It’s elementary, really. And yet, we are having this talk. Because the bottom line is that many, many of us out there have a very, very hard time finding balance between work and life.
NO MEANS NO!
Part of learning a healthy work/life balance, is really just learning how to say “no”. It is so important to know what you can reasonably take on, and to understand how overloading yourself will cause a decline in the quality of your work as well as the quality of your health. So no one wins, really, when you can’t say “no”. You’ve got to put on your own oxygen mask first! It’s not just for airplane safety demos anymore.
Another part of balance is regular breaks. Another part is proper nutrition. It’s all of these things and more. But mostly it boils down to this: Learning how to tap into your own personal barometer, and to be honest with yourself and others about what that barometer reading is. Only you can know for sure what is going on in that body, mind and spirit of yours, and it’s up to you to protect it! It is a fact that sometimes we all need to just say “yes” to the word “no”.
If it feels wrong, it probably is
Where the proper care and feeding of humans is concerned, sitting at a desk all day ranks very low on the scale of healthy things. Really it is not good for us at all. It contributes to all sorts of ailments, from obesity to heart disease to full on heart attacks and strokes. Humans aren’t meant to live the way a lot of us live, and it’s really showing.
As a yoga teacher for many years I had the wonderful opportunity to teach thousands of people in my community, and during that time it became very easy for me to spot the desk dwellers. Why is it so easy? Because the more we sit in the exact same position for hours on end, the more likely we are to develop the muscle memory to support that position. Hunched shoulders, weak core, forward head condition, and really tight hips. Things a teacher can’t always perceive (but are likely there and that we all should perceive in ourselves) include headaches, eye strain, shallow breath and general malaise. Though a sedentary job might be a necessary evil, that doesn’t mean you need a sedentary lifestyle to go along with it. In fact, I’d humbly suggest that you really must make a point of putting action into your day, and that your health actually depends on it.
A body in motion tends to stay in motion. A body at rest tends to stay at rest. You’ve got to be able to notice whether you’ve spent too much time on one end of the rest/motion spectrum, and consciously go the other way. This is where that personal barometer comes in. This is where being honest about the barometric reading comes in. It is not your employers job to tell you what is going on in your body, what it needs, and when it is time to exercise or rest it. It is your job to do those things, and to never relinquish that power to someone else. If your employer has you tied to your desk all day every day, your employer doesn’t care about you. That’s the truth. Oh, you’re self-employed? It’s still true. Sorry.
Of course work must get done, and of course working hard and achieving goals is a good thing. But that doesn’t mean you should sacrifice your health to do it. And it bears repeating: You’re no good to anyone at all, stuck in a hospital bed with some chronic illness or nervous breakdown. You owe it to yourself and the ones you love, to take care of yourself and to listen to that little voice inside that says “Let’s go for a walk”, or “My head hurts, I need to lay down”, or simply “I need a break”. No matter how much you’ve got on your plate, it is so important to allow yourself the room to be who you are and to need what you need, and the same goes for your loved ones. They need your time and attention too!
So what can I do?
Apart from getting up and moving a bit, like a short walk every couple of hours or even some basic stretches right at your desk, there are many other areas in life that you might be able to claim a little more balance. Here are a few:
Stop Facebooking during the day! It’s such a time suck. You know it is. I don’t even need to go into this.
Do your errands as part of getting out and about each day, or hire someone to do them as part of your strategy to relieve time constraints. But do put some thought into how they get done. Errand time can be an excellent way to kill two birds with one stone, or it can be an excellent way to stress you out.
Your calendar is your friend, use it! Schedule fun time as well as work time. Schedule dates with your significant other. Schedule errands and shopping trips. Schedule walks with your dog. Schedule life goals. Get it all out of your brain and in order. It doesn’t mean your day has to go exactly as planned, but try to plan it out anyway. It’s a great way to keep you on track, and to help with knowing if indeed you even have time for all that stuff today.
Free time doesn’t mean available time! If you end up with some time to yourself, it doesn’t need to be filled with paying bills, running errands, or helping your friend move. You can just stare off into space. You can just close your eyes. You can do a lot of things with free time, and it’s valuable. Don’t give it away!
Set your work hours and stick to them. People are more likely to respect you and the boundaries you set, if YOU respect you and the boundaries you set.
Eat! Food is fuel. A balanced diet of good-for-you foods (and lots of water) is a must if you’re to keep your wits about you.
But with all of this said… still, what a time to be alive, am I right? Technology has enabled us to work from almost anywhere, and to do things we’d not been able to do even just 20 years ago. Being your own boss has become fairly commonplace. Working on the bus is totally a thing now. Flexible schedules and VPN tokens are the norm in many corporate settings. There is a lot of freedom here, so be clear with your intentions and your boundaries. And respect your intentions and boundaries, and those of others. Relax in the awareness that you are so lucky to have problems like a very busy workplace, and too much fun, and so many family and friends to love. Take responsibility for the balance you experience in work and in life, and watch your productivity, relationships, and health soar to new heights!