Between the many responsibilities we have in the workplace and at home, it’s no wonder that a third of employed adults in the United States struggle with juggling everything on their plate. And nearly half have reported that this increase in stress has impacted their lives both personally and professionally. As responsibilities, and ultimately stress, continue to grow for many, what can be done to create a healthier work-life balance?
To start with, what is work-life balance? The answer is that it means creating a harmonious balance between the responsibilities you face in the workplace and the ones you face at home in your personal life. Maintaining a healthy work-life balance is important for a variety of reasons. It will help you to have lower stress levels, avoid burnout, and be a more productive employee and a happier person overall. With so many people working from home now due to the coronavirus, maintaining a healthy work-life balance is more important than ever.
How to Maintain a Healthy Work-Life Balance at Work
Whether you work outside of the home or remotely at home, it’s important to be proactive about how you create a healthy divide between your time at work and your personal time at home. With many more employees working from home now, that divide becomes even more crucial to maintaining a healthy work-life balance.
Implement the strategies below in the workplace or during your work-from-home hours to achieve a proper work-life balance and reduce stress in your professional life.
Set Manageable Goals
The more control you have over your workload, the less stress you will face throughout the day. Take time each morning to set manageable goals for the day. Creating a to-do list and checking items off of the list throughout the day will help you feel accomplished and in control of your time. Remember to be realistic about the workload you’re setting for yourself, and plan ahead to meet deadlines on time. Putting too much work on your plate at once can quickly lead to burnout.
Use Good Time Management
Good time-management skills include having a plan to keep you organized throughout the day and prioritizing the more time-sensitive tasks. Use your time wisely throughout the day to get things done; knowing what you need to complete each day will help to reduce stress from your daily life. Knocking out smaller tasks early in the day can build a sense of accomplishment as you move on to tackling the larger tasks.
Long-term time management is an important aspect of maintaining a healthy work-life balance as well. Remember to schedule future projects and other important tasks so that you’re better able to manage the workload when the time comes. This includes scheduling in personal commitments such as taking vacations, holidays, or special events.
When you work from home, good time-management techniques include setting work hours and sticking to them. When working from home, you may feel the need to be “on call” at all hours of the day, but it’s important to have time to focus on your personal life without any distractions from work.
Make Sure to Take Breaks Throughout the Workday
Powering through your workday without taking a break may seem like a good idea when you have a lot of work to do, but it can actually backfire and make you less productive as the day goes on. Stopping to take a short break can give your brain a much-needed rest and allow it to refocus when you come back to the task. A five-minute walk around the block is a good way to get the blood circulating, which will also give your brain a much-needed boost to help you be more creative and productive for the rest of the day. Inc. goes more in depth on why breaks are necessary and how to take an effective one.
Take Advantage of Workplace Flexibility
Flexibility in the workplace allows an employee to create a work schedule that works best for them and can include letting employees choose where to work from, too. Employees aren’t the only ones who can benefit from having a flexible work schedule. A survey found that 80% of employees said that they would be more loyal to their employer if they were offered a flexible work schedule.
Don’t be afraid to communicate with your boss if you feel that your work and life balance has reached an unhealthy point. If your workload is too large to handle or if you find yourself in a bind, reach out to them to find a healthy compromise for you both. If you need help getting started, The Balance Careers has some helpful tips on how to talk to your boss about creating a better work-life balance.
Set Up a Comfortable Workspace
When you spend 40 hours a week working in the same spot, you want it to be as comfortable as possible, not to mention beneficial to your work needs. This may mean adding a more supportive chair, a standing desk, an ergonomic keyboard, or even noise-canceling headphones to drown out your kids or spouse in the next room. Creating a better workspace for yourself that you actually enjoy being in will help boost your productivity and create a more stress-free environment.
Listen to Music
A simple, but at times overlooked, method to relieve stress while you work is to listen to music. Research has found that listening to music can enhance your mood, thus making you more productive and more creative when it comes to problem-solving. But not all music can have this positive effect: music with an extreme tempo or music you dislike can have the opposite effect and make you less productive and creative.
How to Maintain a Healthy Work-Life Balance at Home
The workplace isn’t the only part of your life where stress-relief techniques can be helpful. The following methods should be incorporated into your life on a regular basis to keep your stress levels down and improve your mental health.
Take Care of Yourself
The most important aspect of maintaining a healthy work-life balance from home is to make sure that you’re taking care of yourself, both physically and mentally. With so much going on at work and at home, it can be easy to put your wants and needs on the back burner. Giving yourself some quality “me time” is crucial for living a balanced life and lowering your stress levels.
As Aristotle said, “Happiness depends upon ourselves.”
Get Enough Sleep
One of the simplest ways to improve not only your work-life balance but your overall health is to get enough sleep. Yet the CDC found that 1 in 3 adults don’t sleep enough, averaging less than the recommended minimum of 7 hours a day. The organization has even called insufficient sleep “a public health epidemic.” Just one extra hour of sleep each night can provide a wide variety of benefits that will change your work-life balance for the better.
The National Sleep Foundation’s experts recommend a certain number of hours of sleep each night depending on your age, as shown below. Are you getting the recommended amount of sleep?
- Newborns (0-3 months): 14-17 hours
- Infants (4-11 months): 12-15 hours
- Toddlers (1-2 years): 11-14 hours
- Preschoolers (3-5): 10-13 hours
- School-age children (6-13): 9-11 hours
- Teenagers (14-17): 8-10 hours
- Younger adults (18-25): 7-9 hours
- Adults (26-64): 7-9 hours
- Older adults (65+): 7-8 hours
If you work at a desk, you know how easy it can be to grab an unhealthy snack to ease those afternoon hunger pangs. But how is this unhealthy snacking affecting how you do your job? Sugar can cause your blood sugar to spike and then drop, making you feel lethargic and unmotivated. Eating healthier foods will give you a boost of healthy energy and will lead to a far more productive day.
If you’re working from home, be sure to keep some healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, or granola stocked for a healthier option to grab when you need an afternoon snack.
Add Exercise to Your Routine
Exercise is one of the most powerful forms of stress relief. Being active produces feel-good chemicals called endorphins, which provide natural stress relief and will leave you feeling happier after your workout. After all, there is truth to the “runner’s high” that some people get after going for a run. Below are some great options for exercises to reduce stress.
The Best Workouts for Stress Relief
- Yoga: Yoga involves moving and holding various poses with a focus on deep breathing, and it’s one of the most commonly recommended forms of exercise for combating stress. Its deep breathing methods help your body to relax; it requires focus and concentration, which keeps you from worrying about things in your daily life; and it’s even been found to reduce blood pressure, which will help to alleviate stress on your body.
- Pilates: Pilates is a series of mat exercises that work on core strength, alignment, flexibility, and endurance. This form of exercise requires a lot of focus, keeping you from worrying about other things and reducing stress levels in the process.
- Tai Chi: While tai chi’s roots are in martial arts, it’s more similar to yoga, with slow body movements and deep breathing techniques that help to focus the mind. This gentle form of exercise is a great way to reduce stress and anxiety, with many even referring to it as “meditation in motion.”
- Walking: Walking is one of the easiest forms of exercise to begin, and there are many health benefits that come from this simple exercise. It can help to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels and even lessen the risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Walking releases tension from muscles and puts more focus on breathing, both of which can quickly reduce stress levels.
- Dancing: Letting loose on the dance floor is a great stress-relief exercise. Dancing not only gets your heart pumping, but it can also have a positive effect on your mental and emotional well-being. This form of exercise fosters a sense of community and connection, which gives you a boost of happiness along with lowering stress levels.
- Kickboxing: Kickboxing involves a lot of kicking and punching, which can be a great way to get your frustrations out and relieve stress you have about a situation. This controlled form of exercise can also help improve your coordination, flexibility, and balance.
- Team Sports: Participating in team sports can be a great form of stress relief. Not only are you getting endorphins from being active, but you also get a sense of community and the boost of happiness that comes with it.
- Gardening: Gardening is actually considered to be a low-impact form of exercise that works every part of the body; an hour of weeding can burn 200 calories! Connecting yourself to nature through gardening is a great form of stress relief, and the vitamin D you get from being out in the sun will help to boost your mood, too.
Pursue Your Hobbies and Passions
Making time to pursue hobbies and passions that you’re interested in can do wonders for your mental health. Not only does a hobby give you an outlet away from work to focus on, but accomplishing a personal goal within your hobby can lead to great personal satisfaction.
Starting a new hobby may sound daunting, but it shouldn’t be! Money Smart Family has a long list of hobbies that are both interesting and inexpensive, which is great when you’re just getting started. The list includes a variety of hobbies that will not only make you feel fulfilled but also could even save you money. Plus, your new hobby could lead to generating more income down the road or even allow you to start a new career doing something you love!
What if You Don’t Maintain a Healthy Work-Life Balance?
The biggest repercussion of not maintaining a healthy work-life balance is that your stress levels will go up drastically. Increased levels of stress can have a negative effect on many aspects of your life, from your emotional well-being to your physical health. Reducing the amount of stress in both your professional and personal life is key to having a truly healthy work-life balance.
Could you be overly stressed and not even realize it because you’ve been operating that way for so long? Take one of these online tests to measure the amount of stress in your life.
- Be Mindful: What’s Your Stress Score?
- Mental Health America's Stress Screener
- Stress Management Society Individual Stress Test
Employers should invest in their employees’ health, both mental and physical, and do all that they can to foster a healthy work-life balance for them. The links below share ways an employer can be more supportive of employees’ mental health.
- Workplace Strategies for Mental Health: Supportive Performance Management
- Mental Health in the Workplace During COVID-19: How Can Employers Help?
- Eight Ways Managers Can Support Employees’ Mental Health
The Negative Effects Stress Can Have on Your Life
Having long-term stress in your life, also referred to as chronic stress, can wear the body down and lead to some serious health issues. Stress affects your physical health in a big way and can suppress the immune system, elevate blood pressure, and cause digestive issues as well as problems sleeping.
The distress your body feels from high stress levels can lead to a host of mental health issues as well. It can lead to panic attacks, depression, anxiety, and in extreme cases, it can even lead to suicide.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, stress is connected to six of the top causes of death: heart disease, lung ailments, cancer, cirrhosis of the liver, accidents, and suicide.
Drug and Alcohol Abuse
Stress can lead to the overuse of substances such as drugs, alcohol, tobacco, or even food. Stress has been found to cause changes in the brain similar to those that stem from addictive drugs, which could lead to someone being more vulnerable to drug or alcohol addiction. Stress has been linked to cirrhosis of the liver, a condition commonly caused by alcohol abuse.
If you’re feeling overly stressed out due to a situation at work or home, pick up a weight instead of a bottle. You’ll get a way better buzz from all of those endorphins! If you need help overcoming a drug or alcohol addiction, the organizations below can help you get started on your path to a healthier life.
- Alcoholics Anonymous
- Narcotics Anonymous
- Virtual Narcotics Anonymous
- SMART Recovery: An alternative to the popular 12-step methods, this approach can also help people overcome disorders like anxiety and depression.
Deteriorating Mental Health
Stress levels play a large role in your mental health. The way our brains process stress can lead to an increase in mood disorders, anxiety, depression, and even suicide. Suicide is one of the leading causes of death in the United States, and workplace suicides have been on the rise in recent years.
Suicide may be one of the leading causes of death, but it can be prevented. Reach out to a loved one who may be struggling and offer your support. If you’re the one who is struggling with thoughts of suicide, don’t be afraid to reach out to one of the mental health support lines listed below for help.
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
- IMALIVE: 1-800-784-2433
- International Suicide Hotlines
How to Reduce Stress in Your Life
While there are ways to reduce the amount of stress you face, you can never truly be free from stressful situations that arise both in the workplace and in your personal life. But there are ways you can help reduce the amount of stress you feel during these situations. We’ve already gone into detail about some of the best stress-relief activities, such as getting more sleep, exercising, eating healthier, listening to music, and managing your time more effectively. But what other things can be done to reduce stress in your life?
Meditation is a highly recommended way of reducing stress, and so is doing something creative like painting or drawing. Social support can help to relieve stress, so make time to reach out to friends and family. Even removing something that adds stress to your life can bring you peace.
As they say, “Laughter is the best medicine,” so find ways to laugh and add joy to your life to help cut down on the amount of stress you feel. Although it may seem difficult to find joy right now when you’re stuck at home, there are some fun things you can do at home to add some much-needed joy to your life.
Mental Health Resources for Stress Relief
Lessening the stress in your life is easier said than done. It takes time and hard work to learn how to reduce stress, but the emotional and physical benefits are worth it. The following list of resources is beneficial for those who need to find new ways to reduce stress in their life and learn to better cope with stressful situations.
- Mindfulness Meditation: A Research-Proven Way to Reduce Stress: Mindfulness meditation has been found to change our brain and biology in positive ways, which can help improve both mental and physical health.
- How to Care for Yourself While Practicing Physical Distancing: Social distancing is one of the toughest aspects of the coronavirus pandemic for many. These tips from Mental Health First Aid are key to taking care of your mental health and feeling less alone while you’re physically distant.
- Healthy, Set, Go: Empower yourself to live a better life with the wellness advice, tips, and inspiration shared by the experts at Allina Health.
- Creating Healthy Routines: With so much on your plate at work and at home, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. These tips will help you to create a routine that makes taking care of tasks, and ourselves, easier.
- Health Fueled by Fun: This collection of activities and lessons can help young people make healthy eating, exercise, and life choices.
- Workplace Strategies for Mental Health: The tools and resources shared on this website were created to help improve psychological health and safety in your workplace.
- Exercises for Stress Reduction and Deep Relaxation: Check out this virtual wellness program that includes videos that can teach you stress reduction and deep relaxation.
- Emotions Anonymous: Similar to Alcoholics Anonymous, this is a 12-step program that brings support to those dealing with emotional difficulties.
- Healthy Workday Tips for the Self-Employed [PDF]: When you’re self-employed, you can have a whole other layer of stress to deal with in keeping your business running. These tips can help you incorporate healthier habits into your workday to keep you running, too.
Have other guides or resources to recommend for this resource guide? Just let us know and we’ll review and add it where appropriate! Below you’ll find a few other resources that may be of interest to you.