You might have heard of the term work-life balance. Maybe you’ve even complained about not being able to maintain it, or reminisced about pre-high-speed-internet times when your work didn’t follow you everywhere. Given the rhythm of modern, especially urban lives, striking an equilibrium between your work and personal life might seem next to impossible. But maintaining this balance is of the gravest importance because it affects your mental and physical health immensely and in the long run too.
Why work-life balance matters
A recent study in BMC Public Health underlines the fact that people who have a poor work-life balance were twice as likely to also have poor health. The risk was noted to be slightly higher in women, although more men reported not having a work-life balance. Longer weekly working hours are likely to lead to a buildup of stress, which increases the risk of mental health disorders in the long run. But mental health is not affected in a vacuum, and it’s invariably linked to the same factors that can affect your physical health too.
A study in Age and Ageing in 2016 shows that those who work 50 hours or more every week get much less sleep, and the quality of sleep is quite bad too. This not only increases the prevalence of fatigue, but speeds up physical degeneration which becomes more apparent as you age. A 2015 study in Current Cardiology Reports mentions that longer working hours and work-related stress not only leads to chronic diseases, but also increases the risk of stroke and coronary heart disease by 10-40%.
Tips to maintain work-life balance
So, managing a work-life balance, especially when you’re young, can do you a world and a lifetime of good. This balance is even more important with increasing digital access and work-from-home orders (especially due to the COVID-19 pandemic). Here are some tips on acing this:
- Take responsibility: Whether your employers understand it or not, you need to take the toll your work stress is having on your life very seriously. You have the primary responsibility of your work-life balance, and once you accept this, you’ll be able to speak up about the issues that seem to be overburdening you.
- Work smart, not long: Making a priorities list and sticking to it every day is as important as not getting unnecessarily involved in less productive activities. Do not invest too much of your time and labour in tasks that are open-ended when you have other work with strict deadlines.
- Break up: Nobody can work non-stop and for 10-12 hours a day without rest. Take breaks to stretch and move around, have a proper lunch break for half an hour where you can completely disengage from work, and take a quick nap or just lie down for 15 minutes to refresh yourself if needed. Everyone can manage these short and healthy breaks during a workday. It’s a win-win situation since you’ll be more efficient once you come back from them too.
- Draw the line: Categorise your private and professional lives and don’t let the borders between them get blurred. Set time apart for each, every day, and do not budge from either unless there’s an emergency. If you’re working from home, designate the spaces for work and leisure and don’t mix them up.
- Use protection: Getting enough sleep, exercise, nutrition and leisure time every day is important because these are the protective factors that can reduce the ill-effects of cumulative work stress. Be conscious about these protections and use them optimally to maintain a work-life balance.