For many of us, life seems to have two speeds: fast and faster. The pressures at work are followed by the needs and demands at home. If your typical day tends to be jam-packed and exhausting, you are in good company.
Do you often feel guilty at work because of home pressures and guilty at home because of work pressures? A recent study from the Families and Work Institute found that more than half of American workers felt “overwhelmed” by their workload at some point. Even so, one-third of those surveyed had no plans to take the vacation days they had available.
No matter how energetic you may be, stretching yourself to the limit every day puts your health and happiness at risk. Frequent stress takes a mental and physical toll on your body. If you are often stressed out, you may feel irritated, worried, or depressed and may have frequent headaches, backaches, or an upset stomach. A wise goal is simply to do what you reasonably can. This will help you strive for a balance between your work and home activities. If you can also manage to take time for yourself every day, you’ll be on the road to greater well-being.
If you’re struggling to keep up with life’s daily demands, pushing yourself harder will only intensify the stress you’re feeling. Instead, step back and give yourself some credit for all that you are accomplishing.
“You may already be doing a remarkably good job under difficult circumstances,” says Kathleen Gerson, Ph.D., a New York City sociologist who studies the relationship between work and family. You might be a single parent, a 60-hours-a-week professional, or half of a two-career couple, but you probably feel the pressure of having too much to do in too little time. Says Dr. Gerson: “We’ve found that people really do feel more rushed than ever.”
How can you find a balance? Start by controlling what you can. Resist the urge to cope with stress by smoking, drinking too much, eating unhealthy foods, giving up exercise, or skimping on sleep. In the long run, these "solutions" will only make you feel worse, which can affect your energy and mental outlook. Instead, look for healthy ways to relieve your stress, such as exercising, meditating, or simply breathing deeply for a few minutes.
Likewise, try to avoid the trap of negative thinking, says Jonathan C. Smith, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist and stress expert in Chicago. For example, perhaps your boss asks you to work late tonight, but you already have plans with your family. Your first thought may be a negative overreaction, such as, “This proves I always have the worst luck” or “I’m stuck, and there’s nothing I can do about it.” When you notice yourself having these kinds of thoughts, counter them with more realistic and positive ones. For example, try telling yourself, “It’s not the end of the world. Sure, it’s frustrating, and it’s a pain in the neck. But it’s not the worst thing that could ever happen. I can deal with it.”
Then start looking for creative ways to handle your dilemma. Perhaps a coworker could cover for you in exchange for some extra help next week. Or, maybe the family outing could be shortened or postponed. If you’re stuck for solutions, Dr. Smith recommends brainstorming: “Turn on the idea spigot and let all the ideas pour out—the good, the bad, and the silly.” Suspend your critical judgment at this stage. Just get everything down on paper. Once you have a good list of ideas, go back and assess which ones are truly helpful.
Here are some more tips on achieving a better-balanced life:
Create your own boundaries. Thanks to technology, the line between work and home continues to blur. Today, your child can text message you while you’re in a meeting at the office. And your boss can call your cell phone while you’re watching your child’s soccer game. Although such easy access can be a plus, there may be times when you want to focus without interruption. Feel free to set limits on when you’ll be available for nonemergency messages and calls.
Rethink the household chores. Ask yourself: Does it really matter if I don’t make my bed this morning or organize the garage next weekend? Prioritize the household chores, and take care of the essentials first. Then if you’re pressed for time, let the rest go.
Ask others to share the load. If you feel overburdened at home, call a family meeting to talk about ways to distribute the household chores more fairly. Be prepared to explain your concerns clearly. Then listen carefully in return. “Family members need to be very open, honest, and flexible about this,” Dr. Smith says. Perhaps your children are old enough now to take on more tasks. Or, if you agree to cut back on spending in other areas, maybe you and your spouse can afford to pay for occasional cleaning or lawn-care services.
Get a full night’s sleep. The National Sleep Foundation says that 40 percent of American adults report getting less than seven hours of sleep on weeknights. Unfortunately, lack of sleep makes it harder to think clearly and make good decisions. It also increases the risk for vehicle accidents.
Make time for self-nurturing. In the rush to take care of everyone else’s needs, it’s easy to forget one very important person: you. “Many people are spending enough time at work and enough time with their families, but they don’t have enough time left for themselves,” says Dr. Gerson. The irony is that you’ll be able to do a better job both at work and at home if you take a few minutes every day to rejuvenate. So take a walk, go to the gym, read a good book, or soak in a warm tub. Sometimes even the best juggler needs to pause, lay everything aside and take a well-deserved break.