Mental health / The world

Work life balance

Having been off work sick for long periods, I’ve had to learn ways of being resilient and ensuring I keep my work and my home life in balance. Some people live to work – I am definitely not one of these people! I’m very fortunate to have found a job I enjoy but I work to live and have put together some tips on keeping work at work, avoiding work stress tipping over into your home life and making sure you have a life worth living outside work!

  1. Do whatever it takes to prepare for your day. I really struggle if I’m late for work; I spend the whole day trying to catch up with myself. I make sure my commute is as relaxing as possible (I don’t want to start thinking about work before I have to!). I always aimed to get in few minutes before necessary just so I can breathe, get my thoughts in order and tell myself I’m capable of facing the day! For some people it’s important NOT to arrive early or they’ll start work early. Find out what works for you!
  2. Don’t take on other people’s responsibilities; as a people pleaser I say “yes” to more and more work and take on work from other people. If you’re the same, say to yourself “That is not my responsibility” and stand firm. Know your boundaries and make sure other people know too – it helps all round if everyone is prepared to stick to boundaries. Provided you know you’ve done your job well then you cannot take the blame or feel guilty about what other people do or don’t chose to do. If you’re understaffed, this is really tough – I find myself saying “no-one else is going to do it and it needs doing so I have to…”. But sometimes you just have to say “no”. You are only one person! You cannot do the work of 2-3 people over an extended period.
  3. Find out what you need to do to wind down after work – I try to use my commute. For about 6 months I sang the same song over and over, to and from work, preparing to sing at my wedding. This was great for taking my mind off work! My husband and I also have an agreement – if we need to sound off to each other about work, we do it as soon as possible and then shut the door on it, we’ve agreed not to try and solve the others problems, often we just need to be heard, if we want advice, we’ll ask for it! Sometimes thoughts about work will pop into your mind while at home, this is natural. Make sure you have techniques to avoid this getting out of hand e.g. write a list of things to do the next day, imagine putting those things in a box and closing the lid – they will still be there tomorrow. Try to use mental pictures – when you close the office door/car door/ get home, physically and mentally shut the door on your working day.
  4. Make an effort to do things you enjoy. It’s easy to fall into a pattern of going to work, getting home and feeling too tired to do anything so spending the evening in front of the television. Of course, this is fine some of the time, I like TV as much as the next person but I know I enjoy country walks, playing the piano and saxophone and going out for coffee, for example. Even if I’m completely exhausted, I plan to do these things and I make sure I do them! Bigger plans are important too, book in annual leave and when things get tough, focus on your next holiday for rest, relaxation and recuperation!
  5. Are you an introvert or an extrovert? Do you feel rejuvenated/energised by being with people or being alone? I have to make sure I have “me time”, time when I do exactly what I want, on my own! I used to beat myself up (thinking I was boring or anti-social) for this but I’ve learnt “me time” is vital for having the energy to face everyday challenges. Other people (extroverts) get lonely very quickly and need to be with people (coming home to an empty house can be painful). Some jobs require extrovert behaviour (e.g. socialising, presenting or just generally being with people) that are draining for introverts. It may be important to build breathers into your day. I used to travel from client to client by car and would use my car as my haven for silence! Work out whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert and be vigilant about getting what you need.
  6. Make a WRAP (Wellness Recovery Action Plan) for personal life and work life. If you’ve been mentally unwell, having insight into your illness is vital, knowing what signs to look out for can prevent relapse. Even if you have not been mentally unwell, knowing what signs mean you are stressed/overwhelmed/ less than in balance will really help. It can be helpful to make others aware of your early warning signs. For example: looking tired, avoiding certain situations, staying late at work, being irritable, being quiet, sitting in a tense position, complaining of headaches. Most things are ok as a one off but if the signs continue for a few days, this is when it’s important to put the management plan into action. It’s important to talk to your support team about what the management plan is going to be – do you need a couple of days off? (It’s better to take a couple of days now than be off for months when things get too bad). If you can manage things at work, could you be given fewer tasks to do? Work fewer hours? Shift your day so you’re not travelling in rush hour? Try and think outside the box and think about how you would treat someone else in your situation. Don’t be afraid to say “help”. If you know what help you need, that’s great; if you’re not sure what you need, still ask for help and talk through with someone anything that could be changed to get things back in balance.

Working/studying at home is especially difficult but these key points remain important; it may be a case of thinking outside the box for how to be strict with yourself. You can still: 1) Prepare 2) Set boundaries 3) Wind down 4) Do things you enjoy 5) Make rejuvenation time and 6) Make a WRAP.

These things may sound simple and obvious but it’s so easy to get caught up and for things to get out of kilter. Noticing the imbalance is important then it’s a case of putting these simple steps in place to get things back on track.

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