Say you’ve decided to take the day off work. So, you are now relaxing on the couch, catching up on your favorite show, and scrolling through your phone. Suddenly you get a notification from your email about a work issue and since you’ve already seen it, you might as well answer it – right? Well one email turns into five and your downtime suddenly turns into responding to emails that honestly, probably could’ve waited until the next day.  

Now, I can’t lie; I have done that exact same thing! Technology makes everything more accessible and the thought of getting behind at work or letting emails pile up can be stressful. The problem is that it is never just *one* email and by doing as such can lead to more stress, mental exhaustion, or even burnout. This isn’t to say to neglect work responsibilities, but creating and implementing boundaries between work and well, everything else, can make a world of difference. This is generally referred to as work-life balance.

Work-life balance is defined as “the state of equilibrium where someone equally prioritizes the demands of one’s career and the demands of one’s personal life.” Poor work-life balance can lead to an increase in stress, fatigue, and risk of burnout. It can also have a negative impact on current relationships, as well as the ability to form new ones.

There are many reasons that a person could have poor work-life balance, but some reasons could include more responsibilities at work or home and longer work hours. While some of these reasons may be unavoidable, creating a better work-life balance is possible – here are some ways that you can do it:

1. Set boundaries. As mentioned above, technology makes it all the easier to do work while on the go or when we are supposed to be on vacation. While this can be useful, it can also cause a problem when trying to implement and maintain boundaries between work and home. One way to do this would be to turn off any notification for your email/Teams chat on your phone, thus preventing the possibility of answering when you shouldn’t. If this isn’t possible, you could also set a timer to allow yourself a certain amount of time to respond to emails and then once it stops – so do you!

Something else to do is notify others of your boundaries. Let co-workers and your supervisor know when you will not be able to answer emails and then stick to these times. Similarly, to this, let your friends, family members, etc., know when you can and cannot answer them during work hours.

2. Unplug from technology. Sometimes just ‘ignoring’ the notifications or turning them off doesn’t work. In this case, you may have to turn the device off altogether. Easier said than done, but it can be done. This can be done prior, during or after work. Instead of taking your lunch break and scrolling through social media (guilty), take this time to turn off your phone and go on a walk, read a book, do a crossword or just sit with your thoughts. Even turning off your phone for 10-15 minutes and doing something not technology-related can help a lot.

3. Spend time with others. We can spend over eight hours a day away from our family, sometimes more, depending on the job, work hours, and commute. Or, if you work remotely, you may still spend time away from your partner or kids, if they are in school. This means that we don’t always have time for the quality family time that we enjoy. To remedy this, it is important we reserve time to spend with family, friends or even your pet. If you don’t have family or friends nearby, maybe set up a phone or FaceTime call.

When setting up time for family and friends, it is a good idea to remember to be present. This means that, referring back to the first two points, to possibly unplug from technology and set boundaries. It may be tempting to answer a work email or check your social media, but instead, use this time to be fully engaged with the other person.  

4. Prioritize self-care. While it is important to make time for others, it is also important to take time for yourself. This means leaving your partner or pet at home and go do something you enjoy, such as getting a massage, grabbing a coffee or taking a walk somewhere outside. That being said, you don’t have to leave your home to practice self-care. It can also look like going in another room and reading a book by yourself or eating that candy bar you hid from your kids. Self-care comes in many forms, but it should be something that helps you relax and is not work-related.  

5. Ask for help. A lot of us may feel guilty about this one. Or, we may want to feel independent – trust me, I get it. However, asking for help is nothing we should feel shame around and generally speaking, most people are happy to help out! If you feel overwhelmed with work responsibilities or having long hours, it is okay to speak to someone about stepping in or maybe asking for a more flexible work schedule. Even if it doesn’t have the desired result, there is nothing wrong with asking!

Asking for help can look like many things. It can be asking your partner or roommate to help around the home more, such with cleaning, cooking, yard work, or running errands. It can also come in the form of professional help. Say you feel especially overwhelmed, exhausted, and self-care or cutting back on work hours isn’t helping. A professional, such as a therapist, will be able to teach you better coping strategies or stress-reduction techniques.

Creating a better work-life balance may take time and the “perfect” one does not exist. There may be some days when you have to work longer hours and other days when you can focus more energy into family/friends or practicing self-care. While it may not be consistent, you should continue to strive for a balance that works the best for you.

Staff Blogger: Mollie Clupper

Mollie Clupper works for MHA as a Communications and Support Specialist. Using her own experiences, she wants to help bring awareness and end the stigma surrounding mental health. In her spare time, she enjoys hiking, drinking coffee, and spending time with loved ones.