One of the greatest tools in your self-care arsenal is balance. It’s also one of the harder things to find and maintain.
Nani spends most of Lilo and Stitch trying to find a balance between working, caring for her sister, and having a social life. Spoiler alert: she doesn’t fully manage it by the end of the movie.
Numerous books and articles have been published about work-life balance, but like all things, what "balance" is varies person to person.
Historically, the standard we use in the USA is 8 hours of work, 8 hours of play, and 8 hours of sleep, a handy 3-part division of a 24-hour day popularized by Robert Owen during the industrial revolution and the protests for worker’s rights that came with it. Do you manage an 8/8/8 split? Ideally, what would your "balance" look like? For most Americans, that 8 hours of play gets eaten up with other responsibilities - children, partners, cleaning house, volunteering, car maintenance, after work events, etc.
The first part of work-life balance, as in balancing most things, is boundaries. Once you decide what your "balance" needs to look like for you, setting and maintaining boundaries will allow you to better manage this balance and feel happiest. For example, if you need rest throughout the day, giving yourself permission to say "no" to something that would deter you from resting is a boundary that you must respect - to maintain your needed balance. Let's look at some possible boundaries for the three identified sections of our 8/8/8 balance.
Now this category for many of us is really two categories: employment/job and other responsibilities such as children, families, caring for aging parents, etc. While some of us are able to negotiate a work schedule to accommodate our balance needs, most of us are not. Most Americans work a 40 hour a week job - so what can you do?
For starters - leave work at work! Don’t answer emails or phone calls in your off hours. Don’t take paperwork home.
Unless it is absolutely necessary, don’t work overtime - respect your need for balance!
Take your earned vacations. They are there to give you a break from stress! Be mindful and choose vacations that don’t stress you more.
Use your sick time. You’ll recover faster, and you won’t get others sick, which will keep the stress at work to a minimum.
Try to choose a job that you enjoy doing, but don’t get fooled into working for less than you are worth just because you like the work or the company. Remember that your employer is not giving you a paycheck, or vacation, or healthcare, or any of your other benefits. You are earning them with your time and labor. They are owed to you.
Now for our other work, there may be very little wiggle room, but find it where you can. Think outside of the box and use your supports to share the responsibilities. Share the chores that make a house a home among your family as you are able. Share the errands among your community. The saying “it takes a village” is a saying for a reason. The more you can share with other people, the more time you and those others have for yourselves.
In my experience with clients, friends and family members - this category is the most neglected and first sacrificed. Who here actually plays for 8 hours a day? Anyone?? Once we are school aged, this category is no longer emphasized and is easily eaten up by those other responsibilities we mentioned above. So - what counts as play? Well, as a play therapist, I could say that some of my "work" hours are "play" but for me, playing includes video and board games with my family, playing outside with my children, designing and making cosplay outfits and going to comic conventions in them with my family, and putting on my favorite song and dancing in the kitchen. Think about the activities that help fuel you up, make you smile and leave you feeling happy - that's your "play" and you need to dedicate some time to those activities.
Schedule and plan for playful activities!
Family game night? Cards with friends? Make these non-negotiable dates to ensure you have some play during your week.
Get outside! Water tables and sandboxes are not just for little kids. Go on a walk and turn it into a scavenger hunt!
Maybe your support system is not local to you - playing as a team for an online game is a great way to play together despite the distance!
While ideally everyone would get 8 solid hours of sleep a night, the reality is that it's not possible for everyone - for a multitude of reasons. So, this category would perhaps be called rest. In addition to sleep, resting could be watching tv, reading a book, stargazing on the roof, or some other activity that doesn’t require exertion or much thought. Are you getting the recommended 8? If not, are you able to rest during the day? Making time for rest is important and will increase your ability to fully engage in the other two categories.
GO TO BED! And let your bed be a place for rest only. Don't work on paperwork, answer emails or do anything other than restful activities.
Adults need a bedtime too! Research confirms that going to bed at same time helps you sleep better. For your mental health, having a bedtime ensures that you are being mindful of your need for rest.
Schedule times to rest throughout the day if you need them. Make an appointment for yourself if you need to justify it, but the truth is you need and deserve the rest!
Your day to day life is a set of scales, it’s important to keep the work side from being so heavy that you can never have a life outside of work. It’s also important to keep the life side from becoming so overwhelming that it affects your work. Be proactive with your scheduling to ensure that you are at least moving towards a more balanced life with your work-play-rest and I am sure that you will find a split that works for you.
Maria Laquerre is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, who specializes in addressing trauma with clients of all ages. Maria has practiced therapy in New Mexico since her return in 2008. Maria's current passion is supporting therapists in doing their best clinical work, which she pursues through offering supervision, consultation and trainings. Maria enjoys spending time with her family, watching Star Wars and Marvel movies, discussing the psychology of pop culture and loves a good book!