How to Find Work-Life Balance

Carving out the right amount of time for your professional and personal life doesn’t have to feel like a circus act. Here’s how to find a better path

Picture this: You’re in bed, exhausted from working a full day at the office and taking care of your family. After all of that running around, you would think sleep would come easily, but you’re still feeling restless, worrying about the next day. Sound familiar? You’re not alone.

A 2009 study from The American Sociological Review reported that over 70 percent of workers saw an interference between work and non-work life.

Medical professionals like Dr. Asha Shajahan, medical director of community health for Beaumont Hospital in Grosse Pointe, have seen an “enormous” increase in patients who are feeling more stressed and depressed because of their busy lifestyles.

“The World Health Organization has a definition of health as embodying the mind, body, and well-being of a person,” says Shajahan. “A lot of times, we forget about the ‘well-being’ part.”

And oftentimes, when we neglect our well-being, we also tend to overlook the balance between work and non-work life.

Dr. Daniel Blake, primary psychologist with the behavioral health program at Beaumont Hospital in Taylor, defines this balance as breaking down work life and home life into two main categories. “The more one category can support the other, the better,” he says.

Symptoms of a poor work-life balance mirror anxiety and depression, or “psychological distress,” Blake says. This can include a consistent feeling of being unhappy or uptight.

Another symptom of poor balance is losing sleep because you’re that worried about work the next day. Dr. Cathy Frank, Henry Ford Health System’s Behavioral Health chair, suggests when you’ve reached this point, you should take “a step back” and figure out what needs to be changed in order to find that balance again.

But just as a poor balance can be detrimental to your health, a good balance can be beneficial.

A 2013 study published in the Academy of Management Journal found that “workers were significantly less stressed” when they experienced more positive events while “negative events were significantly and positively associated with stress.”

The study compared candidates’ blood pressure levels with their recent social and work history, finding that even small positive daily experiences at work can “relate directly to reduced stress and improved health.” This included a “brief, end-of-workday positive reflection,” which was found to lead to decreased stress and improved health in the evening.

Frank explains that when an individual finds that balance, “the person who is employed feels rewarded by both what’s happening in their employment and whatever their home life is.”

Shajahan, who sees patients of all ages, finds children and retired adults to have a better sense of work and non-work balance. “As you get to college and having a career, that balance starts to diminish, and a lot of people tend to be very career-oriented or consumed by the stresses of life,” she says. “It’s like you’re born with that balance and then it returns in your later years.”

With no universal definition, the term “work-life balance” means something different to everyone, so instead of reaching for perfection, it’s best to aim for a better balance. “Life involves constant adaptation and coping,” Blake says.

A perfect balance isn’t a “one-size-fits-all” situation, Frank adds, explaining that it’s “geared to that individual” and how their family, partner, and workplace can help.

Shajahan says a sign of a better balance is when you have “an inner peace with yourself with the satisfying work that you do, such as your employment or the ways you give back to society.”

“Your mental stability is going to be influenced by how well you cope with the stressors you have at home and at work,” Blake explains. “The more one is capable of coping well, then they have freedom and the energy to do other things, like hobbies, which are used to relax and help offset the difficulties.”

Now, Stick the Landing

Quiet Down and Listen Up
“Sometimes you just have to be quiet, and for some individuals, things like meditation and mindfulness work,” says Shajahan. “Or listening to different types of music you’ve never heard before for 10 minutes.”

Build A Strong Support System
“Sometimes people feel like they have to do it all on their own, and I don’t know if anyone can do that indefinitely,” Frank says. “It helps to know what you need and who to ask for help when you need it.”

Plan What You Can
“There are always emergencies or hardships that happen at any kind of work, but how can I plan it out and ask for what I need as best as I can?” Frank says.

Cut Out the Tech
“Technology and social media can interfere or add to your life — it just depends on what its purpose is,” Blake says. “Typically, people feel more isolated because of all the exposure to everything.”