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How to Restore an Ailing Work-Life Balance

an image depicting a work-life balanceWork-life balance is a term coined to explain the balance between time spent working and time spent attending to other areas of life such as personal hobbies and interests, social and family time, or leisure activities. So many of us are struggling with this balance, caught in the rush to get it all done both at home and at work, that stress levels are spiking and our overall happiness is sinking.

More than one in every four Americans consider themselves super-stressed from an uneven work-life balance. And chronic stress is not good for you. Stress can cause irreversible damage to our lives. It can cause irritability, anxiety, depression, foggy thinking, and diminished focus. It is the primary cause of Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS), where overexposure to stress begins to shut the body down starting with adrenal exhaustion and hormonal imbalance.

A certain amount of stress has been proven to be effective in helping us perform at our very best, but the key to this is balance. A healthy work-life balance is an attainable and necessary goal. Results can be seen in both personal and work-life. Research has shown that when people are balanced, they are happier and more productive. Their immune systems are stronger, they take fewer sick days, and they are more likely to stay at their jobs, as well as in relationships.

The Science Behind Needing A Work-Life Balance

A study published in BMJ Quality & Safety found that health care workers who have a good work-life balance reported less burnout and safer working cultures. For this particular test, participants were asked to report behaviors such as missing breaks and skipping meals. It was found that Residents and attending physicians scored the lowest in work-life balance while psychologists, environmental service workers, and nutritionists scored the highest. And as can be expected, employees who worked the day shift had greater work-life balance scores over their evening shift opponents, and those that worked shorter shifts had better-balanced lives than those who worked long hours.

The study concluded that when burnout interventions were taken they should target work settings over personal lives as the balance seems to be the same throughout the varying segments of the healthcare industry. In other words, the work environment that a person surrounds themselves in can have a major impact on whether they are able to achieve a good work-life balance.

Symptoms of a Tipping Work-Life Balance

You may choose to work overtime to earn extra income or attain that promotion, but if you spend the majority of time working, your health, home, and personal life will suffer. Some symptoms of a poor work-life balance include fatigue, lowered immune system, and lack of social interaction,

  • Fatigue. Poor sleep patterns are the root cause of many ailments. When you're tired, your cognitive skills can slow down, thinking can be foggy, and work productivity can slow down, leading to dangerous or costly mistakes.
  • Poor health. When your work-life balance is out of whack, stress is likely to manifest in your body. The immune system often weakens, making symptoms of pre-existing conditions worsen or causing new symptoms to occur. The latest research actually shows that chronic stress can double the risk of cardiovascular diseases such as heart attacks.
  • Social isolation. When you are spending too much time at work, you are often missing quality time with friends and family. After a certain amount of time, a person can begin to feel isolated and left out. Relationships begin to suffer when the importance is placed on work over relationships.
  • Stress. Stress may begin to manifest in subtle ways but can quickly take over your life. With the body being so intricately connected through the NeuroEndoMetabolic Stress Response system, which is how your body handles stress, when stress begins to affect the adrenals and hormones, it affects all the other organs and systems as well. The body is one ecosystem that cannot be compartmentalized when stress presents itself. The body’s response is global in nature, and what starts as minor occurrences of stress can progress and end catastrophically.

Having an optimized work-life balance can reduce these risks, as well as the risk of adrenal strain that can lead to adrenal fatigue and energy crashes. If you are already an AFS sufferer, proper work-life balance can accelerate your recovery process.

How to Restore Your Work-Life Balance

a man holding a Yin-Yang ball to represent a work-life balanceIf you are feeling overwhelmed and uncertain, you may need to restore harmony in your life and obtain a better work-life balance. There are a number of practical strategies that you can try both at work and at home:

Restoring Balance at Work

  • Take control of your workday. Set manageable and realistic goals that can be reached without stressing out over deadlines. Make “to do” lists, and check off finished tasks to see and feel a sense of accomplishment. Always ask for help when needed.
  • Be productive. Your time is valuable. If you are spending your days with minor busy work and find yourself procrastinating big projects, it's time to reorganize and refocus. Divide large tasks into smaller ones, and work on completing one task at a time. Offer yourself rewards such as breaks, walks, or time with co-workers.
  • Ask for flex time. Telecommuting and flex time are the new 40-hour week! Don’t be afraid to ask for this type of work schedule, as it's getting increasingly popular and many employers are now drafting work-life policies to help people better manage their work-life balance. Studies are showing that employees who are given flex-time or able to work from home are more productive, happy, and loyal to their employers.
  • Take a break. Employers are now realizing the importance of break time. Small breaks throughout the day can help improve your ability to deal with stress and make better decisions. They can often provide a fresh outlook or work as an energy recharge.
  • Pump up the volume. Studies dating back over 30 years show how beneficial music can be. Putting on your favorite tunes can also help with concentration and stress, lowering blood pressure, and decreasing anxiety.
  • Learn to communicate effectively. With good communication, you are better equipped to handle stress and any work problems that arise. Start by practicing honesty among colleagues and management when you feel stressed out or are in a bind. Refrain from complaining, but instead, come up with practical alternatives. Try rethinking strategies, looking at situations from someone else’s viewpoint, calmly standing your ground, be rational, and retreat for a cool-off time from situations that get overheated.

Restoring Balance at Home

  • Unplug. Yes, you need technology for home and work. But using it 24/7 will burn you out. Recognize the need for real face to face time with friends and family.
  • Share responsibility. Try to make sure chores are evenly distributed among those in the household who are fully capable of helping. Even young children can help clean up and put away clothes, and often benefit from the responsibility.
  • Learn to say NO. Never overcommit to responsibilities that will leave you stressed and overscheduled.
  • Stay connected. The support of family and friends can improve your health and increase your ability to maintain a good work-life balance. It has been shown that a strong support system at home can even increase the immune system.
  • Look into your company’s EAP program or Employee Assistance Program. It's a resource that can provide guidance on child care, the caretaking of elderly parents, mental health referrals, and many other services. It can save you a tremendous amount of time and money, freeing up some home time when those services are needed.

a young family restoring their work-life balance

  • Exercise regularly. Staying active has many known health benefits including reducing anxiety, depression, and stress. It also helps with coping mechanisms and will boost your immune system. Make sure to allow sufficient time in your schedule for exercise, even if it entails walking during your lunch break.
  • Take care of yourself. Along with exercise, it's important to eat right and get adequate sleep. A good diet can enhance your overall well-being. A lack of sleep has been linked to increased stress levels. Stay away from drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes as they lead to additional mental and physical problems.
  • Allow for fun and relaxation in your life. Every day should include a bit of fun and relaxation. Make sure to set aside time for an activity that brings you joy such as reading, yoga, meditation, hiking, dancing, or cooking.
  • Get help. If you feel overwhelmed and overstressed, seek assistance from mental health professionals. Don’t let stress take over your life as it can be extremely dangerous to your health and your wellbeing.


a man with a leveled work-life balanceHealthy work and home environments are essential to coping with stress and creating a good work-life balance. Too much time spent working can lead to many chronic ailments. Stress is known as the silent killer. What may begin as simple stressors may end with declines in all areas of life.

Everyone feels stress from time to time. However, if you feel that stress has taken over your life, talk with a professional such as a mental health counselor, your primary care physician or a wellness advocate. Get help when you need it. It’s important to take into consideration that a healthy work-life balance needs constant revaluation and is an ever-changing process as priorities, work, and family situations change. But it is well worth the effort, for your health and your happiness.

© Copyright 2019 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.

Dr. Lam's Key Question

Productivity both at home and at work are directly correlated to a positive work-life balance. If a person feels overwhelmed, stressed, or unappreciated, they will be fatigued, more prone to illness, have clouded thinking, and be overall less productive.

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