Stress comes from many sources and affects you in ways that you may not even notice at first. Your musculoskeletal, respiratory, cardiovascular, endocrine, digestive, and reproductive systems all suffer as a result of excessive stress, according to the American Psychological Association. While different aspects of life stress people in different ways, work is a common source of concern. This is especially true for those who also have a family. When discussing how to handle stress, then, finding work-life balance is a critically important step.
Although most people inherently know that it's important to properly balance their family and their work, this fact was powerfully demonstrated by a 2003 study published in the Journal of Vocational Behavior. By observing the way that accounting professionals divided their time and attention between work and family, the researchers measured the satisfaction that the subjects had in their lives. The team found they could identify three groups: those who put family first, those who equally balanced work and family, and those who spent more time on work. The subjects who put family first were most satisfied, followed by the balanced individuals. The workcentric group came in last.
So how do you achieve proper balance? How can you succeed in your career and still enjoy your family? These are just a few tips on how to handle stress when it comes to balancing your life:
- Set and keep work time boundaries. If you work a standard 9-to-5 job, keep work within that time frame and focus on your family the rest of the time. This can be tricky if you own your own business or work as a freelancer — situations that do not typically allow for a regular schedule. You may have to create a schedule and force yourself to stick to it, even if that means telling your partner so they can help you enforce your new plan.
- Limit your screen time. This one is hard, we know. But learning to shut off all those convenient devices that leash you to work is an important part of maintaining balance. Set specific times to check your email or respond to calls. Let your colleagues or clients know that this is your schedule so that everyone's expectations are clear and you have some peace of mind.
- Understand what is and isn't an emergency. Of course, there might be times when you simply cannot ignore work, but learn to ask yourself "Can this wait?" and answer honestly. If a situation arises that absolutely has to be dealt with, deal with it. If the problem can be put off, set a realistic time to do it and take care of it then.
- Practice self-care. It's easy to get so caught up in your responsibilities that you forget to really take care of yourself. For example, don't just eat to survive; eat well. Make sure you are getting enough sleep, and exercise regularly. An ever-growing body of research shows that regular exercise improves your focus, reaction time, memory, creativity, and ability to handle stress — and you need a proper diet to fuel it. In addition to giving you a chance to recover from exercise, sleep has also been shown to improve mental performance and reduce feelings of stress and anxiety.
- Take a few deep breaths. Throughout the day, stop to take three to five deep breaths. Doing this helps evoke a relaxation response, as shown by the Harvard School of Medicine. In order to be truly effective, your breath needs to fill your belly. Give yourself persmission to let that tummy expand for a few breaths and you'll feel the benefits.
Don't let work take over your life! Take time to focus on yourself and the people you care about, because everyone will benefit — even, ultimately, your employer.