We’re all juggling a lot these days. (How’s that for an understatement?) When your house can double as your office, not to mention the occasional classroom and personal gym, it’s easy to feel pulled in many competing directions.
When the lines between your work and personal life are blurred, both can suffer, potentially leading to burnout. Work-life balance has become the ultimate buzz phrase and, while it is often touted as the solution, it’s easier said than done. And it looks different for everyone.
We spoke with Yarvell Randolph Gardner—who has a master’s degree in Human Service Counseling (MHS) and is a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) with 15 years of experience working as a mental health professional—to learn why work-life balance is so important and to find some realistic ways to achieve it.
Balancing the Work–Life Scales
When your life is off-balance, the resulting stress can have very real effects on your health.
In the short term, stress can raise your blood pressure and heart rate, and even keep you from getting a good night’s sleep. Longer-term stress can lead to fatigue, digestive issues, a weakened immune system, and higher risk of substance abuse. What’s more, research shows that stress from work and family conflicts can negatively affect your heart health.
Work seems to be the most common culprit here, and it’s easy to see why. In most workplaces, there is no shortage of tasks and goals to accomplish. Hopefully you enjoy your work (most of the time!) and are driven by a desire to do a good job.
When you’re driven to do a good job, you are likely spending more time working—whether in the office or at home. In fact, people working from home are spending more time on the job—an extra 2.5 hours each day on average. However, if work continually crowds out time for the people and activities you love, take note.
“Whenever you find your work causes distress in the rest of your life, that’s when you need to rebalance,” Yarvell advises.
7 Tips for Better Work–Life Balance
If you seek more balance, here are some ideas that can help.
The problem with trying to do it all is, well, you’re trying to do it all! Aiming for total perfection is sure to bring on the stress. Think about what’s most important to you right now.
If your child is adjusting to a new school, you might want to emphasize family this month. If you’re preparing for a big meeting, work might be at the top of the list for a while. Or if you’ve had a recent health scare, now could be a good time to focus on eating well and exercising.
There’s no right or wrong answer here. “The thing about work-life balance is that it’s very personal. The balance is going to be different for everyone, and it can change over time,” says Yarvell.
2. Simplify What You Can
Now that you’ve prioritized, rethink what’s at the bottom of the list. Can you outsource any lower-priority responsibilities or drop them altogether?
For example, maybe a coworker can cover for you while you tend to a sick child. Or, if you know you’ll be working late this week, don’t pressure yourself to put five-star meals on the table (pantry staples to the rescue!) If housework is falling by the wayside, could you ask your teenager to pitch in more than usual or simply let things go for a while? You get the idea.
3. Set Your Schedule
There is an upside to our personal and professional lives being so intertwined: Many of us have more scheduling freedom than ever before.
Seize this opportunity to create your ideal, well-balanced day. Choose when to wake up, eat, work, exercise, and relax—then mark these chunks of time on your calendar just as you would any appointment. Take that half-hour walk at lunchtime or play with your kids when they get home from school without any guilt.
4. Define Your Spaces
This is especially important if you work from home. Whether it’s a home office or a corner of the living room, designate a specific spot for work.
This can help you concentrate and be more productive, while also separating work from play. It establishes boundaries for family members, as well. Even young children can learn that, when Mom or Dad is at their desk, it means they’re working.
5. Detach From Work on Your Terms
Some people thrive on working late nights and weekends. That’s okay—as long as it’s not causing you stress, Yarvell points out. But even the most career-driven professional has their limits.
“When your work stops feeling meaningful, that’s a sign you’re working too much,” Yarvell tells us. “Resentment will build if you feel you are missing other parts of your life.”
Our minds and bodies need breaks from work so we can restore our mental energy and creativity. When you’re ready to detach from the daily grind, try to do so completely.
Decide when you’ll stop checking emails whether the cut-off is 5 p.m. or 10 p.m. And, if you routinely can’t complete all you need to in a given workday or week, speak with your manager about possible solutions.
6. Make Time for Joy
This might seem impossible for working parents and other caregivers but remember that relaxation and recreation are time well spent. Hiking or yoga, knitting or gardening — these hobbies are all part of a well-balanced life. “Whatever it is, be intentional and invest in activities you enjoy,” Yarvell recommends. “When your personal time is truly yours, you’ll feel the most fulfilled.”
Work-life decisions don’t exist in a vacuum; you’ll have the greatest success if you can get other people on board, too. Tell your family, friends, and colleagues what you’re trying to achieve. That way, they can support your boundaries, and you can support their attempts at work-life balance in return.
This may mean saying “no” to obligations that don’t interest you or you don’t have time for, such as volunteering as a school room parent for the third year in a row if you need a break.
If someone isn’t honoring your work-life boundaries, stand firm and repeat this as often as needed. This might take practice! “Advocating for yourself is something you have to learn,” adds Yarvell.
Your Best Life
The scales of work-life balance will always shift. Some days will feel more balanced than others. That’s okay. Just focus on doing the best you can. That’s all any of us can do! If you still find work-life stress too much to manage, reach out to a mental health professional for help.
With time, your everyday choices will help you build a life you can be proud of. “When you are the most intentional, authentic version of yourself, it shows,” Yarvell says. “You’ll become a better employee, a better friend, a better parent and partner, and so on. And you’ll approach life with a little more passion, too.”
Yarvell Gardner, a licensed professional counselor and psychotherapist, has been Aramark’s designated Counselor at our Philadelphia headquarters location since 2019, when our Cigna Employee Assistance Program (EAP) was expanded to include on-site counseling.
Yarvell’s services have been very much appreciated by our associates, during a time when life has felt off-balance and overwhelming for many. Yarvell has shared self-care techniques and guidance with our team members, taking virtual appointments and leading virtual mental health sessions on a regular basis throughout the pandemic. Aramark already fully covers our employees for EAP counseling—through Yarvell we are proud to be bringing this service directly to our people on-site.
If you still find work-life stress too much to manage, reach out to a mental health professional for help or contact the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) HelpLine.
Note: Since everyone’s health history and nutritional needs are so different, please make sure that you talk with your doctor and a registered dietitian to get advice about the diet and exercise plan that‘s right for you.