May Newsletter from Pyxis Counselling Services
After enjoying some warmer weather, it seems fitting to think of summer coming up and being able to take vacation time from work and a break from other commitments. This month's article is about work/life balance. It's a phrase that we hear being tossed about, but what does it really mean? Two and a half years ago I came to a point of burnout in my work as a result of being very out of balance with the energy that I expended there. It took many months to recover from this experience, so I share some of what I learned through my journey.
The Quest for Work/Life Balance
Let's be honest, keeping life in balance is a constant challenge. As a society we seem to have created lives for ourselves that are always at risk of being "over the top" in some way. There may be many reasons for this but the fact remains that many people feel like they are juggling, and more often than not, dropping the ball
What exactly does work/life balance mean?
Wikipedia defines work/life balance as "a broad concept including proper prioritizing between "work" (career and ambition) on the one hand and "life" (health, pleasure, leisure, family and spiritual development) on the other."
There is no question that work is an important component of our lives. Among other benefits it provides a means to live, a sense of satisfaction and purpose, and a place in which to connect with other people. However, if the amount of time or energy being taken up by work prevents us from attending to the other areas of life such as family, proper self-care
or recreation, then there is an imbalance that will have a negative impact in the long run.
A lack of work/life balance can be seen in those for whom work has become an addiction. Unfortunately there can be a lack of recognition that this is a problem. As a culture we may subtly encourage those who "work a lot", while not feeling the same way about those who "drink a lot" for instance. There is a Workaholics Anonymous group for those who are aware of this and would like to seek support. Details can be found at http://www.workaholics-anonymous.org
Here's a short list of symptoms that may arise due to being over-stressed and out of balance
Here's what I learned about Work/Life Balance:
1. There were warning signs that things were out of balance, I just chose not to heed them.
increased anger/impatience/irritability with things you are normally fine with
experiencing insomnia or a chronic feeling of tiredness
experiencing ongoing illnesses such as colds or the flu
other physical concerns including headaches, muscle tension, skin problems, high blood pressure
increased forgetfulness, feeling "spacey", not being able to concentrate
We have conditioned ourselves to push past our limits more often than not. This may be for the sake of "getting the job done" or because we feel like we are being lazy or irresponsible if we don't "go the extra mile" for our employer or business. In my own life there were signs on an emotional and physical level that I was not doing well, yet at the time I believed that I would adapt or that the stress level would subside at some point. There is naturally an ebb and flow to our work where it will be more stressful at times than others. But if it's all ebb and no flow, in other words a constant depletion of energy with no chance to recharge or recover, then this is a recipe for burnout.
2. I need to respect my own pace/limits and not compare to what others are doing.
This is a tough one for me, because if I do any comparisons with others it looks like my pace is pretty.... darn.... slow.... I am heartened by Aesop's fable of The Tortoise and the Hare
, that a slow and steady pace can win "the race". I think of life as a journey rather than a race though, and that each of us need to find a work/life balance and rhythm that fits our individual circumstances on this journey. It's looking for that edge where we are challenging ourselves in a healthy way, and yet maintaining perspective
on what we want our lives to be like.
3. I am not my work.
This was also difficult for me to acknowledge, given that my work as a therapist is very intertwined with the kind of person I am. But there was a time when I was off work and felt completely unable to summon energy for any occupation, never mind counselling. It was at that point that I was faced with myself without my identity as a counsellor. I had to answer the question - if I do not do this work, who am I? I was able to see in a new way that my inherent value and worth as a person is not determined by the work I do
. My work is meaningful and fulfilling, but it is not who I am. With this in mind we can approach our work in a healthy way and observe the boundary that exists between work and the rest of our lives and who we are.
If you are interested in reading more on Work/Life Balance, click here
for the highlights of the Globe and Mail series on the topic from December 2010.
I am open to any thoughts or questions about what I have shared in this article. Please feel free to pass it along to others using the "forward to a friend option" below. I wish you success in balancing work and life, and look forward to connecting with you again next month!
Susie Merz MC, RCC