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Life Balance: The Holy Grail

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We’re all chasing the dream work/life balance, but what does that mean? Zainah Khan, psychotherapist and founder at Chakra Corporate Mental Strength, explores…

I am often hearing clients in therapy talk about sacrificing personal commitments for the sake of looming deadlines and urgent business. For many, transgressing the boundaries of 9-5 (or similar) becomes a regular occurrence.

It is no revelation that we spend a huge amount of time at work and modern society has made this incredibly easy. Digital advancements provide a real advantage in allowing us to indulge in emails, project work, phone and video calls and much more around the clock. Initiatives such as smart/flexible working come with wonderful benefits, such as being able to attend our child’s school plays, avoiding the congested commute and working in our pyjamas. However, if we frequently sought to work from home and through the night to meet a deadline, would anyone detect that our health was at risk?

The notion that we spend lots of our time at work is true and the time we spend is exchanged for financial reward. But is it only ‘time’ we’re spending? I suggest not. We spend (or expend) valuable resources such as cognitive functioning (often with prioritising tasks and solving problems), our emotional responses (often stress and worry) and invest our greatest energies into those very working hours.

As human beings, we are great at forgetting that for healthy mental functioning, we need balance. Balance is ensuring we are topping up our levels of energy as we are depleting them. We are not (yet) machines and the expectation of ourselves to function robotically can give us an unrealistic expectation of the self and overtime leads to problems such as burnout. Problems with burnout can take months and often years to heal from. Being aware of how much we’re giving is paramount to developing healthy balance in work and life; to understand how much we need to give back to ourselves and therein seek the opportunities for it. Balance helps us feel more in control and refreshed; it is the secret to being more productive in all areas of life.

The area of mental health has taken centre-stage in the media, business world, political sphere, education and healthcare in recent years. This has opened up the conversation on ‘what good mental health looks like’ and how personal efforts to maintain wellbeing contribute massively towards mental resilience, good physical health, stronger relationships and a more authentic presence in any environment. Most importantly, we see that symptoms of mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression and stress can be alleviated with wellbeing interventions and frequently overcome.

Work/life balance doesn’t mean we are slicing ourselves into two people that can never overlap. It is really about understanding our personal needs and being able to fulfil them. Work/life balance is about allowing yourself time to switch off from giving, and feeling comfortable and confident with giving nourishing time to yourself. Work/life balance means that occasionally we accept we might have to work a little longer and so we factor some self-care in around longer days and show ourselves kindness, which helps us recover.

When we prioritise our wellbeing, we begin to see its rewards. Wellbeing opportunities present themselves as activities that are a fundamental part of our human functioning. We see wellbeing opportunities as something that we are investing in for the sake of a peaceful and refreshed mind – taking seriously the duty of care that we have towards ourselves before anything else. After all, you cannot pour from an empty cup. Wellbeing is about us giving time to recover from all that we have expended.

To-do lists will only keep growing and if we are realistic, there will likely never be an occasion when everything we aim for is complete. Work/life balance is respecting that we are human and giving ourselves permission to stay well, even when there is lots to do. We will be much better at completing the task when we feel good about ourselves!

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